SMS, or "short messaging service," is an oft-touted component of mobile marketing that, though simple in concept, is difficult to execute correctly. It seems easy -- shoot a text message out to leads and customers to increase sales. But as an inbound marketer, doesn't that strike you as a little intrusive? When, if ever, is it a good idea to incorporate this type of communication into your inbound marketing strategy? This blog post will break down how you can successfully use SMS as part of your inbound and mobile marketing program, and provide a few words of warning to make sure you don't use SMS in an ineffective or brand-damaging way.
Ways to Make SMS Work
According to Techipedia, 98% of SMS messages sent are opened, and 83% of them are opened within 3 minutes. That not only shows the opportunity behind texting as a communications medium, but also how crucial it is to get it right -- because you're talking with people in a medium they clearly find extremely important. Do you really want to be the brand that interrupts eager texters with irrelevant, useless messages? I think not.
And although SMS is relatively low cost for marketers, it's also important to remember that it actually costs some people money to receive text messages. That means not only is it crucial you only use SMS with an opt-in list specific to your text program (that means no stealing from your opt-in email list!), but also that every message you send is highly relevant to prevent rampant opt-outs.
So let's take a look at some SMS campaigns that can provide content people actually want, instead of those spammy text messages we've all received that do more harm than good for your brand.
Fundraising and Raising Awareness
If you're a non-profit organization, you have a unique opportunity to use SMS for fundraising. You're probably familiar with popular fundraising campaigns like the Haiti Earthquake Relief or President Obama's campaign fundraising; these offer pretty straightforward text-to-donate opportunities via SMS that have been very successful, because they use other marketing channels to generate campaign awareness, and simply use text messaging as a means of collecting donations.
But non-profits (and any other businesses that are looking to create awareness around an issue or campaign) can also leverage SMS. For an example of an SMS campaign that went beyond the common text-to-donate, take a look at 'The Cove' case study from Msgme. The documentary film had a "digital social action" campaign associated with it with the goal to reach other socially conscious people, get them to join a mobile subscriber list by texting in a short code, sign a petition to send to President Obama and Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki, and then continue to receive updates about the cause.
They "designed a digital messaging program that engaged viewers at their highest moment of inspiration -- the closing credits of 'The Cove' -- and kept them informed and activated agents of environmental change." And the results were fantastic -- they saw a 9% opt-in rate from moviegoers, and 29% of those who opted in also clicked through to the petition.
Communicating With Your Most Active Customers
SMS campaigns -- like all of your inbound marketing -- are only effective if you're speaking with people who want to hear from you, and you're providing content they are interested in. So it makes sense to use SMS as a means of communicating with your most engaged customers, because they have a proven interest in what your company has to offer. For example, let's take a look at how zpizza used SMS for a customer loyalty program courtesy of a MarketingSherpa case study.
To identify and reward loyal customers for their repeat business, they created their zTribe loyalty program and saw an opportunity in SMS to make registration for the program quick and easy. Customers texted a keyword to a short code that would enter them into the loyalty program's contest, and received a follow-up email prompting them to join the customer loyalty program. The key to the success of this program, however, is that they recognized what SMS is good for, and what it isn't. They didn't lean on SMS to get the word out about their loyalty program; they used other, more appropriate channels to do that like their website and social media. SMS was utilized as the most appropriate means of interacting and communicating with their customers, and doing so in a way that provided them with something they actually wanted -- access to the zTribe loyalty program.
Sending Service Alerts and Reminders
If you're of the mindset that marketing and customer service are (or should be) closely aligned, there's tremendous opportunity in using SMS to improve customer experience ... and even increase sales! That's because one of the core benefits of SMS is time-sensitive, interactive communications. Take car service company Uber, for example. They leverage SMS throughout the entire customer buying experience -- from alerting you that they are searching for an available car, to telling you who exactly is picking you up and when, to giving you an SMS receipt and request for a customer experience rating.
