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A Brief Guide to SMS Marketing

Note from Jens** I have never done any type of SMS marketing, but I understand how powerful it can be if you do it right. And, I see people using their mobile phones everywhere I look. It doesn’t matter how old they are, it seems that age is not what it’s about. My dad. My mom. My daughter. They are all using it. For instance, I watched the movie Drive at the movie theatre a few days ago, and the guy next to me was on Facebook the whole time. People are using mobile phones a lot.

It’s time to understand how SMS marketing works. This is a guest from Ruben. Let’s discuss it in the comments. Have you tried SMS marketing, or considered doing it?

One of the most effective ways for companies to promote their business is to use text messaging as a marketing tool. For the uninitiated, text messages are short 160-character messages that are sent to cell phones either from other cell phones or using high speed internet. They’re like a form of instant email, and they’re one of the most popular modes of communication.

SMS marketing has the benefit of being both very personal and very engaging. One of the most popular forms of SMS marketing is to provide users with a short number to text with a vote or to earn a discount. In running campaigns, the company’s gain access to a user’s data in exchange for a small freebie. From here, businesses can send targeted messages to their customers to promote sales. For example, a monthly promo text might be sent out with a coupon to encourage shopping with that company. Or, a text might be sent out every few weeks to let the customer know what kind of sales a business is having.

The reason that these advertisements are so effective is their high read rate. Customers driving down a highway don’t necessarily look at every billboard. Similarly, people don’t read every email they receive, and spam filters make it so that some ads are deleted before they can be read. Text messages are different, though. Over four fifths of text messages are read. The leading reason behind this likely has to do with the intimacy and convenience of text messages. Unlike bulk mailings or other mass forms of advertising, customers tend to think of text messages as being specifically sent to them. This let’s advertisers get a foot in the door with the customers. The convenience is found in how brief a text message is. While 160 characters might seem like a hindrance, it forces advertisers to be brief. By getting straight to the point and offering a discount code, there is no worry about needing to maintain the customer’s attention.

A key thing to consider when developing an SMS marketing strategy is that developing a relationship with the customer is the point. By communicating with the customer briefly and giving them a good reason to stay subscribed, a roster of individuals can be developed. After a period of time, this customer database can be invaluable for a promotion. Directly telling thousands of people about a huge sale is made possible with text messaging. This can build buzz for a business’s promotion, and can result in sharply increased sales numbers when timed properly.

One thing to always keep in mind when considering a text message marketing system is that the sending and receiving of SMS messages is highly regulated. Privacy laws as well as heavy monitoring of the high speed internet spectrum by the FCC means that sending text messages to a high volume of users without consent is likely to be very illegal. While there are some rather shady services out there that promise to do just this, it’s wiser to just steer clear of them. Text message marketing is a great tool for a business, but felonies are not.

Overall, by using the resources at their disposal, it’s possible for businesses to increase traffic through SMS marketing. Whether it’s luring in new customers or convincing current customers to spend more, text marketing can make it happen. And that simple fact is why this form of advertising over the wireless internet is something worth investing in.

This is a guest article by Ruben Corbo, a writer for the website Cell Phone Expert where you can compare plans for cell phones. When Ruben is not writing, he’s out producing music or enjoying a great post-apocalyptic film or novel.

Image: Roozbeh Rokni

40 responses to “A Brief Guide to SMS Marketing”

  1. olatoun-graceny says:

    Not bad at all Will really want to explore that it might work for my prospects someday!.

    • Jens says:

      Every person I know is spending so much time on their mobile phones. It’s almost insane how much time they spend (me included). I’m not sure if SMS marketing is the future, but mobile marketing sure is. So, this is something we need to focus on.

    • Bruker says:

      Yeah if you are thinking to build your business then it will help you a lot because mobile became like a part of our body and this the right place to send information about our organization.

  2. Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog says:

    I’ve never considered using SMS marketing. But I agree that given the extent to which cell phones are being used….FOR EVERYTHING and BY EVERYONE….it is arguably one of the most untapped marketing opportunities out there. Food for thought Jens! Thanks.

