Could rich mobile messaging be the next frontier for advertisers?

Kostas Kastanis, Deputy CEO at Upstream, looks at the potential for Rich Communication Services (RCS) as a customer engagement channel. 

From carefully curated apps to artificially intelligent chatbots, the marketing landscape has evolved into an interconnected multichannel hive of tailored communication. Today’s consumers don’t want a sales pitch, they want a conversation. And what better platform to have that conversation through than the most personal communication device that almost every person on the planet carries around in their pocket?

For all the sweeping innovations we’ve seen in digital marketing over the years, not least since the beginning of the pandemic, it could be a descendant of the humble SMS text message that gives advertisers the clearest path to engaging in the kind of “conversational commerce” their audiences have come to expect. Rich Communication Services (RCS), are an evolved form of texting fit for the modern era of media messages. With RCS, senders can include a variety of highly personalized and interactive media in each message they send, from high-resolution photos and galleries, to quick links and verified branding. Imagine all the capabilities of the digital media integrated into your standard messaging app, combining the best from both the internet and the old school mobile world.

The data shows that text messages are the preferable way to communicate with business for 9 in 10 consumers (source: SMS Comparison, “SMS Marketing Statistics 2022 For USA Businesses”, April 2022). Even prior to the pandemic, Gartner revealed that SMS enjoyed a staggering 98 per cent open rate versus only 20 per cent for email. So, it stands to reason that RCS, a media-rich form of text messaging that can be highly tailored and customized, would be a definitive win for advertisers. But why RCS? And why now?

More than mere messaging
Hailed as the next generation of messaging for Android handsets, RCS was introduced in 2007 by the GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association), the largest international organization  in the mobile ecosystem, to move mobile networks beyond basic texting. As a technology it succeeded, but it was too difficult and costly at the time for carriers to capitalize on it. That’s now changed, not least thanks to Google now partnering with carriers and OEMs to offer a new native messaging client with full RCS support.

RCS proves beyond all doubt that it doesn’t matter what businesses say, but how they say it. Photos, videos, interactive “cards”, carousels and pop-up messages are all possible within an RCS environment. Upon opening a message, users can directly respond to messages, save events to their calendar, click to dial or even share their location. They’ll get to converse and interact with brands on a human level without any need to download a third-party app such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. It is literally the internet in your fingertips on your messaging apps.   

From an advertiser’s perspective, they’ll find new ways to boost interactions and increase engagement with users. For instance, they might choose to include “quick response” actions, allowing users to simply tap to opt into something or find out more about a product or service. RCS will also provide marketers with detailed performance metrics that aren’t possible with other forms of messaging, such as read receipts and in-message engagement tracking.

Why RCS now?
By 2026, it’s estimated that there will be close to 4 billion RCS-capable devices in the hands of users around the world, giving marketers a unique opportunity to engage directly with audiences like never before. Google’s recent push to
improve carrier messaging by giving RCS native support is a key driver behind the resurgence of RCS, but there are also other forces at play. Third party cookies will soon be shelved permanently, closing a once-easy avenue for marketers to target consumers with ads based on their browsing history. That means marketing channels based on the use of first-party data, like messaging, are going to become even more crucial in the months and years to come, and mobile network operators have a ready-made audience in the form of an active subscriber base that already prefers messaging over other forms of engagement.

Android devices currently account for 69 per cent of all mobile devices in Europe, and 45 per cent in North America. In emerging markets, such as South America and Africa, Android holds 91 per cent and 84 per cent market share respectively. This is an impressive foundation from which RCS will undoubtedly grow to become one of the most dominant marketing channels available.

With the demise of third-party cookies now becoming a reality, and RCS-capable devices continuing their rapid world-wide rollout, RCS messaging could well be the key that opens the door to conversational commerce for advertisers.

P.S. To learn more about RCS, the use cases in which companies can deploy it for their mobile marketing campaigns , how mobile operators can leverage it to strengthen their position in the digital advertising ecosystem, and performance data from real life case studies, you can read Upstream’s “Unlocking multi-channel marketing with RCS” white paper.