These alerts work because they are interactive and value-driven communications that makes customers' lives easier; instead of calling for a car on the phone, wondering where it is, getting a paper receipt, and visiting a website or your email to provide feedback, the entire experience can occur in less time with just a few text messages!
Service alerts and reminders via SMS can be used to drive more sales for your business, too. Let's say you run a cleaning service, for example, and you have a last-minute service cancellation. Maintaining an opt-in mobile list that alerts customers of a last-minute availability can help you quickly fill that slot for someone who couldn't get on your schedule in time. Not only do you have a happy customer, but you also don't suffer lost revenue!
Driving New Sales
Driving sales with SMS isn't just limited to current customers, though. If you're a brick-and-mortar business, consider mixing location-based campaigns with your SMS campaigns to provide valuable, time sensitive offers to prospects when they have the greatest likelihood to complete a purchase with you (if you provide a little SMS nudge, of course).
For example, you might run a social media campaign that encourages prospects to use a mobile check-in app at your location for the opportunity to get offers and discounts sent to their phone. This gives you an opt-in mobile list to message right at the point of sale! You can even tailor your offers to customers' past purchase history, and provide offers for the products that might interest them most.
The key to successfully texting offers to prospects, however, is this ultra-permission-based method. Not only are prospects opting in to receive discounts from you, but they are also taking an extra step like a mobile checkin to "raise their hand" that they would like to be marketed to via SMS. Again, texting is a highly personal form of communication that marketers should respect in order to maintain a likable brand image.
What to Look Out For With SMS
One thing we can learn from the examples of useful SMS communications is that it's not right for every business. And for those businesses for which it is applicable, it's crucial to use it in only the most appropriate scenarios. It also appears that SMS is rarely useful as a means of generating leads, customers, and revenue when it operates in a silo; it is most successful when it's leveraged for its superpower ... a real-time, interactive method of communication that's promoted through an integrated marketing campaign leveraging social media, email marketing, landing pages, and more.
The problem is, SMS has gotten a bad rap because, often, marketers try to use it as a means of lead generation, or the cheap means of promoting a campaign around which they want visibility. But executing a proper SMS campaign takes just as much work as a proper email campaign -- you have to generate your opt-in mobile list (that's right, no purchasing lists, folks!), collect enough information about the folks on that list to properly segment them and target your communications effectively, and experiment with communication frequency to achieve the right level of engagement with your audience -- because if any of that is just a little bit off in this highly personal form of communication, you brand won't win many fans. (Tip: when segmenting your mobile lists, make sure to take time zone into account; accidentally waking up a segment of your list in the middle of the night will surely wreak some unwelcomed PR havoc.)
SMS also provides restrictions that aren't there with things like email and social media. These restrictions don't make SMS inherently bad; they just make your job as a mobile marketer that much trickier. Think about it ... you have about 160 characters to get your message across; that's just a hair more than you get on Twitter! But you don't have the luxury of frequency with SMS like you do with Twitter, either. You're struggling with very little space to get your message across, and longer spans of time between each conversation, making the impact of that short text message even more crucial.
All of this is to say that SMS can be leveraged effectively by businesses, but it should be recognized as a means of communicating in only very specific circumstances. Ask yourself -- does this campaign rely on two-way communications? Are those communications time-sensitive? Is mobile communication the best way of executing this campaign, or is email more appropriate? Do I have enough content to keep those who have opted in to my mobile campaign interested, or will they soon stop seeing the value in my SMS messages? With this highly personal medium, only the most relevant messages should be passed along to your leads and customers.
If you think SMS does have an application, visit the Mobile Website Optimization Providers directory in HubSpot's Service Marketplace and click the "Describe What You Need" link to find the best service provider to help you get started.
Do you think SMS is a useful marketing channel? Share your opinions and case studies in the comments!
Originally published Apr 17, 2012 2:38:00 PM, updated December 19 2017