SMS Marketing Best Practices

Targeting Area Codes in SMS Campaigns

Recently I’ve heard a more than average amount of Tatango.com customers ask if we are ever going to allow the ability to target SMS campaigns based off area codes. This feature request made sense to me as I could see a restaurant with locations in different states wanting to send SMS campaigns to just to their SMS subscribers in one state, but not the others. I first wanted to see if the metrics around targeting a SMS campaign based off an area code made sense to spend the development time to implement. More importantly though, would a feature like this help my customers better target their SMS campaigns? The short answer is no, but if you want to see how I came to this conclusion, you are welcome to keep reading.

The first thing I did was to select a local Washington State SMS campaign that I was familiar with to run my analysis on. Here are the stats on this specific SMS campaign:

  • Single location restaurant.
  • 1,000+ SMS subscribers.
  • All subscribers opted-in through mobile keyword.
  • SMS Campaign operational for 6+ months.

What I found was that a little over 25% of all SMS subscribers to that specific SMS campaign had an area code associated with a location greater than 50 miles away from the restaurant location. See the graph below to illustrate my findings.

Graph of use of area codes in SMS campaigns

I showed my buddy Grant Landram the graph above and his initial reaction was that those 25% of SMS subscribers were customers from out of town. If this was true, adding the ability to target a campaign based off area codes and sending promotions only to “in-town” customers would be extremely beneficial. After further discussion though, we surmised that the following arguments made the area code completely useless when determining a customers physical location.

  • Number portability between mobile phone providers no longer requires people to change their phone numbers when switching providers, which decreases the chance of someone selecting an area code that better represents where they currently live.
  • Anyone can purchase a mobile phone number from any mobile phone provider with any area code, no matter where the purchase was made or where they live.
  • Mobile phone numbers aren’t like land-line phone numbers (remember those?). With a mobile phone number, when someone moves to a new city  they don’t have to change their phone number, which means the area code won’t be the same as the city they now live in.

This means that if we allowed the above SMS campaign to send promotions to customers that had area codes within 50 miles of their location, they would have missed more than 25% of their subscribers for no good reason. For this reason I will not be adding this feature to Tatango and I wouldn’t recommend this practice to anyone.

Below are all the different area codes that I found within this specific SMS campaign and the rough distance between the business and the city associated with that area code.

These area codes were all pulled from one text messaging campaign in Washington State.


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