SMS marketing is possibly the most intimate form of digital communication.
Think about it.
Today’s consumers are always on their phones. In fact, they touch their smartphones more than 2,600 times a day. That means they open and read more than 90% of SMS messages. Most of the time, they open SMS messages within 3 minutes of receiving them.
You wouldn’t even get that high of an open rate if you went and physically knocked on all your customers’ doors.
Consumers love their phones. Almost 50% of them even check their phones before they get out of bed in the morning. Now that’s accessibility.
SMS marketing works. However, it takes a bit of know-how and application of best practices to do it right. We can help you with both (whether you’re a small business, nonprofit, or big-time enterprise).
Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about SMS marketing: What it is, how it works, how to use it, how to get started, as well as best practices, examples, and more.
What is SMS marketing?
SMS stands for Short Message Service. Today’s world calls it texting. SMS marketing (also known as text message marketing) is sending promotional messages through texts. Promotional messages can include updates, news, discount offers, links to new products, and more.
SMS is an owned marketing channel that should be a part of any broader digital marketing strategy. Unlike with Instagram or Twitter, you have complete control over who you send messages to, when you send messages, and what those messages contain. When you build a valuable list of opted-in SMS subscribers, you own that list—nobody can take it away. However, the same isn’t true of your Instagram or Facebook following.
With the flip of a switch, those social media networks can freeze or delete your account. A social media network also can adjust its algorithms, causing your reach and engagement to tank overnight. With owned channels like SMS marketing and email marketing, that’s not a problem for you.
SMS marketing isn’t just limited to text, either. You can take advantage of Multimedia Message Service (MMS) messages to send images, GIFs, audio files, videos, and phone contacts.
How to use SMS marketing
Your business can use SMS marketing in several ways to engage with your customers. The tactics below focus on promotional SMS digital marketing, but there are transactional SMS messages you should consider using, too. These transactional messages include welcome messages, account alerts, order confirmations, shipping notifications, booking reminders, one-time passwords, appointment reminders, and the like.
But back to using SMS for marketing, here are a few tactics:
- Promotions: Let all your customers know about the Black Friday sale or limited-time free shipping.
- Announcements: Give your customers the heads-up that you’re moving locations or changing store hours with a quick SMS announcement.
- Events: Text your recipients about upcoming local events or webinars to boost sign-ups and attendance.
- Product launch: Tell your customers about your newest products to increase awareness and drive launch sales.
- Services: Offer product support via text messages to help out new or distressed customers.
Benefits of SMS marketing
While there are plenty of channels you can use for your marketing efforts, there are a few advantages of SMS marketing:
- Cost-effective: Sending a text message is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with paid ads or sponsored posts.
- Time-sensitive: Text recipients tend to open in less than a few minutes, letting you engage with your audience in real time.
- Automation: Schedule your automated texts in advance and let your marketing program run on autopilot.
- Responses: Unlike with a paid advertisement, your text message recipients can respond to your marketing messages and start a conversation.
SMS marketing best practices
While getting started with mobile marketing is easy, we don’t recommend rushing into it without a well-thought-out SMS marketing strategy.
People tend to treasure their phone numbers more so than their email addresses—and for a good reason. It’s easy to create multiple email addresses for different purposes: Work, family, promotional, hobbies, and the like. And while getting a second phone number isn’t difficult, not many people do it.
Improve your subscribers’ experience and your own bottom line by following these SMS marketing best practices.
Get permission first
Only send SMS texts to new customers who give you permission. Finding a number online or in a phone book doesn’t give you a license to send messages to it. Get permission first.
SMS marketing, like email marketing, is a form of permission-based marketing. Users opt in to these communications. They don’t get to choose what TV or Instagram ads they see, but they do get to choose which emails and texts they receive on their mobile phones.
You can gather permission from subscribers by asking them to fill out a form or text a keyword (like “join” or “subscribe”) to a mobile device number or short code. When they subscribe, send a follow-up text to their phone number confirming their interest. This is a form of “double opt in” to ensure they meant to subscribe to your SMS marketing messages.
Always provide an opt out
Give your SMS subscribers a way to stop receiving your messages. For example, you might include in your first message that they can text “stop” to opt out of further marketing communications.
You want to give your customer an easy way to unsubscribe and stop receiving your messages. If they can’t figure it out quickly, they may just block your number instead—and that could prevent you from ever messaging them (even with important information) again. Also, if carriers see large amounts of your texts marked as spam, the carriers may stop delivering your messages.
