The Expert’s Guide to Brilliant SMS Marketing

Last update: September 2021
Authors: Uku Tomikas, Taavi Rebane

Intro

SMS marketing is making a comeback. To be honest, it never really left. According to this State of Marketing report, SMS messaging increased by 197% for B2B companies and 92% for B2C companies.

Some think that SMS is an outdated way to market a business, but the numbers speak for themselves.

The personal and instant feel that SMS offers can’t be matched by any other communication channel.

SMS helps to create a close relationship with your customers, resulting in high engagement and response rates.

There is still time to jump on the SMS marketing bandwagon. Our ultimate guide will provide you with all the know-how to make your next SMS marketing campaign a success.

Why You Should Use SMS for Marketing

There are 10.3 billion mobile connections across the world in 2021 and each of those numbers can receive SMS messages.

SMS marketing campaigns rely on reaching as many people as possible in order to maximise conversion so you can see how SMS and marketing make a great team.

Research shows that SMS open rates are as high as 98%. Emails only have a 20% open rate.

On average, it takes only 90 seconds for someone to reply to a text compared to 90 minutes to respond to an email.

Reports indicate that 43% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when SMS is part of the shopping experience.

What else does SMS have to offer?

Our brain and SMS

Receiving a text releases dopamine, the brain's pleasure and reward-seeking chemical.

The dopamine system is the most stimulated when the incoming information is small so that it doesn't get fully satisfied. A short text (less than 160 characters) can send the dopamine system raging.

SMS marketing doesn't have to compete for the bottom of the brainstem in order to be successful. SMS marketing campaigns should fit around the customer's everyday life and offer a service or offer that their brain cant ignore.

The personal touch

One of the leading benefits of SMS marketing is intimacy. SMS marketing allows brands to build bonds with customers.

SMS marketing makes customers feel special. They feel like the information being shared with them is exclusively offered to them first as it arrives directly into their back pocket.

Text message marketing doesn't swamp customer's spam folders the same way emails do. If you’ve registered the Sender ID and message content with the provider you are using for SMS delivery, you can guarantee all text messages will be seen by the customer.

The feedback is rapid if you make it easy for the customer to reply. Two-way conversations can be initiated between businesses and customers, this is a great way to correspond and keep customers up to date with your business.

It’s easy to track

The first SMS was sent out in 1992, which makes the tool 29-years-old.

SMS marketing is easy to track. Tracking is used to see how an SMS marketing campaign is performing.

You can track what links are clicked the most and what times the customer clicked the link.

Highly specific data about your demographic's interest, purchase history and more can be monitored. Tracking can allow marketers to prove their campaigns' marketing value.

Customers are always on the go. Location-specific sales can be integrated with your web platform to alert customers on the move. All smartphones have browsers so you can track click-through rates with URL-shortening links such as bit.ly.

There is a caveat to bit.ly. Some unbranded URLs can get categorised as spam. So, a shortened URL must be associated with your brand e.g " get 50% off your next coffee at HTTP://bi.ly/coffeeshop50".

Plants

It’s cheap and boasts a great return on investment (ROI)

Not only is an SMS campaign affordable for all budgets but you’ll also see a healthy return on investment from SMS marketing. You can target customers with your campaigns without breaking the bank. An average SMS message costs around 0.02€.

So, if you send out a campaign to 100 000 recipients (and take into consideration that we’re talking highly targeted persons who opted in), it’ll cost you 2000€. If each conversion leads to an average purchase of 10€, you’ll need 200 people to make a purchase to break even on the cost of the SMS campaign.

Not that much, is it? With a usual SMS campaign converting between 5% and 30%, you’ll make between 48 000€ and 298 000€.

For businesses looking to boost sales and communicate better with their customers, SMS is a great marketing tool.

Oh, and it’s eco-friendly too

In comparison to email, direct mail, and face-to-face meetings, a text message has the lowest impact on our carbon footprint. If you’re looking for ways to make your business greener, SMS marketing is a big step in the right direction. So, think of the environment, send an SMS :)

Conclusion

SMS is powerful, affordable, trackable and aligns with our psychology. SMS is also a dream tool for marketers to build brand loyalty, gain traction with their clients, and convey messages. Making use of modern technology such as geolocation and CRM integrations with hyperlinks makes the tool super versatile in the modern setting and will enable the message to be heard loud and clear.

