It’s been over 25 years since Neil Papworth of Vodafone sent the first ever text message.
Since then SMS has remained exactly the same. There have been no updates, enhancements or upgrades.
Despite being so outdated and clunky, SMS remains one of the most effective communication channels for most businesses.
But it seems extraordinary that we’re still using 160 plain text characters when there are so many better alternatives.
RCS (Rich Communication Services) is being hailed as the long-awaited evolution of SMS that could sweep away the old technology for good.
RCS will deliver a much richer and interactive experience than SMS, supporting images, videos, chat sessions and even payment options.
Figures by UK research company Mobilesquared estimate that brands will spend $18 billion dollars by 2023.
But despite this optimistic projection, RCS has had a bumpy start. Although it’s been around since 2007, most people have never sent, received or even heard of RCS.
The fledgling technology has been beset with many problems, any of which could yet scupper its chances of taking off.
RCS pricing confusion
How much will it cost to send a business RCS message? A simple question to which no one has an answer.
Several pricing models have been suggested but nothing concrete has emerged.
Until businesses and brands understand what the costs are, it’s impossible for them to model the potential ROI of their campaigns.
Even the networks themselves are in the dark about what revenues they might expect from it.
Research company ROCCO discovered that 43% of mobile networks did not know how RCS would impact their revenues. Surprisingly just 13% of networks were predicting that it would have a positive impact.
Because RCS messages can contain images, video and other rich media, there could be a data usage issue for the consumer.
For many, who are on restricted data tariffs, there’s the very real possibility that receiving RCS messages will eat into their data allowance.
So effectively the consumer could be paying the brand to receive marketing from them. This could potentially lead to a mass and rapid unsubscribing from brands’ marketing.
While aiming to improve their response rates with RCS, they could actually end up driving their customers away.
Apple shows no sign of joining the RCS party
Despite rumours of Apple being in discussions with the GSMA in January 2019, they have so far remained silent and show no sign of adopting RCS any time soon.
(The GSMA is the trade body that represents the interests of global mobile operators.)
RCS will be in direct competition with Apple’s own messaging app, so it’s hard to see the benefits to them of allowing it on the iPhone.
Without such a major player being involved, the credibility of RCS will be seriously dented and for many marketers will render it unworkable.
Slow and painful roll out of RCS messages by mobile operators
10 years on and only 76 mobile networks have adopted RCS. That’s a rather unimpressive 9.5% of the global total.
If RCS is going to truly make an impact, the networks are going to have to adopt a far more aggressive approach to the roll out.
Andreas Constantinides, from messaging company Yuboto, gave a somewhat scathing analysis
“RCS is dead unless all – and I mean ALL – operators buy into it and push it out there.”
Andreas is not alone in his thinking.
Oscar Gallego, Head of Smart Communications and Security at Vodafone said:
“RCS will drive significant growth in the market but the scale of the growth will depend on a fast adoption of RCS.
So, speed of rollout is what’s required and at the moment that’s just not happening.
The RCS complexity barrier
For most companies, running an RCS campaign will be complex. Unlike nimble-footed SMS which can be deployed almost in minutes, RCS users will have many more things to consider before a campaigns lands on customers’ phones.
Before launch, extensive testing will be needed to make sure that the RCS message works correctly on all possible handsets. RCS providers will no doubt offer these tools as part of their service but there will still be a ‘testing phase’ to undertake.
For iPhone users who can’t access RCS, there will need to be an alternative back up message and the response infrastructure to handle it.
A typical RCS message will have the response mechanic embedded, so that users can respond without having to leave the message itself. For people who can’t receive RCS, they will need to be directed to a mobile optimised website where they can respond to the offer.
The alternative is to ignore customers that can’t receive RCS which could alienate a significant portion of their target audience
The largest cost of running an RCS campaign is not likely to be the sending of the messages but the creative and technical costs involved.
Response rates are likely to decayEarly case studies on the responsiveness of RCS have been wildly impressive. Notably Subway have had incredible success with their early forays into the new channel.
In a recent campaign, subscribers to Subway’s RCS service on Sprint had a 60% higher click rate than SMS subscribers. The ‘intent to purchase’ rate was even higher, 146% higher than SMS.
While these response rates are incredibly positive, it’s unlikely that they can be sustained in the long term. Much of the uplift will be due to the novelty of RCS.
Over time, response rates are bound to settle back down to more modest levels. I’ve no doubt that response rates will remain higher than SMS just not at the stratospheric levels achieved in the first few campaigns.
RCS – An enterprise only solution?
RCS might end up being a solution that only large businesses with the resources to handle all the elements can get involved in.
It’s probable that SMEs simply won’t have the resources or expertise for RCS to be a practical solution.
Consumer awareness of RCS is almost non-existent
Ask any group of consumers if they’ve heard of RCS and most will respond with a shake of the head.
RCS hasn’t even started to make an impact, let alone coming close to transforming the way we communicate.
Tim Green who heads up the Mobile Ecosystem Forum seems sceptical on whether RCS has any future.
“RCS is – for now at least – classic ‘vapourware’. It’s something that might take off… at some point in the future… we’re not sure when. ”
What’s the future of RCS?
The prospect of RCS becoming a major force in corporate communications still seems as remote as ever.
Without Apple and a total lack of urgency and cooperation from global networks, RCS may never make the impact it deserves.
Dean Bubley, founder and director of Disruptive Analysis believes that it isn’t any specific messaging technology that’s the future platform but the CRM systems that enable them.
“In my view, it isn’t RCS messaging that’s the future platform, but multi-channel CRM systems and (increasingly) the AI software driving it.”
We should perhaps be less concerned with promoting one particular messaging system over another and more about communicating using the tools and apps that customers prefer.
For RCS to become a major part of this increasingly fragmented messaging landscape, it will need to make its presence felt with more urgency.
Even with a renewed sense of purpose and momentum, it’s hard to see RCS making much of an impact for at least 2 years.
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