The mobile channel offers a great opportunity for companies to move closer to their customers and communicate with them, provided that they follow the best practices of permission-based marketing.
So says Tony Sousa, CEO of Acceleration Media. The mobile channel needs to be thought of as a way of enhancing long-term relationships with consumers rather than as an impersonal mass communications channel, he adds.
For that reason, it is a good idea to ask for permission before flooding a user's cellphone with marketing messages. In addition, tough new laws and regulations oblige companies to respect consumers' wishes about the commercial electronic messages they receive.
Sousa says that regulators such as the Wireless Application Service Providers Association (WASPA), and its rules laid down on the network operators Wireless Application Service Providers, together with the looming Consumer Protection Act all seek to protect consumers from unwanted commercial communications to varying degrees.
The Consumer Protection Act, which comes into effect on 1 April, takes a far tougher stand on unsolicited electronic commercial communications than does the Electronic Transactions & Communications Act of 2002, says Sousa.
According to the new Act, consumers have the right to refuse to accept a direct marketing message and to even pre-emptively block a direct marketing message.
The Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMA) allows consumers to list themselves on a register of people that do not want to receive junk email, spam or marketing SMS messages. The Department of Trade & Industry may well consider using this as the official database of consumers that don't want to receive unsolicited commercial messages.
When the proposed Protection of Personal Information Bill becomes an act, marketers will face even more restrictive rules around the gathering and use of consumer information for marketing purposes.
This means companies need to ensure that their opt-out processes are in order and that their databases are clean. But even without the regulatory pressure, companies should be looking at ways they can use the mobile channel to enhance customer relationships.
One basic principle they should follow is to ask customers to opt-in to receive any electronic marketing message before they send it, unless they have a well-established relationship with the consumer where it would be reasonable for him or her to expect the occasional message. Unsolicited commercial messages - even if not strictly illegal - can damage a brand rather than enhance it.
Sousa says that the challenge for marketers will be to create marketing messages that consumers will want to receive so that their customers will happily opt in to receive mobile communications from them. The messages need to be timely, valuable, interesting and relevant to their customers.
Companies should also think carefully about how often they will communicate with their customers via their cellphones, as most consumers will not welcome an SMS message every week.
Concludes Sousa: "Mobile marketing has the potential to add value to both companies and consumers, but marketers need to use it in a thoughtful manner for it to be truly effective. The days of firing off bulk SMS messages to the entire customer base are over. Now is the time to use the mobile channel in a strategic manner to engage effectively with your customers."
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