5smsAccording to the GSMA, Asia Pacific accounts for more than half of the world’s mobile subscriptions, exceeding 3 billion mobile subscriptions by the 1st quarter of 2012. That explosive growth reflects the high pace of adoption of mobile phones in Asia, amplified by large national populations, with China alone responsible for close to a billion mobile subscriptions. That number is expected to rise as infrastructure in the region improves, pointing to Asia Pacific fast becoming the number one mobile hub in the world.

In many Asian countries, mobile phones are also the gateway devices for Internet access – a mobile phone with a data plan is affordable where a laptop or desktop PC might be too expensive. eMarketer estimates that Asia Pacific mobile internet users will be number more than 1.22 billion in 2015, nearly double the 623.3 million users in 2011. Gartner predicts that global mobile ad market will be worth USD$20 billion by 2015 with 35 percent of that revenue generated in Asia Pacific. The wide reach of mobile, the increasing number of mobile internet users, the different types of mobile marketing available and users’ general receptiveness towards mobile marketing will all contribute to this growth.

While relatively unsophisticated compared to rich media or internet-based campaigns, SMS marketing is still considered a highly-effective means of mobile marketing. It has the widest reach – feature phone users and smartphone users alike are reachable via SMS. In addition, SMS coupon codes are easily shareable and do not require access to the Internet. In some parts of Asia Pacific, where infrastructure is still developing, SMS is still widely used by users to connect with each other particularly in small towns or rural areas. For marketers, SMS marketing is as an opportunity to reach rural audiences, aside from its other advantages of reach, ease of implementation, scalability and cost-effectiveness.

Asians are also rapidly taking to social media and industry giants - such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube - have been receiving much attention in the region. A study by Socialbakers found that Asia, collectively, is the largest online population on Facebook, with 209 million members in February, compared to 155 million in North America. Facebook was also experiencing a growth rate of 3.4 percent in Asia; double that of North America’s 1.6 percent. Numbers for China are unavailable, because China has its own social media networks, but by all accounts, social media numbers will come to mirror those of mobile phone penetration, making the Asia Pacific region a hotspot for both social media and mobile devices.

Social media and SMS marketing are two different, but complementary marketing platforms, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Savvy marketers will work to get the best out of each tool, and use it where it can gain the most traction. The one common factor across both is the social aspect – social media and SMS messages both lend themselves to sharing. In situations where consumers have no access to social media, SMS messages can be a useful way to make offers and discounts available to the consumers’ social graph: the consumer can pass on the benefits to his friends and family quite easily. In fact, SMS is still the number one use case for Asians, who message more than they talk. Plus SMS messages are OS agnostic, and as close to universal as you can get on the mobile channel, regardless of what phone is being used.

Social media, on the other hand, is slowly making the transition to the mobile space: Facebook’s recently redesigned iOS apps joins Twitter’s own, as social media networks move towards greater ease of use for their members. While a network like Facebook does have a higher level of information density than an SMS message, the two technologies can still work together, with the Facebook page offering information and community, with SMS as an instant messaging system for the dissemination of special offer coupons, discount codes and so on. This level of convergence is inevitable, as companies try to monetize their social media efforts.

Naturally, there is always the possibility of abuse, with countries like India and Indonesia already struggling with issues of SMS spam. More progressive approaches to SMS marketing, including opt-in systems and membership in loyalty programmes can convert SMS messages from spam into valuable information, and incidentally push up such schemes into the realm of social media. As users opt into membership, they can interact with other members who have matching interests, and at the same time ensure that they receive only those communications that they desire.

Combining SMS marketing with social media can definitely work in the favour of consumers, who can then access online communities that translate into real-world interaction with like-minded others. For brands, this lets them move brand-building to another level that offers the immediacy of SMS communication with the ongoing value of brand communities.

By Kerstin Trikalitis, CEO and Co-Founder, Out There Media