Advertising & Brand

#FF FollowFriday: Derek Johnson On Mobile Text Marketing

12 min read

Derek Johnson - CEO Tatango_thumbnail#FF at MobileGroove amplifies the voices you need to hear, and profiles Derek Johnson, CEO of SMS marketing company Tatango and — more importantly — a brave (sometime edgy) voice in the mobile marketing space. This week Tatango published a controversial infographic that shows the real impact of spam on users in the U.S. (and the size of the lawsuits for leading companies that blatantly disregard best practices).

Editor’s note: From mobile professionals and practitioners to outstanding and passionate individuals doing their part to improve mobile communication, connectivity and collaboration the world over, this new bi-weekly feature introduces you to new people and new viewpoints that merit our attention (and a ‘follow’ on Twitter). In the next weeks we’ll profile Chetan Sharma, David Berkowitz, Judy Breck, Nora Goodman and Ajit Jaokar – to name a few. If you would like to be considered for this series (or suggest someone you admire), then reach out to me directly (@peggyanne).


Derek Johnson (@TheDerekJohnson)doesn’t just think mobile. He lives it.

He’s a Millennial (age 26) who’s gone into mobile in a big way. We may know him best as the CEO and founder of Tatango, an angel-funded text marketing company with a sharp focus on outbound messaging. Originally built to send messages to fraternity members, Tatango has now grown to service a wide customer base including local businesses and Fortune 500 companies. (The company offers clients a monthly subscription model and says that it has doubled its revenues every year since its launch in 2007. Derek reports his company is currently profitable.

As you would expect from a millennial and model entrepreneur Derek started Tatango in his parents’ basement after dropping out of the business program at the University of Houston. It’s a story of self-made success that has made Derek the focus of dozens of articles and blogs about the business of mobile, including the Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times, Mashable, TechCrunch and other  publications and destinations.

In June Derek’s company got even more coverage when it took the wraps off a new look, a new version of its service and a new emphasis on helping small- to medium-sized businesses harness text marketing.

Zero tolerance for text message spam

However, it’s Derek’s passion about text marketing — and his personal resolve to educate advertisers everywhere and call out organizations that spam their customers and disregard best practices — that earns our attention.

Kudos for a brand new infographic (released just this week) based on a survey of 500 consumers in the U.S. Tatango conducted the survey to gain insights into people’s experience with text message spam.

Text Message Marketing by Tatango.

The key data points:

  • 68 percent of survey respondents say they’ve received text message spam.
  • Women under 17 are the most likely to have received text message spam, with 86 percent of this demographic saying they’ve received text message spam.
  • Women 55+ are the least likely to receive text message spam, with 51 percent of this demographic saying they’ve received text message spam.

As Derek put it on the company blog: With the rise in text message spam, the effectiveness of marketing through this channel will drop significantly if gone un-checked. With over two thirds of the U.S. population receiving text message spam, it’s time for businesses to start realizing the impact text message spam has on their customers and selecting software providers like Tatango that have instituted a zero tolerance policy for text message spam.”

Vendor spin aside, Tatango’s graphic drives home an important point and an uncomfortable truth: SMS spam is a nuisance and what Derek has called (via his blog over at Mobile Marketing Watch) a potential business killer. In another (edgier) blog Derek effectively takes on the industry and calls for a revision of the guidelines governing text messaging best practices in the U.S.

4 Qs for Derek Johnson

I caught up with Derek on a Skype chat to ask him some questions and get some real answers to what makes this man tick (and powers his output of a whopping 17,658 Tweets since 2008).

MG: You are a voice in the mobile marketing space — loud, clear and sometimes edgy. However, there are many professionals and practitioners out there talking mobile marketing, why should we listen to you?

Derek: Yeah, I’ve been known to piss off some people by voicing my opinions on what I see happening in the industry. It’s tough too, since people get confused about who to listen to within an industry that has so many *experts*. The problem main I see with the majority of people talking about mobile marketing, is that they’re too old. They aren’t immersed in mobile. Look, I’m not trying to be mean here, but mobile marketing is a young person’s game. This industry is a new and nascent industry driven by early adopters, and the majority of early adopters are young people. Luckily for me, being 26, I’m still part of that early adopter group. I’m the guy in this industry that really gets this stuff, and I that’s why I think I bring a unique perspective to the table when talking about mobile marketing.

MG: We know that text message spam is happening — as your new infographic shows — and it’s annoying. But you argue it is more than a bother; it’s a business-model killer. What makes you so sure?

Derek: Are you kidding? Spam isn’t only a business-model killer; it’s a ticking time bomb for the entire industry. All the benefits of text message marketing depend on one thing: people’s acceptance of them. People have to open text messages and read them. Everything else — all the calls to action — things like redemption rates, recall rates, and effective marketing are possible because text messages are opened and read. If, because of spam, consumers start to ignore text messages, we lose our ability to communicate with out customers and potential customers. Once that has been lost, it’s goodbye text message marketing.

The most frustrating part about this is who’s to blame. It’s a ticking time bomb that hasn’t been assembled by outsiders. It’s being built right here within our industry by traitors. These traitors are disregarding best practices and purposely allowing certain practices to take place on their platforms. They knowingly expose consumers to text message spam, killing our industry from within. We need to stop these traitors before it’s too late for our industry.

MG: The mobile marketing space is crowded with companies and solutions. What makes your company Tatango different?

Derek: You are completely correct, and it feels like the industry is getting more crowded by the day. Tatango is different because we have chosen to specialize in just one thing: outbound SMS marketing. My philosophy is that you can only be the best at one thing, and if you try to be the best at everything, you will succeed at being the best at nothing.

MG: Text messaging is widely considered to be a central component of mobile advertising campaigns, particularly in Europe where brands like M&S understand it is the only way to reach everyone regardless of their device. It feels like text message marketing hasn’t yet hit its stride in the U.S. In your opinion, what has to happen to really move the dial on text marketing?

Derek: Great question. I think we were close in late 2010 and early 2011 to really seeing text message marketing take off. Unfortunately, the industry was blinded by the whole social media craze. That’s when businesses abandoned their mobile strategy to jump on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagons. Now I’m seeing a mass exodus away from social media towards more traditional marketing methods, and mobile, driven by the realization that all the excitement about social media didn’t produce a positive effect on their bottom line. Now that businesses are clear about what social media can and can’t accomplish, I expect 2012 will be the year that text message marketing finally gets its time to shine.

You can follow Derek and his edgy comments on Twitter (@TheDerekJohnson) or on Tatango’s SMS marketing blog.

If you would like to be considered for this bi-weekly series (or suggest someone you admire), then reach out to me directly (@peggyanne).