Letter to American Business Executives
Last week had the breakdown in the Blackberry service. We discussed the Blackberry at Forum Oxford of course and once again I was reminded of how differently American business executives treat SMS text messaging, compared with their European, Asian, African and Australian business executive colleagues. Even Latin American business execs are now warming to SMS text messaging, yet American bosses tend to dismiss this opportunity. Why? SMS is the fastest form of communication ever invented, and also the most discrete form of electronic communication in existence. Don't American managers WANT to be faster than their competitors? Don't American executives appreciate the value of discretion, confidentiality and secrecy in business transactions?
Of course they do. But American executives have been horribly badly served by their cellular telecoms industry, from poor handsets to poor coverage to poor services to bad pricing to bad interconnectivity etc. It was only a few years ago that American carriers finally allowed cross-network SMS text message delivery. And until recently, SMS text messaging was not even a standard service, you had to PAY to hagve it turned on ! This from a service which has been proven in university study after university study to be the MOST addictive telecoms service - as addictive as cigarette smoking - and also being the most profitable service or product in the economic history of mankind, still today sustaining profit margings of 90% on a global average. Oh, and this "tiny" service generated 80 Billion dollars of revenues in 2006 worldwide - thats as much as total Hollywood box office, plus total music industry plus total videogaming, combined. But yes, American execs have been very poorly served on this dimension.
So I write to you, and put it to you, that I have the biggest key to your professional success, if you are an American executive today. Join Generation-C (Community Generation). Then the defining ability is not that you can Google, or set up a profile in Myspace or LinkeIn, or create an avatar in Second Life create user-generated content. No. Like we wrote in our book, the defining characteristic of Gen-C is addiction to SMS text messaging.
Here is a quick test to you. Can you send a text message blind. Not looking at your phone. Turn it into active mode, get into messaging, select at least one person's address (your wife, secretary, whoever) and compose a short message like "I'll call you in a moment" and send it, and it actually arrives correctly to the intended person. Do this with the phone in your pocket or behind your back?
All teenagers can do that. In all countries. 48% of British teenagers admit to sending text messages WHILE they TALK to ANOTHER person... One third of South Korean teenagers average 100 text messages per day. The Belgian study at Catholic University of Leuwen found that over half of teenagers regularly wake up to incoming text messages from their friends. Regularly wake up. And the CEO of UK universtiy broadcaster, SubTV, Peter Miles says that it is SMS text messaging use that creates the hive mentality, the collaboration with the group, similar to the Borg character in Star Trek, which totally redefines Gen-C from its predecessor generations. This generation has an almost telepathic connection to their peers at all times. Dr Ito of Japan found that Japanese young adults now require a reply to any urgent text message within 30 minutes - being in a meeting with your boss, or in school taking an exam is no excuse. An urgent text message must be replied to within 30 minutes.
The average e-mail is opened within 48 hours.
Did I get your attention. How much faster and more efficient is Gen-C when they enter your work force. They will sweep the old-timer off their old-fashioined concepts of time and collaboration and onto the scrap heap of history (and the unemployment office).
Consider this - if today you had your CEO announce a new boss for your unit. And that new boss comes in and on the first day, he says he does not believe in e-mail, he only uses fax for his communication ! You'd be dumbfounded. Where did this dinosaur come from? How can he possibly expect to survive in modern high-speed business, if every message needs to be printed, transcribed and individually replied to, without CC, without cut-and-paste, without ATTACHMENTS...
Now, hold that thought. Then consdier this. South Korean young adults say that e-mail is for old fogies. That all peers communicate with SMS, only if you communicate with someone much older, say a senior executive, you might use e-mail. Are we witnessing a similar shift as fax to e-mail? A generational shift? More alarmingly, this trend has been repeated in Scandinavia, England, France, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. And just last spring, ComScore Media Matrix in America, June of last year, found this SAME trend has arrived in America. American teenagers are deserting e-mail, shifting to SMS (and IM instant messaging, but more to SMS than IM according to the findings). And American teenagers now say "e-mail is like so last year".