The Best SMS Marketing Tactics

Each message is an opportunity to deliver information and create brand loyalty. Here are some tips to make sure that you have all the bases covered:

Make it personal

It’s not a surprise that marketing tactics that involve a personal touch are more successful than those that don't.

For example, Banana Republic often sends text messages that include words like “friends”. Using words like “you” and “I” is one of the best techniques for making text messages personal.

Make your text messages less formal and more friendly. Consider your customers as long time friends.

It’s also important to structure text messages with keywords and triggers that relate to your target audience.

For instance, adding location details, age-group and interest details can make your campaign much more targeted.

Entice the customer

Start by creating uniquely generated coupon codes to prevent non-subscribers from taking advantage of your deal. That way, people have to subscribe to save.

Or, make sure the deals don’t last forever - e.g “for the next 24h” or “this week only” can entice people into checking out the deals immediately.

SMS marketing messages should coincide with holidays and seasons. Christmas, Mothers and Father’s Day, and Valentine’s Day can all be great marketing times.

To ensure a higher conversion rate, it’s important to make the content is as easy to interact with as possible. An example: Reply with SANTA to get your discount code before Xmas day.

Or use links that take the clients directly to your products.

Add value to the offers by giving your customers personal codes to distribute to their friends. Make sure both parties benefit e.g " Here's 20% off for you, and 20% off for a friend".

Read more about SMS marketing psychology

Track

Monitoring the success of a marketing campaign is essential.

You can gain insight into what works and what doesn’t and it's easy to measure the success of SMS marketing campaigns.

1. Tracking click-through rates with Google Analytics

A click-through rate (CTR) measures the percentage of customers who click on a link in your SMS message. This URL could lead the customer to a landing page, form or online shop.

Using Google Analytics, you can access the number of unique clicks from your SMS marketing message. Then, simply divide the number of unique clicks by the total amount of SMS sent and the result will reflect your CTR.

SMS has an average CTR of 19%. So, if you’re not receiving rates as high as this, consider tweaking your message structure, offer or time of delivery.

2. You can also monitor opt-out rates

Every marketing campaign in the world is going to have users that opt-out. So, don’t be disheartened when you see customers unsubscribing from your content. It’s key to understand that with the personal touch, we also invade a person’s privacy.

A messaging platform, such as Messente’s, gives you direct access to your opt-out rates for you to analyse and compare with the industry standards.

Opt-out rates are calculated by dividing the number of users that unsubscribed from your SMS campaign by the total number of subscribers. In our experience, the average SMS opt-out rates sit between 2.5% to 4%, depending on the product, industry, and frequency of use.

3. Understanding delivery rates is key in using SMS

It’s vital to know that your SMS marketing messages are actually being delivered to your customers.

You can access the status of all your messages from within our messaging platform. Allowing you to track the times of delivery and if something seems off, the connections can be changed to ensure optimal delivery.

SMS providers use routes to send messages to customers. The quality of the route can affect whether a text message is delivered or not. If there are a high number of unsuccessful deliveries, switch to a provider that offers premium routes. Being directly connected to a local carrier is the best way to go and helps ensure the highest delivery rate.

4. Cost per conversion

If your SMS marketing messaging is linking directly to a landing page that requires users to complete an additional form or is selling a product/service, you can evaluate the exact cost per conversion of your campaign and later compare it to the cost of the campaign directly to get the ROI.

Cost per conversion can also be worked out using coupons. If you’re getting low conversion rates, consider making your offer more valuable. Using over-the-top messaging (OTT) can make text messages stand out by adding multimedia.

SMS marketing and the ROI go hand in hand. Both should be monitored regularly.

Record both the conversion and the opt-out rates too. To assess the performance of a campaign in its entirety, all metric measurements should be used. This data can then be used to make your next campaign better.

Combine methods and build number lists

You can’t run an SMS marketing campaign without an audience. Here are a few ways to generate a broader audience:

You can acquire a dedicated number for two-way communication.

A dedicated virtual number is a unique code that belongs to your business. It comes in both shortcode (XXXX) or long code (04XX XXX XXX) forms.

You can encourage consumers to text in a particular keyword, e.g. “Yes” to sign up to receive special offers and marketing material.

