14 Amazing Ways To Attract New Customers To Your Business

Attracting new customers to your business is a science. It is possible to uniquely analyze every campaign and understand the exact reason why it became successful or failed. Here is a comprehensive article that looks into dozens of marketing campaigns targeted at user acquisition to see how these marketers did it. Since getting customers is the hardest in the initial days, we will focus on this segment for this piece.

Yelp – Targeting right

When it comes to marketing, timing is everything. There is no better to this than Yelp. The company launched just when social media was getting mainstream. People were just moving away from traditional outlets like YellowPages to references online from friends and family. Yelp tapped into the third component that was held by companies like YellowPages until then – authority.

Online review platforms were not a new idea by any means and there were dozens of competitors out there. People come to websites like Yelp to read reviews. This meant that the site needed to get these reviews generated in the first place. So what Yelp did was aggressively pursue fanatical reviewers. Unlike competitors of the day who had professional reviewers (who enjoyed higher visibility than regular user reviewers), Yelp encouraged user reviews and gamified the system to reward reviewers with points and badges that motivated people to contribute further.

The content generated helped two ways – it improved the site’s authority on the internet and this brought Yelp higher rankings on Google search. Also, visitors who came to the site this way stuck around because there was enough content to help them make a decision.

Uber – Word of mouth marketing

Uber was not an overnight success by any means. The company launched in 2009. Two years later in January 2011, the company only had between 3000 to 6000 users who had among them completed around 20,000 trips. Not bad for a startup, but nothing impressive. For perspective, Uber has around 40 million monthly riders today.

But the first 6000 users that Uber acquired was crucial. The company targeted San Francisco which is home to the Silicon valley population. Not only are these users tech-savvy, but the city is also notorious for its poor cab service. A better product coupled with a knowledgeable early adopter base set the stage for Uber to grow from 6000 users to what it is today through sheer word of mouth marketing.

Facebook – Exclusivity

How Facebook grew to become what it is today is common knowledge, especially after the movie ‘The Social Network’ came out. Social networking was already popular in 2004 with sites like MySpace and Friendster. Facebook launched its service targeted at the Harvard students and subscribers needed a @harvard.edu email address to sign up. This slowly expanded to a select few universities and Facebook opened up to the public only after the initial subscriber base had already made it a popular social networking platform.

Facebook – Product Development

While the initial growth of Facebook is impressive, what is more impressive is their continued growth that has happened without any real saturation. Facebook’s traffic today is many times more than what Google gets. And one of the main reasons for this is the company’s culture that focuses on growth.

Since its launch and even today, Facebook considers growth as core to its business strategy and their product development is totally focused on this metric. The company focuses on building functional products – features that solves the users’ needs. These were not features that were added for the sake of it. Instead, they all solved a problem that the user had – newsfeeds improved the news clutter, Facebook chat came in to let live users communicate better and so on.

And when any of these features became indispensable, they were packaged as a separate product (Messenger, Facebook Camera and so on).

Quora – Connections

Quora is the modern version of Yahoo! Answers that has in-depth answers to questions from every sphere of life. Like it is with every other business, Quora too got its start through invitations sent to family and friends. But that is where the similarity ends. Quora was started by a former CTO of Facebook. So the ‘family and friends’ we are talking about are influential connections who can drive traffic to the website. If you are a nobody with not many connections, that’s a bummer. But this strategy can be used if you are launching your business in an industry where you are already a prominent member. It’s not as unique as it sounds – a lot of people who launch their own consulting business grow their business using this very strategy.

OpenTable – Making your offer irresistible

OpenTable, the website that allows people to book reservations in restaurants was one of the early entrants to the market. It was definitely not the first company to do it. What changed with OpenTable however was that it targeted the right customer with the right kind of offer.

Companies like OpenTable are marketplaces that help the service provider (restaurant owner in this case) meet the service receiver (folks like you and I who go to restaurants). Such marketplace businesses have a chicken and egg problem when starting up. OpenTable realized that building a significant base of restaurants was more important that advertising to restaurant-goers. They targeted restaurant owners with irresistible offers – each restaurant that decides to sign up will receive computer systems, installation and designs for free without any charge.

