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How to Craft a Successful SMS Marketing Strategy: What’s working in text today


September 25, 2023


September 25, 2023

Most consumers are glued to their phones for a significant part of their day and use it in almost all facets of life. And despite the warnings from screentime alerts, mental health professionals, and even ophthalmologists, the love affair with our phones isn’t likely to die off soon—and that’s a good thing for marketers.

SMS marketing, or serving up customer touch points via text message, is exploding in both popularity and performance right now. And we're going to take a look at how to craft a successful SMS marketing strategy.

When done correctly, it can serve as a valuable channel for connecting with consumers, who increasingly have shorter attention spans and an aversion to the dreaded overstuffed email inbox. Combine that with the increased challenges of advertising on Meta due to iOS privacy shifts, and SMS is re-emerging as a shiny beacon of hope for marketers.

In this article, we’ll explore how text-based marketing has evolved, what’s working now based on shifting trends in the lifecycle ecosystem, and how you can create an SMS strategy that drives growth for your brand.

How SMS Marketing Went from Spam to Accepted Norm

SMS (which stands for short message service) marketing has evolved significantly since its inception, adapting to changing consumer behaviors and technological advancements. SMS marketing may seem like a relatively recent addition to the marketing toolkit, but its roots trace way back to the late 1990s. SMS use saw its highest performance in 2011, with around 2.3 trillion messages sent, and after declining for about a decade, message rates are now creeping back up and are on track to surpass that peak soon.

Communicating via SMS first took off shortly after the technology was introduced in the 1990s, when cell phones first became widely available. It rapidly gained popularity because of its convenience and cost-effectiveness. And marketers quickly took notice of the huge potential of SMS.

Today, this channel offers more potential than ever before, with SMS-driven revenue tripling over the past year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few bumps along the way.

Regulating SMS spam

In the earlier days of SMS marketing, the channel got a bad rap due to high levels of spam and unsolicited promo texts blowing up people’s phones. At the time, there were very few regulations regarding SMS marketing but that all changed with the enactment of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in 1991 and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Now that commercial text messaging is governed by those laws, SMS marketing requires strict adherence to opt-in and unsubscribe rules.

Texting = instant gratification…and great open rates

The familiar flash, ding, or buzz of our phone lets us know that we’ve got a message—and it also sends a small surge of dopamine to our brains, making us seek out the instant gratification of opening a text and the sweet reward of social interaction. Because it’s become so ingrained in us to check our phones, SMS marketing tends to have an extraordinarily high open rate, often upwards of 60%. 

And while it’s easy for people to ignore their email inboxes (or the dreaded cold call), they’re much more likely to already be texting on their phones for personal reasons and thus, have a better chance of actually seeing, opening, and acting upon an SMS marketing message. In fact, 90% of customers prefer to receive a text message over a phone call. And SMS engagement is six to eight times higher than email engagement.

Types of SMS marketing

SMS marketing can serve several purposes, from purely practical to more open-ended connection building with customers. Understanding which type of SMS marketing strategy and campaign is right for you depends on your goals. Here are the three most common ways this channel is used:

Types of SMS marketing include promotional, transactional, and conversational
  • Promotional: SMS marketing texts can be used to boost sales with content like new product launches, limited-time offers, and upsells.
  • Transactional: These branded texts are used for functional communications, like order confirmations, shipping updates, and other urgent alerts.
  • Conversational: Think of this SMS approach as friend-raising. It often uses AI technology (backed by human service representatives) to answer questions about the brand, its products, and what is best for the customer.

Changing Trends in Lifecycle Marketing Boost SMS Success

The overall landscape of lifecycle marketing has evolved rapidly over the last several years, and SMS marketing strategies have adapted to these changes. Here are some of the key trends in lifecycle marketing that are working in SMS’s favor:

  • Personalization: Today's consumers expect personalized experiences that speak directly to them and their needs. SMS marketing allows brands to craft specifically targeted messages to audiences segmented by their individual preferences and behaviors.
  • Multi-channel integration: Marketing channels no longer exist in silos, separated out as distinctly different paths to connecting with customers. SMS is now integrated with other channels such as email, social media, and mobile apps to create cohesive customer journeys. Given the high open rates for SMS, it is also a powerful tool for driving consumers back to other channels to encourage conversion.
  • Data insights: Although there are increasing limitations to the amount of data marketers can glean from consumers, most SMS marketing tools offer advanced analytics that enable marketers to track the effectiveness of SMS campaigns and make data-backed decisions for optimization. And if you set your attribution up correctly across all channels, you can often unlock more successful and cost-effective approaches to conversion.
  • Chatbots and the rise of AI: The integration of AI-powered chatbots in SMS marketing allows for greater personalization, real-time interactions, and better customer service. These bots also make it possible for brands to engage with consumers through timely messages crafted based on their behavior and preferences.

As consumers (especially younger generations) continue to shy away from email and ignore anything that feels like an ad, SMS can serve as a more personal way to connect.

Tactics for SMS Marketing Strategy Success

We know people love their phones and that SMS marketing is booming, but how do you know if it’s right for your brand?

At the most basic level you should make sure you have the resources necessary to run a campaign—you’ll need personnel (copywriters, customer service agents, someone to manage your SMS setup and flow), as well as an appropriate budget and the right mass marketing SMS platform for your needs.

