Today's consumers are so bombarded with marketing campaigns, advertisements, and communication from brands that they have become adept at controlling when they receive those messages and often disable notifications from social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
Because of this, text message marketing, also called mobile marketing or SMS (short message service) marketing, is on the rise as a way to reach your customer base in real time with a near guarantee that your message will be read.
As with email marketing, text message marketing requires customers and clients to opt in to 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 and build a two-way dialogue with them. There are three main features that businesses can use to increase the back-and-forth communication:
- Autoresponders: One of the most popular options is autoresponses, which can be set up in advance so businesses don't have to respond to each customer individually. Autoresponse 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 determine what consumers are looking for, whether it is which food item customers would like to see added to the 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.
Benefits of text message marketing
Text message marketing is a unique opportunity to connect with your customers on an informal basis, said Leslie Crews, senior content strategist at Blurban Planner Co. "[Text message marketing] reduces the pressure of conventional correspondence like email or snail mail and helps to reduce the pressure already inherent to sales. People buy from you because they feel comfortable."
Plus, the average American checks their phone every 12 minutes, which lends itself to a nearly 98% open rate for text messages – much higher than the 20% average for email campaigns. And text message marketing eliminates the risk that your messages will land in the Spam folder.
Engagement marketing is becoming the order of the day as consumers are rejecting traditional marketing techniques in favor of companies that connect with them on a personal level, and what's more personal than a text message?
There is a concern that mobile marketing is invasive, but Maria Kiagias, founder of Social Gold, said that responsibility and restraint are key. "It's how you use it that counts," she said. "Get in the mind of your customer [and] don't abuse the technology."
How to use mobile marketing
First and foremost, get written permission from your customers to send them text messages (see below for more on laws governing SMS marketing). Next, decide what you are going to send to those who opt in. Make sure it's pertinent to both your target audience and your business, and keep it short – no more than 200 characters. Because it's a text campaign, you don't have to worry about curating graphics or being overly clever. Brevity is key.
Be mindful of when and how often you're texting. Do so within business hours (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and no more than once or twice a week.
"Do not spam your customers with messages," said Bryan Heredia, founder and CEO of MyGoGoStore. "If you do, they'll just end up ignoring you."
You should also strive to make it worth it for people to opt in to receiving texts. "You want your text message channel to feel like an exclusive VIP club for your customers," said David Hamilton, chief growth artist at Oppilo. "Offer exclusive access to new products and special deals."
Text message marketing laws
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 they 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.
As of 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 obtaining customer permission, including that:
- the person signs, either handwritten or electronically, the consent form
- the consent form clearly authorizes the business to send the customer text messages
- 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.
Text message marketing services
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 autoresponders, 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 in addition to offering 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, Business.com, has done extensive research on text message marketing services.
Among the various services, Business.com ranks EZ Texting as the best option for its ease of use, range of features and intuitive dashboard. The service also offers an extensive feature set, including analytics, automation, contact management, customization and more.
Other services highly rated by Business.com are SlickText, which has an easy-to-use interface and excellent customer service; SimpleTexting for its flexibility and variety of tools; and Textedly, which is easy to use and beginner-friendly.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.