In effect, restaurants had nothing to lose and OpenTable only took a commission on sales made off their platform. This was a win-win for the restaurant owners and OpenTable which set the ball rolling for its growth.

Airbnb – Packaging

Sometimes, solving a pain point alone is not sufficient to gain traction in your business. Airbnb did a lot of things right when they launched their business. They validated their business by renting out their own flat, targeted the influential crowd visiting SXSW, and so on. Yet, for a long time, their growth in the initial stages stagnated and the founders were making around $200 a week.

What changed then was that the founders realized that the photos that the owners had of their listed houses was not really professional and a lot of potential users turned away because these houses were not pretty. Brian and Joe, the founders, then went about taking professional photos of all these listed houses. That alone helped the duo double their weekly earnings and get set on a growth trajectory. Packaging is indeed a very critical component of your product.

Airbnb – Black hat marketing

While packaging is one of the many official lines about Airbnb gaining traction, there is also a lot of evidence that points to the team resorting to black hat techniques to gain new listings. More specifically, Airbnb sent thousands of spam messages to Craigslist listings nudging these real estate owners to list their property on Airbnb. While we do not know how much this strategy helped, the fact that the company sent thousands of such emails is testament to the fact that this strategy was critical in their growth strategy.

Airbnb spam

LinkedIn – Top down approach

LinkedIn launched at a time when social networking had turned mainstream. But instead of competing with the likes of MySpace, Friendster and Facebook, LinkedIn positioned itself as a business networking website. This category demanded an aspirational audience – would you join a ‘business’ social network that only had job seekers and not enough business owners?

To this end, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman seeded the product with influential friends and connections who were top of the pyramid. Investors interested in LinkedIn were asked to hop on to the platform and bring in their partners on board as well.

Bringing in people in senior management levels created a sense of aspiration for others to join in. LinkedIn introduced a tool with which users could send an invitation to connect with all their connections on Outlook. This invitation had an expiry which created a sense of urgency among the recipients.

It is obvious that invitations from people in senior management roles to those in junior roles is bound to attract high conversion rate. And that is how the network got going.

Foursquare – Publicity

Foursquare is no longer as popular as it once was. There is no doubt however that the check-in platform was touted as the next big thing not too long ago, and so it makes sense to see how the service grew to that level in the first place. In short, it was through publicity.

Dennis Crowley, one of the co-founders of Foursquare, also happens to be behind Dodgeball, a location based social network that was acquired by Google in 2005 (and later shut down in 2009). The acquisition of Dodgeball created enough publicity that when Crowley quit the company to launch Foursquare, it made news too.

Foursquare was timed to launch at SXSW which helped amplify the company’s PR outreach. Although this helped with user acquisition, most of this traffic died down over the next few months. Thereon, Foursquare kept the PR machinery going on each time they launched in a new city – users who had already heard of the service but weren’t users because the service was not available in their city signed up and this helped with sustained user acquisition.

Coursera – Social movement

Coursera started as an experiment within Stanford and aligned with a social movement that a lot of people in the target group can resonate with – free education. The platform allows anybody to access courses and study materials from the best of universities like Stanford, Penn, John Hopkins University for free. This, by itself, was attractive enough to spread the word about the new startup among its target customers. The company makes money through ‘verified certificates’ that its learners must pay for.

Square – Clearing up bottlenecks

Square offers credit card readers to small businesses who want to accept digital payment but do not want to invest in expensive PoS systems. With Square, merchants could connect a tiny card reader to their smartphone and start accepting payments right away. The fact that Square made this payment so simplified is itself reason enough for so many merchants to adopt their product.

But Square went one step further. They realized that despite the value in the product, merchants still had one bottleneck – purchasing a card reader from Square to start accepting payments. Square cleared this challenge by providing both their card processing app and the necessary hardware for free. This meant that merchants only had to sign up and they would receive the hardware and software for free to use. Square made money through the transaction fees that merchants paid for each sale over the Square platform.

Squarespace – Pay to be seen

Sometimes, you do not need a unique strategy to acquire customers. You could just hop on the most traditional strategy to acquire customers – pay for ads. Squarespace, the website builder platform started in the mid-2000s when founder Anthony Casalena launched with a $30,000 investment from his father. Anthony started his marketing with a $500/month Adwords budget. Cut to today, the company continues to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each month on highly targeted keywords like ‘build a website’ or ‘website design’ and this has been their most successful strategy to attract customers.

