The Ultimate 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 the very same strategy.

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

This brings us to SMS marketing, one of the most trusted engagement techniques that has been delivering results for decades.

Direct, personal, and dynamic, SMS 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, we’ll show you precisely what it takes to master SMS marketing in 2021.

Let’s get to it.


What is SMS marketing?

Text message marketing is a strategy that uses permission-based SMS messages to send advertising or promotional material to consumers.

Unlike some digital marketing channels, SMS marketing requires users to ‘opt-in’ to receive messages. We’ll go through how businesses can drive SMS sign-ups later.

SMS marketing is designed to create a personal connection with customers. It’s a direct and personalised communication platform that ultimately increases a business’s brand loyalty and engagement with their 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 updating them on your business opening hours.

Some of the most effective forms of SMS marketing include:

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

How does text marketing work?

Running an SMS campaign requires online SMS marketing software like SMSGlobal’s MXT. Using a web-based SMS platform allows you to send SMS marketing messages en masse and at a low cost.

All you have to do to send an SMS campaign is to create a message, choose your contact list, hit send. From there, the text is pushed through an SMS gateway to reach the intended recipients.

SMS software gives you access to smart features such as virtual dedicated numbers, keyword triggers, merge send personalisation, two way SMS and much more.


Why choose SMS marketing?

Before we race into the steps of running a successful SMS campaign, it’s essential to understand what makes it so effective.

The evidence

Engagement rates for SMS are higher than any other channel.

Business2Community reports that SMS response rates can be as high as 45%. Meanwhile, email response rates dwindle at just 6%.

SMS also leads click-through rates (CTRs) amongst competitor channels, sitting at 19%. This is far exceeds 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. Extremely fast. On average, consumers take only 90 seconds to respond to a text message.

Avoids SPAM filters

If you have a Gmail account, go ahead and open up your inbox and look at your Promotions folder.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ve never opened this before, or you do very rarely.

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

email spam

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, never to be seen 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 pesky SPAM filters, you give your marketing message the greatest opportunity to be read and engaged with.

Reaches consumers on their favourite platform

You don’t need me to tell you that most of us are inseparable from our mobile devices. Studies show that the average mobile user touches their phone a staggering 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 mobile users has risen every year.

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

Mobiles are undisputedly our favourite device, so targeting consumers on this platform makes sense, with the ability to deliver more significant ROI.

It’s trackable

An intuitive web SMS platform like MXT provides extensive reports on the success of your SMS marketing campaigns.

Campaign reporting includes instant delivery receipts, received messages, percentage of responses and much more. You’ll know exactly how many SMS messages have been delivered and how long it took.

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

Powerfully simple mobile marketing

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How your business can use SMS marketing

SMS marketing strategies can be applied to various industries, including retail, hospitality, the health sector, finance, and many more. We’ve explained in detail what each strategy involves and what your message must contain for your campaign to be a success.

Promotional deals

A promotional deal is usually signified by giving a percentage discount on a product or service, e.g. “20% off all haircuts this weekend”.

These offers should always specify a time limit 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 impulse decisions.

SMS coupons

Much like a promotional deal, SMS coupons offer 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 the most effective way to boost in-store traffic and online purchases.

Text-to-win competitions

Text-to-win competitions have been around for decades. And they’re still here because they get results.

It’s a simple process:

  1. Advertise your competition in-store or on your website, including the prize and entry requirements
  2. Include your dedicated number in the instructions (a unique and memorable number that is linked only to your SMS account)
  3. Gather responses and choose your winner

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

The answer is an extensive database of contacts you can now send marketing messages. 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. SMS loyalty programs are all about making your customers feel special and valued, so it makes sense to communicate with them on the most personal platform there is; 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/services
  • Special events
  • Ticket sale alerts
  • Back in stock notifications

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 SMS concise and 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 much easier than you'd 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. Virtual numbers are available in both short code (XXXX) or long code (04XX XXX XXX) formats.

You can encourage consumers to text in a particular keyword like '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, your SMS platform will automatically save their contact details 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 not giving them a choice. Ensuring all recipients are opted-in 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 member's 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 asking online. Not only does it have a more personal touch due to the face-to-face interaction, but saying no is more complicated for the customer than merely unticking a box.

