If you're like any small business owner, you'll examine any and all ways to boost sales. One way is to use autoresponders to email potential and existing customers. Another effective method is the use of short message service (SMS) texts, which let you send targeted messages to cell phone users.
If you've been reluctant to apply SMS marketing to your business, consider the following:
- As of June 2012, there are roughly 322 million wireless subscribers in the United States, according to CTIA. That equals 101 percent of the total U.S. population.
- Text messages are read within minutes of their arrival, compared to as much as 48 hours for email, according to The Mobile Marketer.
- Thirty percent of consumers respond to branded text messages, mobile marketing firm Hipcricket says.
- Mobile coupon redemption rates are 10 times higher than paper coupons distributed in newspapers or through the mail.
Know SMS Text Messaging Basics Before You Get Started
Before you begin to create text messaging campaigns, there are a few things you need to know.
First and foremost, not unlike Twitter, your messages are limited to 160 characters. (If you want to send SMS texts to Canadian cell phone numbers, you can only use 136 characters.)
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Also, depending on the type of message you are sending, you should include one of four essential elements. (Examples appear in quotes.)
- Opt-out instructions—"Reply STOP to end"
- An option for customer assistance—"Need help? Reply HELP"
- An indication that there are costs involved—"Standard msg&data rates may apply"
- A note about how often users should expect text messages—"We only send 4 msgs/month"
To learn about regulations governing SMS text messages, check out the Mobile Marketing Association Best Practices guide (PDF). This document also includes many types of sample messages for both free and premium services.
SMS Text Messaging List Building Strategies
Once you've determined what types of SMS texts to send, you need to build a list of customers to send messages to. There are several ways to do this.
For example, if you're attending a trade show, create signage that instructs attendees to text a keyword in order to receive special offers, product information or more. You can also put up these signs in retail stores where your products are sold
In addition, you can also mention your call to action in radio spots. Ask listeners to text a keyword to your short code for more information or a special offer. Billboards are also a good spot for that call to action; just make sure it's visible and easy to remember.
Finally, don't forget to include your call to action, keyword and short code in the platforms you already use to reach customers, including social media such as Twitter and Facebook, email messages and newsletters .
How to Send Your First SMS Text Message
Vendors that support SMS text messaging include AWeber, MailChimp, CallFire, Mozeo and Trumpia. It's worth noting that some of these vendors specialize in SMS alone, while others also offer autoresponders and other small business marketing services. The latter are worth considering if you plan to use SMS text messaging to complement email marketing campaigns.
For the purposes of this article, though, we'll look at the process of sending SMS text messages with the EZ Texting.com free trial, since it comes with an easy step-by-step tutorial.
The "Just Getting Started?" screen (shown below) is where you learn the process of composing text messages. In this case I've included a keyword as part of my message. (More on that later.) I've also made sure to reduce the size of the message so it meets character limit requirements.
If your message is too long, you'll receive an error like the one below and won't be able to go any further until it's corrected. (I'm based in Canada, so I must adhere to the 136-character limit.)
Once you've typed your message, click on the Continue button. This takes you to a message preview, which asks you to ensure your message and phone number is correct. If it is, click Send Message.
Shortly after that—seconds in my case, despite being in Canada—you'll see a pop-up letting you know that the SMS text message has been sent.
One powerful effect of text messaging is that customers can respond to you. When they do, those responses are delivered to your inbox. In response, I sent a message back, as you can see below:
After finishing the EZTexting.com tutorial, you'll receive a message about checking out a demo keyword, or combination of letters and numbers. In practice, many customers use custom keywords for their product or service, since they serve as an identifier with your messages. Customers can text that keyword to your shortcode to join your list of contacts.
Keywords can help with building your advertising campaign. As an example, an auto retailer might use the keyword CADILLAC. In a campaign, that could look like this: "Welcome 2 the Cadillac Club. You will get 4 special offers/month before all other customers. Reply STOP CADILLAC to end."
12 Tips to Writing Effective SMS Messages
The SMS text message character limit makes it challenging to create a message that brings in more customers or induces people to perform a certain task—but, like anything, you'll get better with practice.
Here's one example of a message about a rewards program: "Thx for joining our rewards program! Get started with our $5.95 specials 7-9AM Mon-Fri. Reply STOP for rewards to end." All this in 118 characters, too.
These 12 tips will help you write effective messages:
- Be clear with your offer.
- Use a compelling headline that immediately grabs the reader's attention. This could be a dramatic announcement--for example something that arouses curiosity.
- Quickly show customers the benefit of your product or service.
- Use only common abbreviations. Avoid industry jargon or specialized terms.
- Your system or carrier may place restrictions on using certain special characters in an SMS text message. Verify this before sending a message.
- Make the message easy to understand. Don't try to cram in too much information. Tell the customer what you have to offer, what it means to have it and a call to action at the end.
- Tell the customer in as few words as possible what you want them to do and why it's important to respond—"Valid today only. Call NOW!"
- Use a strong call to action. Examples include Act Now, Don't Miss Out, Last Chance and One-Time Offer.
- Include a time-sensitive message to get users to respond quickly (or else they will miss your offer). A restaurant, for example, could send an SMS text message one hour before lunch, when people are beginning to think about where they want to go.
- Make it a priority to respond to messages as soon as possible—each response is an opportunity for a sale. If necessary, have several staff members on hand to respond to inquiries.
- Come up with many reasons—product launches, appointment reminders, contests, coupon offers and so on—to keep in touch with your customers via SMS text message.
- Holidays and popular shopping days such as Black Friday and President's Day are a great time to send out offers.
As with any kind of marketing, testing is crucial and will show you which types of messages are the most effective. SMS text messaging gives you many options to attract more customers. Over time, you'll find out what messages work best for you.
Nathan Segal has been working as a freelance writer, photographer and artist for 14 years. He is based in British Columbia, Canada. Reach him via email or visit his website. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.