Will Walsh on MMS greetings from Sharpcards

Will Walsh is CEO of MMS (and EMMA) greetings service provider, Sharpcards. I fired some questions over to him recently to find out more about what they’re doing in the space. Will was good enough to answer some of the rather direct questions I had!

Here we go…

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Give us an overview of the business?
Sharpcards has been working in the internet greetings industry for over 10 years. Seven years ago it launched the world’s first mobile greetings portal for Orange. Since then it has been supplying, customising and retailing messaging content with operator partners around the globe.

Today, Sharpcards delivers a comprehensive white label greetings and eCard experience to the world’s leading mobile brands including Vodafone, T-Mobile, AT&T, Orange, Sony Ericsson, Verizon, o2 & Samsung.

And the background?
Historically, Sharpcards have provided its operator partners with fully managed mobile portals, retailing the very best messaging content available in the market. Simple, straightforward message delivery is at the heart of what Sharpcards is about – customising and optimising the content to deliver the best possible experience for the end user in the mobile environment.

With an increasing focus away from portals, today’s Sharpcards offering looks very different. Sharpcards is now driving partner value by offering downloadable and embedded applications on the device. This brings enhanced messaging application & ecards directly to the most contextually relevant parts of the phone – the main message menus and home screen. By doing this, Sharpcards is able to deliver an excellent, relevant end-user experience, while driving MMS and content revenues for operators. Everything Sharpcards offers is fully customised to its partners’ brand look and feel – delivering a fresh and trusted content environment for their business

What are you doing with MMS? Any EMMA action?
Our Enhanced Mobile Messaging Application (EMMA) is already live on networks, including T-Mobile in the UK and 3 in Sweden. A number of new launches are imminent with other partners across Europe.
The new service is proving to be a great success. Customers are discovering the application when they go to send a message. Now, people are able to add colour, meaning and sentiment to their messages in a simple, fun and engaging way.

Who’s using your services? What type of customer? I’m betting the users skew female?
Well, we are finding the profile of our user is changing. The portal environment attracted a younger, predominantly female audience and the context choices and mix reflected this. With the application in the device we have seen significant growth in a number of new content areas – especially wind-ups, flirting and jokey content. The content choices within the categories we offer is now appealing to a much wider profile than before, demonstrating that the application is attractive to users across all segments and demographics. The proposition is simple and straightforward -everyone likes to send messages with added meaning. Everyone can understand the application, and people who receive the messages recognise the value.

We’re currently seeing strong growth in the enhanced messaging market. For us, the customer experience and great content is key. We are focusing our efforts on keeping our content fresh, relevant and fun. This is reflected sustained growth in conversion figures – with some of networks seeing 30% of application visitor’s purchasing content within a few weeks from launch.

MMS has — bluntly — been a pile of rubbish in years gone by. How are you finding it nowadays?
Right — yes, MMS has been a challenging environment in the past, and remains so on many networks. We’ve invested significantly in resource and technology to overcome a number of barriers. Ensuring that the message and content gets to the recipient in a format and quality our customers expect is non-negotiable – after all, that is what they pay for. To overcome this, each item we sell is tested and adapted by Sharpcards at our head office and then re-tested on our client’s networks. We work very closely with our operator partners to optimise user experience.

In markets where MMS is still an issue, for example where interconnect is limited, the enabled base is low or provisioning is an issue, we will use the most appropriate alternative interim delivery mechanism such as SMS or WAP Push.

How are people using Sharpcards?
People are using our application as a way of adding more meaning and sentiment to messages. Sharpcards are being used to express emotion and say more than you can with text-based messaging, while being fun.

What are your most popular cards? Are we talking cuddly looking kittens and funny cartoons?
Popularity of our cards vary from month-to-month due to context and calendar events. Sales are not just driven predictable events such as Christmas, Valentines Day, Mothers Day etc. but also other topical drivers such as elections, as in Obama, sporting events and exam results etc. So far this year Disney content has proved consistently popular, particularly Winnie the Pooh ‘I Love You’ being a top performer since the beginning of January.

Surely the I LOVE YOU stuff is a sure fire winner?
Well yes, predictably, ‘I Love You’ and flirty content dominated the downloads in February due to Valentines Day. Outside of the ‘I Love you’ content, a wind-up message informing the recipient that their phone has been reported stolen to the police and will be disconnected has been a big hit this quarter. We have seen a significant growth in simple and fun content – more and more people are just downloading humorous images to just say ‘hi.’

Given the historical issues with MMS, how often does an average user send an eCard?
Without getting into commercially sensitive arenas, I can say that around 20-30% of people who browse through our application will buy content item there and then. Most will buy more than one eCard.

How do you catch customers?
By placing the application at the heart of the device in the main messaging menu, next to ‘send a text’ and ‘send an MMS’, discoverability becomes the main driver. Customers can make a choice at the point when they send a message, to send basic text or decide whether they wish to enhance it e.g. when sending ‘happy birthday’ to a loved one, sending a more powerful image or animated message adds value to the message being conveyed – it says so much more that the sender cares and has put that little bit more thought into the message. After a customer has used the application once, they become familiar with the content available and know where to go for further content when they need it. We are seeing that when our customers return to the application, they browse fewer items before purchasing – they know what type of content they like and where they can find it.

Can you comment on your customers’ most popular handsets?
Ahhh — we have a number of relationships with device manufacturers around the world; unfortunately I can’t disclose which ones are the most popular! Performance across our all our device range to date has been very strong. The application has broad appeal to a wide audience. We are seeing very different content consumption by device – and interestingly higher than anticipated levels of adoption and repeat usage from the top-tier device users. Users of top-tier devices tend to send more traditional sentimental and soppy ‘I love you’ content – whereas users of middle and low-tier devices are much more likely to send wind-ups, jokes and flirty images. The content consumption reflects the target audience segment & demographic of the device. We put a lot of effort into optimising the content mix for each individual device to drive revenue for our partners.

So I couldn’t tempt you to tell us what your most popular Sharpcard-sending network is?

I’m afraid if we gave that away it would cause uproar. Needless to say that all our networks are exceeding forecasts on adoption and usage to date.

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Thanks for your time Will!

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