Dedicated numbers work well with text-to-win competitions or loyalty programs. The pricing will vary in markets though, as will the reliability of the service. For example, shortcodes are more reliable, yet more expensive.

If your business sells products or services online, this is the perfect opportunity to obtain your customers' contact number along with other details.

To follow the best practices, give the customer the option to sign-up for marketing material, in the EU you need to provide an opt-out option. Also, make sure you register and log the consent given and indicate a clear way for the client to take it back to ensure compliance.

Asking for a customer's mobile number during in-store transactions

It can be just as effective as online shopping. Not only does it have a more personal touch due to the face-to-face interaction, but saying no is more difficult than simply unticking a box. It will need a salesman’s touch though since giving out our private numbers is a big thing.

Account sign-ups and client verification  

It’s a great way to verify clients phone numbers and strengthen the anti-fraud processes you have in place.

Use multiple channels to segment subscribers

SMS and Facebook Ads are excellent on their own but are even better together.

We recommend checking out Facebook’s lead ads to integrate with your SMS campaigns. Lead ads are great for collecting data and information to build up a large subscriber base.

In the context of coupons, you could send a 5% off coupon right after the subscriber signs up, a 10% coupon after three weeks, and a 20% off coupon after two months. The longer they stick around, the bigger the potential. You’re incentivising the action you want. Best of all, you can schedule these to run automatically.

Tailor the messages to fit a singular brand identity and the conversation with you will become far more personal and longer-lasting with any client.

Remember: It’s essential to disclose to your customers that you will be sending them marketing material if they give you their number.

Conclusion

Prior to executing your marketing strategy, check that you have these key elements down: make it personal, entice your customer, track your success, and combine methods to have a bigger impact. SMS is a multifaceted tool that can easily be tailored for specific personal needs and tracked to ensure you are getting your money’s worth.

Responsible SMS Marketing and Compliance

There are a few things to consider when you start your marketing campaign. Since we are talking about offers, contacting people personally, and doing so on a global scale, there are many legal and market-specific restrictive aspects to consider when setting up your campaign.

Limitations for industries

There are a few obvious industries that are banned. Illegal ones like drugs, criminal organisations, terrorism and spam, etc. There are legal industries that limit what content can be marketed via SMS:

Gambling

Gambling

There are several markets that either limit the ability of casinos to deliver marketing content or flat out ban them from doing so.

Whitelisting is a mechanism that allows certain businesses and entities to have access to privileges. A whitelisted gambling business can send text messages to customers for SMS marketing.

Gambling companies might be charged more per SMS too.

SMS aggregators prefer traffic that is considered cleaner such as added internal filters.

Consumer lending

Consumer lending

While less restricted than gambling, there are still a few obstacles that lending companies might come across.

A specific connection is required to deliver an SMS to Vietnam. Resulting in extra costs.

As consumer lenders become popular, similar limitations may be applied as with gambling.

Adult content

Adult content

Adult content is very often prohibited and it's hard to get it whitelisted.

In the Middle East, it's illegal to deliver any adult content.

Only one-time passwords are allowed for adult content accounts.

Healthcare

Healthcare/medical services content

Providers that offer medical tools, accessories or additional services on top of the mainstream of medicine (e.g. doctor appointment scheduling, dentists, blood donation services, hospitals, etc.) can also be banned.

Medical licenses might be required for whitelisting.

Other industries might fall under country-specific regulations, especially those that are in some way in conflict with the national religion. It always makes sense to ask your SMS provider to help you learn what the limitations on your content might be.

Limitations on content

The current government in place will affect the use of free speech. Western regions usually allow more freedom of speech.

Political

Political

Some countries don’t allow any political content to be delivered via SMS.

Russia fines or bans political parties that use text messaging for elections. Any organisation delivering political content that goes against the national agenda can be banned, fined or worse. SMS aggregators tend to stay away from that type of traffic.

Religious

Religious

Depending on the national religion, religious content might also be banned. General notifications and reminders might be fine, but it depends heavily on the market. A good rule of thumb is that it’s mostly banned.

Hate speech

Hate speech/aggression towards other people or groups

This is quite obvious, even if you are allowed to exercise your freedom of speech, you are not allowed to promote hate and aggression towards others. This includes antisemitism, racism, marginalisation, sexism, limitation of rights, advocating riots, etc.

