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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Text-Message Marketing: Tips, Tools & Services

Or are you just happy to see me?
. / Credit: Smartphone texting image via Shutterstock

More than 90 percent of mobile phone owners use text messaging. It has quickly become one of the fastest and easiest ways to communicate with friends and family. Knowing this, marketers have jumped into text messaging as a way to reach customers and clients.

With people always on the go, text-message marketing — also known as mobile marketing and SMS marketing (short message service) — has become an effective way for businesses to alert customers and clients about special promotions and deals, send them coupons and keep them informed about company news.

As with email marketing, text-message marketing requires customers and clients to opt into the service. Once they sign up and provide their mobile phone number, businesses have the right to send them text messages about what's going on with the business.  

The key to text-message marketing is to regularly engage customers to build a two-way dialogue with them. There are three main features that businesses can use to increase the back-and-forth communication:

  • Auto-Responders: One of the most popular options is auto-responses, which can be set up in advance so businesses don't have to respond to each customer individually. The auto-response messages can be programmed to be sent only when certain criteria are met, such as when new customers opt in to start receiving messages, when they participate in a survey or when they use certain keywords.
  • Surveys and Polls: By sending out polls, businesses can help determine what consumers are looking for — whether it be which food item to add next to a menu or what deals people want to receive text messages about. Surveys are an important tool in two-way communication that can improve a company's marketing and service offerings.
  • Coupons: Sending customers coupons is an easy way to drive new business. Consumers are always looking for a good deal, and coupons can get them in the door and spending money.

It is critical for a business to get permission before sending out text messages to current or prospective customers. Pizza giant Papa John's found out the hard way when it were sued for $250 million for sending out 500,000 illegal text messages. In the end, the pizza company settled the class action lawsuit for a reported $16.5 million.

Starting in October 2013, businesses are required to follow new regulations passed by the Federal Communications Commission. According to law firm Perkins Coie, businesses must abide by certain rules when getting customer permission, including that the person signs, either handwritten or electronically, the consent form; that the consent form clearly authorizes the business to send them text messages; and that the consent spells out that in addition to the text messages, they can also receive telemarketing calls using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice. The consent form also needs to be clear that the business is not requiring the signature and signing is not a condition of any purchase.

Businesses that violate the new FCC laws face between a $500 and $1,500 fine per message.

Before choosing a text-message marketing service, businesses should look out for several things. In addition to the ability to send different types of messages, including auto-responders, surveys, polls and coupons, the service should have reporting tools to help businesses gauge how effective their campaigns are. Reporting tools enable businesses to track conversations they're carrying with customers, as well as track data keyword responses, poll results and delivery rates.

The service, which should be easy to set up and use, should also have extensive help and support options should a business run into problems. Top services provide support via phone, email and live chat to deal with immediate needs, and offer online documentation and video tutorials to help businesses handle issues they may encounter.

With so many text-message marketing services available to businesses, it can be difficult to find one that best fills their needs. BusinessNewsDaily's sister site, TopTenREVIEWS, has done extensive research on text message marketing services.

Among the various services, TopTenREVIEWS ranks SUMOTEXT as the best option for its comprehensive reporting tools that give businesses the ability to track the reach of their marketing efforts through responses, opt-ins and polling. The service also offers an extensive feature set, including the chance to set up auto-responders that will send preset messages whenever a customer messages in a specific keyword or phrase.

Other services highly rated by TopTenREVIEWS are Ez Texting, which has an easy-to-use interface and a full feature list; Trumpia, for its Quick SMS feature that allows businesses to set up and send messages in less than a minute; and ProTexting, which has first-rate reporting tools that provide delivery status, responses and carrier data.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.