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.