When you message someone (especially for the first time), you want to make it crystal clear who you are. You don’t want to send a generic “Thanks for subscribing” message. They might have forgotten that they subscribed to you.
While many recipients will save your number on their devices, some might not. We recommend branding all your texts with something that’ll make it clear who you are. That could be as simple as signing off with your brand’s name or including your tagline in the text.
When introducing yourself to new subscribers, provide them with expectations. Let them know how often you’ll message them and what content they can anticipate.
Nail your timing
Be considerate of your recipient’s time zone. You don’t want to send them text messages at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m. Remember, people check their phones for new messages almost immediately—it’s a little bit different than email, which consumers tend to check periodically throughout the day.
Also, consider the content of the message. Does someone really need to know about your upcoming product launch when it’s 2 p.m. on a Sunday? Probably not. Instead, think about sending that message during regular business hours during the workweek.
Keep it short and sweet
Text messages should be quick and concise. If you can’t squeeze your message into 160 characters or less, maybe you should send an email instead.
Focus on a single call to action (CTA). Give your target audience one key piece of information and one exact thing to do with it, whether that’s a special offer or free shipping discount.
While most modern phones and networks support message concatenation (they automatically split large messages into smaller SMS segments then recreate the entire message at the receiving end), you have to pay for each segment. For example, if you send a message with 180 characters, it’s going to cost you the price of 2 text messages. Learn more about SMS character limits.
How to start sending SMS marketing messages
Ready to get started with SMS marketing? You’re in luck—it’s easy to start sending. Here’s how to get up and running with our SMS marketing platform.
1. Set up a Twilio account
Sign up for a free Twilio account. You’ll receive free credits to get started.
Next, follow along with this tutorial—it’ll show you how to start sending SMS messages in less than 5 minutes.
It’s that simple.
Plus, it’s scalable. If you find you want to send 10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000 text messages, you’ll be on a platform that’s ready to support you. Give it a try and see what you think.
2. Build an opted-in list
Begin building your list of subscribers. You could try adding a form to your website or trading valuable content for your customers’ phone numbers.
Building a list takes time and patience. Don’t get discouraged and rush off and buy an SMS marketing list—that’s a big no-no. Provide value, and the subscribers will come.
3. Experiment with Twilio Studio
Marketing messaging isn’t a 1-way street. While you might send an SMS to kickstart a conversation, you want to be available (and encourage) a bit of back-and-forth.
For example, when you send a discount code to your recipients, you want them to be able to ask, “Can I use this on your clearance items, too?”
That’s where Twilio Studio comes in handy.
Twilio Studio is our drag & drop visual communications builder. You can build intelligent chatbots, automated attendants, and autoresponders to create personal conversations with your recipients.
SMS marketing examples
Not sure what a proper SMS marketing campaign looks like? We have a few SMS marketing examples and case studies to give you a taste.
- Game of Thrones builds hype: HBO used the power of SMS and sent personalized text messages teasing out upcoming episodes. The campaign (dubbed the Three-Eyed Raven) gained them more than 70,000 subscribers and record hype for the hit show.
- Hydroflask shows off its colors: Hydroflask uses images and GIFs via MMS to highlight its colorful products. A picture speaks a thousand words—so when you only have 160 characters to play with, let images do the talking.
- Longmont Climbing Collective keeps climbers coming back: Longmont Climbing Collective uses SMS marketing to remind climbers about their accrued points for visiting the club. These messages update members with how many points they have and what they can redeem them for on their next visit, building customer loyalty and engagement.
Pair your SMS marketing with email marketing
While we love SMS marketing, we agree it’s not a substitute for email marketing. However, it’s the perfect complement. You can use SMS marketing and email marketing together to communicate with potential customers, using their preferences and preferred channels.
For example, while a customer might want to receive shipping notifications through email, they may prefer to receive timely marketing messages through text.
Want to create the ultimate customer engagement duo? Check out our guide to Using SMS and Email to Engage Your Customers. It’ll walk you through everything you need to know about SMS, email, and using the two together for better engagement with your customers.
Get started with SMS marketing
You could spend all day reading about SMS marketing, but the best way to learn is to try it for yourself with SMS marketing software.
Sign up for a free Twilio account today to get started. We provide you with quickstarts, walk-throughs, and free credits to let you experiment with how SMS marketing works.
Plus, you can see everything else you can use Twilio to build. Whether you need a WhatsApp chatbot, phone verification, call tracking, or an omnichannel contact center, we’ve got you covered.