    • Jens says:


      I have thought about using SMS marketing, or some kind of mobile marketing, but so far I haven’t discovered the right way. To me, what I have seen so far has been more or less about spam. I want my marketing to be highly targeted, and if SMS marketing is highly targeted, I might try it.

      As you just said, cell phones are being used by everyone and for everything, so this market is huge.

  3. Carolyn says:

    SMS marketing is very interesting. In the US, customers are charged for receiving SMS (text) messages as well as for sending them. If people don’t have an unlimited texting plan, they can easily become resentful of SMS marketing messages.

    I receive SMS messages from one retailer, Target. They’re a favorite store of mine and by receiving the SMS messages, I’m sure to have their coupons with me whenever I go in their store. I am alloted 200 SMS messages on my plan and I get one a week from Target.

    So if I am a big fan of the store, I like SMS messages, but I have to be a BIG fan of the store. If I were on an unlimited plan I probably would want a few more stores to send me SMS messages, but I wouldn’t want my inbox flooded with SMS messages.

    With the advent of free SMS messages through iOS 5, perhaps stores could use iMessage to send free SMS messages to their customers.

    Thanks, Jens, for having Ruben as a guest author!

    • Jens says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      I didn’t know that you are charged for receiving SMS messages. That’s very interesting. But, if I send you an SMS you’ll have to pay to receive it? Is this possible to control at all? We don’t pay anything to receive SMS messages in Norway.

      It’s also very interesting that you mention iOS 5, because it’s been all over the news in Norway lately, that one of the biggest telecompanies might be losing a lot of money because of iMessage. And, I believe that a lot more people might start to use this type of text messages (because finally it’s fairly cheap / free).

      • Carolyn says:

        Yes, Jens, unlike in Europe, in the US, people are charged for SMS messages whether they send or receive them. Understandably, SMS messaging isn’t as widespread here as it is in Europe. People are reluctant to text others if they don’t know them well. The charge per SMS message here is generally $.25 so if you send a text to someone who doesn’t have a text plan, you just cost them money.

        But Jens, since you and I both have iPhones, you could send me an SMS message for free from Norway to the US (assuming we have both upgraded to iOS 5).

  4. Harleena Singh says:

    That was surely an informative post Jens!

    I too have never thought of using SMS marketing, nor knew so much about it earlier than reading it on your post. It sure seems a great way!

    Thanks so much for sharing a great post πŸ™‚

    • Jens says:

      Hi Harleena,

      I have never tried SMS marketing, but I have been reading about it and I have been in contacted with several companies that are offering this service in Norway. The problem is that it’s not targeted enough, at least not if you buy a database or use a company to help you.

      But, if you start collecting phone numbers from your customers, then SMS marketing will definitively work πŸ™‚

  5. Raj says:

    SMS marketing is fine, but they should be more targeted. If men get SMS about women’s accessories and women get SMS about men’s accessories, there is no point! That’s how SMS marketing is being run. At least in my place, its like that! Whatever happened to contextual marketing, and why does this industry not target relevant users?

    • Jens says:

      Hey Raj,

      Absolutely. I would hate to get SMS about things that are not highly targeted to me. I “hate” receiving emails like that, and SMS is even more personal. It would probably drive me “crazy” if I couldn’t control the content of my SMS messages.

      Right now, I believe that the only way that we should run SMS marketing is to get in touch with our customers and people who have been to our store and asked for information.

  6. Rochelle R says:

    Advertising through bbm too perhaps? So many blackberry users. Great post Jens.

    • Jens says:

      Hi Rochelle,

      I’m not that familiar Blackberry, is bbm similar to iMessage (for iPhone)? I only know one person who uses Blackberry and he lives in the US πŸ™‚ I’m actually not sure if it’s possible to buy Blackberry in Norway (it probably is, but I haven’t seen them in any stores).

  7. Eddie Gear says:

    I remember making a similar SMS marketing presentation to my company. Later on I got to learn that these are apparently not strategies that really benefit large businesses. People find SMSs a major disturbances.

    • Jens says:

      Hi Eddie,

      That’s interesting. I have thought about applying SMS marketing to the University where I’m working, but I haven’t found a way to implement it yet. We have the phone numbers to all our students, and to all the people who are applying to our school. But, the information I’m going to send out needs to be highly targeted, and not just about being a student.

