- Text message marketing is more personal than other forms of marketing and can help a business gain traction.
- SMS messages should follow a structured, efficient marketing campaign.
- Text marketing involves bulk text messages sent to qualified leads.
- This article is for small business owners considering launching a text message marketing campaign.
Consumers are constantly bombarded with social alerts from friends, family, work and brands. Because of these disruptions, many disable notifications for email and other social networks. If you want to market in real time, you need to send a text message. However, for a successful SMS campaign, one that relies on text message marketing as a primary means of reaching existing customers, it must be legal and structured, and it needs to provide traceable, useful leads.
"Because text messages appear on people's mobile phones, they feel more personal than other kinds of marketing," said Luke Wilson, chief revenue officer of EZ Texting. "Texting allows businesses to do many of the things that traditional media does … without having to invest in extra hardware, labor, printing, or media buys."
Text message marketing isn't for everyone, though, and the brands that use it need to ensure their texts are helpful and relevant rather than intrusive and spammy (or worse, illegal). It's easy to tip the scale and turn people off with your messages. Here's how to incorporate texting into your digital marketing strategy without annoying customers.
What is text message marketing?
Text message marketing is the ongoing process of communicating business news, sales, promotions or other relevant information to your customers via SMS (short message service) text messages on their mobile devices. It is a type of digital marketing strategy that helps build brand awareness on a more personal level. Consumers must opt in to your messaging before you begin sending texts to them.
You can send bulk messages to groups of customers or audience segments, or customize the experience even more by sending individualized messages. This tactic allows you to bypass other marketing noise – social media ads, email marketing campaigns, etc., – and go directly to consumers' phones.
How does text message marketing work?
Text message marketing relies on a database consisting of your customers' names, cell phone numbers and other information (geographic region, customer categories, customer interests) that helps you track the sales process.
Text message marketing targets a specific audience.
As with any marketing endeavor, the more information you have on hand and the more specific your customer segments are, the better. Similar to how Facebook ads target people within a certain area, by age, and by interests, the best text message marketing is highly customized and geared toward a specific target audience.
Through SMS marketing, you're getting as specific as possible and meeting your customers where they are – on their smartphones. By communicating your marketing messages to a targeted audience, you're able to cultivate more meaningful connections with users and interactions with qualified leads.
Text message marketing acts as part of an overall marketing campaign.
As a marketer, the most important thing to remember about all mobile marketing (i.e., marketing that relies on technical and digital methods to reach mobile users, as opposed to printed materials) is that it should be part of an overall marketing campaign. No company should start text messaging marketing without a game plan on how it all fits together to reach new customers.
Text messaging isn't appropriate for every marketing scenario. Yoni Ben-Yehuda, head of business development at Material Good, advises marketers to use it for things like a delivery status, a secondary message after you download a certain mobile app or program, a receipt of purchase, or an exclusive discount. Text message marketing is only effective for brands with an audience that prefer this form 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," said Ben-Yehuda. "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."
Mobile marketing channels, which include SMS, social media, email, and other forms of marketing, should all complement and benefit each other, thus contributing to your company's overall mobile marketing campaign.
How do I set up text advertising?
Text message marketing is a distinct and effective way to stay in touch with your existing customers, but only if you do it right. First, you must secure the legal right to communicate with customers via text, lest you run afoul of Federal Communications Commission regulations.
Once you have customers' permission, make sure your text messages are on brand and valuable to them, rather than being annoying or intrusive. If you follow these steps, your SMS campaign can build trust in your brand and keep your products and services top of mind among your customers.
Some companies start their own database for text message marketing to send bulk messages, sometimes relying on a third-party service such as Twilio for the actual transmission. Of course, a small business or startup can conduct SMS marketing using their own campaign and by sending group texts.
Businesses often work with an SMS text messaging provider such as Twilio, TrueDialog, Trumpia, or SimpleTexting to handle some of the database collection, legal issues, and actual text messaging transmissions. These companies can provide a quote for bulk text campaigns and text message marketing according to your demographic and customer segment.