Are you turning into a dinosaur?
So you might retreat into the safe domain that SMS text messaging is good for American Idol voting and teenager dating etc, or maybe for people trying to save money in markets where texting may be cheaper than voice minutes. Well, then think again. The MDA Mobile Data Association, the world's biggest independent industry association for SMS and mobile data, has run an annual survey of business executives in the UK about their mobile habits. It revealed back in 2002 that the majority of UK executives use SMS in work related communications.
England? London? Executives? Certainly not teenagers, or desperately trying to save money? How can this be? London business execs are even more conservative than New York lawyers and investment bankers. And they use this technology?
But in 2004 even more revealing data from the MDA. By 2004 SMS text messaging had become the most preferred business communication method. Yes, ahead of voicemail, ahead of e-mail, ahead of voice calls. SMS text messaging AMONG BUSINESS USERS is the preferred means to communicate. And this not in cellphone-mad Finland or gadget-geeky Japan or South Korea. In super-conservative England ! Today its gone so far that the Estonian government sends out the agenda for the meetings via SMS, the Finnish Prime Minister's voicemail greeting says "don't leave me voicemail, send me a text message instead" The Singapore government has decided all e-goverment will be SMS-enabled. All. Taxes, drivers licenses, passports, work permits, all of it will be SMS enabled. Its that powerful. Time to think again about SMS?
What do they know that you don't know? Why would they appreciate SMS?
SMS text messaging is fastest communication and its also the most discrete.
It sounds totally counter-intuitive. How can it be faster, when its so slow to tripple-tap a sentence, when I can just hit redial, call my colleague and talk to him. Yes, in one scenario, in the utmost best case, a successful voice call can best a text message by a matter of a few seconds, ten at most.
Fastest form of communication
But in MOST use cases and scenarios, voice calls are slower by a matter of minutes, hours, even days. SMS is NEVER slower than a few seconds.
its like considering the route to the airport. You have alternate ways to drive. Sometimes one route is slightly faster, but most days it is fully congested and it can cause an hour's extra delay. The other route is never blocked, even if it moves sometimes a bit slower. When in a hurry, which do you take (if you don't know real time traffc conditions) If you have a plane to catch, you'll never risk the route that tends to be congested, even if it under optimal conditions is some minutes faster.
That is what I'm talking about. You don't care of the exceptional case. You need your standard use case for communications. Take a typical example of a business call to your colleague at another company. You call is cellphone. Mostly your counterpart won't answer. Sometimes YOU are out of coverage. Other times he is out of coverate. Often he sees you calling, but can't take the call, such as being in a meeting where he cannot take a call just now (and he thinks, he'll return the call perhaps an hour later when the meeting is over). Or he sees you calling but wants to do something before talking to you - say was just on his way to the bathroom or about to go to lunch, etc, again refusing your call now but intending to try to call you back later. Or he can be on another call. So mostly when you try to call - much more than half of the time - you end up in voicemail jail.
Then the return call faces the same hurdles. When he tries to call you, maybe YOU are out of network coverage, or in a meeting, or on another call, or carrying things in both hands, unable to reach the ringing phone, etc. Now its voicemail pingpong. Your turn, maybe another attempt 15 minutes later still.
But what if it all goes well at the first attempt, and he DOES take your call? Well, then in more cases than not, your counterpart will ask to postpone the conversation in some way (I'm on another call, can I put you on hold, can I call you back in a few minutes, could you call me on the other line, my battery is dying, etc). The actual case of getting straight through and being able to talk to your counterpart is certainly less than 25%, could easily be under 10% of all calls. (unless you're the owner of the company, calling employees, who dare not to put you on hold, ha-ha)
But in every case in the above, you can send a text message and it arrives IMMEDIATELY. Immediately into the meeting where phones are on silent. Immediately while he is talking to your competitor on the other line. He can read your message while he is carrying on the other conversation. Even if your counterpart is asleep, phone turned off, or on a plane to Denver and about to land in two hours, or in a different time zone etc. The moment he turns on his phone - your text message arrives. Leaving voice mail, hoping he'll retrieve it soon, and then return your call - and that you'd be able to receive the call (ie be in coverage etc) - all puts delay in the voicemail ping-pong until you reach the other person.
