SMS tends to get a lot of airtime (forgive the pun) when it comes to mobile marketing but there is another ‘old reliable’ mobile service that’s also earned its stripes over the years.
If you’ve ever used a prepaid airtime recharge PIN or sent a ‘Please Call Me’ message, then you’ve used a USSD service. USSD has nothing to do with Russia and is, in fact, short for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data. USSD specifically refers to messages sent and received by users in real time over cellular networks.
USSD is different to SMS because it is menu-driven. In other words, the mobile user types what is called a USSD string and pushes the green call button to bring up a menu. Users then respond to the menu by transmitting responses back over the mobile network. These responses typically perform a function, request a snippet of information, and so on. However, as with the Please Call Me example given above, some USSD services are single requests, without the need for a menu or further navigation.
USSD’s great advantage for mobile marketers is that there is no need for the mobile user to remember a short code as would be the case with an SMS-based mobile campaign. Of course, users do have to remember what USSD string to input but once this is done, a whole world of menu-driven information can be opened up that is simple and logical to navigate because it can be displayed on any GSM cellphone, not just smart phones or feature phones.
You could think of USSD as an automated helpdesk. Getting the information you require is a simple process of responding to a given menu – no phone calls or inputting responses via an annoying IVR phone line. This is great for boosting customer satisfaction as it taps into the growing trend for mobile users to want to interact with their favourite brands via text, without actually having to speak to a live person.
Another significant advantage for the consumer – besides the technology being so straightforward – is that USSD is really cheap. A typical charge is 20 cents per 20 seconds of navigating a USSD menu.
InTarget offers both standard rate, premium rate and reverse-billed USSD. The first two are pretty self-explanatory while the last USSD option means the end user accesses the USSD code at no charge as another party is paying. In addition, there are two kinds of USSD messages: Push and Pull. A mobile user accesses a Pull menu by dialling a shortcode, while a Push message is “pushed” onto the user’s phone by the sender which is usually a business. Push is usually used for things like sending pins or marketing messages, while Pull gives the customer the opportunity to purchase a product or enquire about a balance
In summary, USSD is useful for everything from mobile banking to accessing news services, sports scores, feedback and voting, advertising listings or directories. The limit of USSD’s functionality is nowhere near to being reached, making it a powerful tool for creative marketers and their clients.