      And, being highly targeted is the main point. I know that I would hate receiving SMS messages that are just pure advertisements. SMS is way too personal for that.

  8. I remember reading a report in Dubai a few years ago (ok, not a great example) where 95% of people found SMS marketing to be a major disturbance – admittedly they spammed the hell out of people – the telecommunications company sold the lists over and over.

    I know personally I HATE receiving ANY advertising on my mobile phone. I get annoyed when I get an SMS from my service provider telling me about new deals.

    Interesting article but thinking it from a consumer perspective I’d never like to receive any promo material by SMS.

    • Jens says:

      Hi Ameena,

      I find SMS marketing a major disturbance as well. But, I would probably be a lot more interested if I only received SMS messages from companies that I had a personal relationship with (the local pizza restaurants). I believe that SMS messages are very personal, and that’s why we need to be very careful what we send and it needs to be highly targeted. I get “mad” when I receive spam on emails, I would get “crazy” if I received them on SMS πŸ™‚

  9. Alex Adams says:

    Hi Jens & Ruben,

    Good post and definitely food for thought – There’s no denying that there’s a massive potential for SMS (text) marketing. in the UK SMS is free to receive so the barriers are lower.

    There is still the challenge whether it will be considered spam – any marketing material that I am sent regardless of the medium is considered to be spam unless it is from an individual or organisation that I have given permission to. Nevertheless it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t explore the options – I am by no means representative of all.

    As Raj points one of the fundamental mistakes would to ignore context.

    Carolyn mentioned her favourite store sending SMS vouchers but not wanting to be flooded with vouchers from lots of stores.

    Well how about combining benefits of almost instant delivery and high percentage of messages being opened and read with location services as a really powerful system of targeted marketing.

    Everyone is checking in to Starbucks on their smartphones via Google+ & Facebook, why not leverage the underlying smart technology into some smart marketing.

    Thanks for open in the discussion,

    • Jens says:

      Hi Alex,

      I actually didn’t know that you can be charged for receiving text messages, and I have no idea how that works, because you don’t really have any control when it comes to how many text messages you receive and from who? I live in Norway, and to receive text messages has always been free (at least I’ve never heard of a paid version).

      I have received a few offers on SMS, and I considered them as spam, even though I was sort of asking for them. I joined a health club a few years ago, and they’ve been trying to get me back ever since by sending me offers on SMS. To me, text messages are very personal, so it should be highly targeted, not just regular ads. And, it’s still hard to unsubscribe from them, and that makes it even worse.

  10. Sunny says:

    Nice post and a subject that isn’t discussed enough.

    From experience, I can say that SMS is a very powerful marketing tool. A family friend runs a pizza shop and every time he sends out an SMS promo, deals sky rocket. These are nicely timed when big sports games are on when he knows most people wouldn’t mind a pizza

    However, it is also a very intrusive method of communication. If sending too many texts, or arent giving users the option to unsubscribe, it can destroy your relationship with that and other customers. As you mention, laws are also tight in this area so people need to treat carefully.

    Maybe people will stop saying the money is in the email list and that it’s really in the SMS list!

    • Jens says:

      Hey Sunny,

      That’s a perfect example. I would buy pizza every time I’d get an offer on SMS, I’m not kidding. I love pizza, and that would be a highly targeted ad towards me. On the other hand, I believe SMS marketing is very personal and it might be considered spam if it wasn’t very relevant (to me, pizza is, but almost everything else is not).

      SMS marketing is part of the future, and maybe even more now that Apple launched iMessage?

  11. Bill Dorman says:

    Hey Ruben good to see you at Jens. I have read several articles about the effectiveness of SMS advertising and if done correctly, it can be a huge success.

    Thanks for sharing this. I would normally have something witty to say, but since you are a guest at Jens I will save it for next time……..:)

    • Jens says:

      Hey Bill,

      I’m thinking about your insurance business, are you guys using SMS marketing? I’m not sure about the insurance business in Norway, but they’re quite aggressive, and I would think that they would be some of the first businesses to start testing something like this… but it might be different in the US?

