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SMS Marketing Best Practices: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself


SMS, short for “short message service” or text messaging, became wildly popular in the mid-2000s and grew from there as the usage of cell phones with pop-out keyboards increased, followed by the initial boom of the smartphone in the early 2010s. Now text messaging is something that most of us use everyday, except for that one guy you know who always insists on calling, and then leaves a voicemail of all things when you don’t answer. Yeah, you know that guy…

As text messaging has grown to be a popular (some what say ultimate) form of communication, it’s also proved itself to be a great opportunity for marketers who recognize that today’s consumers are never far from their phones.

When used correctly, SMS Marketing can be very effective for communicating exclusive updates, announcements, and incentives to your audience. But there are a few best practices you need to keep in mind in order to get the most out of your program.

Get explicit permission.

Before you start contacting any customers via SMS marketing, make sure you have their explicit consent to do so. Permission is generally obtained one of two ways. The first is to have the subscriber elect to opt-in by texting a keyword to a mobile short code. For example, “Text ‘ENROLL ME’ to 56565 to sign up for mobile alerts.”

The second way is to have subscribers give written consent that you may contact them via SMS. Written consent could include a user who selects to opt-in to SMS messaging via a profile center, during the opt-in process for an email, or during checkout. This method can be tricky and it’s recommended you require users to actively select the option to opt-in, as opposed to pre-selecting the opt-in box for them.

It’s important to note that text messages fall under the FCC’s Telephone Consumer Protect Act (TCPA), which restricts solicitations over the phone, including SMS text messages, as well as the CTIA, and therefore failure to gain explicit consent to contact any customer via SMS can result in hefty fines. Read more from the TCPA and the CTIA.

Give clear expectations.

Once a subscriber has opted-in, reply with a quick welcome message that outlines who you are and what the user has just signed up for. This could include details like what types of messages they could expect to get in the future (i.e. coupon codes or product alerts) and how many messages they can expect to receive from you each month.

You also want to included a disclaimer that when receiving these messages, standard data and message rates may apply, as well as a clear option for opting-out.

Of course, the trick is to do this in only 160 characters, so keep your message short and concise.

Always make it simple to opt-out.

Similar to email, you always want to include a clear opt-out for SMS marketing. This could be as simple as including a note such as “Txt ‘STOP’” to unsubscribe”. This is particularly important if you will be sending a series of on-going messages and not just a one-off message triggered by the user. If your program is a regular cadence of messages, make sure you promote opt-out instructions at least once a month.

Don’t be a pest.

SMS marketing can be very effective in keeping your audience engaged with your brand. But you don’t want to be too intrusive to their phone’s inbox. Watch how frequently you send SMS communications and limit it to no more than 2-4 per month.

Watch the time of day you send your messages as well. In general, most SMS marketing messages are best sent during normal business hours, but as a rule, just make sure you avoid early morning or late evening hours.

Also, if you are regularly sending messages, make sure every one provides a clear value, otherwise you’ll likely see engagement drop and opt-out’s increase.

Getting Started with Your SMS Marketing Program

Like other marketing efforts, the first step in building an SMS program is to decide what the end goal for that program is. Perhaps the goal is to increase interest in a new product, while also providing incentives for subscribers to pre-order. Or maybe the goal is long-term and you simply want to establish a regular cadence of providing promotional deals to your subscribers. Your goal could even be to use SMS as another outlet to collect customer data. (Of course, you wouldn’t want to lead with this…)

Goals will obviously vary from brand to brand, but it’s an important factor to keep in mind as you build your subscriber list and map out your strategy.

Once you have a concrete goal in mind for your program, it’s time to start building your list. Some of you may have been asking subscribers to opt-in for SMS long before you ever intended to send a message. Others are likely starting from scratch. Either is fine as long as every subscriber has explicitly opted-in.

Building your SMS list.

Increasing your number of SMS subscribers doesn’t have to be complicated. And because mobile short codes can be placed anywhere, it’s easy to incorporate them in your other marketing efforts.

For example, including a mobile SMS campaign on a direct mail piece can not only give you another metric for gauging overall engagement with that piece, but allow consumers to interact with that piece in a way that feels more exclusive.

You can post a special short code for those who follow you on Facebook or Twitter. You can also use Sponsored Posts on Twitter, or Boosted Posts on Facebook to reach those who may be interested in your brand. Your website, as well as landing pages, are another great place to advertise a mobile short code and build your subscriber list, as are email promotions and monthly newsletters.

Brick & mortar stores can benefit from in-store SMS marketing as well. Target in particular does an amazing job of including special mobile short codes across their stores that allow customers access to exclusive, one-off promotions.

How ever you promote your SMS program, make sure that promotion contains a clear CTA and a clear benefit for subscribing.

Keeping Subscribers Engaged

Consumers love deals as well as the feeling of exclusivity. SMS marketing has the ability to provide both those things in a way that other marketing outlets can’t. The user feels active in the subscription process as they type in the code, and because the message comes straight to their phone, that makes it somehow feel more personal. This is what can make SMS marketing so effective.

However, this is all the more reason to make sure your SMS program provides a clear incentive to the subscriber. Most consumers who sign up for an SMS program are promised exclusive content, updates, alerts, deals and promotions. Make sure you deliver on those expectations, otherwise you won’t see the benefits that this type of program has to offer.

Finally, be sure to constantly check back in on the goals of your program and any appropriate metrics that can help you determine whether or not you’re achieving what you set out to do. This may include open rates, response rates (in the event a user must reply to an SMS message before receiving an offer) and/or offer redemption rates.