MMS Officially Huge

If you haven’t read our friend, Tomi Ahonen’s post “Everything you ever wanted to know about mobile, but were afraid to ask” over at Communities Dominate Brands, you really should. It’s a little long (no surprises there from our Tomi!) but is worth every minute you invest reading it. This applies if you’re a died-in-the-wool mobile geek or a let’s-hop-on-this-mobile-bandwagon-while-I-can kinda dude or dudette. It even applies if you’re a Godfather of Mobile Marketing 🙂

Like many others though, I raised an inquisitorial eyebrow in surprise when Tomi forecast that MMS is going to be the next big success story to take a place on the mobile podium. Quick as a flash, Tomi wrote a follow up post specifically addressing this, pointing out it was already huge and was about to get even huger.

I’m no MMS sceptic – I was so excited at the start of it all that I wrote a book about it, along with Open Gardens’s Ajit Jaokar. You can see a copy here, though I’m not sure I would recommend it any more as it’s more than a little out of date.

MMS today is apparently a $30 Billion business already. By way of comparison, all global digital advertising is worth about $60 Billion, so this is not a trivial business. And Tomi’s main rationale for future growth is that while P2P is growing very nicely indeed, it’s MMS’s potential to deliver content, marketing and media that will see the hockey-stick growth.

I’ve long held the belief that MMS is being held back for P2P use by being hard to use to its true potential. Sure, it’s pretty easy to snap a photo and send it to a pal, especially these days – and that is indeed how it’s mainly being used. But it can do so much more, such as audio and video, as well as well laid out text and images. Think of it like a mini-slide show and you get the picture. No pun intended.

However, in the P2P world, building a slide show is not an easy thing to do in MMS and requires investment in both thinking about it and creation. It’s like HTML email, which is widely used by businesses to add impact to their email, but hardly ever used by consumers except for very rudimentary cut+paste or to create email sig templates.

So, first job on the P2P front to encourage more use would be to take a look at that whole UI and create some fun and easy-to-use templates that make MMS great to use, other than sending pics. I’ve been saying that for 8 years now and has anyone listened?

On the Business-to-Consumer front, I absolutely agree that MMS is potentially a very powerful tool for media and marketing. But the real challenge for explosive growth is about Reach and Cost and until these areas are addressed, it will still fail to achieve what it might do. That’s not to say it won’t continue to do well, but that dollars will be left on the table in comparison.

Let’s look at Reach first. If a business is going to start sending people MMSs, either on a one-off basis, or as part of an ongoing media communication (such as news) or marketing campaign, best practice (and the law in many markets) dictates that you need to get their permission first. It’s perhaps a little surprising that I still feel the need to write this today, but it’s equally surprising that many marketers haven’t got this message yet.

However, getting people to opt-in isn’t as easy as it sounds, even if you’re offering free stuff, let alone if you’ll be charging them for the service, as say, a newspaper might be tempted to do. This means that you’ll probably only get relatively small numbers on board. If you’re a Brand Manager and looking to create ongoing dialogue, many would turn down the opportunity to communicate with just 1% or 2% of their customer base. I’m not suggesting that this is a sensible approach, but simply reporting on how the world is. You can either accept that or try and change the way the world works – but that’s not so easy.

Perhaps more relevantly, if you’re trying to build a list or channel for use by third parties – essentially the approach employed by Blyk – you run into an even bigger issue over Reach. If brand managers can be picky about small numbers (even if incredibly well targeted), ad agencies who typically buy these campaigns are even more into the Reach thing. When any business fails to gain traction, there can be any numbers of reasons for it. But simplistically, Blyk gave up in the UK as it claimed to get great results, but could only offer contact with a relatively small number of people. Advertisers buy Reach, then Targeting, not vice versa.

But as Tomi points out, if the service offers enough value, you can overcome the Reach argument in certain markets like China. Though I’d be sceptical if you could replicate this particular model in more developed markets for lots of reasons, not the least is access to free news via other media.

So then we’re back to the cost. It still costs about 25p (US 35 cents) in the UK to send a P2P MMS, but I believe you could get a bulk wholesale price for 15p. That’s just the delivery cost and before you charge the consumer anything, if that’s your planned model. If you’re a newspaper, as an example, that’s a very significant cost in comparison to other digital channels such as PC (free), mobile web (free) or mobile apps (free). So, why would you bother? And if you do plan to charge for subscription, you’ll be back to relatively small numbers again.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have marketing campaigns and again, MMS is very expensive. 15p equates to £150 CPM (Cost Per Thousand), or an unheard of $215 CPM. Or certainly unheard of in digital marketing terms – old skool paper and phone Direct Marketing is more expensive for sure in terms of delivery and production, so maybe the hope lies in that direction. But when mobile web advertising costs £20 CPM maximum, MMS is expensive.

If traditional Direct Marketing spenders are the core target market for advertisers, even this market is switching to more cost-efficient forms of digital marketing these days. Furthermore, it considerably narrows the possible sectors which might consider, let alone trial, MMS.

So, yes, I agree with Tomi. MMS has humungous potential, just as it always had and has managed impressive results despite its handicaps. But I would predict that unless these shackles are removed (especially the cost element), it’s always going to be a case of being able to be sooo much better.

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