Besides Adwords, Squarespace has also been investing big time into podcast advertising. Listeners of podcasts that target small business owners are routinely offered special discounts to lure them to the website building platform.

Dropbox – Virality

While paid ads make sense a lot of times, they are not always the best bet either. Dropbox took the paid ad model for the first two years after launch. While the model did get them a lot of users, the company itself was bleeding money. At one point, the cost of each acquisition was between $233-$388 – that’s for a product that sells for $99 a year.

Dropbox had acquired one million users through PR and advertising. But that was going nowhere. Soon after, the company changed tracks. They introduced viral elements and incentives for users to sign up and “spread the love” – Dropbox built tools that let users to share the product with their network. Also, they announced a two-sided incentive that increased signups by as much as 60%. The epiphany took fourteen months to come but was finally the reason Dropbox could sustain in their business.

4 Marketing Automation Tools For Small Businesses

Automating the marketing process is an important component of any business. By creating a system that can capture leads, nurture them and convert them into customers all by itself, businesses can spend more time growing their business. Unfortunately though, marketing automation does not come cheap. Industry leaders like HubSpot, Marketo and Pardot have a starting price of at least $100/month. Also, with many of the advanced features only available at higher priced plans, most of these tools are simply not meant for SMBs.

What Small and Medium businesses need is a no-frills tool that can do away with all the fluff and can accomplish the most essential automation elements at low cost. In this article, we will take a look at five of the best such tools that target small businesses.

Hubbion

Small and local businesses typically deal with customers over both email and text messages. Hubbion is a great tool for SMBs who need to automate their various channels of marketing over SMS, email, voice, fax and posts. Users have the ability to specify certain triggers to add new subscribers to the list and may also schedule autoresponders to reach out to their list. Besides the features and the the ability to reach customers over multiple platforms, another reason for small business owners to prefer Hubbion is the pricing structure. This is a pay-as-you-go service that charges businesses based on the volume of messages sent. What this means is that businesses can get started on their outreach for as little as a dollar or two without having to pay a monthly subscription.

Leadsius

Leadsius is a marketing automation tool for email marketers. Like Hubbion, Leadsius too comes with behavior based triggers and workflow rules that enable an automated system of user engagement across the business website, landing pages, social media and email marketing. The good thing about Leadsius is that it comes with a free plan that has a contact list limit of 2500. However, the features here are limited and this plan does not allow advanced workflow rules and dynamic smart lists.

Spokal

Spokal is an inbound marketing automation plan that comes with features like event based segmentation, email nurturing, A/B testing and social media calendar. The tool is not free by itself and costs a monthly fee of $49/month. This makes it vastly cheaper than the popular marketing automation tools in the market. Do note however that Spokal is not a complete tool by itself and you may need integration with MailChimp or ActiveCampaign to see your emails through.

JumpLead

JumpLead is a wonderful marketing automation tool for website nurturing. It comes with features that lets businesses to trigger targeted marketing activities based on the page visited or the web form completed. These subscribers may then be nurtured and converted into customers via email marketing. JumpLead is free to small businesses that have monthly visitors of less than 200 and need to send less than 100 emails in a month. If you have a website with a larger traffic, you may have to pick one of their paid plans starting at $49 per month.

Is SMS-based Two Factor Authentication Secure?

SMS based two factor authentication (2FA) has been a popular way to add an extra layer of security over existing password based authentication systems. It is today used by a number of email providers, banks and technology companies to ensure secure account details are not bypassed through. But according to a recent recommendation by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, SMS based two factor authentication could be insecure and should be banned.

What is Two Factor Authentication

Before we look at the security concerns pointed out by the NIST paper, let us look at what two factor authentication is. 2FA is essentially the process of mitigating the risks involved with simple password based security systems by adding an extra layer of protection through randomly generated one-time-passwords that are sent to the user’s mobile phone. The idea is that it is extremely unlikely for a user to lose both their password and mobile phone to the same criminal and so the chances of an attacker getting access to your confidential account details are grossly minimized.

