What’s next for digital marketing? That’s a pretty common question at any given marketing industry conference. With the continued evolution of the internet, it seems marketers are always on the lookout for the next channel they can add to their marketing program to drive results. From email marketing 40 years ago to search, social media, mobile and video marketing, new channels emerge regularly, with some carving out their places for the long term and others fading into the background.
As marketers, we are often drawn to the new and innovative, since no one likes to be left on the sidelines when the next digital channel explodes onto the scene and starts delivering great campaigns. However, a funny thing happened in 2019. While some marketers were focused on finding the next bright shiny object, others were looking back at a channel that has been around for decades (since 1992) and is nearly ubiquitous these days.
Marketers who were focused on retention and customer communications and marketers who were targeting prospects and driving new business both found common ground around text-based or SMS marketing. What was it about SMS that caught their attention? Message open rates that can reach 98% were certainly one reason. The fact that the market isn’t saturated yet is also a key factor.
However, before you jump into SMS marketing with both feet, there are several important issues to consider and understand.
SMS Marketing Basics And Best Practices
While the SMS channel has similarities to other direct marketing channels, it has a number of unique characteristics. While it is possible to send images to recipients via text messaging systems, not every user’s device allows it, so SMS is largely a text-only channel. This means marketers must rely on nothing but their marketing copy to deliver their message and generate a response. Here are a few tips and best practices to consider in your SMS campaigns
1. While text messages can certainly be somewhat lengthy (160 characters is a general standard), it’s important to consider the size of the screen and length of a typical text message to optimize the user experience. So, a common best practice is to keep your SMS messages short and to the point.
2. People don’t simply ignore text messages. Those incredibly high open rates mean that, unlike most other channels, your entire audience will see your message. If they don’t feel the message has any value to them, you can also expect high unsubscribe rates (higher than a channel such as email). So, make sure your messages are as relevant and engaging as possible.
3. SMS marketing is mobile marketing, so take into consideration all the best practices that have been established around reaching your audience on a mobile device. One important element is the timing of your campaign. An email sent overnight will just be waiting in a recipient’s inbox in the morning, but a marketing text sent at 2:00 a.m. may not be welcomed by many recipients.
Getting the most out of the channel requires careful planning and highly focused messaging content. That long-form email that works so well in delivering information to your audience is a non-starter when it comes to SMS. You need to distill your message and call to action down to something extremely simple and to the point in order to be effective in SMS.
SMS Compliance Considerations
The laws around SMS marketing are very strict, especially compared to other marketing channels like email or even direct mail. The single biggest difference for SMS is the opt-in requirement. Unlike a digital channel such as email, where unsolicited marketing messages are allowed (as long as various rules are followed, such as providing a way to opt out of future campaigns), prior consent is required in order to send a marketing or business-related text message to recipients. Along with the opt-in requirement, SMS campaigns also must include an opt-out element.
Becoming familiar with the rules and best practices involved in SMS marketing is an absolute must for any company interested in getting into this channel, as penalties for noncompliance can be severe and very expensive. SMS marketers should ensure their campaigns are compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which sets rules for marketers who plan to send automated text messages to various recipients, as well as a set of best practices provided by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA). It is recommended that marketers obtain professional legal advice on these types of regulations to ensure their programs are aligned with all relevant regulations.
SMS Marketing Technology
Much like email marketing, advertisers that send out promotional campaigns via SMS may need to engage with a third-party SMS marketing platform that handles the technical side of storing the recipient list, sending the messages, collecting opt-outs and reporting on various campaign metrics. If an advertiser is leveraging third parties or affiliates to initiate SMS marketing campaigns on its behalf, an additional element of an opt-out or suppression list management and distribution may also come into play. This may necessitate the use of an outside SMS suppression list management platform (separate from the SMS marketing platform) in order to easily facilitate the proper distribution and use of suppression files by third-party marketers.
SMS marketing offers the potential for an extremely high-performing channel for advertisers in almost any vertical. However, effective and compliant use of the channel requires careful preparation and planning.