What Is SMS Marketing – An Expert Guide

Last update: December 2023
Authors: Uku Tomikas, Taavi Rebane

What Is SMS Marketing – An Introduction

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Some think that SMS is an outdated way to market a business, but the numbers speak for themselves.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. Highly underrated, it has an incredibly wide reach and the power to grab attention in ways other marketing channels can't.

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

Types of SMS marketing strategies

There are two main types of SMS marketing strategies: promotional and transactional.

Promotional text messages are heavily focused on marketing, where you might be trying to boost sales, engage customers, win customer loyalty, and raise brand awareness.

Transactional messages are where you send out essential information that your customers need. Account security PIN codes, appointment reminders, order progress updates, and SMS customer service messages are some examples.

The key difference is that promotional messages aren't critical to the customer experience like transactional text messages are. 

Why You Should Use SMS Messages for Marketing

There are 10.98 billion mobile connections across the world in 2022 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%. In contrast, 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 over 50% of consumers 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 most stimulated when the incoming information is so small that it doesn't fully satisfy the reader and leaves them wanting more. A short 160-character text can get the dopamine system pumped up.

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 something that their brain can't ignore.

The personal touch

One of the greatest benefits of SMS marketing is intimacy. SMS marketing allows brands to bond 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 customers' spam folders as 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 noticed by the customer.

The feedback is rapid if you make it easy for the customer to reply. Two-way conversations initiated between businesses and customers are a great way to 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 31 years old.

SMS marketing is easy to track. Tracking is used to see how an SMS campaign is performing and allows marketers to prove their campaigns' marketing value.

You can monitor which links are clicked the most and how many times the customer clicked on them.

Highly specific data about your demographic's interests, purchase histories, and more can be monitored too.

Since customers are always mobile, 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 bit.ly/coffeeshop50".


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

Not only is a text campaign affordable for all budgets, but it'll also generate an amazing return on investment. You can target customers with your campaigns without breaking the bank.

An average SMS message costs around €0.02. Some SMS marketing platforms charge set-up or subscription fees. However, with Messente's solution, you only pay for the texts you send.

So, if you send out a campaign to 100,000 recipients (and consider that we're talking highly targeted persons who opt in), it'll cost you €2,000. 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 text 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.

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.

How to build an SMS marketing campaign

There are two things you need to start a text message marketing campaign. The first is a list of cell phone numbers for existing and potential customers who have provided express consent to receiving SMS messages from you. The second is an SMS marketing program.

Here's how to build your first campaign with Messente's SMS marketing platform for sending bulk SMS messages:

  1. Create your Messente account for free and get your API key.

  2. Verify yourself as a sender.

  3. Upload your database of phone numbers (you can also upload different groups of contacts if you want to segment your audience).

  4. Compose your first text message in our user-friendly dashboard.

  5. Select your list of contacts.

  6. Hit send (or schedule).

Take a look at our Getting Started guide for more details.


SMS is quick, direct, powerful, affordable, trackable, and aligns with our psychology. It is a dream tool for marketers to build brand loyalty, connect 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 help your message be heard loud and clear.

The Best SMS Marketing Tactics

Each message is an opportunity to deliver information, connect with customers, and create brand loyalty. Here are some tips to make sure that you cover all the bases.

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.

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 must opt in to save. 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".

Alternatively, you can make the offer limited-time. For example, “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, Mother's 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 as easy to interact with as possible. Example: "Reply with SANTA to get your discount code before Xmas day."

Also, use links that take customers directly to your products.

Read more about SMS marketing psychology


Monitoring the success of a marketing campaign is essential. It helps gain insight into what works and what doesn't.

1. Tracking click-through rates 

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 store.

Using Google Analytics, view the number of unique clicks from your SMS marketing message. Divide the number of unique clicks by the total number of SMSs 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. Monitoring opt-out rates

Every marketing campaign in the world will 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 text 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

It's vital to know that your campaign messages are actually being delivered to your customers.

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 ensure high delivery rates.

You can access the status of all your messages from within our SMS marketing software. Track delivery times so that if something seems off, the connections can be changed for optimal delivery.

4. Cost per conversion

If your text marketing message links directly to a landing page that encourages users to make a purchase or fill out a form, 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 (OTT) messaging can make text messages stand out by adding multimedia.

To assess the performance of a campaign in its entirety, all performance metrics, such as conversion and opt-out rates and ROI, should be monitored regularly. This data can then be used to make your next campaign better.

Combine methods and build contact lists

You can't run an SMS marketing campaign without an audience. Here are a few ways to generate and access a broader audience.

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) and long code (04XX XXX XXX) forms. The pricing varies, though, as does the reliability of the service. For example, shortcodes are more reliable yet more expensive.

An easy way to boost opt-ins is to ask customers to text in a particular keyword, e.g., “Yes” or "Y", to subscribe. Make sure you register and log their express consent.

Encourage online customers to sign up to receive special offers and marketing materials

If your business sells products or services online, you have the perfect opportunity to obtain your customers' contact numbers along with other details. To follow best practices, give online shoppers the option to sign-up for marketing material.

In the EU, you also need to provide an opt-out option. So, indicate a clear way for the client to withdraw consent to ensure compliance.