Smoking

Promoting alcohol, smoking, legal drugs, and alternative medication 

Depending on the rules set in the market, there could be additional limitations, so content whitelisting with your SMS provider is key to make sure that you can deliver your message.

There are, again, additional possible limitations, so content whitelisting with your SMS provider is key to make sure that you can deliver your message.

Technical aspects to consider

Since marketing content requires the customer to opt-in and the new General Data Protection Regulation also requires them to have an option to opt-out quickly as well, there are some things to consider:

  • Unsubscribe URLs - many markets (especially in the EU) require messages to have a link at the end that allows the customer to opt out. This also takes up space in the message. So, if you are going for 160 characters, you might only have 140 characters for your marketing content.
     
  • Unsubscribe keyword - indicating how a user can unsubscribe in the text by replying via a certain keyword, such as STOP. This takes up space and you need to have the ability to blacklist the number, as well as have two-way access to receive replies. This can also mean that the whole process becomes much more expensive.

  • Brand name at the beginning of the text - some markets require the company to insert the brand name as the first part of the message to indicate that this is the actual company sending the message. This takes up space within the message.

  • Blacklisted keywords/spam filters - there are also certain keywords that might be banned by either the government or the operators. Content that isn't whitelisted with the operator can be caught by spam filters and undelivered.
     
  • Tracking unsubscribes/blacklisting and DND lists - in addition to having your phonebook up to date, unsubscribing, and blacklisting management are also key. We’ve experienced a case of a person being delivered three marketing messages after they had blacklisted their number with the operator to not receive marketing content at all. After filing the complaint, the company sending the marketing messages nearly got banned from SMS delivery permanently and was nearly given a fine.

    In this case, our client was lucky, but unless the opt-in is there, you might be in trouble. DND lists are also available in certain markets where people can sign up and ensure they don’t get marketing content. Operators follow these lists and block the messages that are sent to the numbers. This, in turn, can drive down the delivery rate and ROI.

  • Time - in markets such as France and UAE, marketing content is only to be delivered between 7 am and 9 pm; failure to keep within this time results in fines.

    So, make sure your content meets the legal requirements of SMS marketing. Your SMS service provider can help you with the whitelisting.

Price

SMS marketing can also be more expensive and require a separate account and connection for delivery from the other forms of traffic. 

Sometimes grey routes are used for SMS delivery, in hopes to bypass this matter, but that can lead to blocks on all traffic, fines, and additional issues if the practices become illegal. 

And while the difference between a marketing SMS cost and an OTP can be two-fold, it’s still marginal when compared to the possible gain on conversion or the possible fines and troubles associated with delivery malpractice.

The addition of a link or keywords can also mean you need to send multi-part messages that are more expensive as well, so checking your content with the SMS Length Calculator is key. 

In addition to the cost per message possibly increasing, there are additional costs to two-way messaging, especially when shortcodes come into play. They are the most stable and easy to manage types of two-way messaging but by far the most expensive. So, the upside and conversion need to justify the investment.

Conclusion

Make sure that you have a clear idea of what content you want to send; if it's legal and that your processes for managing all blacklisting and unsubscribe processes are in place.

Also, ask advice from your SMS service provider on the format, needed additions, and legal limitations of the content for each market you are looking to send marketing content to.

SMS Marketing Tips and Tricks

We’ve covered a few best practices and do’s and don’ts in the previous chapters, but here are some tips and tricks to optimise your SMS marketing:

Character length

The fewer characters you use in your message, the better.

Shorter messages run less risk of breaching your 160-character limit and doubling your costs with a multi-part message. But how do we make sure that the length stays in check?

Since SMS works on the GSM alphabet, there is a certain list of characters you can use to deliver a 160-character message. Otherwise, you get 70 characters and the message turns into a three-part Unicode that is sent in 3 sections. As such, the SMS Length Calculator Tool is invaluable in helping you make sure you get the most out of each message.

Make sure the message is clear and concise and written in plain English. Avoid abbreviations, emojis (unless they apply to your audience), and all caps. Don’t use open-ended messages.

You only have 160 characters available to convince a customer to visit your page so make it sound attractive.

Send offers one at a time and avoid cramming more than one offer into an SMS marketing campaign.

