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How to Use SMS Effectively

September 25th, 2012 Posted in Marketing

Remember SMS marketing? It was the channel that was going to let marketers reach most any customer at most anytime. No smartphone required. No apps to develop. It was the “everyman” channel, capable of reaching virtually every one of the 327 million mobile phones in the U.S. (88 percent of the adult population).

American IdolOpens in a new window trained millions how to text to a short code. The major airlines taught us about the convenience of real-time messages (i.e., flight updates). The American Red CrossOpens in a new window allowed us to make effortless donations to those in need.

Yet SMS remains the least-used arrow in the marketer’s quiver. Why the hesitation to draw the bow? Reviewing some key tenants of direct marketing — targeting, timing and trust — might give us some clues.

Targeting is difficult in a SMS-only world. If the opt-in was through a mobile-originated campaign (e.g., “Text CLICKERS to 44144″), the marketer knows nothing more than the subscriber’s mobile phone number. Their geographic targeting options are limited to the subscriber’s area code, which due to relocation or company-issued mobile numbers, may or may not reveal the subscriber’s current place of residence. Targeting for relevancy can be even more difficult (if not impossible) unless the keyword itself can provide clues to the subscriber’s specific area(s) of interest.

Timing is always a tricky thing with SMS marketing. The “always on” nature of a mobile phone means that your message can arrive in the middle of a meeting, in the middle of dinner, the middle of a movie or in the middle of church services. If the phone is set to emit a tone upon the message’s arrival, some mild irritation is sure to follow.

The possibility of being interrupted by an ill-timed, untargeted (i.e., unwelcome) marketing message is clearly the driving factor behind low mobile opt-in rates.

Simply translated, there’s a lack of trust. Unlike other direct channels, your SMS message is delivered whether the subscriber wants to read it or not. There’s no need to check her inbox, walk to her mailbox or answer her telephone.

Trust requires a relationship, and a relationship requires an exchange of information. As any mobile marketer knows, an initial mobile opt-in requires a standard confirmation message that lets the subscriber know how often they might be contacted, and that they can opt out by texting “STOP” at any time. As a marketer, it’s a no-win situation. If a subscriber says four messages a month, it might be insufficient to their needs. If he/she says 15 messages a month, it might be overwhelming to them. One size never fits all.

So what’s a SMS marketer to do? The obvious answer is to understand each subscriber’s preferences. How often does he or she want to be contacted? What subject matter is of greatest interest to them? What time of day is most preferred? All of this requires collecting data.

It’s technically straightforward to collect data — simply send the subscriber a series of mobile-originated messages and ask them to respond with their answers. Unfortunately, it’s not practical to ask more than two questions or three questions in this manner before the subscriber stops responding.

As a better option, tear a page out of the email best practices playbook. Instead of a series of questions, ask the subscriber to text a single piece of data — their email address. Then you can follow-up with an email invitation to visit your online preference center, where subscribers can specify when, how frequently and even what subject matter they’d like to receive via SMS communications.

Once you’ve gathered the information, use it. Does she want a message everyday? Send her one. Only on Wednesday’s at 5 p.m.? Schedule it. She prefers theater over concerts? Don’t cross that line.

While technology currently available to the modern marketer is both fascinating and powerful, all good relationships ultimately come down to good communication, respect and trust. So adhere to your customers’ preferences, respect their choices and be rewarded by the trust you create.

Dan Smith is the senior vice president of marketing at ClickSquaredOpens in a new window.

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