Industry Experts Gather in London to Strategise Deployment of RCS
The GSMA’s RCS Business Messaging Labs are now an established fixture of the mobile industry calendar. With a total of 65 operator launches and 194 million Monthly Active Users, RCS has certainly made a huge amount of progress this year. As we look ahead to 2021 – at which point the market for RCS Business Messaging is forecast to reach $90 billion – operators are increasingly positioning themselves to make good on the now proven commercial potential of this new platform. Our latest Lab in London last month brought together a particularly compelling session of high-profile players from across the ecosystem to consider how best this can be done.
As Samsung’s Brent Newsome observed, over-the-top messaging platforms like WeChat have essentially become an element of consumers’ lifestyles. RCS can and should follow suit – leveraging its inherent advantage of achieving the same capabilities and more, but without the need for users to download various additional apps. Upon widespread consumer recognition that they can engage with brands in creative, responsive and memorable ways, all in one place – while being assured of their own security as they do so – over-the-top apps become all but redundant. With SMS enjoying 5 billion users over WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion, the opportunity for operators once this has happened is self-evident.
Indications thus far are that vertical industry partnerships are starting to yield just this awareness. Some recent proven successes at market attracted considerable interest in London last month, with video presentations from sandwich chain Subway and clothing retailer Express. In her recent interview, Subway’s Chief Digital Officer Carissa Ganelli explained that “I don’t know what there is not to like about RCS. We saw 146% lift, and between 50% and 60% rise in conversion rates – not just open rates, not just retention rates, but actual sales.” Ms Ganelli urged more operators to enact rollout of RCS: “The consumers are there – they’re waiting for it, and they’re already using it.” Express have seen similarly impressive results; Kate Jung, Director of Loyalty, Mobile and Partnership, recently announced that their RCS Business Messaging campaigns has achieved the lowest opt-out rates of any campaign they have ever launched.
The event served as a signpost to the growing availability of the messaging technology, which is now offered by 65 operators across the globe. Numerous markets preparing to make the transition from SMS to RCS are finding early success through variety of pilots. In the UK for example, both ITV and Virgin Trains expressed their confidence in RCS trials, which in their view offer significant advantages over SMS. With a number of British brands expressing a high degree of interest in RCS, O2 and Orange expressed their desire for an imminent rollout of RCS, potentially as early as next year.
So how can these green shoots be nurtured in the years ahead? Deutsche Telekom’s Vice President of Communication, Dr. Peja Heimbach, was clear that while any innovation can look like a risk to existing revenue streams – in this case, SMS – this is more like an upgrade than a leap into the dark. “The part we need to get right is how to monetise RCS in a sustainable way. We need to respect the customer – that means not allowing RCS to become another spam folder, or give customers reason to be nervous about how their data is being used. We need to refer constantly to the GSMA RCS Business Messaging Recommended Good Practices as we push this forward.”
David Attenborough, Head of Product at Esendex, whose parent company, Commify, sponsored the event, agreed that the goal should be seamless evolution with SMS, rather than transition from it. “Let’s take the existing SMS use case and make it better, with those key features like verified sender and add-to-calendar. Brands want to know about reach, whether devices need to be updated, and whether consumers have opted in; our new Rich Messaging product Messaging Studio enables brands to send richer, more engaging content to their entire database. This allows them to adopt RCS now, before we achieve full network coverage.”
Esendex achieve this by delivering an RCS message to those already with an RCS-ready device, whereas those without receive a landing page. Innovations of this kind show there is no need to wait for a whole new generation of devices to be in general use; and, in any case, 4.3 billion mobile devices will support RCS by 2020. A majority of Android phones will support RCS as soon as next year – Google’s own RCS Business Messaging is in the process of launch across the EU, with self-evident consequences for penetration. Brands in EU states are demonstrably fertile ground for RCS Business Messaging – one brand campaign in Spain for instance recently saw swift clickthrough uplift from 6% to 45%. SMS is trusted, as users know that operators are the most secure custodians of their data – that trust can and will be carried through to RCS.
The GSMA has now organised a total of 19 RCS Business Messaging Labs, which have welcomed more than 1,800 attendees from around the world. Each one has been incredibly well received, with their value being noted by both participants and sponsors. Esendex’s David Attenborough commented, “The RCS Business Messaging Lab in London was a fantastic platform to discuss the future of rich messaging, and we were proud to be part of the strategic discussions around a global SMS upgrade and RCS roll-out. It was great to see all key industry players working towards the same end goal.”
As Vodafone’s Oscar Gallego observed, “RCS is already an ecosystem in its own right – and in a true ecosystem there is real collaboration.” Jill Cooper, Marketing Director of Future Networks, explains, “This is precisely the purpose of the GSMA RCS Business Messaging Lab series and our next RCS Business Messaging Lab at Mobile 260 LatAm in Argentina will continue in just the same vein.”
The speakers’ presentations are available for you to download here.