How to be smart with dumb phones

Last updated: 20 March 2014

I expect many of our readers will know someone who either gave or received a smartphone over the last few months. They’re ubiquitous these days and I’ve even seen kids who can’t be more than two or three years old using a smart device. Thomas Husson blogged for Forrester on mobile trends from 2012 at the end of last year, revealing that there were more than one billion smartphones in circulation by the end of the year.

But there’s another type of device that dwarfs the level of smartphone adoption. It’s called the mobile phone, or cell phone. Wired published an article from Harvard adjunct assistant professor and CEO of Jana, Nathan Eagle, entitled “Dumb phones are the future of advertising.” It’s a great article and highlights an important point that often gets lost in the vociferous noise of mobile operating systems, namely that up to six billion people have a mobile phone subscription. While it may not have NFC, GPS or apps, the humble, ‘original’ cell phone is still far from obsolete.

Africa, which lacks a wired infrastructure, depends instead on its mobile wireless communications, which has grown into a position of great strength. Kenya in particular is a world leader in mobile payments, where its M-Pesa platform has been in place for years and now has over 14 million subscribers. These users predominately access payments via an ‘old’ cell phone and this is just a small section of the huge cell phone demographic that continues to thrive around the world, presenting mobile marketers with huge opportunities that can often be overlooked.

SMS WorldwideAs my colleague Caroline Doussot outlined in her golden rules of SMS marketing, SMS remains the most effective way of marketing to consumers via the most personal medium on the planet, making it ideal for capitalizing on the wealth of ‘dumb’ mobiles used by billions of people across the world. Respecting your customers’ right to privacy and transparency is paramount and, coupled with a relevant reward, provides the key ingredients in a successful mobile marketing mix.

Think about this: if you have an app for the iPhone, you can reach a huge demographic; if you have an app for Android, you can reach an even larger demographic; but if you embrace SMS marketing, you can reach up to 100% of the six billion mobile phones on the planet. Nothing else is OS-neutral, device-neutral, nor carrier-neutral, providing you with an unparalleled marketing reach, mutually beneficial to both you and your customers.

So when the next shiny device is announced, flaunting its curves, its processor and its voice-recognition technology, remember that its predecessor is still there, leading the way; not quite as dumb as it looks.


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