Friday, November 19, 2010

by Natalia Klishina

It doesn't matter whether you call it SMS or text messaging, as long as you're using it. If you're not, you're probably already two steps behind everyone else, and not just in regard to the social scene. SMS is the new method of marketing your brand and building customer loyalty. You should be using it to notify your loyal customers about sales and promotions, remind them about appointments or deliveries, spread the word about special events, etc. You basically need to find a way for your brand to interact and converse with your customers. Text messaging can provide them with quick, simple, real-time information that they can always refer back to. It's simultaneously personal enough that customers pay attention and impersonal enough that it costs you very little.


Yes. Just take a look at these numbers:

There are already over 5 billion mobile subscriptions in the world, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) predicts there will be some 5.3 billion subscriptions by the end of the year, with nearly 300 million of those in the U.S. And we all know how attached we are to our phones; most of us even sleep with them next to us. In fact, we all spend about 16 hours a day with our cell phones. What other consumer media can claim that much exposure?

The cool thing when it comes to SMS is: it doesn't matter whether you own a smartphone or a "dumbphone," as I prefer to refer to my dinosaur. Despite popular belief, not all cell-phone users own smartphones. By the end of this year, the ratio will probably only be 1:1. (Yes, this makes me feel less like the last of the Mohicans.)

No matter which half you're a part of, you're probably using SMS. According to the ITU, there were 6.1 trillion text messages sent in 2010 (up from 1.8 trillion just three years ago). In the U.S. alone, approximately 300 million users send over 4 billion text messages a day.

But hey, if you need more convincing, here's another reason to start using SMS. How many of those e-mails and newsletters you send out to your customers are actually being read? According to MailChimp, once your message makes it past the treacherous jaws of something like five million spam filters, you're still only looking at approximately a 1-in-4 e-mail open rate, depending on industry. On the other hand, according to a 2010 study done by mobileSQUARED for Singlepoint, close to 98% of all SMS messages are read, and 90% are read within the first three minutes of being received (probably having something to do with the fact that we spend 16 hours a day with our cell phones in reach). Not only is it effective, but it's also instantly so.

Text messaging has pretty much become a standard mode of communication, and often even the preferable one for the younger generation. For those of you thinking that this means only teenagers text, and thus your business has no need to reach out through SMS, you're wrong! The Pew Research Center found that over 72% of adults are text messaging. To break it down more, according to the CTIA, nearly 65% of mobile users in their 40s and 50% of users in their 60s regularly send texts. Even my grandma texts -- and she lives on a farm in Ukraine.

Clearly, NOW is the time begin strategizing how to best integrate SMS into your overall marketing strategy so as to add maximum value to your business. Thankfully, with CallFire SMS Broadcasting, implementing text messaging is both easy and inexpensive.


The idea for this post originally came from an article by Alexander Gregori in Mobile Marketer on how to "optimize SMS campaigns." Gregori writes that the challenge of bulk SMS messaging is knowing "how to use the tool," as well as "how to integrate the tool into an overall marketing strategy." Well... yes. The challenge of anything is knowing how to do it, and how to make sure it goes well with everything else you're doing, right? Gregori's suggests:

"You can easily ship around this challenge by either speaking to a marketing strategist when you plan your campaign – more expensive – or by looking for an off-the-shelf solution that includes both bulk SMS credits and a comprehensive strategy on how to use them in an integrated way with a mobile site and your other existing marketing tools, which is more affordable."

It would be nice if we could all hire marketing consultants to figure this one out, but if you own a small business, you probably don't have that luxury. In that case, at 3 cents per text, services like CallFire's SMS Broadcasting provide a much more affordable solution. But then you have some (oh no!) thinking of your own to do. In that regard, I would like to provide some advice of my own.

  1. Pay attention to case studies of companies that have implemented SMS effectively. The internet is as an endless source of information. Keep track of blogs, websites, and news sources that pertain to your business, and you will find what you are looking for eventually. It sounds like a lot of work, but once you develop a list of helpful, applicable websites that you check out every morning, the process becomes pretty simple, actually. Here is an example that I stumbled over just this week:
    • Earlier this year, two Harley-Davidson dealerships in Texas decided to expand their mobile marketing efforts. What they did, was invite customers to join a "mobile VIP" club, allowing them to receive promotion alerts, special deals, surveys, and even invitations to company-sponsored events like Bike Nights. According to Ric Van Fleet of Central Texas Harley-Davidson, they saw immediate results: "The first time we used our text messaging to inform our customers about a sale, we had our best sales day in nine months. Every time we use our texts to inform customers about events or sales, our traffic greatly increases." (Source: Mobile Marketer)
  2. Remember that SMS messages are "personal." That means you're not just sending out updates; you're having a conversation with your customers. I would really stress reading the June 2010 mobileSQUARED report for SinglePoint in its entirety, as it does an excellent job of explaining the benefits of "conversational advertising." They also have some great suggestions, like varied-length "conversation holidays" in addition to "opt-outs" for more seasonal businesses.
  3. Keep in mind that unauthorized SMS messages can violate the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act). Always, always, always make sure that all your customers have opted-in for this service.
  4. With the previous point in mind, build up your opt-in customer database. I know this can be difficult. A Netsize Mobile Marketing Survey found that database quality (acquiring and maintaining opt-in mobile numbers) was the top concern for those investing in mobile marketing. And there's not a whole lot out there about how to build up your opt-in cell phone list; however, with so much written on how to build up your e-mail subscriber database, why not just take all that advice and apply it to phones:
    1. Plaster an ad about signing up for SMS alerts on your homepage. Or go nuts and put it on every page. Just make sure people who visit your website don't miss it.
    2. Offer an incentive for signing up. Trust me, this is very very important. We all love discounts, free things, winning contests, etc.
    3. Send out a newsletter to your e-mail subscribers letting them know you now have SMS updates. Put a small memo about this in all subsequent newsletters.
    4. Be a good dictator: order all your employees to put a link to signing up for SMS alerts in their official signatures. Whoever is reading their e-mails will then see it.
    5. If you have an e-store where you sell any products or services, create an option for customers to sign up for SMS alerts at the check-out page. If they don't sign up, send a reminder with your confirmation e-mail.
    6. You want to make sure all you customers know they have the option to sign up for SMS messages and that it will benefit them, but you don't want to be pushy. Don't be the guy in the video below.
    7. Finally, get creative! Or hire someone who is. I hear those recent college grads are really good at coming up with new ideas ;)