The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. You see this quotation pop up in all sorts of places. It’s actually attributed to Mark Twain, who originally said, “Report of my death was an exaggeration,” after a reporter was sent to investigate Twain’s death when he was in fact very much alive (his cousin was sick). It’s a tongue and cheek statement used when people seem to be blowing a particular stat or report out of proportion.

This was my personal reaction to a variety of posts from last week, including “Text messaging is dying” and “SMS is doomed.” The original post, from the Wall Street Journal, stated “Texting Cools Off” with others commenting “Has text messaging peaked?”

Now I understand as much as anyone the importance of using post titles to lure readers. But unfortunately titles don’t force people to read the actual text of the article. Here are three points that stood out to me about the actual articles themselves:

  • Number of Text Messages Sent: 1 trillion text messages were sent in the US during the second half of 2010. To put that number in perspective, it’s 30 times larger than the total number of tweets sent worldwide in all of 2010.
  • Text Messaging Growth: The number of texts sent is still growing (by almost 10% according to the article) – so the impending doom was inferred from slowed growth, not a decline in usage. Anybody see what else is experiencing declined growth? Facebook, which saw it’s US subscriber base drop by 6 million (4.5% of their US user base – no mention of death or doom though).
  • New Messaging Applications: Perhaps the most important point of the article is that Apple and Google are releasing messaging applications that mirror RIM’s Blackberry Messenger (BBM) application.

Let’s dive a little more deeply into this point. First, I think it warrants mentioning that BBM has been around since (from what I can tell) 1999 and hasn’t yet obliterated people’s need to send text messages. Why? BBM, like the messaging clients from Apple and Google, can only send messages to others within the same network. SMS is (and at this points looks to continue to be) the only cross platform messaging system available to cell phone users. Thus, whenever you want to send a message using a messaging application, you have to know what kind of device your recipient owns. If you’re unsure you use SMS.

Second, as the WSJ article points out, the carriers are going to have to do something so as not to let these messaging applications eat their lunch. It’s the nature of competitive business. No one can predict whether the carriers, as incumbents, will respond to changing market dynamics with success or failure, but they are definitely not going to sit by idly and do nothing.

Third (as I’ve said) – The SMS death prediction is greatly exaggerated – but it shouldn’t matter. We can get into stats, such as the Pew Internet and American Life Project that found teens (ie future adults) overwhelmingly favor text over social networks, e-mail, and phone conversations. But the simplest thing to understand is that some people will want to communicate via text and others will not. And any carrier, mobile marketer, or marketing company distraught over a decline in text messaging, Facebook or whatever else is not well prepared for the future.

The reason? Mobile is not a channel strategy, it’s a database strategy. This is to say that what makes mobile valuable is not the the fact that you can send an SMS, or app push, or mobile email, or iMessage or whatever other type of message you want to pile onto the list. It’s that you can communicate with people in the way that they want by creating a segmented database according to your audience’s preferences. Going forward, it’s not going to be one channel that wins over the whole population. It’s going to be the creation of a customized experience where people can receive the information they want, when they want it, and in the format of their choice.

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