SMS2.0 – Messaging Redefined!

Source: Impact | View Print Article

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In a world where contests are floated by the dozen, day in and day out, there are a few that dare to be different and attract attention. One such popular contest that is held often around the world is the fastest mobile messaging contest. It has young mobi-geeks take on the challenge and create records that would put a normal mobile user to shame. But that’s just a contest we’re talking about. Imagine a situation where the user is fed with textual and messaging options like none other. We are referring to SMS 2.0, a new mobile messaging service that will be fed to millions of mobile users in the country a couple of months from now.

While the nationwide launch of the service is still days away, the initial buzz that the service has managed to create in Delhi, which witnessed a plot launch in June last month, has left the service provider Affle on a high. For the company responsible for creating SMS 2.0, one of the key things of importance is creating technologies that will enable media on mobile phones. And why not, as it believes that mobile is the one device that is carried by everybody. Why not? There is nothing that can be called scalable media on mobile.

Particularly excited about the new service is Anuj Kumar, Executive Director (South Asia), Affle. For Kumar, while across the world there are various things that users can do on the mobile, somehow users haven’t gone beyond voice and text in India.

“There are a few who will user browsers while others will use search, but voice and text is something that binds everybody. Voice and text are the two modules that we feel will blind everybody. We are looking at leveraging the power of this device.” Says Kumar. For Kumar, Affle’s focus would be only on media solution within the mobile domain. So what is it about SMS2.0 that will make the users yearn for more? In a busy world where getting the attention of people on any new offering seems quite an uphill task, will SMS2.0 manage to change rules and attract maximum eyeballs of users?

In terms of value propositions for the users, what SMS2.0 would give them is an upgrade of the existing SMS application, says Kumar. Explaining, he says “The upgrade would give them access to a lot of media content, basis their interest area. So users could access information on things that are of interest to them like movies, cricket, etc. Thus one could access information on things which are related to the interest for free on their mobile phone and delivered in a non-intrusive fashion.”

While that’s one aspect of SMS2.0, the other good thing is that SMS2.0 would give users a lot of additional functionalities. That means a user can personalize his window by putting colours, emoticons, scheduling SMS, which Affle believes is a huge step forward. Says Kumar, “In the last ten to eleven years that mobile has been in India everything about mobile has changed – be it the camera, Bluetooth, etc. But the SMS window looks exactly the same as it did ten years back. It’s the only window where nothing has changed. So the key value proposition of SMS2.0 is that it changes the personalization experience of SMS, thereby making content and media easily accessible.”

Another noteworthy facet according to Kumar is that SMS is the only application that is done while users are looking at the handset. “That is the time that the eyeball is assured on the handset. That’s where we believe is a great platform to trigger a media.”, says the Affle honcho.

The third and most important feature of SMS2.0 is that the service is all available for free. “There is no one-time cost, no recurring cost, nothing.”, avers Kumar. All the more reason for users to opt for the news service.

To avail of the service on mobile, a user has to send an SMS to 121 and will then get a WAP link on the phone. The user then has to click on that link and upgrade the service to SMS2.0 Having done that, the user can then proceed with the messaging service the normal way.

But will it be easy to influence and get users to access SMS2.0, or for that matter, even get them addicted to messaging? As Kumar explains, we have to try and make people do what is not their default behavior.

“Habit changing for individuals is always difficult whereas if you embed yourself within the habit then it’s much easier. Like if someone watches a program on TV, it’s a widely followed practice. If I make then watch a programme on the mobile, I am making them change their habits, so therein lies the challenge. What we are trying to do is embed ourselves with the default interactions of the users,” says Kumar.

Taking aid from data, Kumar states that as per statistics available from industry bodies, 65 to 70 percent of the mobile users in India use text very often. “The average statistic is about 45 SMSes sent per user every month. Also, you have 25 percent of users who don’t user SMS. If you put that number on that 75, there would only be 60 SMSes per user per month. So SMS as a habit sometimes overtakes voice too.” States Kumar.

