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From the Department of Brain Dead Marketing Ideas…

If you’re a Rogers Wireless subscriber, you may have noticed that there is an email to text message bridge available to you.  Anyone can send email to your number@pcs.rogers.com, and Rogers will deliver that to you as a text message.  In fact, that’s the way that AOL and MSN offline  IM text messaging works.  It simply gets sent to the email gateway and dropped onto your telephone as an SMS message.  Sounds pretty useful, right?

Not so fast Jim Bob… here’s where we plumb the depths of stupid marketing ideas.  No doubt some fresh and minty straight-out-of-biz school MBA cooked this little scheme up without ever once talking to a customer about what real world users might think of the idea.  It’s that moronic.

You see, Rogers allows you a certain number of “free” SMS messages each month on whatever plan you buy, and then bills you for the overage at $.15 per message.  However, because they’d like to encourage the use of SMS, and would like to send you SMS offers, they don’t bill for incoming SMS messages, just the ones you send. 

So here’s their brain-dead idea to jack up the number of SMS messages you send.  Their email to text gateway doesn’t deliver you the actual message you received.  Instead, it delivers you a message saying that you’ve got a message waiting.  If you’d like to read your message, it goes on, then REPLY to this message with the word READ. PRESTO: when you reply, you consume one text message.  Use the service often enough, and your “free” text messages included in your plan will be exhausted and Rogers will be in the money. 

Even worse, the email to text message gateway is one way only.  You can’t actually reply to the sender of that message you just received!  Effectively, this means that the AOL and MSN offline text messaging options are basically useless.  In fact, the whole email to text messaging gateway is useless.  Rogers has built a metered communications system (can’t cure those old-line telco’s of all their bad habits overnight, it seems), and then put up a giant roadblock to prevent people from actually using it.  I’m sure there’s a junior product manager somewhere deep within the bowels of Rogers marketing department right now wondering why this “product” doesn’t make the company any money.

But, you know, there is a way out of this SMS hell… it’s called the Rogers Email to Text Direct Delivery Option. For the paltry sum of $5 per month, Rogers will make email to SMS work the way any normal thinking person would expect it to work. They’ll turn off that goofy READ feature, and just send the message directly to your phone.  And you can reply to the message too…

I’ll bet that same junior product manager is wondering why this feature doesn’t make any money either…  well, here are two clues: 

  1. Finding the page on the Rogers site where this is described is a bit like cave diving without a light.  It’s not easy. 
  2. Once you’ve found the page and know what you want, there doesn’t seem to be a way anywhere on the Rogers site to actually order this product.  That’s right.  You can’t order it.

Most importantly, nickling and diming customers with meaningless and/or stupid choices is a proven way to make them look for simpler solutions elsewhere.  One of the reasons that VoIP services have had success versus incumbents is that they understand this fundamental piece of psychology.  Instead of charging a buck or two for every meaningless “service”, they offer a bundle packed with features at one price.

Bell Mobility doesn’t go out of their way to make their SMS gateway hard to use, by the way, and I bet they have more SMS traffic as a result. 

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • ellenweber May 27, 2006, 1:41 pm

    While I agree with the problem you laid out so well here and while I have also faced these problems… I am motivated by your words to look at solutions that could help us turn the corner in this area…. What are those in your opinion…? I sense you could help us to apply these revolutionary ideas….

    Brain Based Business

  • Aswath May 27, 2006, 1:59 pm

    Sometimes it feels that the marketing and business departments are populated by a different set of mindsets. But this comment is related to a parenthetical remark about metered service. I want to bring to your attention a "new-line telco" that also has the same bad habit. Of course I am thinking of Skype. I am sure there is a valid reason why the comparison is not valid. But I don't get it.

  • Alec May 27, 2006, 2:05 pm

    Yes, Aswath, Skype is definitely heading down that path, and I don't understand why. If I was their marketing department, I'd be looking at the problem completely differently.

  • Jim Courtney May 27, 2006, 6:21 pm

    Several points:

    1. Now I understand why I have not been able to receive emails from my Rogers phone since they commenced working through their Canadian SMS-interconnect agreement a couple of years ago. In their pre-SMS-interconnect days, they did have an (walled garden) SMS service to which people sent emails which I received directly. In fact, I recall one message several years ago that alerted me to a change in dinner plans in NYC. But I did a test this evening that confirms your experience described above.

