SMS Marketing: The Ultimate Guide to Best Practices, Benefits & More
As customers become harder than ever to reach, SMS marketing is making a comeback. Brands love the 98% open rates, customers love the convenience. In this guide, we break down best practices and how to get started.
What Is SMS Marketing?
SMS marketing refers to the use of text messages to promote a business’s products and services, as well as build customer loyalty. This digital marketing strategy is often referred to as mass texting. It works similarly to email marketing but has been shown to be significantly more effective.
SMS marketing has come a long way since the early 2000’s. It’s no one-trick pony. Businesses use it to:
- Boost sales: Send promotions, discounts, and limited-time offers to grow revenue
- Build relationships: Provide customer service and support with 2-way conversations
- Engage your audience: Quickly share important updates and new content
- Generate excitement: Host text-to-win sweepstakes or text-to-vote polls
- Collect leads: Allow potential customers to sign-up for texts or send in one-off questions
- Nurture leads: Follow-up with leads and keep them engaged with the occasional text
Wait, texts can do all of these? Yes. Let’s take a look at some examples:
It’s worth noting that the above examples are under 160 characters, but you can now send much longer SMS messages. More on that later!
Does SMS Marketing Really Work?
Yes. On average, 98% of all text messages are read. And 90% of those messages are read within just three minutes.
With digital marketing channels like social media, you could have the greatest marketing messaging in the world—but the algorithms only show your content to a fraction of your followers. And with email, you can spend a lot of time on design and copy that ends up in a spam folder or is just plain ignored.
That’s why texts are the ultimate marketing medium. They’re easy to send, and almost always read by your audience.
Benefits of SMS Marketing
In our 2020 SMS marketing report, we surveyed hundreds of U.S. consumers, business owners, and marketers. According to the data, 60% of businesses reported that they plan to increase their text marketing budget over the next year.
Case study after case study backs up the effectiveness of SMS.
From higher customer satisfaction to increased conversion rates, businesses that use mass text messaging are reaping the benefits.
What Industries Can Benefit From SMS Marketing?
SMS marketing is ideal for anyone who wants to reach a large group of people at the same time. But different industries approach it in different ways.
Restaurants use text message marketing to take reservations, send coupons, and inform customers about weekly specials.
Real Estate Agents
We mostly see real estate agents use SMS for lead generation. For example, they create a keyword and place it on their riders. Interested buyers then text in this keyword to request more information.
Retailers and E-Commerce Stores
Retailers who need to drive more sales rely on texts to engage customers and increase sales. They often do this through customer loyalty programs and offering exclusive discounts by SMS.
Gyms use SMS marketing to improve their member retention rate through better communication. We see them send class information or other announcements or easily answer questions from leads, parents, and members.
Home Service Businesses
Everyone from HVAC repair companies to lawn care service providers use SMS to get back to leads faster than their competitors with automated text messages.
These are just a few of the industries that use text messaging. Read our in-depth industry guides and handbooks to find out how you can.
Measuring the Results of Text Message Marketing
A common misconception is that marketing via SMS can’t be measured. The truth is, just like email, you can easily see if it’s driving ROI.
Common SMS marketing benchmarks include:
Click-through rate (CTR)
The average email open rate is just over 21%. The CTR is under 3%. With texts, 98% of messages are opened and links receive an average CTR of 17%.
This is how many people took an action—such as making a purchase—after clicking your link. You can use Google Analytics and UTM parameters to determine the conversion rate of your texts, for free. The average SMS conversion rate is about 45%. Much higher than other marketing tactics.
Why is it so high? Well, consider the fact that people who sign up for your texts are your most engaged fans. They want to hear from you. This is the last group of people who you’d want to miss out on by relying on email alone.
On top of this, people spend close to three hours a day on their phones–making it less likely they’ll miss your message.
Without a list of phone numbers, you have no one to message. Steady, consistent list growth is a good indicator of success. Later in the guide, we cover how to grow your list.
Churn happens. People will inevitably reply STOP to your message. Once they do, they will no longer receive messages. Unsubscribe rates vary by industry, but as a rule of thumb, it should be less than 3% per campaign.
The big kahuna. This lets you answer whether SMS is making you money or not. Just take a look at the purchases made or influenced by SMS, subtract how much you spent sending the messages, then divide by the total amount spent on SMS marketing.
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SMS Marketing Best Practices: Do’s and Don’ts
Text marketing is easy, especially when you know what pitfalls to avoid. We have an entire guide dedicated to SMS marketing best practices.
Here’s what you absolutely need to know:
Do Get Express Written Consent
Just because you have a list of phone numbers, doesn’t mean you’re in the clear to start texting messages to them.
If you are using SMS marketing, you must adhere to the rules set out by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). That means obtaining express written consent before a single message goes out the door.
To understand the TCPA, express written consent, and disclosure rules, please see our SMS compliance guide.
