A quarter for your thoughts

The cell phone may well become the ultimate marketing vehicle — a unique, (almost) always-on and deeply personal connection to consumers. But early attempts to exploit its strengths have run afoul of privacy concerns. One text-message polling specialist has found a solution: young tech-savvy customers will emerge from behind their pop-up blockers, TiVos and do-not-call lists in exchange for cash.

Thousands of customers from 15 to 30 years of age have opted in to MemberMatrix, a proprietary database run by text message guru CLX. New members register by providing a bit of demographic and personal detail. CLX says the database, 15,000 strong, is growing at a rate that will yield 70,000 members by year-end.

The polling service is simple. CLX helps clients design questions and pick the right database slice to query. Air2Web Inc., a wireless applications specialist, provides software called 2Notify that delivers the text message to respondents, who can be in any part of the United States, using any wireless provider.

Members’ phones ring a few times a week to ask questions like, “Have you heard about our new breakfast cereal?” They answer yes or no, hit “send,” and are done. Participants get cash — usually a quarter, and sometimes as much as a dollar, credited to a PayPal account — or other compensation such as airline miles or hotel points.

CEO Dave Williams says CLX’s business model is unique. Most other text-message polls have been one-off efforts, typically sports-themed contests or entertainment events, arranged by a wireless provider. CLX has built an unusual asset — a proprietary database of willing consumers — in stark contrast to most direct marketers, who rely on rented lists. The difference is startling: According to CLX, recent polls have achieved 70-per-cent response rates, dwarfing most direct marketing campaigns. “We understand the rules of engagement in the wireless medium,” says Williams.

Cash is the main attraction: Many users answer enough questions to cover their monthly texting bill. Psychological rewards also accrue — this demographic likes to be heard and wants to be out in front of technological change. CLX doesn’t spam its members, who can opt out any time. What’s in it for marketers? A willing population — and a real-time fix on their questions. Consumers are paid each time they answer a text message, so responses can arrive within seconds of the question being sent. Clients get a browser-based application that allows them to see the current poll as it happens, look up their past polls and build new ones. Marketers also get some hard data around which to construct their ROI calculations.

Early users include consumer-goods companies and retailers. Sports drink maker Hydrade used the service to test its product in the Atlanta market. By sending a simple text-message poll, the company was able to collect independent figures on brand awareness.

Ultimately, the service “allowed us to be successful in getting more shelf space and freestanding display space in the stores,” Hydrade Beverage Company Inc. CFO Kevin Snyder says. Further, the company sees text-message polling as an entr

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