SMS in the Philippines: Still the most viable business messaging channel?

by: Philip Davis

SMS in the Philippines: Still the most viable business messaging channel?

bulk sms marketing illustration

With the growing variety of options for communicating with your customers, is there still a future for SMS in the Philippines?

SMS was once the most popular means of mobile text communication. But the last few years has seen immense disruption in the messaging industry. 

The rise of messaging apps, like Messenger and Viber, with a host of rich features and often supported by carriers with free data has given them startling growth – especially for  P2P messaging (person to person), becoming the preferred means of chatting and massively denting SMS usage. 

So is the humble SMS still worth a share of your business’ finite budget?

How we got here.

Philippines carriers launched SMS as an “add on” to voice calls. However in the late 90’s texting via SMS was really cheap (and often free) compared to making calls which were around 8 Pesos per minute. Filipinos quickly saw the benefits and embraced “texting” as a preferred way to communicate with friends and family.

Carriers saw that SMS was having an impact on their voice revenues as well as placing their networks under incredible strain handling millions of messages a day. To counter this they started charging 1 Peso per text. This brought the demand down to a manageable level by halving the amount of daily messages, but by that point, there was already momentum, and Filipinos were hooked!

Texting was a really good fit for Filipino culture and soon became an ever-present part of life in the Philippines covering all aspects of daily life. From courting your crush to ousting politicians! The Philippines rapidly became the “Texting capital of the world”.

From 2007 Promotexter identified an opportunity to offer a text blast tool to help businesses harness this rising trend – without having to build complicated marketing systems. SMS soon became the first choice of marketing communication for most businesses, providing a direct and instant means of reaching their customers, with unprecedented open rates, driving sales revenues.

Impact of Smartphones on SMS. 

In 2014, OnDevice research put out a report on mobile trends in the Philippines and reported mobile penetration of 101%. But with smartphone penetration of 15% the lowest in SE Asia. This meant SMS was still king.

However, despite Philippines being a relative laggard in the Smartphone industry at that time, the report also estimated that Philippines had the largest growth potential. 

Today, in common with the rest of the world, almost all consumers have converted to smartphones, with 93% of Filipinos aged 16 to 64 using a smartphone as of January 2020 (source: GlobalWebIndex) boosting the use of messaging apps in the Philippines, such as Messenger, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp.

The provision of free data for Facebook from Globe and Smart has led to the eponymous social network dominating the Philippines social media landscape with an incredible 96% of internet users on Facebook. This has led to a knock-on effect with Messenger being the most used chat app with 89% penetration as of January 2020.

Viber messenger is growing fast in second place at approximately 34% together with Snapchat at 34%,, followed by WhatsApp at 30%, TikTok at 29%, and WeChat at 24%.

However, despite Messenger’s prevalence, there are downsides to Messenger as a bulk messaging channel for businesses seeking to reach their customers. As a business, you need to have the Facebook ID of your intended recipients before sending a message, and Facebook doesn’t allow brand-initiated bulk marketing blasts, other than sponsored messages, which can’t easily be used to target your own existing customer base. 

Similarly, despite the global popularity of WhatsApp as the world’s leading messaging app with 1.6 billion users worldwide as of January 2020, Facebook, who owns WhatsApp, positions the app for business-to-customer engagement through chat and notifications, rather than for message blasting.

Viber, however, with almost 1.2 billion users worldwide (Source: statista) and approximately 25 million users in the Philippines,, has more similarities with SMS as it delivers based on mobile numbers,  so a business can easily reach its customer base via Viber Business Messaging using their existing customer mobile database.

That said, SMS still remains the ubiquitous messaging medium and providing the most direct path to reaching 100% of your customers, irrespective of phone type or their personal app preference for messaging.

Bulk SMS Marketing in 2020

So for businesses that want to reach their existing customer base, this evolving messaging landscape begs the question “is bulk SMS still relevant for your marketing plan?”.

Here are a few points to consider:

1. A phone number, which is easily reached, is probably part of your existing customer database. 

The relationship with your market always starts somewhere, and often, that is with their phone number. Even though Messenger is the favoured messaging app for personal chatting, Messenger and many other chat apps do not permit outbound marketing through their channels.

2. For outbound marketing, there is a higher likelihood that a text or chat message is read than email 

According to MobileSQUARED, 90% of SMS are read within the first 3 minutes. With email marketing, a 20% open rate is considered an excellent result.

3. Largest variety of users

SMS has been with us for over 20 years which means even your 80-year lola knows how to use it. There is no other channel that offers the same market penetration as SMS.

4. SMS provides value for after-sale services. 

Since SMS does not rely on a data connection it offers a perfect channel for notification style messages. You can keep customers posted on the status of your product delivery or service. This ensures your customer won’t miss an important message due to lack of data, or because they don’t want to log on to your website or search for an email.

5. Your audience won`t need to install anything to receive your text blasts. 

SMS comes pre-installed on every phone. That means no internet or chat apps need to be installed. This results in an even higher reach for your campaign.

RCS and the future text blast apps

RCS or rich communication services, touted as the next generation native replacement of SMS, has started making an entrance into the Philippines and could have the potential to disrupt the chat app market by moving users to a MAAP or “messaging as a platform” model.

Carriers are seeking to regain control of the chat market with this new development and with their massive power in the marketplace it makes sense to retain a bet “each way” on their potential success. RCS communication utilises the mobile number so your hard work building your marketing mobile number database will position you to take advantage of the extra features delivered through RCS.

But, Bulk SMS marketing is an art as well as a science. You need to track statistics from your prior campaigns and use data to drive your strategies. Similarly, you can’t beat being close to your customers and understanding what their needs are.

SMS is one piece of your omnichannel marketing strategy and understanding how it can fit into your overall approach can be challenging. It makes sense to look for a partner that has been involved in the business from the earliest days and is firmly established in the Philippines market.

Find out how to get started by signing up with Promotexter and talk to us about Bulk SMS Marketing and get your first 100 messages FREE!

 

1Text blasting” is the marketing technique where a business may simultaneously reach their subscribed customer database with a single SMS. This message can also be personalized for each recipient.
2Bulk SMS” refers to the sending of SMS in bulk at wholesale prices rather than consumer prices. Promotexter offers bulk prices without requiring volume commitments giving businesses the best of both worlds.

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