Text messaging reaches him every time within ten seconds or so, under half a minute on most networks in the world in 99.3% of the time ie excluding Christmas, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.
Fastest ! Yes, if you have a Blackberry, AND the other person has a Blackberry, then you can simulate SMS speeds. But only if both of your are among the selected very few of only 8 milion who have a Blackberry. That is less than one in a hundred internet users. And cellphones? There are 2.7 BILLION cellphone users, all of whom can receive and respond to SMS ! There are 1.8 Billion ACTIVE users of SMS text messaging. In Europe SMS usage is over 80% per capita, in Britain its 85% ie just about every person who can read and write - and still remembers how to read and write - also is an active user so SMS. Back to Blackberry. Your secretary? Probably doesn't have a Blackberry. Even if you're one of the rare bosses to get Blackberries to your whole team, how about your business colleagues's secretary (I need to reschedule the meeting with Bill, does he have time on Thursday) - most probably not. Or the temp who fills in for today? Definitely doesn't have a Blackberry. But EVERY employed person in the industrialized world has a cellphone and they all can do SMS text messaging.
Its like suddenly upgrading the whole world to have a Blackberry, without having to pay for it.
And yes please don't misunderstand me. SMS is not e-mail. There is much we cannot do in SMS that we do use e-mail for, in business, certianly. But SMS text messaging does offer the fastest form of messaging, useful for most urgent business communciations. Schedule the meeting, find the price, get me a hotel, where is Bob, can you update the bid, why is James not here, which room are we meeting in, what was the news about Microsoft today on CNN that everybody is talking about, etc.
All this, we can do immediately via SMS. Almost at the speed of thought. With replies delivered immediately, unobtrusively, into the most intimate private meetings with the CEO. No calls, no interruptions, just increased efficiency. With everybody, not only the privileged few who have a Blackberry.
For heavy users (who send more than 20 text messages every day) - sending a text is almost instinctive and occurs without any hassle or delay. It is the nearest thing to mental telepathy, of being permanently connected to your peers. That is Gen-C, the Community Generation. They can summons the help of their peers in a few seconds, and arose them from sleep, get their reply out of a school exam, or get a response while their in the performance review with their boss. That is POWER in communication.
Most discrete form of communication
Which brings me to the other part of texting - its discretion. Nothing is more secret, more private, more personal than SMS. You can say things on SMS you cannot say in public. You're sitting next to your competitor in a taxi cab you share, or at a conference table etc. You can always send a text message, and nobody else can read it. No danger of being overheard. And you don't have to "guard the fax" or ask the counterpart in e-mail "are you alone, I have privete stuff, please delete this e-mail" or worry about the voice all being on speakerphone and heard by others. SMS is the most private and personal communication. 7 out of 10 married adults will not share the cellphone even with their spouces, it is that personal.
Not to mention you can convey lots of data that is not easy on voice calls. A phone number, an address, the part number, the airline reservation code, etc. Any time when you'd need paper and pencil, its actually a lot easier to transmit that data via SMS. What is the number? I'll send you the number via text message. This ensures it arrives accurately..
Like Platinum VIP card of communication
SMS text messaging is a super-form of communication. Think of it as if you were given a magical VIP card, a Platinum card, to communication. The right to step in FRONT of others in any communication - including any ONGOING communciation. That is SMS text messaging. Yes, the right to step in front of others.
Consider the voice mail. Your friend flew to Tokyo. On the 12 hour flight he received 8 voicemail messages. He lands in Tokyo, has one of those cellphones that can do Japanese networks as well, and sees on his phone that he has voicemail. Now he has to decide to retrieve the voicemails. He has to decide. Some may require paper and pencil to write down numbers etc. And while wizzing through customs and retrieving baggage and hussling through passport control, this is not the optimal time to catch voicemail messages. He decides to postpone listening to voicemail until he's past security, and in the taxi cab (or perhaps not until he's at the hotel, two hours later in Tokyo).
