The Ultimate Guide to SMS Marketing

A comprehensive guide to SMS Marketing

The digital marketing space is saturated.

By the time a savvy business develops a unique way to cut through the noise, every marketer (and their dog) has already replicated, remixed or reused this same strategy.

When receiving communication from a business, consumers prefer speed and convenience over everything else.

This brings us to SMS marketing; a trusted engagement technique that has been delivering results for decades.

It’s direct, personal and boasts open rates of over 98%.

On the surface, SMS marketing is a simple strategy. But there is plenty to know and do to ensure your SMS campaign succeeds.

In this guide, I’m going to show you exactly what it takes to master SMS marketing in 2019.

Let’s get to it.

What is SMS marketing?

SMS (short message service) marketing is a strategy which uses permission-based text messages to send advertising or promotional material to consumers.

Unlike other channels, SMS marketing requires users to ‘opt-in’ to receive messages - I’ll tell you more about how businesses drive SMS sign-ups later.

SMS marketing is designed to create a personal communication platform with customers. Ultimately increasing their brand loyalty and engagement with your product or service.

Types of SMS marketing

SMS marketing comes in all different shapes and sizes. It can be anything from a text telling your customers about an upcoming sale or simply advertising your business opening hours. Some of the most common forms of SMS marketing include:

  • Promotional deals
  • SMS coupons
  • Text-to-win competitions
  • Flash sales
  • Loyalty programs
  • Alerts & notifications

How does it work?

Running an SMS campaign requires the use of SMS marketing software. Using a web-based SMS platform allows you to send bulk SMS marketing messages at a low cost.

You create a message, choose your contacts, click send, and then the text is pushed through an SMS gateway to reach recipients.

SMS software gives you access to smart features such as dedicated numbers, keyword automation, 2 way SMS and much more.

Why choose SMS marketing?

Before we race into how to run your SMS campaign, it’s important to understand what makes it so effective.

The evidence

Engagement rates for SMS are higher than any other channel.

Corporate marketing experts Business2Community report SMS response rates as high as 45%. Meanwhile, email response rates dwindle at just 6%.

SMS also leads click-through rates (CTRs) amongst competitors sitting at 19%. This is far higher than Email (2.43%), Google Adwords (2%), Facebook (0.98%), Instagram (0.52%) and LinkedIn (0.13%).

Engagement with SMS marketing isn’t just high, it’s fast too. Very fast.

On average, consumers take just 90 seconds to respond to an SMS.

Avoids SPAM filters

If you have a Gmail account I encourage you to open up your inbox and have a look at your Promotions folder.

There’s a good chance you’ve never opened this before.

And there’s a good chance you have thousands of unopened promotional emails sitting there just like me.

Google Promotions Folder

You see, a mammoth 49.7% of emails are SPAM. Smart email clients like Gmail are switched on to this and file away promotional material for you, to most likely, never look at again.

Now consider your text message inbox on your mobile device.

One folder, no SPAM filters and the undeniable urge in your body to open every single SMS message that you receive.

By avoiding SPAM filters, you give your marketing message the greatest opportunity to be heard.

Reaches consumers on their favourite platform

You don’t need me to tell you that many of us are inseparable from our mobile devices.

After all, studies show that the average mobile user touches their phone 2,617 times per day.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Ever since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, mobile activity and users have been rising every year.

A Stone Temple study found that 63% of website visits now come from a mobile device. 37% are from a desktop PC.

Mobiles are undisputedly our favourite device - so targeting consumers on this platform can deliver greater ROI.

It’s trackable

A web SMS platform provides extensive reports on the success of your SMS marketing campaigns.

This includes instant delivery receipts, received messages, % of responses and much more. You’ll know exactly how many SMS messages have been delivered and the time of each.

Measuring the success of your SMS campaign is simple with short URLs and unique coupon codes - but we’ll talk about this more in Chapter 8.

How your business can use SMS marketing

SMS marketing strategies apply to many different industries from retail through to hospitality. We’ve explained exactly what each strategy involves and what your message must contain.

Promotional deals

A promotional deal is just like a sale - usually signified by giving a percentage discount on a product or service eg. “20% off all haircuts this weekend”.

These offers should always be time sensitive in order to create a sense of urgency for your customers.

Your promotional SMS must contain the relevant terms and conditions, or link to a landing page that does. It is an effective way to increase purchases by encouraging recipients to make an impulse decision.

SMS coupons

Much like a promotional deal, an SMS coupon offers a special price or discount for customers.

However, this deal has a longer expiry and is more commonly seen in the form of an MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service).

The image should be visually engaging and contain the offer, details and expiry. SMS coupons are a great way to boost in-store traffic or online purchases.

Text-to-win competitions

SMS ‘text-to-win’ competitions have been around for decades. And they’re still here... because they work.

It’s a simple process really.

