Text messaging has become the great communication equalizer. Anyone with a mobile phone — smart device or not — has access to texting, and people use it to talk with everyone from friends and family to co-workers and professional contacts.
In recent years, one more group has been added to people's extended texting networks: brands. At first, consumers were hesitant to open up their text message inbox to marketing messages — a 2012 survey by the U.K. Direct Marketing Association and Velti found that only 33 percent of Americans preferred to receive mobile offers by text message, and another 50 percent preferred not to receive mobile offers at all. But attitudes have shifted in the past few years, and consumers are becoming more open to receiving relevant, personalized marketing text messages. In fact, according to a 2014 Hipcricket survey, 41 percent of U.S. consumers said they'd share more information with brands via mobile if it meant they'd receive relevant offers.
"The increase in text messaging as a marketing channel is undoubtedly a result of the exponential growth in mobile users," said Yoni Ben-Yehuda, chief marketing officer of Web design firm Blue Fountain Media. "Most users are attached to their mobile phones and always in arm's reach of the device, making it a premium platform to target a unique audience if they've provided you with their phone number as a communication channel. Depending on the content and the unique needs of the user, text message marketing is often a good channel to focus on." [Text Message Marketing: Tips, Tools & Services]
The benefits of texting
If you want to market in real time, there's no better option than to send a text message. Some people turn off notifications for email and other social networks, but nearly everyone receives real-time alerts for their text messages.
"When notifications are served to the user directly on the home screen of their phone or tablet, the impressions are going to be quite significant," Ben-Yehuda said. "Geomapping and targeting users in real time with location-based marketing helps to make the content that users are marketed with way more relevant than a general marketing campaign that doesn't consider location. Pushing out texts to users in the moments that will provide them with the most value and is associated with timely events can have a major impact on the ROI [return on investment] that you'll see."
Joshua Keller, co-founder of Union Square Media marketing agency, noted that one key advantage to opt-in text message marketing is that, unlike email marketing, there's currently no "spam" folder to block it from a consumer's inbox.
"When a text message comes in, it takes over your entire phone," Keller said. "You have no choice but to see the notification and be distracted from whatever it is you're doing to read the message, regardless of whether it's a real message from someone or a marketing promotion. All communications are going to a captive audience."
Getting text message marketing right
Although text message marketing can be very effective, it isn't right for every company. If it's not aligned with the products or services that you offer and the way you connect with your audience, it shouldn't be used, Ben-Yehuda said.
Brands that do use it need to be very careful about walking the fine line between "helpful and relevant" and "intrusive and spammy." The Hipcricket survey found that 52 percent of consumers felt the marketing texts they received fell into the latter category, so it's very easy to tip that scale and turn people off with your messages. Here's how to successfully incorporate texting into your marketing strategy — without annoying your customers.
As with email marketing, it's in your best interest to get explicit permission from consumers before sending them text messages. Not only does this mean you'll be sending messages to an audience that specifically wants this type of marketing, but you'll also avoid irritating those who don't want it at all.
"Only use text messaging as a marketing channel if the customer or potential customer has opted in and supplied you with their phone number," Ben-Yehuda said. "If you contact users unsolicited, you run the risk of losing your credibility and having them unsubscribe to your messages."
"Unless you have explicit consent to market to a person by [text message], you should stay as far away as you can from this type of marketing," Keller added.
Use it wisely
Text messaging isn't appropriate for every marketing scenario. Ben-Yehuda advised using it for things like a delivery status, as a secondary message after you download a certain mobile app or program, a receipt of purchase, or an exclusive discount — and only for brands with an audience that actually prefers this sort of communication.
"A text is more personal than an email, so if you're contacting the user and they've never heard of you ... you'll likely be considered spam," Ben-Yehuda told Business News Daily. "When the brand recognition is present with the user, and they're familiar with your company or products, offering them content via text can be efficient."
A good rule of thumb for text message marketing is to follow best practices that are associated with email marketing, Ben-Yehuda said. Don't send messages too frequently — think about timing and where your users are likely located when they're receiving the text message. He also said to avoid language that is too wordy and overwhelming for the reader and, most important, to always keep it relevant.
No matter what you choose to communicate through your marketing text messages, make sure that, above all else, it's relevant and adds value to the consumer's experience with your brand.
"The message should not be self-serving," Keller said. "The No. 1 goal should be to provide the consumer with real value for opening up that text message."
Joseph Anthony, CEO of millennial-focused marketing agency Hero Group, agreed, saying smart brands will give consumers the kind of communication they're used to with their peer groups and social circles.
"Providing useful information in addition to promotional offers will create a level of anticipation and surprise," Anthony said. "Brands must see text message marketing similar to how they look at joining conversations on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They must ask themselves how they can add value without being intrusive, so what they offer is commensurate with what [consumers] may get from [their friends]."