Interactive SMS Campaigns

One of the interesting and effective features of SMS marketing is the ability to create interactive SMS campaigns. This effectively turns an SMS campaign from a monologue to a dialogue, which improves the level of communication businesses can have with their customers.

The idea is simple – customers, upon receiving an SMS notification, are given the option to choose between several responses. Each response can then trigger yet another SMS, which is fine tuned to the customers’ interests and which, as before, also enables several replies to choose from.

Hypermedia’s SMS Campaigner is one example of such a product. It enables to manage multiple interactive (or non-interactive)  campaigns, manage credits & users and monitor and analyze the types and number  of responses for every query sent at each stage of the campaign.

This interactive method of an SMS marketing campaign has several benefits:

  • It enables a more targeted, and thus more effective exchange of information with the customer base of a company.  If you’re at a stage where you’re evaluating a new service or product, having a better understanding of exactly what your customers want is obviously a good place to start.
  • Listening to what your potential customers want to tell you, and not focusing only on the message you wish to deliver them can improve customer trust and loyalty.
  • Having the possibility to receive various responses opens up the possibility of specialization of service according to response and creating a more effective customer database. Instead of a simple database that holds a bunch of customer phone numbers to send  the next SMS promotion to,  having an interactive campaign enables upgrading the customer  database to also includes data on customer preferences according to previous responses. Future campaigns can then be created to better fit the customers that receive them, resulting is a better conversion rate.
  • A dynamic process gives more degrees of freedom to adapt and change than a static one.  For instance – suppose you wish to create an SMS campaign for a car sale. With a standard static campaign you only get one chance. You can try and make the best sales copy in the world (with the limited characters available to you when sending out an SMS promotion), but at the end of it, you’ll convince some people and lose all the rest. As every salesman knows, having the ability to create a conversation gives you a better shot at convincing your customer, and interactive SMS marketing gives you the option of having an SMS conversation where each different answer will create a dialog with a different path.

These are just some of the advantages I can think of off-hand. With some imagination you can probably think of a few more. As with many other things, more options imply more power.



SMS Gateways and THE CLOUD

It seems that we have gotten to a point where the term “cloud” is thrown around in technological and IT circles more than it is among meteorologists and weather anchors.

I don’t have a problem with cloud technology. What amazes me though is how otherwise intelligent people can become fanatic followers of a new technology that comes along based on its PR rather than on critical analysis whether that technology is the best solution to their needs.

Cloud technology certainly has its place, but placing everything in the cloud is not wise – it’s not even in the spirit of the Internet, and if I may be philosophical, placing it as the silver bullet for every type of service is pushing back the trend of centralism, which IMHO will eventually fail as the pendulum swings back to a more balanced view of the domain of solutions available to solve a given problem.

This is not a new trend – remember the dumb terminals of the 80′s and early 90′s ? Remember the thin clients of the late 90′s ? The trend to push cloud computing these days is just another version of these old trends, which can generally be summed up as: “For everything you do, there’s no need for you to have the power. We’ll have the power and we’ll give it to you when you need it (if you pay us)”. It’s actually very similar to the buy vs. rent question – and using that analogy, if it were up to the cloud pushers you won’t be able to buy anything – only pay rent to the landlords for using their property.

As I already mentioned – the cloud solution actually makes a lot of sense in certain circumstances. My opposition to it only begins when it tries to set itself as the best solution for every circumstance.

The relevance to SMS Gateways should be quite clear: The choice has to remain yours. There will be situations when using cloud SMS services (such as Twilio or various cloud SMS Gateway service providers/aggregators/brokers) will be the right way to go. There will be others when the correct thing to do is purchase your own SMS gateway. One thing is clear though – there should be alternatives, you should be aware of them and always be free to choose the right one for you.


Unlimited SMS

The previous two posts illustrated how using SIM cards with an unlimited text plan on an SMS gateway device can drive bulk SMS costs down in orders of magnitude. Since I think continuing to show this country by country is repetitive and will get boring in a hurry, I’d like instead to mention a few things to take note of when looking for unlimited text plans if you are considering purchasing an SMS gateway.

  • You will probably be able to find a few unlimited text plans by different MNOs or MVNOs in your country (or whatever country you intend the SMS gateway to be located at to deliver the texts and receive the responses). Take your time to compare the various plan prices and offerings.  Although you can also purchase voice features with your SMS gateway (that give you the option of sending recorded messages and even conducting automated voice surveys), if you don’t intend to use these features and only conduct your campaign or survey by SMS then you should also target unlimited text plans which have little voice minutes, as they will be cheaper and you won’t be needing the voice features anyway.


  • Pay attention to the small print in the contract. Unlimited text plans are a nice sales pitch, but it isn’t really what you get. You will usually find some “fair use” clause that limits the actual monthly amount of SMS that you can send using the SIM without incurring costs for going over that limit. From what I’ve seen, this limit is usually in the 3000 SMS ballpark, but your mileage may vary. Make sure you understand this limit or any other small print limits the network operator has regarding the plan.


