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What is Text Message Marketing?



In this Tatango blog article, we answer the question: What is text message marketing? Read on to learn the basics of this highly effective form of mobile marketing and find out how you can use it as part of your brand’s marketing campaign.


What Is an SMS Message?

Before we get into the basics of SMS (short message service) marketing—also commonly called text message marketing—we want to explain the meaning of an SMS message for readers who may be unfamiliar with this mobile communication method.

SMS text messages are small messages that people and brands send to mobile devices. Usually, these messages can only contain up to 160 characters, and they are made up of text, emojis, clickable phone numbers, and links, unlike MMS (multimedia messaging services) messages which can include additional media content like images, gifs, videos, and audio files, and have an increased character limit of 5,000.

Now that we’ve talked about the text message itself, let’s take a look at SMS marketing for brands and why you should consider this particular marketing tool as part of your brand’s digital marketing strategy.


What is SMS Marketing?

In this digital era, marketing tools and tactics are always evolving, and as a marketer, it’s important to always stay up-to-date about the newest, most cost-effective tools to nurture leads and keep your brand top of mind among consumers. SMS message marketing is one of the most effective ways to drive new customers, sales, and revenue to any organization or company. This marketing channel can set businesses apart from their competition, triple donations for nonprofits and political groups, and engage consumers in real-time.

“SMS marketing” is the broad term for a combination of commercial text messaging-related practices. When most brands talk about SMS marketing, they mean the practice of sending mass text message alerts to interested consumers and to existing customers. Many marketers use this mobile marketing channel to announce things like exclusive discounts, to run text message polls or contests, or to send information such as delivery status updates, appointment reminders, or receipts for recent purchases.

To make it easier to understand, you can compare SMS marketing with email marketing, only instead of emails, a brand will send out text messages to consumers who have opted in to the brand’s mobile marketing campaign. As with all marketing channels, text message marketing is only truly effective for brands with an audience that prefers this form of communication.

Text marketing opportunities are endless and can really be a game-changer for many brands, since the average American checks their phone more than 45 times per day. Here are some astonishing SMS text messaging statistics:

  • While not everyone worldwide has internet access on their mobile phones for messaging apps, SMS texting is the most widely used device feature—around 5 billion people can send and receive text messages, and more than 200 thousand SMS messages are sent every second.
  • 83% of SMS messages are read within 90 seconds and 90% within three minutes.
  • On average, SMS messages have a 98% open rate compared to email, which has only a 20% open rate.
  • SMS messages have a 209% higher response rate than email, phone calls, and even social media such as Facebook.
  • 85% of mobile device users prefer SMS messages from businesses instead of calls or emails.
  • 75% of consumers prefer text messages for promotions, deliveries, and surveys.


How Do Consumers Subscribe to an SMS Marketing Campaign?

First off, it’s important to mention that text message marketing is strictly a subscriber-only form of marketing. As a brand, you can’t send messages to people who haven’t opted in to your text campaign. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates SMS text message marketing and has strict guidelines. Make sure you’re aware of these guidelines before you start texting your customers.

First, consumers need to go through an opt-in process that confirms their willingness, or consent, to receive messages from your brand. One of the ways this opt-in process can start is when the consumer texts a keyword—for example “PIZZA”—to your brand’s short code, which is a phone number that contains five to six digits. Afterwards, you can send them an automated response to follow up and let them know what to expect, or you can add them directly to your text messaging campaign list and send them additional SMS messages over time.

In addition to offering the opt-in method of sending a keyword to a short code, brands can give consumers other opt-in options, such as a form on the brand’s website. A third option is the point-of-sale method, where customers can opt-in for an SMS campaign at the checkout counter in a physical store.

As you can see, there are many opt-in methods that brands can use to gain subscribers for their SMS campaigns, but it’s essential that consumers actually give their consent to receive text messages on their mobile phones. By giving their consent, they make it clear that they want to receive things like promotional messages, mobile coupons, and special deals.


What Happens After People Opt-In to an SMS Campaign?

As consumers join a brand’s SMS campaign, the brand ends up with a gradually expanding phone number database. To send weekly or monthly messages to those phone numbers, the brand’s mobile marketer will make use of a text message marketing software provider like Tatango. Via the software from this provider, the marketer will be able to create and send out 160-character alerts, coupons, promotions, and other marketing-related messages to all the subscribed cell phone numbers.

