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The nuts and bolts of SMS marketing

7 Minute Read

Christy ParrishDirector of Strategic Consulting, Cordial

Mobile usage is at an all-time high and smartphones are the hub for an increasing number of online experiences. People are using their smartphones more frequently and for longer periods of time. In fact, the average person checks their phone 200 times a day, and according to Deloitte’s U.S. edition of the 2018 global mobile consumer survey, smartphones continue to be the preferred device for online actions. 

Building on this trend, marketers have embraced mobile marketing and are using it to engage customers more than ever before. SMS is at the forefront of that effort, representing a new frontier in one-to-one communication. While tried-and-true channels like email and social remain an important part of the marketing mix, SMS has distinguished itself as a powerful tool in the modern marketer’s toolbox. However, to make use of SMS, marketers need to make sure they understand the ins and outs of setup, compliance, and strategy.  

Make sure you have access to real-time data

Before we dive into the specifics of SMS, let’s take a moment to discuss the importance of real-time data when deploying a successful SMS campaign. Because you’re sending SMS messages to a user’s most personal device, it’s critical that the message content is both timely and relevant. The threshold for discontent is much lower than in other mediums. For example, if your customer receives an irrelevant email, they may give you a pass, but if they receive an irrelevant text message, they are much more likely to unsubscribe. 

The use of real-time data to trigger and personalize communications helps prevent this from happening. Next-generation messaging platforms like Cordial can track real-time user behavior and events and use that information to automate messages. Before implementing an SMS program, make sure that you can leverage all of your customer and business data to personalize those messages.

Figure out what types of messages you want to send

Now that we’ve covered data, let’s move onto the basics. There are two distinct types of SMS communications: transactional and promotional, each of which plays a specific role within a messaging strategy. 

Transactional messages are a powerful way to communicate important updates to customers. Unlike email, where the message can go unread for hours or days, most text messages are read immediately, which make them an effective medium for delivering time-sensitive information. Whereas transactional messages are informational by nature, promotional messages contain content that’s created to inspire action. These messages promote products or services and should have a limited time frame to create a sense of urgency. 

Build your strategy

Before you rush off to set up an SMS marketing program, make sure you are clear about how you’ll use SMS as a messaging channel and the types of messages you’ll deploy. Having an airtight strategy beforehand will help you avoid compliance mishaps down the road (more on that in a minute) and help you cover your bases. 

When deciding what kind of text messages you’ll send, take into consideration the commitment a consumer is making when opting in to receive your messages. Successful campaigns offer something to their subscribers that is of equal value to that commitment, and some of the most successful lean heavily on exclusivity to engage customers. Everything in your message should be relevant and exclusive to your SMS subscribers. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What can we provide our customers that is worthy of their personal phone data? 
  • How can SMS augment our current marketing communications?
  • What do we plan on communicating through SMS? 
  • Will we send real-time SMS alerts, or will we rely on scheduled sends?
Secure your sending code

Sending SMS messages as a business isn’t as easy as it is for an individual. You will need to determine how your program will run and decide on either a short code or a long code. A short code is an easy-to-remember 5- or 6-digit number, while a long code is a 10-digit number closely resembling a standard phone number. 

Long codes can often make messages feel like they are coming from a person, not a bot. However, this level of personalization comes with a price tag, as well as reduced throughput. Messages sent from a long code can be processed at a rate of only one message per second. In addition, you cannot send MMS (video or image) messages via a long code. Long codes work best when your business strategy is focused on customer service, communicating one-to-one with your customers, or if you prefer to have a consistent number across channels.

Dedicated short codes can only be used by one business. For example, Chipotle uses the dedicated short code 888222, which means that no other business can send SMS messages from that number. Most large organizations have a dedicated short code, but they are more expensive and can take longer to acquire. You can also acquire a vanity short code, which you can choose (like a vanity license plate), but again, you will have to budget time and money to go this route.

Another type of SMS short code is called a shared short code, which is used by multiple businesses. Sounds confusing, but to keep everything segmented each company is assigned a unique keyword. For example, if two businesses are sharing the same short code, one might be assigned the keyword “PIZZA” and the other might be assigned “BOOKS.” Shared short codes are less expensive and easier to acquire, but are less customized which may be less attractive to some businesses. Remember that it’s important to identify your SMS strategy before submitting your short code submission to the carriers. If your messages deviate from what is in your application, the carrier can block you from sending SMS.

Follow the (extensive) rule book

Because SMS messages are of such a personal nature, there are many rules and regulations created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) governing their usage for businesses. The most important thing to remember is that you need explicit permission to message a subscriber. You get this permission through an opt-in. 

Opt-ins are arguably the most critical aspect of SMS compliance. If you text someone without their explicit permission, it’s considered spam and you risk facing legal repercussions. You, as a marketer, must receive express written consent from contacts before you can start sending them SMS marketing messages. And that consent needs to be clear and straightforward—not buried in your terms and conditions. Provide clear language and ensure that consent is concisely stated, perhaps with a checkbox. In addition to physical written consent, your customers can opt in to your SMS campaigns using a few different methods, most commonly mobile opt-in or web opt-in.

Consumers can use their mobile phone to text a keyword to a short code number. Promote your keyword and short code on advertisements, emails, or ads to encourage people to subscribe to your list. In addition to a mobile opt-in, you can use a form or landing page—on your website, on a newsletter sign-up, or at checkout—to ask the customer for permission to send them text messages. Again, you are looking for express consent, so it’s important to remember that customers giving you their phone numbers isn’t the same as permitting you to text them. If you use an opt-in form, you should include the SMS program details and very clearly state that they are giving you permission to text them.

SMS marketing is nuanced, but the goal is to incorporate SMS strategy into your marketing mix that provides value to both your company and your customers. If you would like to learn more about the nuts and bolts of SMS, check out our free SMS marketing guide or request a demo with a Cordial expert.