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The ultimate SMS marketing guide

Alia Paavola
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SMS is emerging as one of the most effective channels for marketing given its high engagement rates. But how can businesses capitalize on SMS marketing and make it work for them?

In today's fast-paced digital world, where attention spans are fleeting and competition is fierce, businesses need to find innovative ways to connect with their target audience. Enter SMS marketing – the secret weapon that allows you to cut through the noise and captivate your customers instantly. 

Picture this: a direct line to your customers' pockets, delivering personalized messages that instantly grab their attention. 

In this comprehensive guide, we'll unravel the secrets of SMS marketing and show you how to leverage this dynamic channel to turbocharge your marketing efforts. 

Jump right to:

<h2 id="whatis">What is SMS marketing?</h2>

SMS marketing a.k.a. text marketing is a form of digital marketing that involves sending promotional content via text message. Businesses use text message marketing to reach customers with digestible messages on mobile devices with the goal to increase brand awareness, drive engagement, and ultimately conversions.  SMS is typically used to send time-sensitive information, promotions, updates, and other relevant content to individuals who have given their consent to receive such communications.

A brief history of SMS

SMS messages, more commonly known as text messages, changed how we communicate as a society. The communication tool has ballooned in popularity since its inception, and today more than 2 trillion text messages are sent each year in the U.S. Here are a few of the critical milestones for SMS. 

1984 — Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert invented SMS text messaging. 

1985  — The 160-character limit for SMS messages was established.

1992 — The first text message was sent by engineer Neil Papworth at Sema Group. The message said “Merry Christmas.”

1993 — Nokia released the first cell phone with the capability to text.

1995 — Cliff Kushler invented T9 texting, which stands for “text on nine keys.”  This predictive texting technology tried to anticipate the words people were typing to reduce the keystrokes needed to message.

1997 — Nokia released the first cellphone with a QWERTY keyboard for faster texting.

1999 – Cross-network texting became available. Before 1999, you could only text people with the same mobile network provider. 

2002 – MMS, or multimedia messaging service, was commercially introduced. This enables people to send multimedia messages from phone to phone. 

2003 – Bulk messaging is born with the creation of shortcodes. These five or six-digit numbers allow businesses to send messages to many customers at once.

2007 – Apple unveiled the first iPhone. It has a full touchscreen keyboard equipped with spellcheck and predictive text technology. 

2008 Neilson research disclosed that the average American sent more texts than phone calls. It’s also the birth of Apple emojis

2010  – The word “texting” was added to the dictionary as it became mainstream.

2011 Apple launched iMessage, forever igniting the war between blue and green messages.

2017 – The CTIA officially codifies 10DLC, or 10-digit long codes, for business text messaging by introducing messaging principles and best practices. This allows businesses to text customers from familiar numbers from their computers at scale.

Present Today, more than 23 billion text messages are sent daily. It’s one of the top use cases for mobile phones. More businesses are turning to this communication technology to reach their customers conveniently. 

<h2 id="types">Types of SMS marketing</h2>

When starting an SMS marketing campaign, there are several types you may send your subscribed contacts.

  • Transactional. These SMS campaigns keep customers informed about their purchases. It includes order confirmations, shipping updates, and delivery notices. The goal of these campaigns is to boost communication and customer satisfaction.

  • Promotional. These SMS campaigns promote products, deals, and sales. The goal is to boost sales, inform about new products, or build brand awareness. Some common promotional messages include flash sales, exclusive discounts, or product launches.

  • Conversational. These campaigns encourage two-way communication to build relationships and boost customer engagement. This type includes customer service, soliciting customer feedback, and answering customer questions. 

<h2 id="does">Does SMS marketing work?</h2>

SMS marketing is an effective way to cut through the noise and drive conversions. But don’t just take our word for it. Let’s look at a few top SMS marketing benefits backed by statistics.

  • High open rate. SMS boasts a 98 percent open rate, more than four times the open rate of email. Text messages are sent directly to customers’ phones, which makes them hard to ignore and enticing to open.

  • Improved reach. The vast majority of Americans (97 percent) own a cell phone. This means you can reach your ideal target audience. With SMS, you can also reach customers who may not frequently use social media or opt out of email marketing.