Keep it structured

Text messages are limited to 160 characters so it’s important to keep them clear and precise. There are a couple of variations to a standard SMS marketing structure, but this is how most follow:

step

Business name 

Either as your Sender ID or at the beginning of your message, you should make your company name clear to your customers.
step

Customer name

Create a more personal relationship by including your customer’s name at the beginning of your message. This process is made easy by using custom fields in the phonebook management tool.
step

Offer

Here, include details about your sale, coupon, new product, etc. Use language that makes customers feel valued and excited by your deal.
step

Qualifier

This is similar to the ‘fine print’. Include any conditions for your offer in this section.
step

Instructions

Let the customer know how to redeem your offer. Try to keep this process as simple as possible.
step

Expiration

Consumers won’t find your offer ‘special’ if it never expires. Include an expiration date to create a sense of urgency.
step

Opt-out 

For best practice and to avoid any legal penalties, you must include an opt-out option for your recipients.

Make sure you cover as much of these aspects as you can while making sure you don’t overextend the content or drag in the message.

Here’s one message covering all the points in 134 characters:

yellow sms

Clean content and spelling

Double-check that the grammar and spelling are on point.

Avoid slang or colloquial language. While those are reserved for the inner circle of which you are asked to be a part of when given access to the user’s phone number, there is still a distance that needs to be kept. Service providers and companies are expected to keep things friendly yet professional, so try to adhere to that sentiment.

Timing

Timing is everything. Since your customers have their phones next to them nearly 24/7, they don’t want to receive disruptive messages during meals, holidays or in the middle of the night.

Test your campaign success using metrics such as open rates and click-through rates to identify your top customers and regions, then use this data to create better-targeted campaigns for the future.

Additionally, use your market, location, and user data to tailor message delivery to the specific area your customers live in, so your offers get to them when they’re most receptive.

SMS is all about immediacy. If you have a store opening event on a Friday night, send the message on Friday afternoon. If you have a dinner promotion at your restaurant, send it at the end of the workday, not in the morning.

Acceptable hours are between 8 am and 9 pm and there are markets globally that limit the times when marketing content can be sent.

Sending your SMS marketing campaign out at your preferred time doesn’t require you to be at the office. Using an SMS platform, you can schedule all of your messages in advance. This is particularly useful when working across different time zones or for marketers with busy timetables.

If you’re running a bulk SMS campaign, it may also be worth staggering your campaign. Send your messages out in smaller batches to make sure your system isn’t overloaded with requests.

Make lists and track them

Sometimes a customer receiving a message when they least expect a deal will create a better response than peak times.

Make a note of the seasonal holidays that influence customers to buy. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day push people towards purchases, but Ramadan might not. Track your customer's spending habits and interests.

Test each variable and create correlations between conversions to ensure the most effective campaign. Try to keep some consistency and avoid varying your style.

Start small and ramp-up

Before going big, sometimes it is better to start small and test your campaign to optimise it.

The research comes first. Use up to date and accurate data for each campaign. Personalised messages need accurate data so double-check the details before launching SMS marketing.

Conclusion

Making an SMS campaign effective is a multifaceted project that requires creativity, research knowledge, and analytical skills.

It’s key to make sure you tailor your marketing text message to the right people to garner the best ROI and results.

Takeaways

As with any marketing strategy, there are many things that need to be done correctly to be successful at it. It may take some time and testing to get things working perfectly for you. Be sure to keep your messages personal and on point. Try to entice your customers by creating personal offers that are sent just at the right time. And, don’t forget to track all of it, so you know what has to be improved.

One of the most important things to keep in mind while doing all of it is to be responsible. Since you are using a very personal channel to sell your products or services, you must be careful not to cross any boundaries. Always ask for permission from your customers, don’t spam them, and make sure that you comply with all the international and local regulations. This will benefit both you and your customers.

In short:

  • SMS marketing is worth trying for any business.

  • Conduct research.

  • Timing is important.

  • Track your SMS marketing campaign.

  • Make it personal but avoid crossing privacy boundaries. Don't spam your customers.

  • Comply with international and regional regulations. Allow customers to opt out.


If you wish to get started with SMS marketing and you still have some questions, feel free to contact us. Meanwhile, you can check out our guide to SMS APIs that will come in handy when looking for an SMS messaging platform.