Text message advertising has become a staple in the machines of modern marketing. With the widespread use of cellular phones, and the amount of time most consumers spend on them, companies that aren’t using text message marketing are missing out. This new form of marketing is exceptionally effective: with a 99% open rate (or greater), text messages are one of the best ways to expose consumers to a brand’s products or services. But while SMS advertising might sound easy to do in theory, the reality is a little different.
Establishing an effective text messaging campaign has several requirements and best practices that you must be aware of. These things could be anything from legal regulations to message formatting and strategy. At Tatango, we’ve made it our business and our priority to become the best SMS marketing service and resource available, and we wouldn’t talk the talk if we didn’t walk the walk. We’ve put together this article to discuss the most common frequently asked questions and general tips for SMS marketing. Consider it our recommended starting point for text message marketing research.
We’ve split this article into two sections: requirements and suggestions. The former, as you have probably guessed, consists of questions about how to legally create and operate a mobile messaging campaign. This section will discuss topics like TCPA regulatory compliance, CTIA guidelines, short codes, and more. The latter section will discuss the various types of mobile messaging, marketing message strategies, and other ways to make your campaigns successful.
We want to emphasize that this article is best used as a high-level overview of the mobile messaging process. We have built a database of references, case studies, and discussions of text message marketing here on our website, and we encourage you to explore it further—either via our resources page or through the links interspersed throughout this article.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get started!
Text Message Marketing Requirements FAQs
These are some of the most common questions we get from interested brands or marketing agencies, and arguably the most important. These questions are about starting or running a new texting campaign.
What is SMS marketing?
A mobile marketing campaign can go by many names: SMS marketing, MMS messaging, digital marketing, a text message campaign, and so on. At its core, mobile marketing is marketing that’s delivered to a mobile device like a cell phone. Text message marketing is a form of mobile marketing. It is the practice of sending mass text messages to the mobile phones of interested customers using software designed explicitly for that service. Unlike email marketing, which is unfortunately often filtered into spam or promotions tabs, texting offers brands a direct line of contact to their subscribed consumers, with 90% of consumers opening text messages within just three minutes.
SMS text messages (another name that’s often used interchangeably with text messages) usually contain around 160 characters of text as shown below.
The costs for each type of message can vary, but they each offer different advantages. SMS messages, for example, are straightforward and to the point. Whereas MMS messages bring images to life, which catches consumer attention and makes mouthwatering food items or hot new products practically sell themselves.
What do I need to do to start a mobile advertising campaign?
An SMS campaign requires several things to start: they need a provisioned five- to six-digit SMS short code to send and receive messages, a keyword for the code, and an SMS marketing provider like Tatango to guide you through it all.
Because all short codes are technically leased, it’s not just as simple as telling your wireless carrier that you want to start marketing via an SMS short code. Instead, when a brand wants to send and receive messages on a short code, there are two main steps:
- The brand must first acquire a short code.
- Then, the brand must complete the short code provisioning process.
Leasing a short code provides a brand with access and ownership over the phone number, but to send and receive messages, they have to activate the number. This process is called short code provisioning.
The goal of short code provisioning is to communicate to the wireless carriers about how a short code is going to be used. Wireless carriers heavily regulate communication channels and want to protect consumers, so wireless carriers want to make sure that a short code is used appropriately following their rules and regulations.
Some of the information required in the short code provisioning process includes:
- The brand use case—what the brand is using the short code for.
- Where a consumer can go for support—what happens if they text “HELP” or “STOP.”
- How consumers will opt in to the text message marketing program.
- If there is a compliance issue, how it will be solved.
If that sounds technical to you, you’re not alone. That’s why working with an enterprise text message marketing provider like Tatango can help guide you through the process, save you a ton of time, and help you avoid missing steps in the process.
What’s an SMS short code? What about an SMS keyword?
A short code is a five- to six-digit phone number that brands use for SMS marketing. When you see an advertisement saying something to the effect of “Text PIZZA to 12345 to get free mobile coupons!” you’re seeing both the short code (the phone number 12345) and the keyword (PIZZA) at the same time. The keyword is used for multiple reasons: it gives interested customers the metaphorical “key” to access the marketing subscription, and it gives brands a data point to filter between different campaigns and product lines.
You can learn more about short codes on the US Short Code Directory.
What laws do I need to be aware of before starting an SMS marketing campaign?
There are two significant regulatory bodies or regulations that you’ll need to be aware of. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). The CTIA is an organization representing wireless carriers and the industry and has guidelines primarily concerning the usage of short codes in SMS marketing.
The TCPA is the set of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) legal regulations for all forms of auto-dialing and automated messaging programs. It was created in the early 1990s to cut down on the number of spam phone calls and telemarketing calls from marketers and business owners that were plaguing customers at the time, and those restrictions expanded to include spam text messaging in the early 2000s. If you’re creating text marketing campaigns, you need to adhere to TCPA policies.
While all of this is important, the most critical facet relates to consumers and consent. In order to legally send text messages to a consumer, you have to acquire their express prior written consent. This means that the consumer needs to both know what they’re going to be receiving and knowingly and openly subscribe to the service itself. Messaging existing customers who have not consented to receive messages opens the door for TCPA violation lawsuits and legal fees: $500 per person, per message—which triples if the violation is deemed willful. Sending unwanted text messages can lead to you rapidly being liable for thousands—if not millions—of dollars in damages. Be careful and work with a legal expert and trusted SMS marketing provider.
Text Message Marketing Strategy FAQs, Best Practices, and Tips
The next set of questions and suggestions are all about making the most of your mobile marketing automation platform. They include everything from formatting to timing, content, and context—all good things to keep in mind when writing and sending your messages.