  • Even if you want to send an SMS campaign in a country where no mobile network operator offer an unlimited text plan, you can usually find a solution by being a bit creative. For example, to the best of my knowledge, there is currently no unlimited text plan offered by any of the MNOs in Mexico. However, there are many operators in the US that offer unlimited text plans to Mexico. So placing your SMS gateway in the US will enable you to get a great deal for bulk SMS campaigns to target audience in Mexico.


As for finding these plans – as they say, “Google is your friend”. Just search for “unlimited text” or “unlimited text plan” (including the quotes) followed by the name of the country where you want your SMS campaign to be made and make your choice based on the guidelines I’ve mentioned above.

Bulk SMS prices in the UK

haven’t had too much time to do in depth research, but had time to compile the following table:

ClickSMS BulkSMS Text Marketer intellisms O2 Unlimited text plan
500 4.3 4.5 3.7 6.4 2
5000 3.9 4.2 3.7 5.5 0.4
50000 3.3 3.9 3.4 4.1 0.4
500000 3.1 2.8 3.1 0.4

The lowest prices among the SMS Gateway service providers in the UK appear to be for Text Marketer, but even these are from 7 to almost 10 times more costly per SMS than using an SMS gateway device with a SIM that has a monthly SMS plan from a mobile network carrier (in this case a 10 BP/month plan for 50 minutes and unlimited text by O2, and assuming “unlimited” actually means 2500 messages).





SMS to US mobile phones – Pricing


Trying to find actual numbers for pricing models of various SMS gateway providers by browsing publicly available information turned out to be surprisingly difficult. Most don’t have a simple and transparent pricing plan available on their Web site. Others do show a limited number of deals (e.g for 1000, 2000 and 3000 SMS).

But from what I saw, the largest players are the ones which (not surprisingly) can usually get you the lowest price per SMS.

The table below summarizes the prices for outgoing SMS in the US from various SMS service providers (due to the small amount of SMS service providers from which I could extract pricing information, I’ve included the prices of sending SMS using the API of the  cloud telephony service providers Tropo and Twilio. These belong in a separate post  as they are a whole topic on their own.

Anyway – as can be seen, the prices are rather similar between the various SMS gateway providers:

Quantity Clickatel Cdyne Twilio Tropo
50 $1.00 $10.00 $0.50 $0.50
500 $10.00 $15.00 $5.00 $5.00
5000 $100.00 $60.00 $50.00 $50.00
50000 $850.00 $510.00 $500.00 $500.00
500000 $5,500.00 $5,010.00 $5,000.00 $5,000.00

Considering the fact that most mobile network operators in the US offer an unlimited texting plan (even if considering the “fair use” small print which usually limits the SIM owner to a few thousands per month) and the above prices, it becomes apparent that in many cases using an in-house SMS gateway to send bulk SMS in the US is an investment that quickly returns itself.



Pricing of SMS Gateway services

This will be the first of a collection of posts that will be combined into a research article and will try and cover as much as possible on the pricing of sending an SMS. There is no way to have a complete listing of prices from different SMS service providers and mobile network operators because:

  1. The matrix of providers and pricing models is simply too large and complex to cover
  2. Prices are dynamic and change with market fluctuations
  3. Pricing isn’t always published by SMS service providers
Still, the idea is to have a solid estimate of the ballpark price one can expect to send bulk SMS by various SMS service providers.
The cost of sending bulk SMS using cloud telephony services like Twilio or Tropo will be discussed in a separate post that will deal specifically with these services.
The research strategy will be as follows:
  • Each post will deal with a new country, starting with the country largest single market of SMS traffic, namely the US.
  • A table of price per campaign size for various SMS service providers will be compiles. In addition, this table will also hold the mobile network operator prices for sending an SMS via SIM cards.
  • In case various pricing models can be used for a campaign (i.e credit based, SMS based or other methods), the most profitable model for the customer will be selected for the comparison.
So now we have a plan. Research for the US SMS service provider market starts tomorrow…

SMS Gateways and security

I heard through the media today that my credit cards might have been compromised. A bunch of hackers (the kind that waste air on this planet) managed to get their hands on credit card databases located on commerce sites which didn’t have adequate security mechanisms in place. These hackers then proceeded to publish this information so it can further be used by other air wasters.

So what has all this got to do with SMS Gateway service providers ?

Well, I happened to come across a very interesting article published in the December 2008  issue of the Journal of Computer Security titled ”Exploiting Open Functionality in SMS-Capable Cellular Networks”.

In general, the Internet is not a very secure ecosystem. It provides at least the same degrees of freedom the real world does, the kind that on one hand enable constructive forces to create amazing things and on the other enables destructive forces to make life harder for everyone else.

The world of telephony comes from a different culture. Controlled by tightly standardized protocols, centralized management and registered players causes the amount of foul play in this ecosystem to be drastically smaller than the levels seen on the public Internet.