  • Strong conversion rates. SMS marketing campaigns drive conversions. Research shows that they generate six times higher order rates than email marketing campaigns. Learn more about the differences between SMS and email.
  • Better click-through rates. The average click-through rate for marketing texts is between 20 percent and 30 percent. This compares to email, which ranges from 3 percent to 5 percent.

  • Instant delivery. Text messages are delivered and read quickly. Research shows that most text messages are read within five minutes of receipt.

  • Cost-effective solution. It costs just pennies to send and receive SMS messages. On the other hand, the cost per click for social media advertisements can cost several dollars.

  • Lower competition. While SMS for marketing is growing in popularity, it still isn’t as prominent as email marketing or social marketing. It’s a good time to get ahead of the competition and use a different marketing channel to cut through the noise. 

<h2 id="campaigns">10 popular SMS marketing campaigns</h2>

SMS marketing is versatile. There are many different campaigns businesses send customers. Here are a few of the most popular ways businesses use SMS for marketing.

  • Welcome series. Use an SMS campaign series to warmly welcome customers when they first subscribe to your SMS marketing messages. You can include a welcome discount or send a thank you for subscribing.

  • Flash sale. Let customers know about a limited-time flash sale by text. This will encourage them to purchase in a short time window.

  • Personal offer. Give customers personalized offers like mobile coupons, percent-off discounts, or free products via SMS. These campaigns encourage customers to buy.

  • Abandoned cart reminders. Improve cart abandonment rates by sending text message reminders about items left in the cart. You can encourage customers to finish the check-out process by offering free shipping or a discount.

  • Product launches. Use a text to alert customers about a new product or service offering. This can help you get the word out about the product and convince customers to buy it upon launch.

  • Event promotion. Use SMS marketing to inform customers or potential customers about an upcoming event like a conference, concert, open-mic night, or webinar.

  • Order update. Send text messages to alert customers about key order status updates. This can include order confirmations, shipping updates, and delivery details.

  • Time-sensitive updates. Use SMS to inform customers about time-sensitive news. This could include store hour changes, flight boarding alerts, and more.

  • Appointment or booking reminders. Cut down on missed revenue by sending a text message reminder about an upcoming appointment or booking.

  • Customer feedback. Send a text message survey to gain valuable insights from customers. Ask them how they perceive your brand or their satisfaction with a particular experience.

Need more inspiration? Check out these 21 SMS marketing campaign ideas.

<h2 id="examples">11 examples of SMS marketing</h2>

Take a look at 11 examples of text marketing campaigns from companies across the U.S.

Abandoned cart reminder

Here’s an example of Alphalete sending an abandoned cart message. You’ll notice the company offers a discount to encourage customers to make a purchase. 

Abandoned cart SMS marketing campaign.
An abandoned cart campaign from Alphalete.

Holiday promotion

A pet caretaking app, Wag, offers customers a discount for the 4th of July. It encourages customers to order an overnight pet sitter for a $20 off. 

A holiday promotion SMS marketing example from Wag!
A holiday promotional offer from Wag!

Flash sale

Check out this flash sale marketing text from Lovepop. It offers customers a limited-time discount on Father’s Day cards. 

Lovepop’s flash sale text marketing campaign. 
Lovepop’s flash sale text marketing campaign. 

Text message survey

Elixr Wax, Lash, and Beauty Bar uses SMS to get net promotor score feedback from customers post-service. This encourages two-way communication and allows the business to identify areas of improvement. 

An SMS survey example from Elixr.
Elixr’s SMS survey example.

Order updates

This SMS message from Nearly Natural provides customers with key updates about a recent purchase. It even provides a tracking link for customers.

A transactional SMS marketing example from Nearly Natural.
Nearly Natural’s transactional SMS marketing text.

Product launch

This SMS marketing text message from Aerie promotes new clothing arrivals. You’ll notice it even contains an SMS link to the new products. 

Aerie’s product launch SMS marketing example.
A product launch marketing text from Aerie. 

Promote upcoming launch

This marketing text message from Alphalete aims to create excitement about a new product launch. It even encourages customers to browse ahead of time to pick out the items they want.

A product launch promotion text from Alphalete.
Alphalete creates anticipation over a product launch via SMS.

Encourage a referral 

This marketing text encourages members of Fit Athletic to refer friends or family in exchange for a discount.

Fit Athletic’s referral marketing text.
Fit Athletic encourages referrals via SMS.

