The Evolution of SMS Marketing – Part One

SMS marketing, otherwise known as text message marketing and SMS advertising, refers to marketing via an audience’s smartphone, tablet, or another mobile device. It is an ideal channel for delivering time-sensitive and location-specific personalised promotional material that is relevant to the recipient. As of 2018, SMS marketing is the preferred primary investment for businesses and other organisations to engage with consumers in a meaningful way.

Bulk Advertising – The Old Way

From the earliest times, humans have sought ways to communicate and advertise en masse, from mediaeval Town Criers to wagon-driving travelling salesmen and pedlars to the invention of the landline telephone in 1876. Some novel examples of mass advertising from the years before mobile phones include:

  • 1925 – The first Goodyear blimp “The Pilgrim” advertised Goodyear from the sky.
  • The 1930s – Custom vehicles in the shape of cigarette lighters, hot dogs, and such toured the US to build brand awareness before it was even a marketing term.
  • 1967 – The first time the term “direct marketing” was coined. It described telemarketing and direct mail practices dating to the early 1950s.
  • 1973 – the invention of the first portable phone handset.

Mobile SMS Evolution – the 1990s

  • The SMS concept was developed for the first time in 1984, by developers Bernard Ghillebaert and Friedhelm Hillebrand of the GSM Corporation.
  • In 1991, 2G was rolled out in Finland. This was the first mobile data service and it was implemented for the first time by Radiolinja (now known as Elisa).
  • The concept of SMS text message was further developed in 1992, with the concept of sending an electronic message from a computer to a mobile phone (mobile phones at this time did not have keyboards). The first actual text message to be sent was a simple “Merry Christmas” message between Neil Papworth and Richard Jarvis, two Sema Group Telecoms developers.
  • Mobile phones were text-enabled for the first time in 1993. Nokia was the first manufacturer to support SMS messaging. It wasn’t until 1999, however, that SMS could be exchanged between networks.
  • The 1990s also saw the invention of T9 typing. This refers to “text on 9 keys” and has letters attached to numbers on a numerical keypad.
  • In 1994, the first person to person text message was sent (also in Finland by Radiolinja) and hence the concept of sending text messages between friends via phone gradually caught on.
  • In 1996, the first mobile phone device that was capable of browsing the internet hit the market.
  • Nokia produced the first phone with a full keyboard in 1997.
  • 1999 saw the invention of shortcodes. These specialised short phone numbers for SMS and MMS allowed businesses to provide consumers with easy connection access directly to them. These were implemented in 2003.

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