Do Check Your Replies
Many SMS marketing platforms only offer one-way texting. With SimpleTexting, you can also manage replies.
Even if you only want to send bulk SMS, people will intuitively think they can reply to your messages. (Incoming SMS messages on SimpleTexting are completely free.)
Make it a habit to log in to your account and reply to any questions that may have been sent in.
Take a look at how 1-800-Contacts uses texting. They send shipping notifications, and allow customers to text in their prescription. Agents are ready to reply if there are any issues:
Do Get Creative
Have you ever listened to a song so much that you get sick of it? The same can happen with your texts. Keep things interesting with a variety of offers.
Send a discount one week, a tip the next, and then a fun piece of content the following. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Texts are no longer limited to 160 characters. With MMS, you can include up to 1,600 characters of text and even attach images too!
Here’s an example from Jurassic Quest, a traveling dinosaur exhibit. They don’t just send announcements, they also let people text in their dinosaur questions which are answered by an expert!
Jurassic Quest Sees 98% Click-Through Rates on Its Texts
Don’t Send Too Often
Use your texts wisely. People ignore or filter their emails, so they may not mind getting several per week. On the other hand, one text per week is likely enough for most brands.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule. For example, professional organizer Tanisha Porter sends daily tips to her subscribers. Actually, they pay for these daily tips.
The key is to set expectations. When someone signs up for your texts, they should be aware of how many times per month they can expect to hear from you.
Don’t Forget to Provide Value
To get, you have to give. Customers will be thrilled to provide their phone number if you’ll give them something valuable in return.
When you promote your SMS marketing program, take the time to craft a great offer that will get people excited. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Delta Sonic offered a free slushie to customers and went from zero subscribers to tens of thousands.
Don’t Be Spammy
Before you send a text, ask yourself whether it sounds like there’s a real human on the other end of the line. If the answer is yes, your customers are much more likely to reply or click on your message.
However, if your message says something like “Do U want HUGE savings? Shop now!!!” then it’s more than likely that customers will unsubscribe.
How to Collect Phone Numbers for SMS Marketing
If you’ve read this far, we hope you’re convinced that text messaging is a useful marketing tactic that drives measurable results. Now, let’s talk about how to get started.
The first step is to collect phone numbers. There are several ways to do this and they work best when used together.
No matter which tactic you decide to use, you should always provide value. For example, this can be in the form of a discount or exclusive content that can’t be found elsewhere.
Also, we all know that people are very protective of their phone number. In addition to value, you have to give them a reason to trust you with it. Getting express consent before texting happens to be the law, but it’s also a savvy marketing move that increases trust in your brand. Let’s look at some best practices for building your list.
A keyword is a short word or phrase people can text in to your number to sign up for messages. For example, a shoe store may encourage customers to “Text RUN to 900900.”
Keywords can be advertised on:
- Television ads
- Radio commercials
- In-store signage
- Social media posts
Mobile Sign-Up Widget
Capture phone numbers from visitors to your site with this free tool. When someone clicks on the widget, the text message app on their mobile device will open with your keyword and phone number pre-filled in.
If your goal is to start 1-on-1 conversations with customers, a click-to-text button is for you. When someone is browsing your site from their phone, all they need to do is click the button to start a text conversation with you.
You likely already have a form on your site to collect emails. Add an optional phone number field to it and watch your SMS list grow. Just be sure to add a checkbox people can use to provide express written consent.
This sounds like a weird one, we know. Use email to get people to sign up for texts. Here’s the thing: your top fans probably don’t want your messages getting lost in their promotions folder.
They want to read your messages as soon as they’re sent. All you have to do is send an email with a call-to-action that includes a link to your web form—or a keyword!
You can use Facebook ads to go after highly specific groups of people. One underutilized tactic is to create a Facebook Lead Gen Ad. This allows people who click on your Facebook ads to provide their phone number to you to learn more about your product or service.
Text-to-Vote or Text-to-Win Contests
This is another tactic that relies on keywords. Encourage people to text in to your phone number to win a prize or vote in a contest. A bit like American Idol, if you will, but you don’t have to be ABC to afford it.
How The Columbus River Dragons Collected Hundreds of Phone Numbers with Text-to-Win
Encourage people to sign up for texts as they’re checking out. This can either be done in-person if you have a retail location with a digital POS or on your online store. You must follow TCPA law and use the proper disclaimers.
Popular SMS Marketing Campaigns
Follow the advice above, and you’re sure to build your list quickly. So now comes the million-dollar question: what should you send? Here are our favorite ideas.
Send a Discount
The text message inbox is normally reserved for family and friends. It’s a good idea to thank your subscribers for signing up by sharing a discount. This can be as simple as 10% off one of your products, like this message from Outer Aisle:
Provide Advice or Tips
What are you an expert at? If you have a cosmetics brand, it may be on how to develop the ultimate nighttime skincare routine. If you sell cookware, maybe you have useful cooking tips.