Promote a free gift

This marketing message from OrangeTheory encourages potential customers to sign up for free VIP classes. The goal is to get people in the studio to encourage them to buy a membership to OrangeTheory.

OrangeTheory’s lead nurturing SMS marketing text example.
OrangeTheory offers potential customers free classes via SMS.

Reminder texts

This is a good transactional marketing message. It reminds customers about an upcoming service. This will help you remind customers about upcoming appointments, services, or meetings to avoid missing out on revenue.

A service reminder text from BMW.
A service reminder text from BMW.

Event promotion

This marketing text message promotes an event: double-points day. This encourages customers to visit the store or shop online. 

Von Maur’s SMS marketing text promotes an event
Von Maur alerts loyal customers to a double-point weekend via text.

Get 15 more real-life SMS marketing examples for your business and 100 customizable SMS templates.

<h2 id="getstarted">How to get started with SMS marketing</h2>

It’s easy to get started with SMS marketing. Here are the key steps to execute your first campaign.

1. Create an SMS marketing strategy. The first step is to establish your SMS marketing strategy. This includes determining your use cases, audience, and goals. 

Get our complete 12-step guide to creating an effective SMS marketing strategy.  

SMS marketing guide

2. Choose your SMS platform. You’ll need to pick an SMS marketing software provider that works well for your business. To determine the best fit, decide what features, pricing structure, and integrations you need. You should also look for reputation, scalability, and support offered. SMS platforms like Textline make it easy to send marketing texts with features like mass texting and automations.

3. Build your SMS contact list. The third step is to generate SMS subscribers. Before you can send marketing texts to contacts, you must get explicit opt-in from them. 

4. Craft your messages. The next step is to create your marketing text messages. Make sure you proofread and include a call-to-action. 

5. Send texts. The final step is to send your marketing text to your target audience. From here, you can measure results and fine-tune your content. 

<h2 id="bestpractices">11 SMS marketing best practices</h2>

1. Get an opt-in. You can’t just buy a list of phone numbers. You must get consent to text each customer. You must also make it clear that they’re subscribing to marketing messages. This opt-in is required by law and protects customers from unsolicited messages. Check out these 12 ways to get this consent and grow your SMS list.

2. Honor opt-outs. Make sure you stop texting contacts who unsubscribe. This includes if they reply with words like STOP or END. Most SMS marketing platforms will automatically unsubscribe contacts for you.

3. Be brief and clear. Don’t overcomplicate your marketing messages; keep them short and to the point. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters. Use them wisely.

4. Add a CTA. Use a clear call to action in your SMS marketing texts. This will ensure customers know what step to take next. Consider CTAs like shop now, save my seat, or head to checkout.

5. Keep timing in mind. Pay attention to text message timing. You’re reaching customers on their personal devices, so you want to reach them during business hours and at the appropriate times in the buying cycle.

6. Keep message frequency in mind. Frequency matters when sending SMS campaigns. Make sure you aren’t overwhelming your customers with too many monthly promotional messages. This could increase your unsubscribe rate.  

7. Personalize and tailor messages. Make sure you’re personalizing and tailoring message content appropriately. This will increase the likelihood of conversion and improve customer engagement.

8. Leverage automation. Reduce manual work by setting up marketing automations. For example, you could set up auto-replies for any time a customer reaches out or set up automated texts to send if a customer performs a certain action like cart abandonment or visits your website.

9. Set goals and KPIs. You want to ensure you’re setting goals and key performance indicators for your SMS marketing campaigns. You also want to tie these goals to your overarching business strategy.

10. Measure your results. You’ll want to track the performance of your SMS marketing campaigns. This will help you identify what works and what doesn’t. Plus, tweak performance.

11. Introduce your company. Customers likely don’t have your phone number saved. To reduce SPAM complaints, introduce your company.

Learn more: 17 SMS marketing tips to set you up for success 

Start on the right foot with Textline

Drive optimal text marketing results with Textline, the most secure SMS platform on the market. We help companies register their phone numbers to send their first marketing campaign easily. Plus, we have safeguards to ensure your SMS campaigns comply with regulations to protect your business. 

Access robust features that improve marketing team performance, like mass texting, metrics, two-way texting, automated SMS, and more. Our multi-user platform is built for teams and can help you scale text marketing.

Give Textline a try for free. Sign up now to start your 14-day free trial.

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