But your text message arrived at the same time as the announcement of the voice mail. LONG before he has even gone into the decision process of WHEN to listen to voicemail messages (and he might even not get through all 8 in the first attempt) he has already READ your text message. This is what I mean, SMS is like a VIP card, the right to go ahead of the line, to cut lines, ahead of the queue, the Platinum premium service that pushes YOUR message first.
So fast in fact, that you can catch the other person WHILE he is talking to your competitor. You cannot interrupt this call with a call (without his explicit approval) BUT you CAN get the text message to him during the call ! This is Gen-C multitasking behaviour, and why they are so fond of having two phones, so they can show off their communication skills while talking to the boss and sending a text message to the girl friend, simultaneously. You will not be able to master this until you send more than 1 text messge per day. But your younger rivals - and all your international peers - are increasingly this literate with SMS.
SMS can cut ahead of all other communciations. You can get through to your boss while he is composing a lenghty e-mail and is not accepting calls. Text messages get through when voice calls don't. You can reach your KIDS while they are in a session inside World of Warcraft - and would not return calls until after the gaming session is over, maybe two hours later. But all kids keep an eye on SMS while they are online on games, in IM instant messaging sessions and in virtual worlds.
SMS is the premium Platinum card that gives you PREFERRED message treatment ahead of the line. Cutting in line, like a real VIP. Don't you WANT your communication to be treated as the most important?
Can I give you more TIME at work ?
The single most valuable resource for any executive, in any market, in any country, at any level of the organization; the one resource that cannot be cloned, you cannot buy more, you cannot store or archive - is your TIME. And now the insight. The UK survey by the MDA reveals that the most valued use of SMS by UK business executives is... to manage their time. About meetings, schedules, agendas, delays. The most valuable tool to manage time is SMS text messaging.
Isn't it time for you to join the 21st century? To learn to use the most valuable communication tool, the one that is fastest, that is most discrete. That gives you VIP treatment in bypassing all other forms of communication; and the one that will MOST help you manage your time. Get your team SMS-enabled now. Get your secretary to do all communciation that possibly can, via SMS. Not all, obviously, but all those that can be. That helps your team get up to speed. The European, Asian, Australian and yes, even Latin American competitors have learned this already, you are behind the curve. Get with the programme.
But the only way YOU can use this, is if you have it instinctively in your usage. Norwegians and the Irish in Europe - across the whole population - average 2 messages per day. Malaysians 4 messages per day. Koreans 10, Singaporeans 12 and the Philippinos average 15 messages per day.
Out of Americans today, according to the latest data by the CTIA, 42% of Americans send text messages, and they average 0.6 text messages per phone user across the whole country. This is totally in line with the UK five years ago, or Finland 8 years ago, almost identical levels. You are now approaching the point when texting goes from teenager cool thing, to corporate efficiency communication tool. Be first among your peers to discover it, your career will gain from this.
Now I hope you can see that there is some logic to the madness, that European, Asian, African and Australian business execs are using SMS text messaging in work related communciations
Don't misunderstand me, I don't mean we stop using e-mail. If you want a bid from me to run a workshop for you, I won't send that to you in a series of twenty SMS text messages, Of course I'll write the proposal on a Word document, send it to you with an e-mail as an attachment. But please don't dismiss SMS. The rest of the world has discovered it. You need to do so too.
The fastest form of communciation and the most discrete. These are the foundations of competitive advantage in business. If you learn to be competent at SMS text messaging, you will be viable in the new economy when Gen-C graduates from high school and college and starts its way onto the corporate ladder. But if you aren't fluent in SMS, you will be rudely displaced like those business dinosaurs who refused to learn to use computers.
For those readers who would like to understand SMS text messaging as an industry, we wrote a major piece on it last year entitled Making Sense of the Biggest Data Application on the Planet, SMS Text Messaging.
Much more at this blogsite and in our book.