What should I include in a text message?
There are a lot of things that you can include in your messaging, but those things can change depending on the message format (RCS, MMS, SMS), your brand identity, and the content being promoted. However, there are a few good standards to abide by.
First things first, include your brand name at the top of the message.
It’s likely that your subscribers won’t have saved your short code on their phones, which means that every message they receive from you will come from an unknown phone number. If your message starts off with an identifying tag, like in the example below from Best Buy, then it helps increase brand awareness and the recipient knows right away what the message contains.
After your brand name, include the details of the promotion itself.
For coupons, include the size of the discount or terms of the promotion, the promo code, the duration of the deal, and a description of the product or sale itself. If we refer to the example above, you can see Best Buy outlining the 40% discount, the goods discounted, and the termination date of the promotion.
Below, you can see that Intelligent Blends clarifies what kind of sale it is, the percentage discount, the promo code, and a link for consumers to take action. This gives the client all the information they need to make a decision.
Include a link to a webpage.
This is wise for multiple reasons. One, if you’re promoting some kind of sale or new product, including a link to that product’s page on your website can provide the convenience needed to push a potential customer into investigating further. If they can check out the product and the promotion on the fly, then they’re more likely to take advantage of it. Two, these links also give you the opportunity to track the click-through rate for each campaign and message. This gives you the data to determine the demand for the product and the effectiveness of the messaging itself. Use the data gained from these links to further refine your campaigns. Similar tactics can be used for your social media campaigns.
As you can see in the example below, Cabela’s directs consumers to “Shop Now” with a custom link immediately following. Not only does this custom link look more trustworthy, but it also measures every single click so Cabela’s knows the exact return on investment of the message.
Be clear with your call to action.
Whatever you want customers to do, tell them. Use action-oriented words like “Shop Now” or “Buy Today” so there is no doubt about the kind of action and engagement you want people to take.
Include your short code’s unsubscription and help commands.
For legal reasons, it’s generally wise to include your short code’s unsubscription (STOP) and help (HELP) commands at the end of your messages, just in case a recipient wishes to opt out. You can see how Dunham’s Sports included both commands below, instructing customers to “reply HELP for help” or “reply STOP to opt out.”
Consider upping the appeal with images, GIFs, or short videos.
If you’re working with MMS messaging or RCS business messaging, the inclusion of images, GIFs, or short videos can improve engagement and display the product in an interesting manner. For example, you can see how the back-to-school message below grabs attention by showing the latest styles, much more than solely copy could convey. To see thousands of actual text messaging examples sent by top brands, check out smsarchives.com.
How should I get subscribers for my messaging?
Getting consumers interested in your mobile advertising campaign is its own challenge, and there are a few ways to do it. Classic examples are advertising your service and short code on a billboard, attaching it to the end of a television commercial advertisement, sharing your link on Facebook or other social media posts, or promoting it on a website pop-up so your website visitors become your texting subscribers. All of these put your short code in front of a large number of eyes relatively quickly.
Another good strategy is to promote the subscription at the checkout counter, where your staff can describe the unique value of the subscription to your customers and where you can surface the program to people who are already interested in buying from your brand. Access to exclusive deals, promotions, events, and services are always of interest to consumers, so being able to promote it while they’re already paying for goods or services at the counter is effective.
It’s also important to offer opt-in incentives to entice consumers. For example, you could offer a one-time coupon as a reward for signing up for your mobile marketing program, or let consumers know that they will receive weekly deals for signing up for your mobile marketing program. While you may worry about some consumers signing up, using the coupon, and unsubscribing soon after—the truth is that happens very rarely and is well worth the revenue generated from the people who use your promotions time and again.
How should I format my messages?
Ideally, start your message with your identifying tag and the details of your promotion. Modern smartphones display the first one or two lines of any incoming message on the lock screen, and it’s in your best interest to try and fit all of the most important information in those first two lines. As long as the client sees that you’re offering some kind of sale for a certain product or service, they’ll be incentivized to open the message and investigate further. Seeing those things will also make the customer more likely to look forward to your messages.
When should I send my messages?
The time that you should send your messages depends on your industry and audience. Restaurants would benefit from messaging their clients roughly one to two hours before peak lunch and dinner hours in order to generate interest and better compete for attention with other dining establishments. For other businesses, sending messages in the early to mid-afternoon is the best option; getting messages while off work or on a break leads to higher click-through and efficiency. The benefit of working with an SMS marketing software provider like Tatango is that you can also segment your messages based on subscriber timezone, so you are never sending messages too early nor too late, but in the optimal time to benefit and convert subscribers.
How often should I send my messages?
The frequency of your messaging is entirely up to you and also varies from industry to industry. If you have customer purchase data, you can use it to determine the purchase frequency of your average customer. Do your average customers come into your business once per week? Send out your messaging once or twice a week—especially if your business is a quick-service establishment like a fast-food chain.
If your business runs on a slower cycle, like a car dealership, you might want to adjust your messaging accordingly. A dealership might send messages only a few times per month, highlighting deals on oil replacement and other maintenance services. The general rule of thumb is to match your text messaging to the frequency of your customer base. If done right, it’ll let you time your messages such that your subscribers will hear from you right as they start thinking about buying from you again.
Get Your Top Text Advertising Questions Answered Directly
We hope you’ve found this article about the top FAQs helpful. To learn more about SMS marketing, check out our resources page for free guides, videos, and blog posts about all things text messaging. Or, if you have additional SMS advertising questions, don’t hesitate to contact our text message marketing experts. We’ve been the industry leaders for the past 13 years and would love to share our expertise to help you create successful SMS marketing campaigns.