Still struggling to build your loyalty program? Offer an incentive to boost your sign-ups, e.g. “If you sign up to our member’s club, you'll receive $5 off your purchase.”

Account sign-ups

Does your business require users to sign-up for an account? This is a standard process within the SaaS (software as a service) industry. Make the most of the opportunity by requesting customers' mobile numbers as part of the process.

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 marketing compliance information here.


Structuring your SMS message

With text messages limited to just 160 characters, you must 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 brand name will appear at the top of the message thread. Alternatively, you can 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. You can automatically generate names and other customer information using the merge send field on web SMS software, so you don’t have to create thousands of different messages.

3. The offer - This is where you should highlight the value for your customers. An offer could include a special deal, promotion, flash sale or coupon details.

4. Conditions - Here, you should let the customers know specifically what they have to do to qualify for the offer, such as spend over $20.

5. Instructions - Make it clear how customers can redeem your offer.

6. Expiry - Put the expiration date of your offer here to create urgency and make your deal seem limited and 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 choose to send an SMS campaign can be crucial to the success and conversion rate.

Different types of SMS marketing messages have differing ‘best time’ to send.

Here is our breakdown:

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 you must be respectful and not send messages too early or too late.

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 into best practices, we found the most successful time for general marketing messages is between 10:30 am and 11:30 am and between 2:30 pm and 3:30 pm.

SMSGlobal tip: avoid sending your messages right on the dot. Try sending at more unusual times, such as 10:57 am, 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 optimal 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. It gives customers an adequate amount of time to plan their weekend and fit in a trip to your store or do some online shopping.

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

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

Seasonal and special events

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

Due to these events' size and significance, forward planning and advertising are often encouraged and supported by consumers.

For the most successful text message marketing 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.

Three 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 and seasonal periods are often hectic, so it’s not uncommon that your customer might have forgotten about your event by now.

One day before - This is the final push for your promotion. It should emphasise the offer or 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 ten messages per month. Please note that this is the maximum amount you should be sending until effectiveness starts to drop and opt-out rates begin to rise.

You can run a successful SMS marketing campaign with as little as three to four messages a month. Ideally, you should not send more than one message a day unless the information is critical.


Automating your SMS marketing

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

Marketing automation is a no-brainer for all digital marketing teams.

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

How to automate your SMS marketing

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

You can automate messages within your SMS marketing software or by using API integration to combine SMS technology with your existing CRM.

SMS automation within your SMS software

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

Keyword trigger responses are perfect for:

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

Combining SMS 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 enhance your CRM tool with SMS automation capabilities.

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

  • Sending welcome text messages after customers sign up for an account
  • Segmenting customers into different groups regarding the types of deals they’d like to receive and messaging accordingly
  • Managing your loyalty program
  • Combining SMS with other platforms such as email for a multi-channel marketing strategy
  • Introducing SMS as a part of your lead generation and nurturing techniques through SMS drip campaigns

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. Including URLs is a great way to direct customers to a landing page, form, or online shop.

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

To measure, 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's unique clicks.

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

Monitoring opt-out rates

Every marketing campaign results in users that opt-out. So don’t be disheartened if you see customers unsubscribing from your content.

A web SMS platform like MXT provides in-depth reporting dashboards, including opt-out rates for you to analyse and compare with industry standards.

To understand this percentage further, divide the number of unsubscribed users from your SMS campaign by the total number of subscribers.

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

Review delivery receipts

Are your messages actually being received by your subscribers? It's an important question to ask after sending SMS campaigns.

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 like SMSGlobal.

Cost per conversion

Suppose your SMS marketing message links directly to a landing page that requires users to complete an additional form or is selling a product/service. In that case, you can evaluate the exact cost per conversion of your campaign.

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

This is a straightforward 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 interacting with your SMS marketing.

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


Legal: what do you need to know?

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

User consent

Consumers must authorise consent to receive marketing material before you can start sending them SMS campaigns.

Consumers can give consent through form submissions, ticking an acceptance box, contacting your business, or by verbal agreement.

Identifiable sender

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

    This can be accomplished using a sender ID or starting your text message with your business's name.

    Offer opt-out

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

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

    If you’re unsure about any legal issues surrounding your SMS marketing campaign, contact SMSGlobal's dedicated SMS experts; they'll ensure you're implementing best practices and complying with local regulations.