Research just released by GartnerG2 indicates that more people in Europe now use SMS text messaging than email. Even more startling is the change from last year, when 28 percent used text, compared with 29 percent using the Internet. Today, use of text across Europe has leapt to 41 percent of all adults - a growth of almost half in one year - while use of the Internet has increased just one percent. These figures banish once and for all the idea that text is just for teen flirting: there simply aren't that many teenagers.
Clearly, customers are voting with their fingers, and text is where it's at. The lessons for companies are obvious: if you want to talk to customers - or even to your own employees - use text.
The astonishing growth of text has confounded many in the industry, but it is something we have been seeing for sometime, especially through our sister company, mTank. mTank has been developing interactive text applications for clients including Granada TV, W H Smith and O2 (formerly BT Cellnet), and now has a range of solutions based on communicating with customers - and in the case of media, viewers and listeners - via text.
Text is a new medium, and using it effectively means understanding both its power and its pitfalls. For example, simply pushing out a standard advertising message through text is like shouting in customers' ears: it may annoy more than it persuades. Text is intimate and personal: conventional mass market advertising stands out like a sore thumb. This is why mTank's solutions focus on building a personal dialogue with customers, and - in line with regulatory provisions - only sending messages to individuals who have given permission.
Even at the basic technical level, text is not as easy to handle as email. Dealing with the different systems, standards and policies of network operators can be a nightmare for the uninitiated, which is why specialist expertise is needed to handle this new medium effectively. Equally problematic are the contractual and regulatory issues, especially where premium text is involved. mTank's solutions, based on the hard experience of developing systems that work, are designed to hide the technical difficulties, and to provide standard, easy-to-use interfaces for managing text communication.
Gartner's view - which we thoroughly endorse - is that companies should not wait for the next generation of mobile technology, but should develop ways of communicating with customers through the technology which exists now. Mobile phones, now in the hands of 62 percent of all adults in the major European countries, offer twice the reach of the PC Internet, and all of these phones provide text messaging.
As the figures show, text - as opposed to the latest fancies of the mobile or PC industries - is what people actually use day to day. Text makes possible a continuing dialogue with customers throughout their relationship with a company, not just the one-off expensive hit produced by advertising. Text can provide a 24/7 service that costs much less to run than a call centre, and provides a better user experience.
All in all, text looks like the shape of things to come.