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How to Run a Successful Text Message Marketing Campaign

image for Champion studio / Shutterstock
Champion studio / Shutterstock
  • Text message marketing is more personal than other forms 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.
  • Customers with mobile devices must consent in writing to receive your messages.

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 marketing campaign, one that relies on text message marketing as a primary means of reaching customers, it must be legal and structured, and 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 do use it need to make sure 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 marketing strategy without annoying your customers.

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, it's important to get explicit permission from consumers before sending them text messages. Not only will you be sending messages to an audience that 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 Yoni Ben-Yehuda, head of business development at Material Good. "If you contact users unsolicited, you run the risk of losing your credibility and having them unsubscribe to your messages."

Wilson advises 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," TRY being the keyword and 858585 the code.

Text message marketing relies on a database consisting of your customers' names, cell phone numbers and other information that helps you track the sales process. This can include full addresses, home phone numbers, or customer categories and interests.

As with any marketing endeavor, the more information you have on hand and the more specific your customer segments, the better. Similar to how Facebook ads can 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.

Text messaging isn't appropriate for every marketing scenario, however. Ben-Yehuda advises using 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. Moreover, text message marketing is only effective for brands with an audience that 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," 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."

Some companies choose to start their own database for text message marketing and to send bulk messages, sometimes relying on a third-party service such as Twilio for the actual transmission. Of course, it is also possible for a small business or startup to conduct SMS message 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.

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 here is that text message marketing is not something you can set up on a whim at a mall kiosk and spam would-be customers. Verbal agreement to receiving an SMS bulk message is not acceptable, according to FCC guidelines.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) protects consumers from mass text messages and is quite specific as to how you can go about sending bulk messages. The important thing is to obtain written consent from every customer.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (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.

SMS marketing software from companies like EZ Texting and Braze tends to provide more services than simple database collection and transmission. You can use this kind of software to create a marketing campaign and track its success.

Make sure your consumers don't feel like they're flooded with messages at inappropriate hours or trapped in a subscription. Wilson recommends texting during typical business hours and being transparent about what customers should expect from your program.

Additionally, he said, you must make it easy for them to opt out at any time. Knowing they can do so usually makes them feel more comfortable opting in from the start.

The important thing to remember about all technical marketing – i.e., marketing that relies on technical and digital methods, 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.

No matter what you communicate through your marketing text messages, make sure above all else that 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 crowd-pleasers that your subscribers should be happy to receive."

Joseph Anthony, founder and CEO of the millennial-focused marketing agency Hero Group, added that 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," 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]."

Text message marketing is an interesting and effective way to stay in touch with your customers, but only if you do it right. First, you must secure the legal right to communicate with your customers via text, lest you run afoul of FCC regulations. Then, make sure your text messages are on brand and valuable to your customers, rather than annoying or intrusive. By combining these elements, you can create a text message marketing campaign that builds trust in your brand and keeps your products and services top of mind amongst your customers.

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon and Sammi Caramela. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

John Brandon

John Brandon is a technology expert, business advocate, and columnist. He has written over 12,000 articles in 16 years. His first articles appeared in LAPTOP magazine in 2002.