It’s inevitable with any new form of marketing that after awhile U.S. laws and regulations will be established both to protect consumers and limit what exactly constitutes an acceptable message. It had happened first with print, then voice, then fax, then email and now the cycle continues with mobile messaging. In the past few months, the most of the major carriers have either implemented or tightened their restrictions on mobile marketing and this trend shows no signs of abating any time soon.
In one sense, these new requirements actually point to a rapidly maturing mobile marketing industry. The last couple of years were essentially the testing and proving grounds for text messaging, mobile content and most recently mobile search. Companies were largely in an experimental mode, trying out various combinations of mobile campaigns to see what worked and what didn’t. Now, in 2008, these companies have largely settled on the types of mobile initiatives they want to implement and are starting to launch such programs in earnest.
Not surprisingly, this increased usage has brought with it an increased scrutiny. One of the biggest reasons for this is due to the fact that, unlike most other marketing channels, there is a hard cost to the consumer to receive these messages. While it’s true many consumers have unlimited or extremely high data/SMS plans with their mobile devices, there are still many more that do not. And that is just for campaigns that do not have a fee associated with them. When it comes to mobile messages or subscriptions that include a charge, called a premium campaign or message, the regulations get even stricter.
Still, the largest source of contention and proposed laws center around what are called Location Based Services (LBS), which take advantage of the fact that mobile consumers are just that and send campaigns based upon their current location. The biggest focus of concern centers on consumer protection/privacy. While such services have flourished in Europe for years, in the much more litigious United States LBS is a target for consumer advocacy groups. In fact, this week the Center of Digital Democracy held a town meeting with the FTC, urging them to prevent mobile marketers from enabling LBS-based alerts and advertisements with their subscribers by citing the possible consumer privacy violations.
While organizations like the Mobile Marketing Association have established guidelines for mobile campaigns, the fact remains that any of these programs must be approved by the major cell phone carriers, notably AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. Each one has their own requirements, many of which have changed as noted above so here’s a quick summary of how the carriers operate currently:
Just last month, AT&T changed its certification process to be much more stringent in terms of approving new shortcodes and price points for premium services. The sender must now be identified in every message received, known as Mobile Terminated or MT, to the subscriber. AT&T also requires that every subscriber must agree to opt-in before starting to receive the messages. For text campaigns, this means that there are even fewer characters to work with when composing the message.
Verzion has also made some changes to their provisioning process over the past few months. Any new premium shortcode or even just a new pricepoint for an existing shortcode must now be approved by the carrier’s new certification board. Senders must be prepared to build in some extra leadtime for this in their schedules. Fortunately, at least for now, text message campaigns still do not require opt-in to be received by Verizon subscribers. However, given the current trends, mobile marketers should be prepared to have a double-in requirement soon.
T-Mobile hasn’t made any recent changes to their certification process because it was already fairly stringent to begin with but mobile marketers must be aware of the carrier’s policies. The most notable of these is the fact that all T-Mobile subscribers must opt-in to receive campaigns and a specific message flow (how the campaign will work) must be approved prior to the shortcode being approved.
As it stands right now, there are no changes with Sprint. Nevertheless, it’s again expected that the carrier will eventually follow suit with the others in terms of at the very least requiring double-opt in for mobile marketing campaigns.
So, as you can see, mobile marketing is increasingly becoming a more regulated (and yes, restrictive) form of communication. Eventually these issues will dissipate as the technology continues to mature and address such concerns. Yet for now, it’s in a mobile marketer’s best interest to ensure that they understand and more importantly comply to the requirements set forth by the carriers. Otherwise, they will find themselves unable to reach out to their consumers with this exciting and dynamic form of communication.
Until next time”¦
Analog thoughts in a digital world