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4 ways SMS can turn a prospect into a paying customer

We recently told you about the smart ways that marketers are using push notifications to build relationships with customers on mobile. But there's an even simpler, cheaper and possibly more far-reaching way to reach your customers-on-the-go: the classic text message.

For all the attention paid to smartphones today, roughly half of all mobile subscribers still carry an "old-school" cell phone -- meaning they can make and receive calls or texts, but that's about it. They don't have web access. They can't download apps and, hence, can't receive push notifications from app developers. But Short Message Services (SMS), as texts are also known, face the same giant hurdle that push notifications do: mobile users typically dislike any message -- whether SMS or push -- that's unsolicited or, worse, completely unrelated to anything the user might want or need.

So therein lies the quandary: SMS should be an integral part of any marketer's cross-channel strategy, but how do you start an SMS conversation that pays off? Start with these four steps:

Target customers wherever they - and you - are

As with push notifications, mobile phone subscribers must opt-in to receive SMS alerts. The most effective way to get them to sign up is to get their attention wherever and whenever they interact with your brand. For retailers and restaurants, this means drawing consumers to window signage that displays a code they can text in to receive a discount. Southwest Airlines takes advantage of the opportunity presented by a captive audience by printing a short code on drink napkins that passengers can then text in to receive special offers. These physical calls-to-action are often used in sponsored Tweets or Facebook promotions.

Make sure your SMS pays off for your customers

Consumers love a bargain -- and that's especially true among mobile gadget lovers. RadiumOne, online advertising software developer, reports that 42.3 percent of mobile users prefer SMS coupons over push notifications or bar code scanning. But anyone who's actually clipped coupons knows the frustration of forever forgetting them at home or even at the checkout stand.

With SMS, consumers can store coupons on their phones. Regal Cinemas, the national movie theater chain, gives weekly ticket discounts to consumers who "like" Regal's Facebook page and then opt-in their phone numbers.

Play to your customers' competitive nature

Whether its free concert tickets, cash prizes or movie tickets, consumers will sign up for SMS when lured by a sweepstakes or other giveaway. Skinny Water recently ran an SMS campaign to raise awareness for their brand of "fitness water." Shoppers at a Walgreens in Penns

ylvania were asked to text the word BEATS to a short code in order to be entered to win a number of prizes. The campaign attracted more than 2,100 sweepstakes entries and 1,300 additional Facebook Likes.

Big Red Soda, working with Twentieth Century Fox, created an SMS campaign that gave away tickets to the latest installment of the "Die Hard" franchise to anyone who texted in the keyword "MCCLANE" -- Bruce Willis' character in the film – to a short number code. The soda maker also installed movie displays in grocery stores, encouraging consumers to enter a number code for a chance to win tickets to an advance screening

Be a reliable source for information your customers want - and need

Consumers welcome any service that eases their hectic lives. One way that Amazon.com gets consumers to sign up for SMS is by offering real-time shipping updates via text for recent purchases. The online tax preparer TaxACT uses SMS to send customers updates on the state of their federal tax returns.

But don't forget about your existing customers. They're open to a little SMS love too. Designer Shoe Warehouse sends special coupons by email to customers on the first day of their birth month -- and then alerts them via text when the coupons go unused.

Of course, the most important step of all is....making the option to ‘opt-out’ simple and hassle-free. Consumers don't eagerly hand over their personal information. So let them disable your messaging at will. They'll appreciate your flexibility -- and trust you even more.

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