Leverage your knowledge to provide value to your audience in a unique way. Consider sharing weekly tips with your audience.
The brand Equal Parts takes things a step further by encouraging customers to text in their questions to a professional chef:
Share Your Content
Creating content is hard. Distributing it doesn’t have to be. Just send a text. Consider this example:
The Twenty is a QVC-style show that’s hosted on Instagram live. They partner with brands to offer exclusive discounts.
Leading up to an episode, they send out a text announcement revealing which brand will be featured that week. On the day of the show, they send a link to the livestream.
You can use this tactic for any piece of content. Our customers have seen their mobile traffic increase by 400% after sending an SMS.
Customer reviews can seriously boost conversion rates. Texts are a convenient way to collect them. After a customer makes a purchase, you can send a text message with a link to Google Reviews, Trustpilot, or even your website’s review page.
Reviews are especially important for brands trying to sell on Amazon. Matykos beauty used SMS marketing to increase their rankings:
How Matykos Beauty Uses Texting to Beat the Amazon Algorithm
What Number Should You Use for SMS Marketing?
We’ve spoken about how to get your customers’ to share your phone number. But what number should you share with them? Or in other words, if someone wants to text you—what number should they type into their phone? You have a few options.
The most popular option is a 10-digit, toll-free number. They’re extremely versatile. They can be used to send text blasts and have 2-way conversations. Every SimpleTexting account comes with a toll-free number by default.
If you plan to use texting to have 1-on-1 conversations with customers, you should consider getting a number with your area code. People will appreciate how familiar it feels.
That said, local numbers have limitations. You cannot text large groups of people at once. If you need to reach groups of 200 people or more at once, a toll-free number is a better bet.
Keep your current number
If your brand already has a phone number, you can also text-enable it with SimpleTexting. Yes, even if it’s a landline.
That’s exactly what our customer, Yesterday’s Books, did. They had been using the same number for 40 years. Customers recognized the number and the store is now able to send texts from the same number.
Have you ever come across a company advertising a short, 5 or 6-digit number? Something like “Text WIN to 900900 to enter our sweepstakes!” This type of number is known as a short code.
We can help you lease your own dedicated short code, but the prices can be prohibitive for most small businesses.
A more accessible option is a shared short code, which as the name implies, is a number shared by many brands. However, AT&T and other carriers plan to discontinue this type of number soon. Therefore, it’s not a great long-term solution.
Can SMS Marketing Be Automated?
The idea of texting thousands of people can sound time consuming, but it’s not. It only takes a few minutes to write a text and click send. Not to mention you can also automate your texts:
Connect Your Apps
With Zapier, you can create if/then statements to automate your work. For example, if a customer fills out a Google form, then send them a text.
This list goes on. You can send an automated text when:
- A new lead is entered into your CRM
- A customer schedules an appointment
- A purchase is completed on your website
Also, you can make text messages the trigger of other actions. You may want to do the following:
- Add new SMS subscribers to your email service (We have a native integration with Mailchimp!)
- Forward incoming text messages to Slack
- Add new SMS subscribers to a Google sheet
These are the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways to connect the apps you use most to SimpleTexting.
Create a Drip Campaign
Campaigns are a great way to send your latest announcements, but they have one problem: new subscribers don’t see the campaigns you previously sent. That’s where drip campaigns come in.
With a drip campaign, you can create a series of messages that go out on a schedule. This schedule is trigger after someone signs up for your list.
For example, you could have one SMS go out immediately then another two days later, and once more the following week. You can even set delivery windows to ensure no messages go out at night or on weekends.
The point is, text messages drip campaigns are an easy way to keep your subscribers engaged automatically.
Turn On Your Away Message
In our section on the do’s and don’ts of SMS marketing campaigns, we mentioned how important it is to check your replies. If you have a small team, you may not be able to do this frequently. Luckily, you can set up an automated away message that replies for you.
You can even set your office hours so the auto reply will send outside of them:
This is also your chance to set expectations around when and how often you check your texts:
So, Is Email Dead?
With all of this said, should you stop sending emails? No. We’re text marketing evangelists, but even we don’t think you should forego all other marketing channels.
That’s because text messages can easily fit into or complement your other marketing channels. This is especially true for email marketing.
A lot of business owners and marketers worry that these two channels will compete with each other, diluting their individual value.
The opposite happens, and we’ve seen brands like the multi-location restaurant Blue Baker use SMS and email together to drive a 162% increase in its coupon redemptions.
This is because it requires communication across multiple channels to drive someone to take action.
The Wrap on SMS Marketing
Thousands of businesses are realizing the powerful advantages of SMS marketing. It’s being used by top-selling real estate agents, growing churches, successful e-commerce brands and everyone in between.
Despite its popularity, SMS continues to be one of the most underutilized marketing channels. This presents huge upsides for companies who are willing to try it. There’s never been a better time to get started than now.
We encourage you to sign-up for a 14-day free trial of SimpleTexting and see what all the hype is about.