Additionally, SMS marketing software from companies like EZ Texting and Braze provide more services than simple database collection and transmission. You can use this kind of marketing automation to create a campaign and track its success.
Who regulates SMS text message marketing?
The Federal Communications Commission
Before you send any text messages to customers, you must be aware of the FCC's strict guidelines on message transmission and customer consent. The important point is that text message marketing is not something you set up on a whim and spam would-be customers.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act
The TCPA protects consumers from mass text messages and is very specific about how you can send bulk messages. The important thing is to obtain written consent from every customer.
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association
The CTIA is a trade association that provides guidelines and helpful tips on text message marketing, although you won't find the same level of legal guidelines as you will with the FCC and the TCPA.
Text message marketing best practices
Ready to launch your text message marketing campaign? Here are some best practices to follow for success.
Text message marketing has evolved over the years. In the early days, spamming people with texts was considered morally wrong, but some companies did it anyway.
These days, according to FCC rules, it is illegal unless you have explicit consent. The days of purchasing a mass database of phone numbers and sending out texts are long gone. In fact, doing so could be a violation of FCC rules that carries a hefty fine and other penalties.
As with email marketing, you must get explicit permission from consumers before sending them text messages. Not only will you be sending messages to an audience who wants this type of marketing, but you'll avoid irritating those who don't.
"Only use text messaging as a marketing channel if the customer or potential customer has opted in and supplied you with their phone number," said Ben-Yehuda. "If you contact users unsolicited, you run the risk of losing your credibility and having them unsubscribe to your messages."
Wilson advised using a keyword campaign to grow your list so consumers can text a specific word to a short code and opt in for deals, alerts, and more. For example, he said, ask consumers to "text TRY to 858585 for a demo," with TRY being the keyword and 858585 the code.
Keep texts short and to the point.
The texts you send contacts should be short and simple, yet straightforward. If you continuously send lengthy messages, users won't bother reading and will opt out of receiving messages in the future.
Additionally, SMS messaging has a limit of 160 characters, so it's smart to grab their attention, communicate your marketing message, and close with a CTA, all in 160 characters or less. For example, when informing customers about mobile coupons, get their attention with an exciting opener/greeting, relay details about the coupons, then explain how they can access them – no need for extra fluff.
Don't bombard users.
While it's tempting to communicate every piece of news or promotion related to your business, don't overdo your SMS advertising efforts. Consumers can't simply ignore texts as they could a billboard or social media advertisement. If they receive an overwhelming influx of messages from your business, they'll opt out.
Instead, create your text message marketing campaign by scheduling texts only when necessary and limiting how many you send to a specific (appropriate) number of customers.
No matter what you communicate through your marketing text messages, above all else, make sure it's relevant and adds value to the consumer's experience with your brand.
"When you're ready to reach out to your list, think about messages that will please your contacts," said Wilson. "Coupons, promotions and sneak peeks are crowdpleasers that your subscribers should be happy to receive."
Joseph Anthony, founder and CEO of the millennial-focused marketing agency Hero Collective, added that smart brands 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," he 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]."
Send texts at appropriate times.
Make sure your consumers don't feel like they're flooded with messages at inappropriate hours or trapped in a subscription. Pay close attention to when you are scheduling your messages (e.g., during the day versus late at night). Consumers might feel you're being intrusive, even unprofessional if you send texts at random hours.
Wilson recommends texting during typical business hours and being transparent about what customers should expect from your program. That way, no one feels resentful toward your SMS advertising, and less people will feel the need to reply "STOP."
Offer an unsubscribe option.
While the last thing you want to consider is your audience opting out of your program, making it easy for consumers to do so can make them more willing to sign up for your texts from the start.
Wilson recommends making it easy for users to opt out at any time if they so choose. You can offer this option by providing an unsubscribe link for them to click, or replying to your message with "STOP."
Additional reporting by John Brandon and Nicole Fallon. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.