As with any marketing tool you use, the more information you can gather around your target customers, the easier it will be to create content and develop products and services to meet their needs, and the easier it will be to focus your time and effort toward your most valuable customers. As a result, you’ll effectively allocate your budget, acquire and retain more customers, and of course, generate more revenue. That’s why it’s important to look for an SMS marketing software that not only provides message automation but also allows you to build a customer database, offers subscriber and messaging analytics, subscriber segmenting, and merge tags for personalization, and can be integrated to any marketing software you currently use. Working with a third-party SMS marketing service also allows you to update your marketing campaign as new features are launched and navigate industry regulations.


Consumer Reaction to SMS Marketing

Once the SMS alert reaches a subscriber, that person can react to the offer in the message by, for example, going to a restaurant and redeeming a coupon to receive a free food item, or by going to an online store to purchase discounted products.

Although these are beneficial reactions for brands, they must keep in mind that subscribers can also choose to opt out of receiving messages on their phone number at any given moment.

When customers want to opt out from a text messaging campaign, they always need to be able to unsubscribe automatically by replying to a message with a keyword such as “STOP” or “UNSUBSCRIBE.”


Text Message Marketing Best Practices

To keep it simple, here are some best practices for how to use text message marketing without annoying your customers:

  1. First things first, get their permission.
  2. Keep messages short and to the point.
  3. Always add value.
  4. Remember to offer an unsubscribe option.
  5. Be careful with being annoying and intrusive–text at appropriate times.
  6. Include a CTA (call to action).
  7. Keep texts as personalized as possible to increase your conversion rate.


How to Use Text Message Marketing

Now that you know that SMS texting has such high open rates, it’s time to use this marketing tool as the next big thing to boost your business! But you might be wondering, what should my SMS marketing strategy be? What have others done? Below are some of the best SMS advertising campaigns to find inspiration.


Beauty Companies Using Text Message Marketing

how to use text message marketing 1Ulta Beauty, Inc., is an American chain of beauty stores in the United States selling more than 25,000 products such as cosmetics, skincare, hair care, and fragrance from 500 beauty brands, including their own label. Ulta Beauty’s text messaging notifies subscribers of online and in-store promotions, exclusive offers and discounts, and the latest news in beauty.

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Urban Decay, an American cosmetics brand and subsidiary of L’Oréal, uses MMS marketing to show off and sell products, using pictures, bright colors, and a conversational tone. Their text messages include coupons and updates about the latest deals, free samples with purchase, and special pricing on some products.

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Function of Beauty, a hair care company that sells personalized hair care products, uses its SMS program to send subscribers special offers, coupons, and updates on their latest deals. The brand uses colorful images and eye-catching copy in their messaging.

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Restaurants Using Text Message Marketing

Papa John’s is an American pizza restaurant franchise. Some of their text message campaigns focus on offers like “large 2-topping pizzas” or “2 large pizzas” for special prices. The photo shows the famous Valentine’s Day special, a heart-shaped pizza, enticing the customer to place an order. Text messages from Papa John’s generally include a promo code.

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Chili’s Grill & Bar is an American casual dining restaurant chain. Their messages describe meal deals for $10. The appetizing photo invites customers to take action. Chili’s uses its SMS marketing channel to promote exclusive offers for its take-out service. Learn more about adding hyperlink images in SMS messages.

how to use text message marketing 6

Jamba, previously known as Jamba Juice, produces blended fruit and vegetable smoothies, juices, and other products. The brand’s text messages focus on its initiatives along with a special offer. Jamba sends a combination of SMS and MMS messages, which allows more than 160 characters in a single message.

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Olive Garden is an American casual restaurant chain specializing in Italian-American cuisine. Its text marketing varies with year-round initiatives like “order online” and “carside pickup,” limited-edition items, and special offers like the “Valentine’s Day dinner for 2 ToGo” in the picture.

