A Little SOS for SMS Marketing

Here’s an interesting statistic: 94% of SMS messages are opened within three minutes. That’s according to digital marketing strategists at Teradata. In fact, they say that mobile users read 98% of all of their text messages versus just 29% of tweets, 20% of emails, and a mere 12% of Facebook posts.

“When our phones vibrate, we interact,” said Sean Shoffstall, Teradata’s VP of innovation and strategy, at the company’s 2015 PARTNERS Conference and Expo in Anaheim. “SMS is psychological. So, SMS is a great channel that can drive interactions, loyalty, and conversions.”

Shoffstall and Interactive Marketing Manager Brian Drew said that during the last decade, the experiences of mobile phone users have evolved—rapidly, especially when it comes to SMS. They say that nowadays, SMS isn’t comprised of just personal, short messages to family and friends. If done right, consumers actually are looking for messages from a brand, that’s communication that includes everything from reminders and notifications to incentives, rewards, and appreciation.

“SMS is a very intimate form of communication,” Drew said. “Texting is good for personal messages, from political and nonprofit organizations that tap into personal beliefs and causes to retail, hospitality, and airlines, which seem to do really well with texting because messages are relevant at that exact moment in time.”

Shoffstall and Drew say marketers who want to include SMS into their overall strategies need to understand two things: every brand needs an SMS content strategy and every recipient needs to opt in to your messages. “There’s a strategy to the content; there’s an art to the design of the text message, to the simplicity of the text,” Shoffstall said. “And the fact that you have such a personal piece of info allows you to make a personalized message.”

“It’s a privilege to have that kind of direct access, and your strategy should reflect that it’s a privilege,” Drew said while discussing the importance of creating a strategy that’s centered on opt-ins from mobile users. “Marketers need a sound strategy that’s built on a specific reason as to why you’re sending the messages and who you’re sending them to.” In fact, Shoffstall said he and his team start with developing and then implementing opt-in strategies for their customers before sending one message to consumers.

“Opt-in strategies should focus on the consumers whose information you already have and on new potential customers, with methods like loyalty programs and promotional deals,” he said. Opt-ins are especially important, both strategists said, since SMS is a channel that can cost the receiver money. “Even though many of us have unlimited text messages in our plans, we’re still paying for those plans,” Shoffstall continued. “[Marketers] are actually taking some revenue or resources from consumers. So the [industry] rules are set up very strongly for the consumers.”

For B2B and B2C companies that do want to start using text messages in their mobile strategies, one salient rule remains in play: SMS must be part of a multichannel strategy, not a standalone tool. “So many people look at SMS as a siloed strategy,” Shoffstall explained. “It’s really a multichannel approach. Use Web and mobile to push the customer down the funnel and then bring in SMS to drive conversions.” In fact, he said that SMS is great for consumer activation and customer acquisition. “The Web even can be a great place to deliver a secondary marketing message,” Shoffstall said. Bottom line: Use text messages as part of a larger plan that drives conversions, prompts actions, and, ultimately, boosts sales.

On a final note, Shoffstall and Drew reminded the audience that an estimated 80% of consumers find SMS nonintrusive and simpler than a mobile app. In other words, people welcome SMS messages from companies—if those texts are valuable. “Do you have an immediate need to interact with customers,” Shoffstall asked. “Then SMS might be for you because it’s not just a broadcast medium. So prompt conversations in SMS; start with questions and continue with answers—and then more questions. It’s a convo.”

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