While he affirms that the sole beneficiaries of SMS 2.0 would be the users, he is also pleased with the scope the service would offer advertisers. Advertising is also envisaged as one of the revenue streams for Affle. “Currently the whole ecosystem is such that one revenue model is advertising. We already have top 10 to 12 advertisers who have signed on. In terms of revenues, jus the pilot that we did has given us revenues of 15 to 20 percent of the total all India mobile marketing revenues. Going ahead, the revenues coming from SMS 2.0 would easily be double of what the industry estimates suggest.” Predicts Kumar.

On the list of advertisers, Affle is excited on getting some big names that are exploring the medium of mobile for the first time. Clients like Perfetti, Aviva, Levis, P&G, Britannia and the othes who have never gone on mobile have taken the plunge. “They are in it as they see that this application is all they had looked for. It has the right amount of contextuality, right amount of user engagement and it’s not a mobile marketing channel. It’s anything that is just marketing that users don’t like.” He explains.

On the other mode of generating revenues, a second revenue stream for Affle is from content. “Today, content that is made available to users is all free. But on that free service, there is option for the user to buy something related to content, there is a small revenue share that Affle gets.” Says Kumar

Presently, in India, Affle has partnered with three content providers: Time of India Group, Dainik Jagran and Cricinfo. And Affle is open to more tie-ups in future.

Having created the initial buss, is Affle geared enough to roll out the service to other markets in India? An initial exercise that Affle did in Delhi with its partner Airtel, where Affle randomly selected users and introduced them to the new service, was a huge success according to the company.

Of all the users, around 85 percent of them said they wanted to take up the service. “In terms of conversion rates it was the highest we had ever seen for any mobile service, but that obviously is not the most scalable method. Going forward, we are looking at starting off with a lot of below the line activities in Delhi in terms of demos, kiosks, malls, multiplexes, BPOs, and palces where the youth of today hang out.” Says Kumar.

Affle would be leveraging other media options whether it’s print, television, outdoors, media…so that people came to know that upgrade of SMS is available. From Delhi, Affle would be going national by the end of next month, we are assured.

Tech hands running telecom services is fine. But isn’t this a media domain driven by technology? Of late, there have been increasing cases of media and advertising personalities shifting base to technology, explains Kumar. For Affle, he underlines that one of the founders Richard Humphreys, was the worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi. Even otherwise, there are other members in the team who have had good amount of experience in media and advertising, we are told.

“Our strength lies in delivering media through mobile technology. Today, media consumption between all of them changes, as everyone is experiencing new technology through new media. That’s the reason a lot of technology companies are becoming leaders in media. That is where the user eyeballs are – the advertiser per se is just looking at the eyeballs. If the eyball is on the search engine or on the Internet then that makes a better platform than television. IN the mobile space today, there is nobody who can claim to have that position. That is wehere we come in. It took us two years in the R&D phase, which we developed over time, so as to start talking about the product. So we worked on creating technologies, creating partnerships…coz it’s a tough ecosystem to crack,” says Kumar.

Having been in existence for over two years now, Affle sees itself more being a mobile media company. Head-quartered in the UK, it has its R&D centre in Singapore. Singapore, because Affle keeps working on a lot of cutting edge technologies and Singapore provides them the platform to get talent from all across the globe. So, even as the founding team comprises mostly Indians, Affle believes that Singapore is the right place to have an R&D centre.

Says the spokesperson: “Though we have launched our service in Singapore, the kind of response we have got from India is even better in terms of users clicking on the data, calling up the call centres and appreciating our service.”

But India is just the beginning as Affle already has its hands full making plans for other markets. “The next launch we would be having is in Malaysia and UK by October-November this year. We also have a strategic partnership with a big media company that will launch our service in ten new markets including China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Phillppines, and others,” stats a happy Kumar.

It seems a given that the next upgrade of SMS will become a rage in India. We’ll get to see the proof this August.

Source: Impact | View Print Article