  1. Advertise your competition including the prize and requirements of entry
  2. Include your dedicated number in the instructions (a unique and memorable number that is linked to your own SMS account)
  3. Gather responses and choose your winner

Now you’re probably thinking, what did I just gain from this?

The answer: a large database of contacts you can now send marketing material. We’ve got some more strategies for this too.

Flash sales

Do you have leftover seasonal stock or older models to clear out? Advertise your flash sale with bulk SMS to reach your entire database.

Flash sale messages typically use phrases such as ‘all stock must go’, ‘warehouse clearance’ or ‘this weekend only’.

A flash sale often relies on customers making impulse purchases. So it works most effectively when it’s advertised just before the sale begins.

Loyalty programs

SMS is the perfect platform to run your loyalty program. This technique is all about making your customers feel special and valued, so it makes sense to communicate with them on the most personal platform; SMS.

After users sign up for your loyalty program, you can send them an automated welcome message. These loyal customers can be saved in a contact group together and be sent exclusive benefits and discounts.

Alerts & notifications

SMS alerts and notifications are used to send various marketing messages to your customers such as:

  • Store opening hours/closures
  • New product/service/stock arrivals
  • Special events
  • Ticket sales alerts
  • Stock arriving back in

Link to a landing page, new product page or ticket sales by inserting a URL into your message. Use a URL shortener to help keep your message within the 160 character limit.

How to build your database

You can’t run an SMS marketing campaign without an audience.

Thankfully, building a database of contacts is easier than you might think. The strategies below will have your contact list growing in no time.

Text-in to a dedicated number

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

You can encourage consumers to text in a particular keyword eg. “Yes” to sign up to receive special offers and marketing material. Dedicated numbers work great with text-to-win competitions, loyalty programs or by simply advertising it across your other channels.

Once a consumer sends the designated keyword to your virtual number, their contact details will be automatically saved for you to use in the future.

Online purchases

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

For best practice, give the customer the option to sign-up for marketing material, rather than making it mandatory. This will also help generate a higher ROI, as those receiving your messages actually want to hear what you have to say!

In-store purchases

“Would you like to sign-up for our members club and receive special promotions and discounts?” - it’s quite likely that you’ve heard something similar to this in a store before.

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

Still struggling to build your loyalty program? Offer an incentive to boost your sign-ups eg. “Would you like to receive $5 off your purchase by signing up to our member's club?”

Account sign-ups

Does your business require users to sign-up for an account? This is a common process within the service industry so to make the most of the opportunity, request a mobile number from your customer too.

Remember: It’s essential to disclose to your customers that you will be sending them marketing material if they give you their number. We have other important legal information here.

Structuring your SMS message

With text messages limited to just 160 characters, it’s important to keep your message short and sharp. Your message structure will differ depending on what type of SMS marketing material you’re sending, however, this is how most should look:

1. Company name - If you have a sender ID your business name will appear at the top of the message thread. Alternatively, mention it at the beginning of the SMS.

2. Customer name - SMS marketing is all about making your communications personal, so put your customer’s name in the opening line. This can be automatically generated using web SMS software so you don’t have to create thousands of different messages.

3. The offer - This is where you should put the value for your customers. That is, the special deal, promotion, flash sale or coupon details.

4. Conditions - Here you should let the customers know exactly what they have to do to qualify for the offer eg. spend over $20

5. Instructions - Make it clear how to redeem your offer

6. Expiry - Put the expiration date of your offer here to create urgency and make your deal seem ‘special’

7. Opt out - To avoid legal penalties, you are required to include an opt-out option for your customers

When to send your SMS

The time you send your text message can be crucial to the success of your SMS marketing campaign.

Each type of SMS marketing message has a different ‘best time’ to send. Here is our break down:

General marketing messages

We consider SMS coupons, URLs to landing pages, opening hours and loyalty program deals under this category.

Even at the best of times, customers don’t always like to receive marketing material. So it’s important to be respectful and not send too early or late.

Obviously exceptions to this rule can be made, for example, if you’re a coffee shop, messaging in the earlier hours of the morning is okay.

From research, we found the most successful time for general marketing messages is between 10:30am and 11:30am as well as between 2:30pm and 3:30pm.

Hot tip: avoid sending your messages right on the dot. By that I mean, try sending at more unusual times such as 10:57am so that your marketing message isn’t overshadowed by others sent at the same time.

Weekend sales

For weekend flash and promotional sales, there’s a couple of key times to send your SMS burst.

Timing is everything here, go too early and customers will forget about your sale, too late and they’ve made other plans.

Studies show that sending on Thursdays delivers the greatest ROI - an adequate amount of time for customers to plan their weekend and fit in a trip to your store/do some online shopping.

In terms of what exact time to send, follow the same principles we outlined above for general marketing messages.

A follow-up SMS on the Saturday morning of the sale is also a great reminder.

Seasonal/special events

Large seasonal and special events such as Christmas periods and new product launches require additional planning and SMS marketing to create a substantial buzz.