Two Factor Authentication Security Concerns

Here are some reasons why the NIST Digital Authentication Guideline draft says two factor authentication is not secure:

  • If your phone is stolen, then the attacker may be able to get hold of your 2FA passwords
  • Users may have written their passwords down on a paper that can get stolen. Or the software PKI authenticator or look up secret authenticators could be copied
  • An attacker may notice phone password/PIN access patterns and gain entry to your phone themselves
  • The attacker uses keystroke logging scripts to hack and get access to the 2FA passwords
  • SMS messages may be accessed via VOIP based systems that can be intercepted or duplicated

Is Two Factor Authentication Really Unsafe

The NIST paper claims that these security concerns make two factor authentication unsafe. But is this really the case? Most of the security concerns underlined in the paper are essentially those with the way present day mobile phone technology work. So essentially, if you lose access to your mobile phone because of theft or the attacker gaining knowledge of your access key, then they get access to not only your 2FA passwords, but also to your mobile banking apps, email apps and every other app that you have installed on your phone.

What 2FA does is it vastly minimizes the possibility of an attacker gaining access to any system because even if they brute force a password over a web-form, it is extremely unlikely for them to brute-force their way into the mobile phone as well. Hacking one device is hard enough; hacking into two in order to get access is much harder and that is the core objective. Like any other security system available today, 2FA is not meant to be fool-proof. It only makes things doubly harder for criminals so that you may be able to retrieve access in time before they gain access.

To ban SMS two factor authentication for the reasons underlined by NIST may seem like an over-reach. Apps that offer mobile banking and email access seem like a far bigger concern than 2FA going by the reasons mentioned. What are your thoughts?

Monthly Subscriptions Vs. Pay As You Go – What Billing Is Good For Your Business?

As a business, you are likely to be signing up for a number of third party software and services – be it for accounting, marketing, HR, finance or just web hosting. Back in the day, these business software tools were available to download for a lifetime license fee. Users simply paid a few hundred dollars to download the software and it was theirs for a lifetime. Many other developers sold an annual renewal fee which gave its users access to periodic software updates and technical support as well. From a user’s perspective, this often meant large capital investment in software tools which could all be down the drain if the developers folded or stopped updating their software.

But with SaaS gaining ground over the past decade, a large chunk of software makers have migrated to the cloud. This has given rise to a subscription model where the service provider hosts all the tools and data on their servers and users pay a monthly fee to access them. This has been a pretty popular option compared to licensing fee primarily because of the cheaper monthly costs and also because you only paid for as long as you need the service. Established service providers also provide annual subscription for a cheaper cost from users who prefer this option.

While the subscription based billing model is definitely an improvement over lifetime licensing, it still has its flaws. These subscriptions often come in a tiered structure where lower priced subscription plans offer fewer resources and features which expand with every higher tier. Most SaaS services come with an ‘Enterprise’ plan which is often the highest tier of subscription – here the pricing is custom quoted for power users based on their specific usage requirements.

At the outset, this seems like a fair pricing model where you are only billed for what you need. But that is not always the case. An alternate pricing model that has been getting popular in recent times is Pay-As-You-Go. Similar to the model followed on the PAYG phones, these services let users add “credits” to their account which get used up based on your consumption. For services where consumption could change quite drastically, you also have metered billing where you are invoiced at the end of a billing cycle based on your consumption.

Predictable Pricing

One of the arguments made for subscription billing is that your expenses are predictable each month and you do not get rude shocks at the end of the month. While this is true, it also means that your consumption levels are limited to what your plan provides. For instance, if your hosting plan limits your monthly bandwidth consumption, you are likely to miss out on additional revenue if you have a great month with a higher than planned web traffic. Most services do allow you to upgrade or downgrade your plans each month, but then, this defeats the purpose of subscription billing which is to make expenses predictable.

Charging For Unconsumed Resources

The biggest problem with subscription plans is that you are always charged for resources you did not consume. To take the same hosting plan example, let us say the starter plan offers 10 GB of bandwidth at $10 a month while the upper tier offers 100 GB at $30 a month. For a business to enjoy the $10/month subscription, they need to always consume less than 10 GB of bandwidth. Thus, a business that only consumes 2 GB a month continues to pay for 8 GB of unconsumed bandwidth. Worse, if you are a business that consumes 12 GB of bandwidth, you are essentially paying for 88 GB of unconsumed resources.