Deciding which platform is best for your brand depends on your staffing, budget, and goals, but here are a few to consider:

Another important factor to consider before diving into your SMS marketing strategy is whether this channel is right for your industry and audience. SMS has proven to be successful in specific sectors, like real estate, healthcare, financial services, travel and hospitality, software and tech, and, of course, retail. However, there is no hard and fast rule about which areas of business can use SMS—it all boils down to your goals and strategy.

So if you’ve decided that SMS marketing is right for your company and industry, and you have the resources needed to set up and run a campaign, how do you actually harness that power for your brand? It all comes down to a few things:

SMS marketing success relies on following rules, knowing your audience, crafting compelling content, and testing.
  • Following rules and regulations
  • Knowing your audience
  • Crafting compelling content
  • Testing and optimizing to unlock new growth

Follow the rules

It seems obvious, but the first step to SMS marketing strategy success is to thoroughly understand all applicable rules and ensure your campaign is in compliance. That includes a clear opt-in process to verify that a brand has explicit consent to contact users, easy and straightforward unsubscribe options, and a deep respect for users’ privacy preferences. 

Tip: Ask subscribers to save your brand's phone number with a contact card to ensure your messages aren’t marked as junk automatically.

Know your audience

A successful SMS marketing strategy relies on consumers feeling like they have a personalized connection with your brand. That starts with knowing your audience. Be sure to divide your audience into segments based on demographics, behavior, and purchase history, which should then inform the types of highly relevant messages you send to each group.

In addition to knowing who your audience is, it’s also crucial to know how they prefer to consume content. The magic of SMS happens when your marketing texts feel like personal texts—that means sending messages at the right time, with the right tone, and an appropriate sense of urgency.

And don’t forget, automation is your friend here. Use tools, like the ones we mentioned above, as well as email service providers that also offer SMS capabilities, to schedule messages and trigger them based on specific customer actions or events, so your users feel like they’re getting the right communication from you at the right time.

Compelling content is key

Your SMS content should feel personal and conversational, but it should also be clear that it’s a message from a brand that they opted-in to receive. Never try to disguise your communications as personal or hide that it’s part of marketing efforts.

Include a clear call-to-action (CTA) and offer value to the recipient, whether it's a discount, exclusive content, abandoned cart reminder, or a helpful tip. And remember that dopamine rush we mentioned earlier? That chemical reaction in our brains thrives on things that tap into our curiosity and emotions, so it’s important to craft your content to play into one or both of those elements.

Testing and optimization

As with all other marketing channels, testing and tracking are the keys to unlocking higher levels of success. Optimize your campaign based on what you learn from testing different message formats, timing, CTAs, and offers to see what resonates with your audience. The metrics you measure should be determined by your overall campaign goals, which could include:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Conversion rates

Remember that consumer preferences and behaviors evolve alongside technology, so be open to adapting your approach to keep up with what you learn about your audience.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your SMS Marketing Strategy

SMS marketing has been through its fair share of challenges (spam overloads and privacy crackdowns, to name a few) and there are still pitfalls to watch out for when crafting and maintaining your campaign. Here are some of the mistakes we commonly see:

  • Ignoring regulations: Failing to comply with SMS marketing regulations can lead to legal trouble and damage your brand's reputation. Always follow opt-in and opt-out rules.
  • Over-messaging: Bombarding recipients with too many messages can lead to excessive opt-outs and annoyed customers. You don’t want to be the brand that feels like spam. Find the right frequency and balance that fosters connections with your audience without over-burdening them.
  • Lack of personalization: Generic messages that don't resonate with recipients are likely to be ignored and marked as junk. Invest in data-driven personalization—it will help you avoid spam filters and create content that’s better suited for your customers.
  • Poor timing: No one wants a “you up?” text from a brand in the middle of the night. Sending messages at inappropriate times can lead to frustration. Respect your audience's schedule and pay attention to when people are actually opening your messages.
  • Discarding feedback: Ignoring customer feedback and failing to address complaints or concerns can harm your brand image and tank your campaign’s results. Constructive criticism from your customers is actually a gift to your brand that can be used to inform how you optimize your campaign and overall marketing approach.
  • Inconsistent branding: Your brand is your identity. It’s how your customer knows who you are, so be sure to maintain consistency in your SMS messages with your brand's tone, style, and messaging. Inconsistent branding can confuse recipients or cause their connection to you to dwindle.

Texting Your Way to New Growth

SMS marketing has come a long way since its inception, adapting to the changing landscape of lifecycle marketing and consumer behavior. By understanding its history, embracing current trends, and implementing actionable tactics while avoiding common mistakes, you can develop a successful SMS marketing strategy.

Remember, the key lies in following regulations, personalizing messages, providing value to your audience, and testing to continue optimizing.

Want to add SMS to your marketing mix to connect with your customers and drive growth? Get in touch with the experts at Right Side Up at growth@rightsideup.co to get started.

Jes Parker is a writer and content marketer with experience creating B2B and consumer-facing assets that build brands and make complex concepts more human. She has worked with companies and nonprofits like Highstead Foundation, Trust for Public Land, Harvard University, the Museum of the City of New York, and Times Square Alliance to craft accessible and engaging content strategies.

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