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Features, Nuts & Bolts

How SMS Marketing Works In 2019

Contrary to popular belief, SMS marketing is perhaps the most effective method of quickly reaching a global audience

Marshall Lemon
March 26 2019

The most successful, game-changing startups find value in cutting-edge innovations, while companies that play it safe are left behind. Nowhere is this more evident than mobile marketing, a field that is constantly pivoting towards the next thing that will revolutionize the field. Sometimes, however, we focus so much on the latest technologies that we fail to recognize value in the old.

Take SMS marketing, which many would consider an antiquated notion. Most reports argue that in-app advertising is the marketing platform of the future, and we’re not about to disagree. But today, SMS technology is a global standard that reaches well beyond smartphones. That means brands can quickly engage with massive audiences through a simple text message.

As part of PostFunnel’s Nuts and Bolts series, we’ll delve into the world of modern Martech to shed some light on tools and best practices used by you – our fellow marketers – in your day-to-day strategies. Every month, our experts will sink their teeth into another aspect of this fascinating field, hopefully inspiring you to elevate your business through smart marketing.

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What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing is one of the earliest mobile marketing techniques, introduced alongside SMS and short codes in the early 2000s. In short, it allows marketers to directly communicate with mobile users through SMS messaging services.

Unlike in-app advertising, SMS marketing techniques require access to mobile phone numbers to initiate communication. Many inbound strategies typically include a method of obtaining or capturing this contact information.

High engagement, high volume

We’re not here to argue that SMS mobile marketing is more important than in-app marketing — the current growth rates of in-app campaigns suggests otherwise. That being said, SMS remains a highly effective marketing tool that shouldn’t be dismissed in 2019.

For example, the average SMS marketing ad has a 90% open rate, a 45% conversion rate, and will be read within 90 seconds of deployment. In-app marketers would love to see KPIs at those levels, so it’s no surprise that brands still make use of SMS today. It’s also a notably efficient strategy for brands seeking to rapidly engage with a large volume of customers.

SMS marketing is also supported by a wide range of devices, not just smartphones. The technology standard also reaches standard cell phones, or “feature phones”, which enables marketers to reach audiences in regions where smartphones haven’t quite taken off yet.

Reaching global audiences

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than SMS KPIs is its global reach. While SMS mobile marketing has declined among Western nations, it is widely used internationally, most notably in Europe and Southeast Asia.

Since SMS messages are delivered through cellular carriers, they are often heavily regulated compared to other marketing channels. That doesn’t limit their usefulness — in fact, SMS regulations often benefit marketers by clearly defining standards and best practices for each carrier.

Common SMS marketing formats

While SMS text messages aren’t nearly as varied as interactive in-app formats, there are a few useful variations marketers can draw on:

SMS sales alerts

As the name implies, SMS sales alerts inform customers of promotional deals from their favorite businesses. They are commonly used to announce clearances, flash sales, and other special promotions, and can include coupons or website links with additional details.

SMS reminders

Appointment-based industries often use SMS reminders to inform users about upcoming meetings or regular events. Senders can also ask recipients to respond with a keyword to confirm their appointment.

SMS keywords

SMS keywords let users enter a specific phrase or number that triggers an automated response, such as “Text XYLOPHONE to sign up for our newsletter!” This is commonly used to sign customers up for new services, but can also forward relevant information to email addresses, text messages, and group chats.

Obtaining an SMS sender ID

Before sending commercial SMS messages, you’ll need to obtain a sender ID for your campaign. The most common examples are virtual numbers, short codes, and a custom sender ID, each of which can be leased through a bulk SMS provider.

Virtual numbers

Virtual numbers come in two forms: shared and dedicated.

Shared virtual numbers are IDs that can be shared between multiple senders. These are often free to use, but have no reply capabilities and change frequently without prior notice. That means your SMS messages might appear to come from different numbers, which customers may consider untrustworthy.

Dedicated virtual numbers can be leased for brand recognition, number consistency, and reply capabilities. Costs for dedicated numbers vary, but are often higher for easier-to-recognize numbers or vanity IDs.

Short codes

Short codes are a form of dedicated virtual number that usually consists of 5-6 digits, although length varies by country. They are typically used by larger enterprises and government organizations and are ideal for mass messaging campaigns thanks to a higher throughput. These benefits also make them one of the most expensive sender ID options.

Custom sender ID

Custom sender IDs allow users to assign their business name for one-way, organization-to-consumer messages. These messages tend to be restricted for highly regulated use — for example, they are only available in select countries and cannot be used to impersonate virtual numbers or short codes.

SMS marketing best practices and carrier regulations

Due to the public nature of cellular carriers, SMS marketing regulations are often identical to the field’s best practices. While specifics will vary by region, there are some common considerations:

Message Size

The overall SMS message size determines the number of messages sent at once and the total cost of delivery. For example, a single transmitted SMS message is 1120 bits in size. Messages that go over this amount are transmitted individually and recombined upon delivery. This means larger word counts incur higher costs for marketers and should be kept to a minimum wherever possible.

Content structure of text messages

While text messages are more limited in scope than in-app advertisements, there are still several content options marketers can draw from:

  • UTF-8 Characters can support various languages, special characters, and emojis
  • Keywords can trigger automated responses as described above
  • Shortened URL links can direct users to websites and landing pages

When SMS communications are extended with multimedia messaging services (MMS), supported devices can also include pictures, audio, or video clips.

Spam compliance

SMS marketing campaigns must follow anti-spam compliance regulations. These laws vary from country to country, but usually require users to opt-in for all marketing communications, through filling out a website form, sending a text message, or obtaining direct verbal permission.

SMS senders are also required to identify their business name within the sender ID or message copy. Many regions also require companies to provide an option for customers to opt-out of future messages.

Using an SMS service provider

Once you’ve accounted for all these details, it’s time to send your SMS marketing message. The easiest way to do this is register with a bulk SMS service provider, which will also operate within its region’s unique compliance regulations.

It’s worth taking additional time to research each provider, as many offer a wide range of additional services, such as real-time reporting, link tracking, and integration options. Many modern SMS marketing campaigns can even be managed using a provider-specific API that organizes your reporting data.

This is also where final costs come into play. Most SMS providers charge $0.01 to $0.05 per text, but some charge extra for keywords and unique sender IDs. You can expect to pay a monthly fee of $5-$25 to rent a keyword.

SMS mobile marketing has existed for twenty years, yet remains a worthwhile investment. It boasts higher engagement rates than any mobile advertising format and can be deployed globally at a reasonable rate. Even during our age of flashy in-app campaigns, anyone hoping to quickly tap into a large audience should seriously consider the potential of SMS marketing.

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Marshall Lemon

Marshall Lemon is a writer, editor, librarian, and game designer. As the Content Marketing Manager at Fluid PR Group, he helps businesses craft engaging stories within the context of well-researched industry data. He lives in London, Ontario with his wife and two adorable puppers.

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