Written by Gareth Davies, Future Networks, GSMA
The latest RCS Business Messaging Seminar at MWC19 Barcelona, Intelligently Transforming Consumer Experiences, brought experts from across the ecosystem to discuss how consumers and brands are helping to shape the success of RCS as it rolls out across the world. Currently launched by 76 operators worldwide, the GSMA forecasts an additional 59 operator launches by Q1 2020, RCS now serves an estimated 257 million users, expected to rise to 900 million by 2020.
Jill Cooper, the Marketing Director for the Future Networks Programme at the GSMA, opened the session with a presentation focussed on how RCS can transform consumer experiences simplifying their lives. Using an example of travel to Barcelona, she showed how RCS can improve each and every interaction along the way, from departure to arrival, all without needing to download a single separate app. Gone is the stress of forgetting to check in remembering to download content, arranging cabs, checking the weather, managing delays, buying food, catching trains, navigating the airport – a consumer can curate their own lives – bringing dazzling content from the brands they love straight into one messaging app.
So how are brands, with their partners in the mobile industry, so rapidly enabling these improvements in RCS? In many cases it comes down to listening to the customer, and understanding how they feel in a given situation. And, as the Seminar’s keynote speaker Tenor’s CEO Frank Nawabi pointed out, RCS can itself help generate some of that knowledge. Digitally sending emotions is now as easy as sending a simple text message was a few years ago, and visual expression is now measurably gaining ground on traditional text. GIFs have become entirely mainstream, and are truly ageless: 77 per cent of users over the age of 55 now use emojis to communicate, while 53 per cent are using GIFs. For more than half of those in older demographics to be routinely making use of what was seen by many not long ago as a quirk of social media, and a characteristically youthful one, is a striking shift even to those in the mobile industry who have watched it happen.
80 per cent of adults worldwide below the age of 64, and 91 per cent of teenagers, message every single day, making messaging platforms one of the most naturally conducive mediums to successful marketing investment. And in markets like the US – where 81 per cent of consumers now say they want to be able to directly message their preferred brands – the appetite is plainly already there. Businesses like Tenor, the world’s foremost search tool for GIFs, are therefore enthusiastic partners in the deployment of RCS. With over 400 million searches per day, Tenor can supply invaluable insights into what kind of GIFs people want, how they use them, and indeed how people feel about a particular event, company or service.
The data generated is of increasing interest to enterprise. Much of this is about being able to ‘know your customer’: how they feel in a given service context can allow companies to revise and refine their offerings to meet the needs of their customers as they achieve that better understanding. Even in use cases which might not seem immediately relevant to expressions of emotion, interest is already very high. In financial services for instance, banks and their partners are taking seriously how their customers feel, and are hungry for data on the what and the why. “If we can move forward with connecting users of services to their emotions in a given context,” Broxel’s CEO Gustavo A. Gutiérrez told the room, “I believe the results will be amazing.”
While domestic take-up of RCS among consumers will drive awareness and penetration, the principal opportunity for operators is in Business Messaging, whereby consumers and brands can communicate directly with enterprise without needing to make a voice call, or open a browser or separate app. As Interop’s VP for Product Management put it, “RCS is the next stage in the evolution of advertising – first it was print, then TV, then internet, and now it’s messaging. And the great thing is, mobile operators own it.” The established global reach of mobile network operators makes them an ideal partner for such strategies, as those who act as gatekeepers to user data and digital identity, and who have a ready route to almost everyone on earth. “They’re going to go where the reach is,” as Mr Wiggington put it.”
“The time is now,” reflected Tenor’s CEO Frank Nawabi, “people don’t need to get tied up on the phone calling companies up any more. We’re so excited for RCS, and for Business Messaging in particular, because this is the way for people to reach enterprises, and for those brands to reach their audiences, every single day.” The sandwich chain Subway have achieved a 140% increase in conversions over SMS, and as Mr Nawabi said, “these business results are dazzling – my only question is, why wouldn’t you do this?” Enterprise is increasingly answering “we are!”, and with some dramatic results. Virgin Trains for instance have been early adopters of RCS, working with Vodafone and Open Market to keep their passengers up-to-date and in control while they travel by rail – and the results have been exemplary “The customer satisfaction is outstanding,” reported Virgin Trains’ CIO John Sullian; –“we’ve had five stars across the board, and the optout rate is to die for. We’ve had zero optouts from all the thousands we’ve sent!”
RCS allows Virgin to automatically make the travel experience more efficient and less stressful – by sending, for instance, alerts which calculate whether a user is likely to miss a connecting service and allow them to book onto the next with all their preferences intact, with just a press of a button. “For us a lot of RCS is about improving trust and reducing anxiety, and the reaction from our users has been one of surprise and delight,” explained Mr Sullivan; “and it just looks better than an app!” And reducing anxiety, stress and just everyday inconvenience is what so much of RCS is all about. As Accuweather’s Brian Lavery explained, “our users check the weather multiple times a day and need the key facts at their fingertips, so they can plan their day effectively. It’s the perfect use case for RCS – it’s just such a low-friction dialogue – so we see RCS as a power complement to our digital product strategy.”
Even where uptake has not been as fast, there have been clear signs of movement in recent months. Deutsche Telekom’s Dr Petja Heimbach explained that in Germany, for example, there has been the uphill struggle against the dominance of WhatsApp, and tension between different strategic visions: in a nutshell, between whether operators should move more towards providing services directly themselves, or support developing utilities with the data they command. “I’m glad to say that time has passed – the business case is now clear, and it’s very strong. We can fix the blind spots in the market by making the service fully interconnected and native on devices, and this should boost penetration dramatically.”
Frank Nawabi left the session with a neat encapsulation of what operators have to offer here: “it’s hard to get people to download your app; it’s not so hard to get them to send a text message.” The challenge now is ensuring the excellent progress to date is maintained and consolidated, and the ability of the mobile industry to monetise the capabilities of this market is secured. As Vice President at Interop Josh Wiggington reminded the room, the commercial text messaging market is worth $18 billion today – and, with the growing presence of RCS, is forecast to reach a potential $40 billion by 2025.
Mr Wiggington urged the industry to make good on this through collaboration, to ensure interoperability, because “that’s what brands are looking for. The big moment wasn’t when one operator launched RCS – it was when the rest did, so they could start to offer that interconnection.” The key takeaway for work yet to do, then, is that operators must enhance the existing proposition by ensuring brands can reach 100% penetration in a given market through RCS. That means reaching out, working together, and making use of the RCS Interconnection Hubs. The signs that this is happening now in earnest, though, are there – and they’re already greatly encouraging.
The capabilities and perks RCS allows are all but limitless, thanks to the flexibility of mobile connectivity – just a selection of what can be done was on show for instance at the Innovation City this year, where Google, Operators and the GSMA showcased the latest brand campaigns.
The Future Networks Programme will be hosting the twenty-fourth GSMA RCS Business Messaging Lab at Mobile 360 – Latin America on Wednesday, 5 June 2019 sponsored by Infoblip. Apply to attend here.