Essential SMS marketing: How to be terrific at texting

2nd Sep 2013

Given the extraordinary penetration of mobile phones, it is unsurprising that short message service (SMS) would be an impactful marketing medium. Nonetheless, the statistics make for mighty impressive reading.

98% of text messages are read, with the average response time a mere 90 seconds (compared to 2.5 days for an email). 75% of people prefer receiving ads via SMS and 70% of Americans would like to receive mobile coupons from their favourite businesses - with SMS coupons more likely to be redeemed and shared than mail or newspaper coupons. Furthermore, SMS marketing campaigns are opted out less than 5% of the time.

So how can SMS fit into your marketing efforts? Holly Barber, marketing manager at FireText, outlines some of the main ways in which SMS marketing can be used across a range of businesses.

Fill in the gaps – Barber says: “If you have a restaurant or retail shop, you probably have days which are quieter than others. If you have some empty tables or a slow day on sales, texting an offer to subscribers in the nearby area could turn it around in minutes.” i.e. ‘Hello Amy, its Sam from the Ocean Restaurant, come and enjoy a meal for two tonight and receive a free bottle of wine. We look forward to seeing you.’

Lead generation – “You can set up a ‘keyword’ and advertise it anywhere and everywhere – menus, posters, shop window, print adverts and on your website. This will allow customers to opt-in to your mailing list, providing you with lots of new contacts and letting your customers do the hard work by building your database for you. Give a reason for them to opt-in like a VIP Club or to receive special offers and promotions. Within seconds you’ve collected another contact who wants to know more about your products or services.” i.e. ‘Text FOOD to 12345 to receive exciting updates, news and special offers’

Customer service – “It’s not always about generating new customers, it’s also important to retain the ones you already have and make sure your service is second to none. A welcome message ahead of a hotel stay or a quick follow on message after a visit could really enhance the customer’s overall experience.” i.e. ‘Mr Barker, we hope you enjoyed your stay at the Seaside Resort Hotel. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to improve our service in the future. Have a safe journey home.’

Booking confirmation – “Confirm a package delivery, spa appointment or ticket purchase with a text. Not everyone wants to log into their emails and find that confirmation amongst all the spam emails, this way that all important information is available to them instantly and effortlessly.” i.e. ‘Good news Lucy - your tickets have been booked. Simply show reference code FT340 at the gates. Enjoy the show!’

Organising events – “If you’re planning an important event; time is precious and ensuring people attend is a priority. Send directions or links to a map ahead of your event. If a schedule changes at the last minute you can update all attendees at the click of a button without the worry that they won’t see it in time.” i.e. ‘Hello Mark, the Business Conference Centre is all set for your arrival. Click on the link below for directions. We’ll see you at 7:30! The Events Team.’

Terrific texting

But despite the attraction of SMS, Barber has a warning for marketers: “You need to ensure your customers want to receive the messages; if you send an unwanted text you will do your business more harm than good.”

Indeed, the personal nature of the mobile phone is a double-edged sword for the marketer – it guarantees delivery to the pocket of your target, but an unwanted or irrelevant message can be viewed as an invasion of privacy.

To minimise the danger of this, marketers should let your customers opt-in to your mailing list, perhaps with an incentive such as a special offer. Darren Daws, MD at Textlocal, believes that building an opted-in database is essential – even though many marketers are failing to do so at present.

“By 2015 the number of mobile users that will have opted-in to receive business communications will have increased to 35.3 million but for the majority of businesses, capturing mobile details is something of an afterthought,” he explains.

“It’s also important to remember that as a business you are marketing to a person and not a mobile number: it’s all about building trust. The opt-in process must be transparent and the user must know why they are opting in, and what giving their permission to the business actually means. Make the most of rich media by attaching a PDF, picture, and video or link the message to a mobile landing page containing visual information. It’s all about engagement, once you understand and respect the preferences of your database your one-to-one relationship will flourish.”

He continues:  “Whichever way you choose to compile your database it is important to always make sure you stay legally compliant. Provided businesses adhere to the strict legislation around privacy (more information can be obtained from the ICO website and fulfil their value exchange, opt-in SMS marketing will ensure marketers develop an ongoing relationship with their customer base, enjoy increased response rates and benefit from exceptional returns on investment.”

Likewise, marketers should ensure they always provide an opt-out option. “It may hurt your pride if someone decides they’d no longer like to receive your offers, but it will hurt your reputation more if you don’t give customers the option,” adds Barber. “Don’t focus on the opt-outs, put your energy into providing irresistible offers to the customers who do want to hear from you.”

Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of, has the following final additional pieces of advice to optimise SMS marketing efforts.

  1. Clean your database, regularly - This is a process that may appear obvious but which is often overlooked. A company database has to be maintained for relevance, and segmented in line with commercial goals or communication needs. Unwanted communications invariably results in complaints. Positive planning is the best way to drive positive SMS messaging outcomes.
  2. Allow for opt-ins and opt-outs - Target message recipients must be given the choice. Do they want to be kept ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the database? Ensure that the opt-in process is simple and straightforward. But if they want out - make it is as easy as possible for them to decline the service.
  3. Test your campaign - Make sure that the SMS campaign is set up correctly; ascertain the best times to send a message, and the best response mechanisms to incorporate. When it is ready to go, don’t send it to everyone; rather send it to a small sample and fine tune if the sample results indicate the need to do so.
  4. Be friendly - SMS is personal. It’s intimate. But it’s only effective if it comes across in the right way. Craft your message and build empathy with your audience and SMS will then serve you well in getting your message across.

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