identity and attribution for mobile consumers

SMS mobile campaigns are an effective way of reaching customers if they trust you enough to give you their cell phone numbers. Texts are a popular way for customers to receive receipts, shipping updates, appointment confirmations and, increasingly, deals.

A text, however, is a bare-bones experience — even if it includes an attached file for a picture, an emoji or link to a website (that makes it, technically, an MMS, or multimedia text). For a more compelling experience sent through texting, marketers are adopting RCS (rich communication services).

Marketers in the U.S. have been reluctant to execute RCS campaigns, even though the experience includes moving parts similar to an app, but without needing to download one. The reason? The format is currently supported by Android, but not Apple. There are indications that Apple will change this in iOS 18, which is rolling out this fall.

This move could make RCS a more popular and effective channel for U.S. marketers because its reach would balloon from around 40% to nearly 100% of phone users. (An antitrust lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against Apple cited the company had 65% of the U.S. smartphone market.)

What is RCS?

RCS is a standard that supports rich features in messaging. It was established by the GSM Association, a mobile network industry group, a decade ago. Google adopted the format in Google Messages, allowing access to the format by Android users. Apple has held off on supporting the format in iOS.

In RCS, users can share high-quality GIFs, videos and other interactive elements directly in a text message. Marketers can add logos and design elements that give the messages a distinct, branded look. Sophisticated RCS designs can embed carousels with multiple videos or products to sell. Users can tap on links to websites or buttons in the message, creating a user experience similar to an app but without the hassle of downloading the app.

Marketers will also have the power to measure behavior in RCS messages, so they will be able to optimize campaigns with mobile analytics.

Dig deeper: Why we care about mobile marketing

Will Apple support RCS?

Probably. Although Apple hasn’t made an official announcement, a company spokesperson last year indicated that RCS would be supported in this fall’s iOS update.

This year, Apple has come under increasing pressure to curb alleged monopolistic practices in the U.S. Supporting a common messaging format between iPhone and Android users would be a step in the right direction, lending weight to the belief that Apple will go through with supporting RCS this fall. 

“There’s still some holes but we’re hoping with Apple’s [statement] that RCS will start to appear both in Google and Apple environments,” said Matt Ramerman, senior vice president, customer success and innovation at mobile experience company Sinch. “We also know all the wireless operators are investing in their piece as well, which will now usher in this new era of RCS.”

How will RCS change SMS?

“[RSC] finally will come with the feature sets we’ve all been waiting for that we believe will knock out any of those hesitations that enterprises had about using messaging as not just an operational tool, but a tool that can center their customer experiences with mobile in a significant way,” said Ramerman.

A likely scenario is that Apple iPhones will support RCS messaging through its default iMessages platform when Apple users message each other. The updated iOS, if all goes according to plan, will also support RCS messages between iPhones and Android users. Google Messages will continue to support RCS through Android-to-Android communication, as it has done for years.

The big change in this scenario is that a much larger number of U.S. consumers will be able to receive RCS messages from brands. With many more features than SMS texts, it has the potential of changing how brands communicate with their customers.

“SMS makes up a large majority of how we all use our phones and interact with our friends and family,” Ramerman explained. “Enterprise use in the U.S. is largely defined by pushing out notifications — banks sending you a fraud alert, FedEx telling you your package is going to arrive today.”

He added, “Robust, modern analytics around messaging has been largely constrained, and also the channel itself…isn’t feature-rich. Those things have tempered a lot of investment by enterprises to adopt messaging as a CX tool, which is a little odd considering that’s where their customers live — but there’s been a barrier there.”

What RCS features should marketers use?

“RCS has put together a number of nice features for messaging,” said Inderpal Singh Mumick, CEO of global RCS business messaging company Dotgo. ”It really is a two-way channel that is rich in terms of its content, and that provides a lot more analytics than SMS is able to provide. Businesses get better results and better visibility through analytics, and consumers get a far more pleasant experience, better visuals, a better user experience, hence they use it more — which gives businesses better results.”

He said there are approximately 2,000 brands executing RCS campaigns globally through Dotgo’s services, especially in markets with high Android penetration, including India, Brazil and Mexico.

He expects to see more RCS campaigns rolling out in the U.S. later this year, in the months following Apple’s iOS update.

Here are some actions marketers can take with RCS campaigns, ranging from adding simple elements to providing deeper engagements with customers: 

  • Send personalized messages and videos to each user.
  • Include suggested replies that replace the requirement for a user to type in a response.
  • Add suggested actions: Instead of replying to the sender, an action opens up a map or website to engage with or calls a phone number to speak with a service rep.
  • Ask for the user’s location to recommend an action in the user’s physical environment.
  • Embed a carousel with five or more options that users can swipe through.
  • Collect analytics on all of the interactions with the message at an individual user level.
  • A/B test the elements in an RCS message.
  • Drive two-way conversations with generative AI through the RCS messaging channel, similar to a chatbot experience.

“The power of sending somebody a rich picture, a video or a carousel of pictures is so much higher than sending somebody dry text,” said Mumick.

What is the future for RCS?

Some U.S. marketers are already using RCS campaigns, according to Annette Franz, founder and CEO of customer experience consultancy CX Journey Inc. and a MarTech contributor. Apple’s likely support of RCS will lead to broader adoption of RCS campaigns by marketers.

“Whether you’re communicating with Androids or between an Android and an iPhone, it will be on RCS,” said Mumick. “It will only be a matter of time before communication will be over RCS by default.”

“With Apple onboard now, more marketers are looking to find out how they can take advantage of RCS,” Franz said. “For now, some marketers (e.g., Best Buy, Papa John’s, Subway, Walmart, Nissan) are using it but are aware of the limitations of hitting just a portion of the population. Apple users still get the messages, but they don’t get the experience because RCS is not supported on iPhones at the moment.”

Franz agrees that a richer messaging experience leads to higher engagement, which makes RCS attractive to marketers.

“Improved service and support with real-time updates and more seamless purchasing capabilities also lead to higher satisfaction levels and an experience unlike what customers have previously had,” said Franz. “These spell value for customers and for brands.”

“There are many use cases that marketers can use to engage with customers beyond just simple text messages and it’s going to take some time to figure out which of those use cases will fit with consumers,” said Alex Campbell, co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer for mobile technology company Vibes. “We don’t want to do RCS just because it looks cool, we want to do it because it improves ROI and engagement and makes a better customer experience. This year should be about figuring out which possibilities work with your specific customers.”

A superior experience and better customer service could be reasons enough for customers to depend on RCS messaging for rich interactions with their preferred brands.


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