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4 ways to get started with SMS marketing

As marketers, we are all eager to begin leveraging multiple channels to speak to our customers when and where they are most likely to engage with our brand. With  90%+ open rate on SMS and engagement rates of up to 8 times higher than email, SMS marketing presents a huge opportunity for marketers.

However, one key issue that seems to continually get lost in the shuffle is that many tried and true digital marketing strategies don't always translate well to SMS. SMS represents a much more disruptive form of communication for the consumer than email, display or social, which are all much easier for consumers to filter or just avoid. As you think about getting started with SMS, here's four strategies to think about:

1. Promote your mobile program across your other digital channels.  Our customer relationship efforts will not go very far if we don't have a strong list of customers to communicate with. Here are some simple ways to organically grow your list:

  • Add mobile opt-in to your preference center, allowing a customer to select SMS preferences by communication type
  • Explicit sign up at online check out
  • Acquisition via the email channel

2. Leverage SMS for time sensitive service alert notifications.  This is one SMS strategy where it just makes sense to offer notifications to customers outside of the noise of the email inbox. With the shear number of marketing email messages that customers receive on a daily basis - shipping, delivery, event reminder and service notification emails can get misplaced.  Customers frequently want to know when their order has been shipped and delivered, especially if they are not home during the day, or if their service appointment has been delayed.  By explicitly offering opt-in to service alert notifications you can ensure that your SMS is not an unwanted disruption on a customers phone, but rather a value driver for your business.

3. Develop seasonal engagement programs.  Improving the lifetime value of a customer often requires improved customer retention. Given the ability for SMS to drive strong customer engagement, it offers a great opportunity to develop retention programs that will keep your brand top of mind for the consumer. Starbucks recently launched it's holiday SMS program designed around its holiday specials. They kicked it off with a push notification to their mobile app followed by explicit opt-in. Shortly after, the first engagement driving message was launched.


4. Text for immediate savings/coupon offers. This strategy is perhaps the most important to get right and does not necessarily mean a "blanket" opt-in to rotating weekly offers. General, non-targeted and frequently changing promotional messaging offer the largest risk for customers to get frustrated with a brand's SMS program and drive them to opt out. We should empower our customers to ask for the information to be sent to their phone, when they want it.

I've seen a few retailers "almost" execute this. Express is well on its way, with the most recent direct mail piece requesting sign up for offers via text using keyword "HOLIDAY." I am now waiting to find out whether this is a holiday SMS program or if I will continue to receive promotional messages post holiday season. Based on the keyword entered, I would expect to receive messages only through the holiday season. The next step in the opt-in process should also be to request email address (for newly acquired phone numbers) in order to match phone numbers to specific customers and ultimately assist in providing more targeted and consistent offers.



It's important, however, to put the customer first when developing the strategy for these SMS communications. These strategies (especially the last) also layer in well for other mobile marketing initiatives such as coordination between mobile apps and leveraging Passbook or Google Wallet.  For customers who are leveraging your mobile app, consider pushing updated Passbook/Google Wallet coupon information as coupons expire and new ones are offered. For some of these customers, push notifications will be a preferred form of communication over SMS.  The key is to allow the consumer preferences to drive channel communication.

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