      • Bill Dorman says:

        We are not using it; we do very little advertising at all as we typically seek out our customers based on specific criteria. People know us by what we do and our networking and involvement. However, I do think there is a way to use this effectively under our model.

  12. Jimmy says:

    Hi Jens,

    Just want to thank you for the ebook on 100 marketing tips.

    I did not know that 4/5 of sms are read. That’s a significant statistics for many businesses to take not.

    Do you think that short and more immediate marketing through sms, facebook and twitter will be the trends of the future, overtaking everything else? Emails and blogs could be gone. I say that because I think with modern technology, people’s attention is getting shorter these days. Who would want to read page long email newsletters and blogs?

    The second question I have is: How can we effectively get the contact numbers of these potential consumers?

    • Jens says:

      Hi Jimmy,

      I think that short messages will be a trend, but only to companies that have strong relationships with their customers. It’s very hard to build these kind of relationships with short messages alone. But, when you have this type of relationship, the short messages will definitively be one of the most important way to communicate (and drive sales).

      For instance, I am receiving text messages from a gym (where I used to exercise) in my town. They keep sending me offers all the time. To me, this is like spam. I’m not interested at all. And that’s because they haven’t done their marketing job properly and built the relationship to me. I actually don’t think that blogs can ever be entirely gone. People love stories, and we have always loved stories and we will always love them. So, if we use blogs to write (personal) stories, it will always be important (as a way to build relationships to our customers).

      I believe that It’s fairly easy to get contact numbers to potential customers. Offer something in return. It can be anything from “free” information to a contest (you need their numbers to contact them. The important part is the relationship. If you get their numbers and start sending offers like “my” gym, you’ll just end up spamming and receiving complaints πŸ™‚

  13. Rich - CAD Outsourcing Services says:

    Does anyone have a webiste or service that offers lists of opt-in consumers willing to get text messages? I would be interested in doing a campaign if there are legit services that have opt-in lists and send out the messages on your behalf. seen a bunch of descent email services like this but never text messages.

    • Jens says:

      Hey Rich,

      I don’t have such a list. But that’s mostly because I don’t have the phone numbers of my contacts. But that’s something we should start focusing on in the future. But, on the other hand, I’m probably not going to send text messages for marketing purposes… I believe it’s too personal and that I need a really strong campaign in order for the text message not to be considered as spam.

    • Arjun Rai says:

      Hello Rich, I think you can find a list of contact details from any search engines, just enter any contact number in search engines and you will get a series of number and then you can collect all of them, but i dont know about the willing criteria of the customers of getting sms.

  14. Michael says:

    SMS Marketing can be really powerful indeed, but it’s most of the time ignored, unless the person is actually using the services/products from you. I personally have started to hate SMS advertises because I find it uncomfortable getting all these text messages 24/7. Sometimes I get messages even at midnight which makes me really want to stop using my current provider.

  15. Arjun Rai says:

    I get sms every day forcing me to buy their product these sms looks so smappy but some time it gives good information , so its a good trick to sell the product.

  16. Jacob says:

    Yeah, well some companies just bombard you with SMSs even if it’s something that you have no interest in! But anything relevant, I take a look at the advertising website! So, when using a SMS gateway for my own company’s SMS marketing, I take care not to be irrelevant and bombard SMS to our target market! πŸ™‚

  17. I just came onto your post and found it quite interesting. I am also associated with SMS Marketing, SMS text Marketing ,text Marketing, text Messages marketing, and enjoy to read the stuff on the same as its rarely found on internet. Thanks again for writing such a good post.

  18. Hi Jens ,nice article ,I get sms every day forcing me to buy their product these sms looks so snappy but some time it gives good information , so its a good trick to sell the product. thanks for this intersting post

  19. John Mclane says:

    Amazing tips! I agree with your guidelines and i will follow in future and I thing Like these tips can help everyone.

  20. Sending bulk sms is used for not only national but international marketing too. Marketers can get their work easily done with messaging and thus it becomes a perfect tool for marketing.

  21. SMS Service says:

    In this modern world, technology is working everywhere & bulk sms gateway in India are using for organizations to market or advertise their products.

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