Due to the size and significance of these events, forward planning and advertising is often encouraged and supported by consumers.

For the most successful campaign we suggest sending at the following times:

One month before - This should be an introductory/launch message that outlines your special event.

Two weeks before - The first ‘reminder message’, should contain all relevant event details such as location, start-time and any special offers.

3 days before - This is particularly helpful if your event is on the weekend so that recipients still have time to plan their weekend around your event. Festive/seasonal periods are often very busy so it’s not uncommon that your customer might have forgotten about your event by now.

1 day before - This is the final push for your promotion. It should really emphasise the offer/value of the event to maximise attendance.

How many SMS marketing messages should I be sending?

Research indicates that the optimal amount of SMS marketing messages max out at around 10 messages per month. Please note that this is the maximum amount that you should be sending until effectiveness starts to drop and opt-out rates begin to rise.

You can even run a successful SMS marketing campaign with as little as 3-4 messages a month.

It’s also worth noting that you should not send more than 1 message a day.

Automating your SMS marketing

An automated marketing process reduces staff costs, increases ROI and improves workflow efficiency.

It’s a no-brainer for all digital marketing teams.

You can achieve these same benefits by automating your SMS marketing too.

How to automate your SMS marketing

SMS marketing automation can amplify the effectiveness of your campaign by reducing the human elements required to distribute your SMS burst.

This can be completed within your SMS marketing software, or by using API integration to combine SMS technology with your existing CRM.

1. SMS automation within your SMS software

Most SMS platform providers offer a service known as keywords and triggers. With this tool, you can create an auto-reply for a desired keyword to set up a simple automated workflow.

This is the perfect resource for:

  • Managing your sign-ups/opt-outs
  • Accepting entrance in a ‘text-to-win’ competition
  • Sending exclusive deals/SMS coupons

2. Combining with your existing CRM

To truly maximise your SMS automation potential, API integration is the way to go.

An SMS API key allows you to merge SMS marketing automation with your CRM tool.

Your options for SMS automation are dependent on your CRM and the product/service you sell, however some possibilities include:

  • Sending welcome SMS messages after customers sign up for an account and provide their mobile number
  • Segmenting customers into different groups regarding the types of deals they’d like to receive and communicating accordingly
  • Managing your loyalty program
  • Linking their mobile number to other account details such as email account for a multi-channel marketing strategy
  • Introducing SMS as a part of your lead generation and nurturing techniques

How to measure the success of your campaign

Monitoring the success of any marketing campaign is essential.

You can learn what works and what doesn’t and structure your next campaign accordingly.

SMS marketing is no different. Better yet, it’s incredibly easy to measure.

Track click-through rate with Google Analytics

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

Using Google Analytics you can access the number of unique clicks received from your SMS marketing message.

Then simply divide the number of unique sessions by the total amount of SMS sent and the result will reflect your CTR.

If you’re unfamiliar with Google Analytics, this in-depth guide can help you track your SMS campaign unique clicks.

As we mentioned earlier, 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.

Monitoring 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.

A web SMS platform gives you direct access to your opt-out rates for you to analyse and compare with industry standards.

To understand this percentage further, it is calculated by dividing the number of users that unsubscribed from your SMS campaign by the total number of subscribers.

Leading SMS providers state that the average SMS opt-out rates sit between 2.5% to 4%.

Review delivery receipts

It’s important to know that your sent messages are actually being received.

You can access the status of all your messages from within your SMS software, or you can choose to receive delivery receipt reports via email.

Different SMS providers use different quality routes which can affect the percentage of successful deliveries. If you notice a high number of unsuccessful deliveries, consider switching to an SMS software provider that uses premium routes.

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.

Just divide the total cost of your SMS campaign by the number of conversions to determine your cost per conversion.

This is a clear way to evaluate if your SMS marketing is delivering the ROI that you anticipated.

Tracking coupon usage

Are you sending SMS coupons as a part of your SMS campaign? Tracking their use is an easy way to see if your customers are actually interacting with your SMS marketing.

If you’re getting low redemption rates, consider making your offer more valuable or sending it as an MMS to increase the appeal.

The last thing you need is to be getting into hot water over your SMS marketing. There are 3 main criteria for your business to meet to ensure your SMS campaign is compliant with rules and regulations:

1. User consent

Consumers must authorize consent to receive marketing material before you can start your SMS campaign.

Consent could be completed by filling out a form, ticking an acceptance box, contacting your business or by verbal agreement.

2. Identifiable sender

The 2003 SPAM Act states that all SMS marketing messages must clearly identify the sender.

This can be completed by using a sender ID or by starting your text message with the name of your business.

3. Offer opt-out

Any marketing SMS must contain an option for recipients to unsubscribe from your content.

This can come in the form of a reply keyword, eg. “reply STOP to opt-out”, or by using a short URL which takes you to an unsubscribe form.

If you’re unsure about any legal issues surrounding your SMS marketing campaign, contact the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)