Compare this with a credits or metered billing structure. A business that consumes 12 GB is only billed for the resources consumed. Subscription billing is fantastic as a service provider, but terrible for users.

Money Getting Locked

There are instances where a credits based system does not work well. Service providers that offer credits based billing often have a ‘minimum refill’ amount and it is not possible to add credits fewer than this amount. Some providers require a high minimum refill which could lock your money into their system for a long period. For instance, if you use $10 worth of credits each month and the minimum refill is $100, your credits would not be used completely for ten months. And in case you are not happy with the provider, the money you have already paid for can be hard to retrieve.

Where Subscriptions Make Sense

There are certainly instances where subscriptions do make sense. Internet service providers typically provide an “all you can use” pricing that is billed monthly or yearly. Here, users are billed one amount every month regardless of how much they consume. Here too, heavy users get their consumption subsidized by light users whose consumption does not justify their monthly billing. But the pricing still makes sense because the provider often has operational expenses that are incurred regardless of usage. That is, it takes the internet service provider resources to keep the traffic flowing regardless of how many users use their service and the bandwidth they consume. But for these subscriptions to make sense, there is only one pricing for all consumers with only the outlying very heavy consumers priced differently.

As a consumer, this begets the question – does it make sense to pay a monthly subscription for all the SaaS tools you use – be it for accounting, marketing or anything else. The answer is mostly no. If you have alternate providers who offer all the features you need with a credits system or metered billing model, always go with them. This not only saves your business a lot of cash, but can also protect you from instances where you subscribe to try a new service but forget to sign out before the end of trial period.

5 Best SMS Marketing Tools For Small Businesses

Mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp may have brought down the value proposition of the humble SMS, but its ubiquity continues unhindered. Multiple studies have pointed out that text messages are one of the best performing marketing channels with more than 98% open rate and nearly 36% click through rate. Compare this with email marketing where even a 25% open rate is considered good. But while almost all kinds of businesses engage in email marketing, there are a relatively fewer businesses, mostly local businesses, that take SMS marketing seriously. One of the main reasons is the lack of awareness regarding the kind of software tools available to automate your SMS marketing needs.

In this article, we will take a look at some of the best SMS marketing tools available in the market today.

1. Hubbion

Hubbion is a multi-channel marketing automation tool for small and medium businesses. The tool lets users reach out to their contact list over any of the several platforms like SMS, MMS, email, fax, voice and even postcards. Besides the multi-channel aspect of it, there are two reasons why Hubbion finds itself in the top of this list. Firstly, Hubbion comes with a sophisticated automation system that allows users to customize their outgoing response and engagement based on incoming text messages. Secondly, it is easier on the wallet and does not require monthly subscriptions. Users can buy credits that do not expire and it costs anywhere between 2 to 3 cents to send a message.

2. Enger

Enger is a pure-play SMS marketing tool that is useful for businesses looking to create SMS marketing lists. It enables businesses to embed lead capture forms on their website and also schedule future messages to their audience. The tool also comes with mobile web customization, real time analytics and easy unsubscription. There are two main differences from Hubbion. Firstly, this is a dedicated SMS marketing platform. Secondly, users will need to subscribe to a monthly subscription fee that starts at $10 per month.

3. TextingBase

The objective of TextingBase is to establish connections with your target group and follow up with personally until they are ready to buy. The features on the product include scheduled messaging, personalized SMSes and contact management. The tool also lets you keep track of your contacts’ birthdays, anniversaries and holidays in order to wish your contacts on these specific days. Alternately, you may also categorize them by location in order to send location-specific messages. TextingBase is suited for sales executives and has a starting price of 4 cents per message.

4. FirstHive

FirstHive is suitable for businesses that have large opt-in lists (think thousands). The service lets customers craft SMS, email and social media marketing campaigns through their platform. Besides creating and sending SMS/email/social messages, FirstHive also comes with a basic reporting dashboard to help you understand the effectiveness of your campaigns. Beyond the free thirty day trial, FirstHive costs users $41.67 per month (billed annually) and makes it possible to reach out to as many as 10000 subscribers. Given the annual billing and the large subscriber base, the product is only value for money if you have lots of opt-in subscribers for your SMS marketing channel.

