Short message service, or SMS, marketing allows business owners to communicate with their customers quickly and inexpensively, but there are a number of pitfalls that you should be careful to avoid when you begin texting services for business. More than 90 percent of text messages are opened and read by their recipients within three minutes, and they are generally responded to in 90 seconds or less. Figures like this may encourage you to jump in and start texting right away, but sustained results in this area requires careful planning and clearly defined goals.
Sending unsolicited text messages can have disastrous consequences even if the recipients are your existing customers, and laws like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 can punish this kind of behavior severely. However, adhering to some basic guidelines, learning a few text marketing tips and following text marketing examples should be enough to put you on the path to long term SMS success.
Make a List and Check It Twice
Building a solid list of qualified and interested prospects is the most important step in SMS marketing. This is a list of people who have shown interest in the products or services you offer and its value cannot be overstated. You may believe that your email marketing or customer lists are a good place to start, but complying with federal regulations requires an extra step. The people you send text messages to must specifically request this information, and this is generally done by following some sort of opt-in procedure or sending a text message that contains a short code. For example, “Want to learn more about our upcoming specials and promotions? Text ‘Offers’ to 12345.”
Short codes are five or six digit numbers that can be used to communicate with subscribers on a particular wireless network. Common short codes allow messages to be sent to any mobile phone number regardless of the network they are on. A list of Common Short codes is kept by the Common Short Code Administration, but you may find using short codes provided by SMS software or marketing companies quicker, easier and cheaper than registering your own with the CSCA.
Timing Is Everything
Once you have compiled your SMS list, you can decide what you would like your text messages to say and when to send them. Effective SMS marketing encourages impulse decisions, and the timing of messages is crucial. Try to contact your customers when they are likely to be thinking about your product or service, and always encourage them to take action right away.
Restaurants could send text messages when their customers may be deciding what to order for lunch, and sports teams could encourage fans who are attending a game to visit the team store. Auto body shops or roofing companies could send text messages after a severe storm, but they should be written carefully to avoid being seen as taking advantage of an unfortunate situation. The British Grand Prix achieved a 608 percent return on its investment by sending text messages to 45,000 recipients who had either attended or expressed an interest in attending a Formula 1 race. The messages were sent just seconds after television coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix ended.
Don’t Be a Pest
The phenomenal open and response rates of SMS marketing can lead entrepreneurs to go to the well too often. If you want to use text messages to market your company effectively, you should resist these urges and practice restraint. Knowing where to draw the line will depend on the products or services you offer, and what would likely be considered over the top in one situation may be appropriate in another. Text messages provide real time marketing opportunities and restaurants or discount stores may achieve excellent results by texting information about their specials or sale items each day, but one or two messages per week is generally considered enough for most businesses. However, marketing text messages should always have a purpose, and you should only send them when you have something to say that our customers are likely to be interested in. Domino’s Pizza has spent years building its text marketing list and monitors its messaging carefully, and the company now receives more than a third of its orders from mobile devices.
Be Brief and Include a Call to Action
Text messages should be kept to 160 characters or less because longer messages may be broken up by wireless service providers. This means that space is at a premium and each word should be chosen carefully. Messages should be short, snappy and grab the reader’s attention, and they should give them a good reason to take action. The call to action is usually a link or phone number, but links should be shortened using an online service like Bitly to ensure that they use the fewest characters possible and are easy to read. Mobile devices send as well as receive information, and geofencing strategies may be used to identify where potential recipients are and ensure that messages are sent only to people who are close enough to an establishment to take advantage of the offer they contain.
This approach was used successfully by Bulmers. The cider retailer sent messages to individuals who lived within a half a mile of bars where their products were sold, and about a quarter of the recipients decided to visit these establishments. This is an especially impressive result as the Bulmers messages only encouraged a visit and did not include any kind of special discount. This shows that timely and carefully worded messages can be extremely persuasive even when they contain no financial inducement.
Follow the Rules
Using text marketing to promote your business can be extremely rewarding, but the consequences can be dire for entrepreneurs who fail to follow the rules. The TCPA prohibits sending text messages to individuals who have not specifically requested them in writing, and the penalties for violating this rule can be as high as $1,500 per unsolicited text message. Even a single mistake can be extremely expensive when messages are being sent in bulk, which is why using short codes or opt in procedures is so important. SMS marketing messages should also include an opt-out option, which is usually done by allowing recipients to send a STOP message. However, stop messages must be responded to and confirmed, and SMS marketers should also honor opt-out requests that are made in writing, by email or on the phone. Fortunately text marketing software is available that can help entrepreneurs to avoid these legal pitfalls and create inexpensive and effective SMS campaigns.