There is a right way, a wrong way, and a really wrong way to do SMS marketing
With the technical aspects of SMS messaging covered, let’s talk about best practices. Like any marketing tactic there are good, bad, and really bad ways to use SMS for marketing. This post has pulled together some of the tips from experts on SMS marketing--and online marketing too--to help guide you on the path to good SMS marketing and avoiding getting into trouble.
The first and most important part, and the number one way marketers can get into trouble with SMS campaigns, is getting informed consent.
Consent is critical
Every blog post, ebook, and whitepaper on SMS marketing starts with this absolutely critical step. Get fully informed consent from people signing up for your messages. You need to make sure customers/consumers know:
- Messaging or data rates may apply
- How often you’ll be sending messages (how many times a day and if the frequency can be changed)
- When you’ll be sending messages (time of day)
- What kinds of content you’ll be sending (and if they can choose different content)
- How to opt-out from receiving messages
In virtually all countries, consumers must opt into commercial messages and it is up to you to get consent and maintain a record of consent. It’s even a good idea to periodically check in with customers and make sure they still want to receive your messages. The consequences of not getting consent and spamming consumers can include steep fines or being banned from sending future messages. It pays to be upfront about when people are opting into your SMS campaign. No one likes surprises and if you give people as much information as possible at the start, the more likely they are to keep receiving your messages.
Always Add Value
Once you have consent, now you need to make sure every message you send has some value to your customer. Someone signed up for your messages because they thought they would get something out of receiving them. Whether it’s information, coupons, discounts, exciting offers, or something else; you have their attention. Now you need to keep it and don’t waste it.
One easy way to make sure your messages are always on target is letting people tailor the messages they receive. Some easy things you can do are:
- Let people choose how many messages to receive a day and when they’d like to receive them. Maybe someone only wants one message in the morning or maybe for alerts they want to receive the message right away.
- Let people choose what kinds of messages to receive. Maybe people only want coupons. Maybe they want product news.
Giving people a choice puts them in control which makes it more likely they will keep wanting your messages. If you make the all or nothing choice, nothing might seem like a really good idea.
Keep it short
An SMS can be 160 characters (not words, characters) and if you include unsubscribe instructions in every message, that leaves maybe 140-150 characters to work with. You can say a lot in 140 or 150 characters, just look at Twitter tweets are at most of 140 characters, but you have to be smart about what you say. Try to avoid sending two messages if you can. And don’t try to abbreviate too much (standard abbreviations like Fri for Friday are okay). With some very rare exceptions, brands can’t get away with using SMS or Twitter slang to shorten their messages. So when UR sending a msg 2 some1, use words. Long messages can be broken up into two (or more) messages, but use this with caution. Mobile devices might have bigger screens now compared to when SMS was born, but most still people aren’t expecting to read a long message via SMS. When you can’t fit in everything, it’s time think about a landing page. Landing pages don’t just give you more space to work with for your message they can also be used for downloads, installing apps, and coupons.
Make landing pages mobile friendly
You’d think this would be common sense, but I’ve lost count of the number of links I get on my mobile device (emails, SMS, and push) that go to landing pages that don’t work on mobile devices. This is a careless and stupid oversight that will cost you customers. It’s very simple today to make mobile-optimized landing pages, so when you create a campaign you need to make sure to create a responsive landing page that works for mobile. And if your campaign is primarily done with SMS, this is doubly important. If you’re looking for help with landing pages or optimizing your landing pages for mobile users, check out the Unbounce blog for all the information you need to get going.
Get the timing right
When and how often to send messages is tricky. Beyond giving people a choice, in some countries you can’t send messages at night or on the weekends, which makes planning your when very important. There are no hard and fast rules for how often (once a day, a few times a week, or more, or less) to send messages, but what we do know is that if you send too many messages, people will get annoyed and unsubscribe. If you send messages too infrequently, then people might forget about you between messages (maybe that’s okay though). The best way to know is to consider how often the information is going to be useful. If you’re sending a weekly coupon to loyal customers, then once a week would be the right time. If you are letting people know about last minute sales or offers, those could come more frequently, but it’s important to measure the drop off as you increase the number of messages you send. There will be a magic number for your audience, you just have to make sure you’re watching for it.
If you have a time-sensitive offer or coupon, make sure you send the message so people have enough time to react. Sending a great lunch deal just after noon won’t help you get more customers, but sending it at 11:00 or 11:30 might catch people just as they are thinking “hey I wonder where I should go for lunch…”. Timing is everything in marketing. You have to find that perfect time when people are most receptive and most likely to make a buying decision.
This is also a good time to remind you about SMS regulations around the world. In countries like India and France, you can’t send commercial messages—even if you have permission—to people from evening until the next morning. While France and India have made specific regulations about when you can send messages, avoid sending marketing messages in the middle of the night or early in the morning. No one likes to be woken up by their phone buzzing in the middle of the night, and if the message that woke them up is a marketing message, you could lose a subscriber (best case) or get reported as a spammer (bad).
Make saying goodbye easy
No marketer wants to see people unsubscribe from their list, but face facts, sometimes people want to stop receiving messages. Make sure you put the unsubscribe information in every message so people can unsubscribe with a tap or click. Make it so simple that people know they can quit that they are okay with staying (counter-intuitive, yes, but true nonetheless). Even go so far as checking in with subscribers once in awhile (especially the ones who aren’t opening or reacting to your messages) and asking if they still want to get the messages. Some people will opt out. That’s great, that’s one less message you have to pay for and one less person who isn’t really interested your offer anyway. It’s counter intuitive, but true, if people see that leaving is easy then they feel more comfortable to stay.
In the productivity space people talk about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals as one of the keys to success. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic and Tangible. Note the second word, measurable. The key to successful SMS marketing is being able to measure all facets of your campaign. From the number of failed messages to opens to clicks to actions, if you don’t know the whole picture, you can’t really understand your campaigns and you don’t know if you’re successful.
Your SMS marketing partner and platform need to have robust metrics and reporting so you can manage and optimize your campaigns effectively.
If you’d like to learn more about mobile and SMS marketing best practices, here are some additional resources that you might like:
Next in the series
Some people might think email is dead and no marketer would consider using email for a serious campaign, but those people are wrong. Email might be waning as a collaboration tool, but it’s going strong as a marketing tool. Next in our series is going to talk about email marketing as a facet of omni channel marketing. There are plenty of resources that talk about email marketing, and we’ll recommend a few in the post, but what’s often missing is how email fits into all the other communications channels to make a complete omni channel marketing campaign. Stay tuned.
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Read the entire series:
- Marketer's Guide to Omni Channel Communications
- Marketer's Guide to Messaging APIs
- Marketer's Guide to SMS Part 1: Technical Details
- Marketer's Guide to Email and Omni Channel Marketing
- Marketer's Guide to Push: Tapping Into Better Customer Engagement
- Marketer's Guide to cPaaS: Merging Communications Tools for Universal Messaging