The evolution of SMS – how brands will be using RCS in 2020

RCS – an evolution of SMS equipped with rich media formats –  is due to hit consumer markets very soon. Are you ready? Fear not, Ken Johnstone is here to explain.

Ken Johnston 150 BWDo you ever have that moment when you realise that you forgot to reply to a message – but can’t remember whether it came via WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram, Facebook Messenger or iMessage? Consumer messaging has become very fragmented. Different apps are required to chat with various groups of friends or other contacts.

Business messaging is still quite straightforward. There are five billion SMS users around the world and businesses recognise the value of ubiquity. They can send a message and know that it will be received, without worrying about which apps their customers have installed on their smartphone.

The beauty of SMS is its wide reach, but it doesn’t support the rich functionality of consumer messaging apps – such as embedded images, animations, video, buttons or suggested replies. This is where Rich Communication Services (RCS) comes in. RCS combines those rich experiences with the ability to reach customers – no app required.

What is RCS?

RCS is an evolution of SMS; offering advanced messaging functionality without the need to build or maintain an app, as it’s already built into the phone’s native messaging software. It supports richer messaging content such as images, GIFs and videos; provides read receipts and even gives businesses the option to embed surveys and location-sharing features.

Today, millions of businesses use SMS to stay in touch with customers. In fact, MessageMedia alone sent two billion SMS messages on behalf of over 40,000 customers last year. RCS will build on this and has the potential to make a significant wave in the digital communication space by allowing companies to achieve their goals with truly engaging experiences over messaging.

Want to remind a customer of a dinner reservation? Or provide movie screening options ahead of date night? RCS is an all-purpose communication channel that can be used to meet many business and consumer needs.

While the RCS standard was first published in 2007 and adopted by the GSM Association in the following year, it has only started to gather momentum in recent years with major backers Google, Microsoft and Samsung – as well as mobile carriers around the world announcing plans to roll out the service.

Trials from major brands including Subway, MGM Resorts and Walgreens have produced fantastic results, with all of these businesses experiencing a significant uplift in customer engagement, thanks to RCS.

Vodafone and Visit London campaigns from earlier this year saw London tourists and day trippers finding information on activities – like theatre shows – within a single tap, as well as having the option to book, pay for and receive tickets in less than a minute – all from a single screen. The trial was extremely successful, achieving up to 13 times the click-through rate and eight times the activation rate of SMS.

It remains to be seen if Apple will support RCS in iOS, although I personally believe it will. Even without Apple’s support, forecasts predict that by the end of 2020, RCS will be bigger than Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber; and on a par with WhatsApp. Furthermore, according to MobileSquared RCS is predicted to be the world’s biggest messaging platform by 2021.

An important part of the B2C communications toolkit

It’s the ‘rich’ in ‘Rich Communication Services’ that really cements the service as something that is set to achieve market cut-through. RCS incorporates visual tools and widgets that users already recognise from other platforms, like image carousels and embedded info cards with action buttons – shortcuts for consumers to buy, book, find out more info and engage with a business.

Unlike SMS, where messages are usually received from a phone number, RCS messages are received from registered business names that are verified to give consumers peace of mind that messages are legitimate, therefore reducing the risk of scam messaging or phishing attempts. This is especially important given the number of phishing attempts recently doubled in just one year – 246.2 million attempts in 2017 jumping up to 482.5 million in 2018.

RCS messages also include business branding and logos, thus creating new opportunities for establishing customer rapport and trust, as well as maintaining clear brand positioning in consumer’s minds. As RCS makes it easy for non-tech people to deploy real-time digital experiences to their customers, this is likely to have an impact on the app development ecosystem. Most consumers spend almost all of their time using only their 10 favourite apps, according to TechCrunch. This makes it very hard for the long tail of app developers to succeed and potentially signals that we are moving toward a post-app world.

Studies by Google show that 51% of us do not download a single new application in a given month, and even when we do, nearly one in four of us will delete an app after the first use. And even if we do download an app and don’t delete it, 85% of us switch off app notifications. These factors make it very hard to achieve cut-through with mobile apps.

RCS, just like SMS, will enable a level of customer engagement that just cannot be replicated by third party applications.

Who’s using RCS?

As well as common marketing use cases where users can buy products directly from within messages, MessageMedia is using RCS to help businesses who regularly send appointment reminders by including options for customers to schedule or reschedule appointments as needed. The process is made seamless because RCS is integrated with other smartphone functions such as calendar, maps, contacts and more.

What about those customers who don’t have an RCS-enabled device yet? Fear not – the service is automatically programmed to send messages via SMS or mobile landing pages as a backup, so one way or another the recipient will always receive your message.

After being part of Google’s RCS ‘Hackathon’ – where the MessageMedia team emerged as winners – as well as spearheading RCS trials in the US, we are looking forward to equipping local businesses with these capabilities. MessageMedia will continue to trial RCS in US and UK with Australian trials commencing in 2019, ahead of full-scale launches set for early 2020.

There are exciting times ahead in the world of mobile messaging.

Ken Johnstone is chief product officer at MessageMedia

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Image credit:Chad Madden