As you might know, SMS Gateway service providers connect between the Wild West of the Internet and the organized world of telephony systems by closing business agreements with mobile network carriers. These carriers enable the SMS Gateway provider to receive bulk SMS requests from the public Internet and to then transfer these requests to the SMSCs of the mobile network carriers (the SMSC is the SMS Center, used by the mobile network carrier to store and dispatch the messages eventually to the base stations and the remote mobile phones).

So in terms of security, what happens is that this connection brings the security hazards of the Internet (in the form of easier anonymity, easier access to operate the service, easier access to massive delivery throughput) right to the doorstep and through the door into the domain of the telephony networks.

The article demonstrates how in this situation, using SMS Gateways a malevolent individual has “the ability to deny voice service to cities the size of Washington D.C. and Manhattan with little more than a cable modem”

See – if everyone purchased their own SMS Gateways – we wouldn’t be under this threat… :-)




How do I text thee ? Let me count the ways

Whenever I see fragmentation in protocol standards, I’m reminded of the story of the Tower of Babel. There’s probably a moral in there somewhere, but I’m not about to get all philosophical on you. I’m going to try and list the texting applications I’m aware of and try and reflect on where all this is headed.

Some research shows that the smartphone revolution and the plethora of texting applications are already taking pieces of the SMS revenue, but this is only (or mostly) in the person to person use of texting. The large market of SMS gateway services will probably not be affected in the immediate future as their services require:

  1. A standard text messaging protocol
  2. Knowing in advance that the protocol is supported by the remote device

As previously mentioned, SMS is the only protocol that complies with the above requirements, and by the looks of it, the protocols of both existing and new texting applications that keep popping up will just continue to diverge until someone with enough clout or some grass-root revolution will set the de-facto standard for Internet text messaging (yes, I’m aware of RFC 3248 and RFC 5365, but if it is not widely  used then it is not very helpful). Currently the only contender is XMPP, used by Google talk.

Just to give you a feel for the landscape, the following are popular messaging applications for smartphones (listed in no particular order):

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), iMessenger (Apple), WhatsApp, Viber,ChatON (Samsung), Nimbuzz, Skype, fring, Meebo, Google Voice, PingChat, TextNow, Kik, TextFree, TextPlus, TextOne, Touch (Enflick), KakaoTalk, GO Chat, Disco, Beluga, Facebook Messenger (Facebook), GroupMe, HeyWire, Yahoo Messenger, LiveProfile, FastSociety, HurricaneParty, Yobongo, Ebuddy, RocketTalk,  AOL Messenger.

The  above list does not include applications that are big locally, such as Mxit which has more local subscribers in South Africa than Facebook has.

The user base of these apps varies – many have over a million subscribers, others in the above list have several millions of users and yet others have an even broader reach (like iMessage which gives access to 100 million iOS users).



SMS Gateways, Spam and the Law – Part 3

I decided to dig a bit deeper regarding the regulations regarding sending mass SMS in the US. First, the bottom line – if you want to send mass SMS campaigns in the US, you have to get previous consent from the target recipients prior to sending them anything, unless you already have business relations with the recipients. In all cases however, you should have a clear explanation on how to opt-out.

And even playing by what is perceived to be the acceptable rules will not always protect you from a class action lawsuit, as happened in mid 2011 to Twitter (link)

Anyway – the details are covered in this link by Shelton The article explains the situation clearly and although it refers to fax campaigns, I assume the same goes for SMS, as the media is similar.



SMS Gateways, Spam and the Law – Part 2

In the previous post, I mentioned that the waters are murky regarding what is allowed and not allowed in sending mass SMS. On the surface it seems simple – if the information in the ITU’s ICT regulation toolkit document is anything to go by, then it follows that the opt-in approach is adopted by the EU directive, Australia and others while the opt-out approach is allowed in the US, Japan and South Korea.

However, judging by class actions against companies that used opt-out SMS marketing in the US, it seems the courts in the US don’t buy the ITU’s assessment of what is considered legal use… reading tatangos’ blog, in this article CEO Derek Johnson not only recommends an opt-in, but a double opt-in, which means the user not only has to send a request to receive the messages, but has to reply to a text in order to confirm this wish…

The fact that opt-out doesn’t cover you in the US is evident in this post on the same blog, where NASCAR HOLDINGS sent an opt-out SMS campaign and is in the process of a class action lawsuit from someone. The plaintiff is actually seeking damages for two violations – one for receiving the first SMS and another for receiving the confirmation SMS after requesting not to receive further SMS communications from them…

The way I see it, you should get your recipients permission before sending them SMS commercials – not only because it keeps you on legally safe ground but for the same reason you don’t (I hope) throw garbage out your car window. In the long run, it makes the world you live in a bit less fun to be in, and the fact that this won’t convince the cynical, doesn’t make it any less true.


© SMS Gateways