Now there is one more way for businesses to get their messages across. Joining print, radio, TV, telemarketing, direct mail, billboards, floor ads, popcorn bag ads, and skywriting is text marketing. Smart phones are taking off, texting is spreading beyond the under-30 crowd, and it is quickly becoming such an integral part of everyday life.

Andrew Mento sees no reason why any business catering to consumers would not do well to advertise via text messaging. Staking his savings on that premise, has started a new company, Cellvertise.

The company enables its clients to send messages, typically discount offers of some kind, to an opt-in database of customers. “Come in tonight and get a free appetizer,” a message might read, or it might say “You can get 70 percent off on all holiday merchandise this weekend.” The offers should be substantial, says Mento. “Don’t just offer a free small cup of coffee,” he advises clients.

Text message marketing is already being used extensively in Japan and in Europe, Mento says, adding, “some businesses are sending texts out six times a week.”

He advises less frequent texts, but says that his system is set up so that clients can easily send out as many texts as they want to, as frequently as they want to do so. Clients just go to the website he provides, choose which segment of their databases they want to target, type out a message, and press send.

Mento purchased the technology that powers his company’s text marketing system, but will not reveal from whom. He charges most clients from $60 to $75 a month to use it, and is now spending a good part of his time persuading businesses to sign up.

He says that he hasn’t had much trouble getting appointments to talk about his marketing approach, but that he has encountered a high degree of what he describes as “skittishness.”

After the first giddy days when E-mail spread through the land, and it was easy for anyone to get the attention of just about anyone else — up to and including CEOs — by using the new communication tool, just about everyone became annoyed by spam, the E-mail equivalent of the 6 p.m. marketing phone call. So business owners are wary, says Mento. They are afraid that customers will find their text advertisements intrusive. This could happen in time, he concedes. But for now, he says, text ads are novel enough that they are not annoying.

Mento stresses again and again that all Cellvertise text ads are opt-in. In other words, his clients’ customers have to sign up for them. In effect, they have to ask to be solicited. “I tell clients to think of it as a VIP club,” he says.

An appealing feature of using Cellvertise, he says, is that clients create databases of customer information as they go along. One week, for example, a client might send out a survey: What is your favorite appetizer? Do you prefer jazz, country, or hard rock? Results can be added to demographic information such as each customer’s age, the town in which he lives, and the time and day of the week he tends to shop or show up for dinner.

All of this data, which builds up over time, can be used to specifically target each marketing text. Knowing that Wednesdays are slow, a restaurant owner can send out many different texts to fill empty seats, and they can all offer different enticements. Customers with children can be offered a “kids eat free” deal; customers with a weakness for fried mozzarella sticks can be offered a free plate of them as an appetizer; customers from Kingston can be offered a “15 percent off for Kingston residents” offer. The possibilities are nearly endless, and getting the offers out takes only minutes.

Cellervision’s early clients included the Blue Rooster restaurant in Cranbury, Cox’s Market in Princeton, a number of Hollywood Tan outlets, and A & G Italian delicatessen in Plainsboro. Mento says that he is close to reeling in an 11-location bowling alley chain, and sees potential in theaters, clubs, book stores, and any other venue that wants to remind potential attendees of upcoming events.

The Blue Rooster includes a cell phone sign up on the home page of its website. Cox’s Market promoted the cell phone service through signs in its window and on its counter, and also featured it in the 150 faxes of special offers it sends out each morning. None of these methods resulted in much interest. “We stopped doing it,” says Alan Heap, an owner of the Nassau Street deli and restaurant. “It was not catching on. It just wasn’t happening. We had it going for four or five months and got six hits.”

Heap still thinks E-mail offers are a great idea. “All of us were shocked that it wasn’t working,” he says.

Owners of the Blue Rooster and the A & G Deli weren’t available for comment by press time.

Beyond restaurants, Mento is counting on real estate. His system works a little differently for real estate agents. They add a message to their yard signs, advising home hunters that they can call for more information. When the call comes in, the agent sends out a large number of interior pictures of the house, and then follows up with a phone call. The agent knows that anyone who takes the time to inquire about a specific house is a good prospect, he says, and texting the photos provides a good way to start a relationship.

Mento, a graduate of Alvernia College in Reading, Pennsylvania, Class of 1993, had been working in the advertising industry before starting Cellvertise a few months ago. He says that he already has several employees, two in sales, “a creative person,” and someone to handle the financial side of the business. In addition to his savings, Mento, who lives in Plainsboro with his dog, a yellow lab/greyhound mix, tapped his family for the money to get his business going. He knows that he has lots of competition and suspects than many more companies will be getting into the text marketing business. But he is cautiously optimistic about his chances.

“It takes an investment of time and knowledge, and of money,” he says. It is his hope that when the industry matures, “I’ll still be standing.”

Cellvertise, 10 Shalks Crossing Road, Suite 501-210, Plainsboro 08536; 609-752-4322; fax, 609-716-9246. Andrew Mento, owner. Home page: www.cellvertise.net.

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