5. Mozeo

Mozeo is one of the relatively more popular SMS marketing tools available in the market today. Similar to Hubbion, Mozeo too lets users buy credits to send SMSes. However, you have to commit to buying a certain volume of messages in order to get them at a cheap price. SMS marketing over Mozeo starts at 3 cents per message and besides the ability to broadcast messages, users also have the ability to send email messages, filter mobile keywords for automation and create landing pages. Do note that Mozeo focuses on the US and Canada regions alone and does not have global coverage like the other tools mentioned in the list.

The Best SMS Marketing Examples

It is only 160 characters long, but is often the best performing among all your different marketing channels. This is because unlike an email outreach, almost everyone you send a text message to, opens it. And those who open it, read it. In comparison, the open rate among email marketing subscribers is often in the range of 20-25% with click rates routinely hovering under 3-5%.

But there is a catch – marketers only have 160 characters to play with. Technically, it is possible to send lengthier text messages. But as a medium, SMS messages are meant for short messages and so lengthier texts can impact your ROI (while also costing more). SMSes are a lot similar to Twitter which allows 140 character messages. However, unlike the social media platform, each SMS outreach costs money and hence you cannot broadcast your messages indefinitely. Not just this, the anti-spam laws are also extremely tight on text messages and so it doesn’t really make sense to push the envelope on what the laws permit.

So how does one go about executing a successful SMS marketing campaign? In this article, we will take a look at a few good examples of how a text messaging campaign should work.

Building An SMS Marketing List Through Other Channels

A phone number list is always going to be much more valuable than an email lead or a social media following. While the problem with emails is their open rate, social media following is vulnerable to the algorithmic changes made by the respective platforms. With a phone number list, you are entirely in control.

Redbox is a well-known company offering DVD, blu-ray and video game rentals to customers in the United States. While the company did have an impressive following on social media (3 million followers on Facebook) and for their email newsletter list (nearly 33 million), the company did not have a great SMS marketing list.

Redbox picked the holiday season to execute their campaign. They launched a ‘10 Days Of Deals’ campaign where they asked their followers to text DEALS to a specific shortcode in order to win between $0.10 and $1.50 off their rentals. Thanks to their massive email list, the company was able to generate as many as 1.5 million SMSes from nearly 400,000 customers who opted in to receive deals from the company over SMS. While this campaign was itself over Facebook and Email, the company instituted an automated opt-in strategy to get people to volunatarily sign up for their promotional SMMes.

Transactional SMS To Build Brand Image

In our earlier article on SMS marketing best practices, we talked about how transactional SMSes too could be used to promote your latest offers and build engagement. This is exactly what Amazon does to build a positive brand image. Amazon does what has now come to be known as transactional orchestration – that is the use of transactional communication, including email and SMS, to provide instant alerts and updates on the whereabouts of your delivery. From a consumer’s perspective, this is a wonderful way to get notified on where your product is right at that moment. From the perspective of Amazon, it is a great way to build a positive brand image and showcase the company as an honest and transparent entity.

Timed Discounts

If you are in the restaurant or travel industry, you will know that timing is everything. No matter how amazing your restaurant coupon is, it may not actually get the necessary mileage if you sent it after your target customer has ordered in their food. One company that does timed discounts really well is Domino’s, the American pizza chain. The company sends targeted coupon codes offering discounts right during the lunch hours. If you are a hungry customer and were just about to decide on a place to eat, such timely SMS campaigns massively help in influencing your decision. Here’s a typical SMS sent from Domino’s to its customers:

Did U Miss Us! Ur Dominos Offer Expires soon. Buy 1 Medium/Large pizza $Get 50% OFF. Walkin/Order! 68886888/ @dominos.co.in Cpn: CRM09FBEAS Valid till 16 Jul

Let us try to dissect this message – it is 157 characters long which is exactly inside the 160 character limit. We are not great fans of abbreviations but would assume that in the case of Dominos’ target group, it works. There are four things that Dominos executes really well through this short and crisp message. Firstly, it creates a sense of urgency right off the bat with their ‘Expires soon’ message. Next up, they create an irresistible offer that lures in their target. Thirdly, interested recipients need look no further than the message itself to know how to order – the phone number and the website is provided right there if you were interested. And finally, the message ends with a coupon code that makes the offer unique. Add to this the fact that this message was sent right during the lunch hours and this makes for an excellent use of the SMS medium to provide timely discounts to customers.

