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What is SMS Marketing?

SMS stands for “short messaging service.” In layman’s terms, that means text message marketing.

If you immediately think “spam marketing” when you hear about text message marketing, you should know that much has changed in recent years. Nowadays, there are privacy rules that forbid spam messages, and people have to opt-in to receive texts.

But why think about adding SMS to the mix when your customers are bombarded with marketing communications every day? Whether it’s traditional advertising on television or radio, digital ads that appear while scrolling social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, or email marketing, your customer is likely overwhelmed. How does SMS marketing differ from those media approaches, and is it more effective?

Why is SMS So Attractive as a Marketing Tool?

Five Billion Cellphone Subscribers

As of July 2020, more than 65% of the world’s population had subscribed to a mobile device. In the United States, 96% of the 18-49 demographic has a mobile phone, and 99% of those phones are SMS-enabled. Although a little more than half of the mobile subscribers have access to a smartphone that can access the internet, you can receive text messages without an internet connection.

But why does SMS have a better chance of breaking through the clutter than other types of media? It’s because 90% of adults have their phone nearby at all times. During waking hours, Americans check their phones 96 times per day. That means they’re looking at their phones approximately once every ten minutes.

Additionally, in recent years it’s become more acceptable to communicate by text – and many people prefer to text rather than make a voice call. This cultural change has likely boosted the effectiveness of text message marketing.

SMS Response Rate Versus Email

If you compare SMS response to email – one of the most popular media choices for direct response marketing – SMS text messaging scores much better:

Changes in Data Privacy Rules

When SMS was in its infancy, there were barely any rules about its use. Back then, you’d receive a message whether you wanted to or not, and it’s understandable how that kind of marketing practice would be considered annoying. It wasn’t a great way to get people to take action.

But today, not only must you opt-in to receive SMS texts, but there are other regulations in place to protect privacy, and marketers have learned that they’re not going to succeed by sending texts that do not offer value. Since people now consider SMS messages beneficial rather than spammy, 75% say they welcome these texts. Even more encouraging, almost 60% say that they have taken action in response to a promotional SMS text.

How to Build a Database of Customers

You read above that SMS requires that people opt in to receive messages. What persuades people to give you access to their phone numbers? Here’s what you need to know to get people to subscribe to your SMS messages:

  • Come up with a good offer. The offer must be available only by subscribing to SMS (they shouldn’t get this same offer by going to your website or responding somewhere else).
  • Promote SMS messaging by using your website, social media, or email to inform customers about the offer and let them know which keyword they’ll need to text to get it. It’s also important to make sure the keyword is relevant and memorable.

Make Your Text Messages Stand Out in a Crowded Field

Once you have access to a database of mobile numbers, you’ll need to work hard to maintain those who’ve opted in. Even though people are generally receptive to the offers texted to them, you need to tread carefully to ensure your offers are indeed valuable and your texts don’t become annoying.

You’ll also be competing with other SMS marketers – either those in your field or a different category. Below are some ideas and techniques that can keep customers interested and can stand out from the competition if you execute them correctly:

  • Send timely messages – if you have a sale coming up, your text will be a helpful reminder. But if you can also provide an additional discount through an SMS link, that will make your customers feel more special when they receive that additional bonus.
  • Improve engagement with a contest – People love to win free stuff. If you have something to give away that you know your customers would appreciate, a competition via SMS will help customers see the value in subscribing. They will likely look forward to more special offers.
  • Tips and advice for new purchases – Send a text when a product is delivered that offers help for set-up, installation, or usage.
  • Send personalized texts – People like when you address them by name, but only if it doesn’t look like a form letter. If you are knowledgeable about a customer’s purchases or experiences with your product, you can text them to see if they have questions or feedback. Showing your customers that you care about their needs is a great way to build trust and loyalty.
  • Send appointment reminders – This practice helps both your customer and your company. Appointment reminders cut down on no-shows (which can be expensive for your business) and provide customer value.

Get Personal with Your Customers Even if You Can’t be Face-to-Face

Just because you’re not able to gather with your customers these days, it doesn’t mean you can’t engage. A personalized text message that provides value may be the easiest and most effective way to keep in touch until the next time you meet again.


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