    The bigger issue is that I have never been able to really figure out how to send SMS messages on my Nokia 6310i — but then again this is one of Nokia's early GSM models supporting SMS. So Rogers doesn't get any SMS revenue from me at all; the only thing that works on my SMS is sending me a passcode to use their WiFi Hotspot service (no READ Reply required). Oh, and when Skype recently introduced "Send SMS" in beta version 2.5, I received a test message directly from the Skype sender with no need to "READ Reply".

    2. Re Rogers website: earlier this week I was asked by a friend how to sign up for Basic Rogers Cable TV online. Turns out there is abosolutely no obvious way that you can sign up from their website to obtain Basic cable. They do have a fundamental usability issue with their website with respect to signing up customers; I wonder if anyone reviews the numbers associated with web-based customer acquisition.

    3. You can rest assured there are no courses in Moronic Marketing at the University of Toronto Rotman Business School Having one of their degrees I can attest to that. In fact our marketing prof was also a consultant to GE Medical Systems in Milwaukee. During our course he came back from Milwaukee to tell us he had convinced GE to remove "Nuclear" and "NMR" from terminology related to what is now called Magnetic Resonance Imaging. A brilliant move to avoid patients having fear of MRI studies because of the use of the word "Nuclear" even though the underlying NMR technology is NOT associated with nuclear radiation (and I happen to have a lot of pure NMR experience as it relates to physics and chemistry)! But from the perspective of one who also has an engineering degree, the overall Rogers marketing activity appears to have the stamp of engineers who have difficulty understanding the psychology required to attract potential customers to actually want to use their invention. But, please, don't blame MBA's!

    The one positive comment I can make about my "VIP status customer relationship" with Rogers over the past 20 years is that everytime they call to review my services, I seem somehow to come out of the call with more services at a reduced cost.

  • Alec May 28, 2006, 6:45 am

    Ellen, I've been looking at your blog. What a fascinating read. To answer your question, I think Rogers, and the telecom industry in general, need to:

    1) Focus on customer service. They're monopolies and they behave like monopolies. People wouldn't have such a visceral reaction to telephone and cable companies if they didn't behave so badly.
    2) Take a cue from other industries, such as, for instance, the automobile industry, which has largely abandoned the practice of option, option, option in favor of two or three standard configurations. The "products" telecom companies sell need to standalone as products, and not be configuration options that get turned on and off for additional fees.

    As an example of the latter, I have had, for some time, a voice recognition dialing service turned on on my cellphone. I haven't used it in nearly a year. It didn't work that well. Turning it off is hard to do. Can't do it from the Roges web page, which means phoning, and waiting on hold to reach an operator to do it. It only costs $5/month, but it should be included in the $330 calling plan I have at no additional cost. And I shouldn't have to think about the options I want when I am paying Cadillac prices. My $330 should be inclusive of the 911, and system access fees, and all of that gobbledygook which drives my bill well beyond the $330.

  • Alec May 28, 2006, 6:53 am

    Hey Jim, rest assured I know a few really smart MBAs. I think a common failing of many business people is to let a perceived profit maximizer get in the way of doing the right thing for customers. I see this constantly in telecom where, because there is no real competition, they can get away with it. Instead of trying to eke an additional $2/month in revenue out of me with another meaningless service, focus on astounding me with the value I am getting, and delight me with the features.

    I think I feel another post coming on…

    To Aswath's comment — Skype's product line is expanding rapidly. They're copying the cell phone industry with voice mail, ring back tones, and so on. I'd like to see a single price package. I bet they'd have higher profits, it would be easier to market, and you'd end up with more satisfied customers.

  • ellenweber May 28, 2006, 8:30 am

    Thanks for your kind words about my blog at Brain Based Business — it's been fun to use new ideas about the brain to bring wonderful business benefits:-) Wow — you need to publish these solutions Alec! Thanks for laying them out… your experience and wisdom is invaluable and I think this would turn the corner on a problem that holds us back! I'll check back in to see what happens….

  • /pd May 30, 2006, 7:47 am

    Not sure -but from what I understand, its zero cents to receive SMS to a phone , either it be rogers or Bell or whomever. So to facilicate some SMS exchange to my other associates I have freetxting widget installed on my google hompy….its simple and does not cost a dime to the user ..and your msg gets delived.

  • Adam Thompson June 13, 2006, 5:10 pm

    How to subscribe: click on the "Getting Started With Email-to-TXT" link, and you'll notice (and yeah, this is pretty dumb…) you have to SMS to "0000000000" (10 zeros) the word "Subscribe". That's how you get set up on the Email-to-TXT service. Still isn't working properly for me, though.

  • Alec June 13, 2006, 5:36 pm

    Thanks Adam. I did it too… don't know if it works yet, but they say that I've "successfully subscribed".

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