The ROI in such campaigns can be huge. While we do not have the numbers from the Domino’s campaigns, another fast food chain – Carl’s Jr launched a similar ‘limited time’ offer where they offered burger and fries for $2.99 instead of the usual $6.00. The result was that nearly 20% of the chain’s opt-in subscribers redeemed their code resulting in an ROI of $14 for every $1 spent on the campaign.

Improving Customer Service Through SMS

SMS marketing does not have to necessarily be only about sending out coupons and vouchers. This is best demonstrated by the way 1800-Contacts, one of the world’s biggest contact lens store used the SMS medium to improve customer service and thereby increase sales. Before the launch of their campaign, 1800-Contacts processed their orders through their website and over phone which, although efficient, was not quick enough. The company instituted a “multi-channel messaging platform” that brought together SMS and MMS along with their existing phone and online ordering system. The result was that customers could simply send an MMS containing their prescription details or use relevant filter keywords on SMS to refill orders. This rapidly improved turnaround and drastically improved customer service.

The Ultimate List Of SMS Marketing Best Practices

SMS marketing is tricky and exciting at the same time. Compared to other channels like email marketing, reaching out to prospects and customers over text messages has an extremely high open rates. According to one study, nearly 98% of SMS recipients open their messages In comparison, email marketing open rates are routinely in the range of 20-25% at max.

But if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. With SMS marketing, while the open rates are fantastic, the model itself is mired in legal roadblocks. To put this simply, you are looking at pretty hefty fines if you are reaching out to someone who hasn’t agreed to receive your commercial text messages.

And that is simply one of the many challenges. There are others too. Unlike emails, text message marketing needs to be done with short and crisp messages and you are often required to pack in salutations, marketing messages and finally a call to action in under 160 characters. God forbid if you have to legally include an opt-out message as well in which case your message often shoots up beyond 160 characters and your SMS marketing costs instantly double.

In this article, we will take a look at some of the various best practices that SMS marketers can look into in order to tide over the various challenges like those mentioned above.

Require Phone Numbers In Every Lead Capture Form

If you don’t have a list, you do not have a viable marketing channel. So the first step towards a successful SMS marketing campaign is to build a list of prospects and customers you want to reach out to. Instead of focusing on just email capture, make sure all your lead gen forms including those on your blog, landing pages and customer enquiry forms require a mobile phone number. You will be surprised to see how quickly the list grows.

Require Explicit Opt-Ins

There are no two-ways about this. Each recipient of your promotional SMS marketing messages should have explicitly agreed to receive these messages. So how do you go about this?

Lead Gen Forms: On lead gen forms, remember to ask customers to explicitly agree to receive promotional messages for discounts.This way, customers can simply click a checkbox during signup to start receiving messages. A lot of businesses try to increase conversion rates by keeping this checkbox ticked by default. This could be a slippery slope for the business since if they ever get sued, the onus is on them to prove that the customer explicitly agreed to receive commercial texts. So do not try this strategy out until you are confident of

Text To Subscribe: One of the most popular ways to grow your SMS marketing list is by letting interested customers send a text message with a keyword like ‘SUBSCRIBE’ to a particular shortcode. It’s popular because the process of growing your list can be automated and this shortcode may be promoted through a number of marketing channels including email promotions, PPC ads, banners and billboards. Do however note that shortcodes do not come cheap and often cost as much as $10,000 in annual lease. If you are a local small business, you may not always afford this expense. As of July 2016, your own dedicated shortcode on Hubbion costs a little over $1400 per month along with a $1240 setup fee.

