Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The way your marketing messages are sent matters, it’s not just about the cheapest route

By Sarah Keller, Chief Global Enterprise Officer,  Global Message Services

Ever taken a trip that has gone badly wrong, been delayed, rerouted and leaves you arriving without all your luggage and in less than perfect shape?

Your marketing and user / customer authentication messages can easily make a similar trek. But you might not even know it was happening. Welcome to the Wild West of least-cost ‘grey’ SMS routing… 

SMS is an efficient way to engage with consumers

SMS has always been an efficient and cost effective way of connecting with customers and most recently it has seen renewed interest as a method of communication. Indeed, multiple research suggests that SMS has the highest engagement of all communications channels with 98% of messages opened within 5 mins of receipt.  In short, SMS is a  powerful, simple, fast, personal and cost-effective way to reach consumers.  

As a digital marketer, if you use text messages to build and protect your connection with a customer, it is worth reflecting on how your message reaches them, because what turns up and how it is received is determined by how it gets there. It can be very different from what you intended to send, if it takes a so-called ‘grey route’.

Least cost providers reduce cost but it comes at a price

Grey routes are provided by indirect messaging companies that neither have direct relationships with the major carriers nor routes through fully accredited peers.

Using least-cost providers for your messages can result in them turning up late or not at all, transposed with unsolicited content changes, and delivered from random or confusing sender addresses. Has your customer’s one-time password hopped five-times across different networks and systems? When it arrives, will the recipient trust the sender ID? Is it what she expects, does it build confidence in your brand, or erode it? Did it reach her within the time-limit set by your system? Did the customer’s network block it as spam? Is the messaging company’s  ‘best effort’ good enough?

The value of text messaging for businesses cannot be disputed. All indications are that businesses will only make more use of SMS, particularly to secure their customer relationships.

Juniper Research predicts such authentication messages will account for a staggering 60% of business SMS traffic globally in 2022, up 5% in just a year to 1.7 trillion. As the use of one-time passwords continues to grow — so too will bad actors’ motivation to exploit any security shortcomings. 

The damage to a brand can be immeasurable

While the majority of brand SMS campaigns go well, there are scenarios that can go horribly wrong, is your password reset message substituted with a phishing URL that arrives at the very moment the customer has decided to engage with their bank? Every additional step your message takes multiplies the risk while making fraudsters harder to identify. 

You might agonise about the pantones, fonts and formatting applied to your brand, scrutinise the response rates and attribution in digital, and sit patiently through your colleague Jeff’s unsolicited Ted Talk on the Foundational Importance of Trust, then cheerfully hand your customer data —  in volume — to a loosely affiliated bunch of messaging aggregators. 

Bad transliteration of special characters is a particular issue. Your £ sign suddenly turns into a #hashtag on route — but the ensuing conversations with your social media team might be the least of your problems.

If you operate in Europe, you are subject to some rigorous data protection and privacy regulations.  Who has had access to your customer data? Have they retained it? Has someone read the messages in flight? 

Yes, but the message gets there in the end. Not always. You need a trusted supplier. 

To de-risk your communications, the simplest way is to use a messaging provider that guarantees the routing of your messages, with either direct connections to mobile operators or a network of audited partners.

In the world of telecommunications, there are many protocols for connections and interworking from which to choose from. Signalling System 7 (SS7) allows us to track where messaging failure or blocking occurs. With this, enterprises can be informed immediately about failures or delays in message delivery. The sender can also customise their profile settings; for example, to arrange for redelivery (for a specified validity period) should the first attempt fail.

To have trusted relationships with mobile network operators we must also commit to protect their networks and customers from spam. If your messaging provider does not offer full transparency on how it ensures your messages get to your customer, whose hands they pass through, the state they will arrive in and how the sender will be identified, it could be time to look for other options.