When did SMS become the “other” mobile channel? Every year for the last decade, mobile has been heralded as “next year’s breakthrough marketing channel.” Now that it’s finally happening, it’s due to the rise in smart phones and their portable web and email capabilities, not SMS.

But just because the entire marketing industry hasn’t built a killer app out of SMS, doesn’t mean that you can’t use it to lift your communications efforts.

First, SMS stands for “short message service.” It’s text messaging. As with any marketing initiative, it’s important to start with the landscape to determine if this is a channel worth exploring. With mobile and SMS, the case is pretty clear:

– There are over 275 million mobile phones in use in the U.S. currently. That’s 9 phones for every 10 people.
– 4.1 trillion text messages were sent in 2008. The number was probably so much higher in 2009 that they’re still counting them all.
– According to eMarketer, there were 21.9 million U.S. mobile social network users. In 2013 it will be 56.2 million.
– Silicon Alley Insider reports that already over half the smart phone mobile web page views are to social networking sites.

The key takeaways here are that your email subscribers have mobile phones, texting is a preferred means of mobile communication, and mobile users are deeply engaged with the same content through their phones that they’re engaged with at their computers. The mobile ground is fertile for marketers seeking to extend their engagement with subscribers beyond the desktop.

Like every channel, SMS has its rules and nuances. And like most channels worth exploring, those rules are established by the subscribers, not by you. Obviously, you can’t just text your subscribers, even if you have their mobile numbers. But with Real Magnet you can make it easy for them to sign up to receive the messages of their choice via SMS (all the more reason to build that Preferences Center). MagnetMail may look like an email delivery platform, but it’s actually more channel agnostic than that. If your subscribers are willing, they can receive the same messages you send by email via SMS, fax or RSS. With almost no incremental effort to send, you could be recognizing sizable lifts in ROI.

As you evaluate how to integrate new channels into the marketing mix, it’s probably worth remembering that our objective as marketers isn’t to send email. It’s to inform, educate, announce and communicate. Until I see a link that says, “click here to have this content beamed directly into your cerebral cortex” I’ll stand by the claim that email remains the most effective channel for meeting our objectives. But it’s not the only channel, and if we can get the same messages into the hands (and cerebral cortexes) of the people who want to see them, why shouldn’t we?