Provide Incentives To Opt-In

Between email and SMS, customers are more likely to pick the former. The reason is that emails can be marked as spam or ignored more easily than you could with SMS messages. It is hence important to provide greater incentives to opt into SMS lists than what one gets with email newsletters. Examples of incentives include sending unique discount codes or flash deals to SMS subscriber lists which are not sent to email lists.

Offer Clear Opt-Out Messages

The way SMSes work, it is not possible to provide an opt-out message in each of your marketing messages. However, telling the customer how they can opt out helps establish credibility and thus gets more people to opt-in in the first place. Telling customers how to opt out is also a legal requirement. The best way to fulfil both these criteria is by promoting your opt-out process as part of your marketing communication itself. This way, your target customers are more reassured while opting in. Also, it fulfils the legal obligations of your business.

Have A Predictable Frequency

There are two reasons why consumers find marketing messages spammy – one, when they do not find the information useful, and two, when they perceive receiving too many messages too frequently. It is easy to minimize the impact of the second factor by letting your audience customize your communications to their desired frequency. If this is not possible, then the next best thing to do would be to broadcast your messages at a fairly predictable frequency. It is easier for recipients to not get annoyed when they know they receive your messages only once every Wednesday.

Timing Is Everything

Do you run a pizza place? The best time to reach out to your prospects is when they are still deciding on where to order their lunch or dinner. With SMS marketing, businesses have the luxury of knowing when exactly their recipients would open their messages. Knowing this, it is important to send out your communication right when they are making a buy decision.

Transactional Message Marketing

The laws against SMS spamming are pretty stringent and it is not uncommon for violators to be fined as much as $500 to $1500 for every SMS or call. For a bulk marketing campaign, the costs can thus easily scale up. However, in most jurisdictions, these laws do not apply to transactional messages – like order confirmation, delivery notification, etc. Make use of these transactional messages to promote your opt-in campaigns. Alternately, you may also encourage repeat buying by sharing unique discount codes at the end of each transactional message.

Make Landing Pages Responsive

This may come as a no-brainer but it may come as a shocker how so many businesses continue to run websites that are not optimized for the mobile web. If you run an SMS marketing campaign that has a clickable call-to-action, make sure that this landing page is responsive and optimized for the web. Not doing so makes your entire marketing campaign futile since your leads may not be able to express interest or request quotes from your website like you expect them to.

Be To The Point

When you are using text messaging as your medium for marketing, you will come to realize that your subscribers, no matter how targeted, do not have the same attention span that they have for email communication. People do not like reading lengthy text messages. Which means that even if you have the budget to accomodate lengthy messages, make sure that you are able to communicate inside 160 characters. The most effective SMS marketing messages have been made under 80 characters and as a business looking for ROI, this should be something to strive for.

Do Not Use Shortened Words And Abbreviations

Unless you are targeting a specific demographics like teenagers who are used to (and prefer) abbreviated words, do not ever use such abbreviations in your marketing messages. When you are starting out with your text marketing campaign, 160 characters may not seem like a lot. But the solution to this is being to the point (as mentioned above) and not abbreviating words. Doing so may prevent your recipients from understanding your message completely not to mention the ‘unprofessional’ nature of it. As a thumb rule, do not abbreviate words in your SMS marketing message.

Test Different Keywords For Effectiveness

If you are using keywords based filters to subscribe users or process orders, make sure you test different keywords sufficiently to understand what works and what doesn’t. For instance, your test may reveal that you have a greater number of opt-ins when you use the keyword SUBSCRIBE instead of JOIN. Multi-variate testing on such keywords will help you identify the best performing ones. While at it, also remember to avoid keywords that are prone to misspelling or alternate spelling. For instance, if you are in the fashion industry, using a keyword like JEWELRY is prone to confusion since the word is spelt JEWELLERY in some countries. Similarly, using OPTIN instead of SUBSCRIBE as a keyword can be confusing since some users are likely to use OPT IN as two words instead of OPTIN.

Highlight Your Offer

On marketing channels like the web or print, it is easy to highlight your offer with the help of bold, underlined or colored text. None of this is possible on a text message. A good alternative is to capitalize the most important part of your message. For instance, if you are highlighting a discount, make sure to mention the “50 PERCENT OFF” message in caps.

What other best practices do you think deserves a mention here? Feel free to add them in the comments and we will include them right here.