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Why Apple, Ford and Zappos Have All Invested in Branded Mobile Codes

Vanity Short Codes and StarStar Numbers Can Be Had Now -- But Don't Wait Long

By Published on . 4

Dell, Apple, Zappos, Google, Ford, Oprah, Jet Blue, ESPN, 1-800-Flowers, the Girl Scouts Coke, Good Morning America and The Chicago Bulls are among the companies in the forefront of a mobile marketing trend most haven't even heard of yet.

They've all got dedicated, branded vanity short codes or StarStar Numbers. And your company had better be paying attention.

Common short codes (CSC) are customized five- or six-digit numbers to which consumers send text messages requesting information.

StarStar Numbers are branded, mobile phone numbers, beginning with **, and up to 15 characters long. Instead of sending a text message, consumers dial StarStar Numbers, which then automatically sends them an instant text message through which they can access online content.

Vanity Codes and StarStar Numbers both let customers engage and interact with a brand by connecting to websites, videos, voting, registering, polling, games, entering contests, requesting coupons, making mobile payments, and a variety of other interactive applications.

Jack Philbin, vice-chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association and president of mobile marketing and technology firm Vibes, said StarStar dialing began in about 2008, as an alternative to texting which was still relatively new and not included on most cellphone plans. That's certainly no longer the case: 6.1 trillion text messages were sent in 2010 worldwide.

Be Mobile or Be Dust
Once these mobile technologies become ubiquitous -- and I predict that they will do that within the next two years -- companies that don't use a vanity mobile code or StarStar Number as part of their mobile marketing will be using just one more bunch of annoying, random, hard-to-remember numbers that 'll be easy to forget and ignore.

Any mobile campaigns, including vanity short codes and StarStar Numbers require three things: a messaging strategy, a mobile website and an app that will deliver content. The costs (excluding creative) of setting up the technical side of a campaign using short codes or branded mobile phone numbers will come out to roughly the same. Here are the top eight reasons you need to start using these technologies now:

  1. Both inherently offer the holy grail of marketing: precisely measurable ROI statistics including consumer participation per the dollar spent.
  2. Branded vanity codes and StarStar codes are easy for consumers to use and understand.
  3. Texting is mainstream. I think vanity text codes will become the dominant marketing technology. In fact, according to a January 2011 Nielsen study, text message use continues to grow while mobile phone calls (remember them) have been relatively static for the past five years.
  4. Mobile marketing is here to stay. Today, people not only have text-enabled phones, but in the U.S. and Western Europe, 90% of mobile subscribers have an internet-ready phone. Gartner last year predicted that in 2011, over 85% of handsets shipped globally will include some form of web browser.
  5. "Text messaging is the key communication tool of the modern era," said Neil Strother, practice director at ABI Research in Oyster Bay, NY. "It is a great place for marketers to communicate with consumers."
  6. Both technologies are brilliant ways to unify internet, print, TV, and billboard ads, making them more interesting and actionable for the consumer.
  7. An advantage of a dedicated vanity short code is that you have unlimited keywords and you maintain control over routing inbound and outbound messages. Since you own the code and all of the data captured, you can map directly into your existing database without having to input information from a different source. (A keyword is the first "word" that is sent in a text message, for example "Go" or "Join.")
  8. Both technologies are cost-effective. They include web-based content management system that brands can use to upload their digital assets for their campaigns, and they provide metrics on call volume, etc. Because consumers want and request brands' information, engagement is generally exponentially higher than with more traditional forms of advertising and marketing.

Vanity text codes and StarStar Numbers are not cheap. Unlike domain names, like a http://whatsnextblog.com or traditional vanity phone numbers, like 1-800-Mattress, vanity mobile short codes aren't cheap.

Getting a code
Getting a StarStar Number is simple because they are only presently available from one source: Zoove. T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon are carriers for StarStar Numbers. Prices range from $1500 a month to $7500 a month and up, depending on the length or scarcity of the number you choose, according to Zoove.com spokesperson Jeremy Pemble.

A dedicated vanity common short code is a code leased to one company for its sole use. No one but the company that has leased the code can use that code for the duration of the lease. To lease a short code, you first need an account with the Common Short Code Administration. A Random CSC is leased for a period of three, six or 12 months for $500 per month and a vanity CSC requires a non-refundable fee of $1,000 a month. The entire lease payment must be paid before the CSC is assigned to the applicant and "registered".

Companies need to submit their campaign details before a vanity short code can be rented in three-month increments from CSCAfor $1,000 a month and up. Approval can take several weeks. Once you have the code, you need to partner with connection aggregators who give you access to the carriers at prices that vary depending on the complexity and volume of your campaign.

Connection aggregators have authorized connections to multiple wireless networks; they also maintain the security, technical, and service level requirements of each wireless networks. Philbin's company, Vibes, is one of only nine Tier 1 aggregators in the U.S., uses its direct connections with the biggest wireless carriers to monitor clients' messages every step of the way, from conception to delivery.

For prices beginning at a few thousand a month, Philbin says, companies can license software that allows them to go through the labyrinth of approval processes and metrics to gain access to multiple carrier networks, or they can hire a partner like Vibes - a leader in mobile marketing - to handle the work from creative concept to ROI metrics.

Also worth noting is that the random generation of a CSC will result in a 5-digit code that a good Scrabble player may be able to translate to a recognizable word that relates to the brand.

US mobile ad spend will exceed US$1 billion in 2011
According to eMarketer.com (October 2010), spending on mobile advertising and marketing was US$416 million in 2009; US$743 million in 2010 and will be US$1,102 in 2011. In 2010 mobile ad formats were dominated by messaging (US$327 million), but display (US$202 million) and search (US$185 million) will catch up in 2012. Video lags at (US$28 million)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
B.L. Ochman , president of whatsnextonline.com, is an Internet marketing strategist and blogger who can be found Twittering, at WhatsNextBlog.com or with her newest venture, Pawfun.com.
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