Ask for customers' mobile numbers during in-store shopping

This 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 harder than simply unticking a box. It will need a salesman's touch, though, since people are generally wary when giving out contact numbers.

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 so the right automated text is sent at the right time.

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.


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. Before 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.

Responsible SMS Marketing and Compliance

There are various rules and regulations in place to protect consumers from unsolicited or unwanted text messages. It's essential to check your SMS marketing strategy complies with the relevant legislation for the countries in which your SMS subscribers reside.

As a starting point, familiarise yourself with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the CAN-SPAM Act, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations and CTIA's Messaging Principles and Best Practices.

Limitations for industries

There are a few obvious industries that are banned. Drugs, criminal organisations, terrorism, and spam, for example, can get you in serious trouble. There are also some legal industries that limit what content can be marketed via SMS.



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, often at a higher cost per SMS.

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

Consumer lending

Financial services

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

For example, in certain countries, texts related to high-risk financial services such as payday loans, student loans, debt collection, and cryptocurrency might raise red flags.

Adult content

Adult content

Adult content is usually prohibited and is incredibly 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/medical services

Providers that offer medical tools, accessories, or additional services (on top of mainstream medicinal practitioners such as doctors, dentists, blood donation services, or hospitals) are also regulated.

Medical licenses might be required for whitelisting.

Many other industries might fall under country-specific regulations, especially those that are in some way in conflict with local religions or cultures. It always makes sense to ask your SMS provider to help you learn about potential limitations your content could face.

Limitations on content

Ruling governments often affect the level of free speech. Western regions usually allow more freedom of speech.


Political rhetoric

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

For example, 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. It's better to stay away from that type of traffic.


Religious messaging

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

This one's quite obvious: despite the freedom of speech, you are not allowed to promote hate and aggression towards any group. This includes antisemitism, racism, marginalisation, sexism, limitation of rights, advocating riots, etc.


Promoting alcohol, smoking, legal drugs, and alternative medication 

Depending on the laws of individual countries, it could be illegal to market alcohol, narcotics, or other substances, even if they are intended for medical purposes

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

Other aspects to consider

Here are some additional technicalities to keep in mind for SMS campaigns.

  • 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 left for your marketing content. 
  • Unsubscribe keyword: Indicate how a user can unsubscribe in the text by replying via a certain keyword, such as "STOP". This takes up space, plus you would need to set up two-way communication and have the ability to blacklist that user. It could make the whole process much more expensive.
  • Brand names: Some markets require the company to insert the brand name as the first part of the message to indicate that the actual company is 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 go undelivered. 
  • Tracking opt-outs, blacklists, and DND lists: In addition to having your phonebook up to date, unsubscription and blacklisting management are also important. 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. The company sending the marketing messages nearly got fined and permanently banned from SMS delivery.

    In this case, the company got lucky, but it could've easily gone wrong. 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 those numbers. This, in turn, could drive down your 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.

    Make sure all your content meets the legal requirements of SMS marketing. Your SMS service provider can help you with the whitelisting.


Make sure that you have a clear idea of what content you want to send and that your opt-in, blacklisting and opt-out processes are in place.

Consult your SMS service provider on the format, necessary additions or edits, and legal limitations of the content for each market to which you are looking to send marketing content.

Tips and Tricks for Successful SMS Marketing Campaigns

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 further optimise your SMS marketing efforts.

Character length

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

Shorter messages run less risk of breaching the 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 three sections. The SMS Length Calculator Tool is invaluable in ensuring 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 write 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 one SMS marketing campaign.

Keep it structured

There are a couple of variations to a standard SMS marketing structure, but this is how most follow.


Business name 

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

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.


Include details of your sale, coupon, or new product here. Use language that makes customers feel valued and excited by your deal.


This is the "fine print". Include any special conditions for your offer in this section.


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


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


To avoid any legal penalties, you must include an opt-out option for your recipients.

Make sure you cover as many of these aspects as you can while making sure you don't drag the message.

Here's one message covering all seven points in 134 characters.

yellow sms

Clean content and spelling

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

Avoid slang or colloquial language. While SMSs tend to be much more informal than other communication channels, 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 is everything. Although your customers have their mobile phones next to them nearly 24/7, they likely wouldn't want to receive disruptive messages during meals, holidays, or in the middle of the night.

Use your market, location, and user data to schedule 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.

Ensure your messages are sent at appropriate times (not early in the morning or late at night). Some countries have very specific rules about this. In the U.S., for instance, you're not allowed to send commercial texts before 8 am or after 9 pm, according to the subscriber's local timezone.

Sending out your SMS 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 responses.

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

Sometimes it is better to start small. Run some experimental A/B tests. This will allow you to optimise your campaigns before they are run on a larger (and more high-cost) scale.


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

Make sure you tailor your marketing campaign for the intended audience to garner the best ROI and results.

Key Takeaways

As with any marketing strategy, many things need to be done correctly to be successful at SMS marketing. It may take some time and trial and error 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 at just the right time. And don't forget to track it all so you know what you got right and what needs to be improved.

One of the most important things to remember 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 international and local regulations. This will benefit both you and your customers.

To summarise:

  • SMS marketing is worth trying for any business.

  • Conduct research.

  • Timing is important.

  • Track your SMS campaigns.

  • Make it personal but avoid crossing boundaries.

  • Don't spam.

  • 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.