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Jack in the Box is an American fast-food restaurant chain with 2,200 locations, mainly on the West Coast of the United States. The company uses marketing texting for special offers—for example, “we’re giving you 25% off your order,”—and they almost always include mouth-watering photos to encourage customers to place an order.

how to use text message marketing 9Subway is an American restaurant franchise that sells submarine sandwiches and salads, with more than 41,500 locations in more than 100 countries. The restaurant chain uses MMS marketing on offers and call-to-action, for example, “order now.” Including a picture of a delicious sandwich entices customers to place an order.

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Retailers Using Text Message Marketing

Bloomingdale’s Inc., an American luxury store chain founded in 1861, uses text marketing in different ways, such as season clearance events, offers from a particular department, and alerts for when to buy certain items.

how to use text message marketing 11Old Navy, an American clothing and accessories retailer, sends text marketing message in a conversational voice that sounds like a regular text message—for example, “OMG!!!”—with exact offers like “active bottoms” with multiple links and a CTA to check out the newest looks on their Instagram page.

how to use text message marketing 12New York & Company, Inc. is an American nationwide clothing retailer for women. The brand’s text messaging focuses on different offers specific to a sale and the items included, like “$12 dresses/cardigans,” with their logo preview on the hyperlink to their website, as shown in the example on the picture.

how to use text message marketing 13

Bed Bath & Beyond, a chain of domestic merchandise retail stores that operates in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, encourages customers to use online coupons through SMS messaging. The company also uses this marketing channel to send notifications of store updates to their customers, such as “We’ve temporarily closed some stores and modified hours.” The updates always include a hyperlink with all the details. 

how to use text message marketing 14Macy’s, an American department store founded in 1858, uses SMS messages to share time-sensitive discounts from specific departments with their customers. The company’s text messages are short, to the point, and include a hyperlink to easily access the offer.

how to use text message marketing 15Dollar General uses its SMS marketing campaign to send promotional messages about clearance events, seasonal offers, and weekly ads, and to send subscribers calls to action like “click here to download our app.” Dollar General Corporation is an American chain of variety stores, with 15,000 locations in the United States.

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Steve Madden is a fashion accessory and shoe company based in New York, with around 120 stores in the United States and 250 more stores in 65 countries. The brand’s SMS marketing service shares with customers new style alerts, restock alerts, and special promotions, as well as links, to encourage online shopping.

how to use text message marketing 17Home Depot is the largest home improvement retailer in the United States, supplying construction products, services, and tools. The company’s text message marketing service consists of promoting specific discounts and items. Home Depot also uses text messages to update its subscribers on important information about their stores, like operation changes and hours.

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William Sonoma, Inc. is an American retail company specializing in home furnishings, kitchen appliances, gourmet foods, and professional-quality cookware. Founded in 1956, William Sonoma is one of the largest eCommerce retailers in the United States. The company uses text marketing messages to notify its customers about order and shipping updates, special events, offers, and new products.

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Nonprofits Using Text Message Marketing

The Humane Society of the United States, founded in 1954, is a nonprofit organization that focuses on ending suffering for all animals. The organization cares for more than 100,000 animals each year through rescue teams, wildlife centers, and sanctuaries. Subscribers of the organization’s text message marketing service will receive news, invitations to special events, and information on how to help protect animals.

Humane Society of America SMS Marketing Example - 50 Examples of Brands Using SMS Marketing

Conservation International is an American environmental nonprofit organization that works to spotlight and secure the critical benefits that nature provides to humanity, such as fresh water, food, and stable climate. Conservation International’s text marketing campaign includes updates on its efforts, impressive images, and impactful content.

Conservation International MMS Marketing MessagePeople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an American animal rights organization with nearly 400 employees and 6.5 million supporters and members. The organization uses SMS message marketing to communicate with their advocacy program members.

PETA SMS Marketing Example - 50 Examples of Brands Using SMS Marketing


Learn More About SMS Marketing

So, that’s the basic process of text marketing, which is really a very effective communication and marketing tool for brands that want to send promotional messages to many customers at the same time.

If you want to learn more about all the things that can be done with text message marketing, we recommend that you watch the following Tatango videos on our YouTube channel.

    1. Can You Buy Mobile Phone Numbers for Text Message Marketing?
    2. Text Message Marketing Strategy for Growing Subscribers
    3. Tatango Now Supports Bold & Italicized SMS Characters
    4. The #1 SMS Marketing Mistake You Need to Avoid
    5. Why is a Text Message 160 Characters
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