SMS earns response rates other media can’t reach.

Ian Flynn
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On: 4 Jul 2019
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SMS

SMS (Short Message Service) is one of the most overlooked marketing tools, despite the remarkable response rates it can generate compared to other media. According toone study, SMS texts have a very high opening rate: 98% of text messages are opened and read – 90% within three minutes of receipt, compared with a mere 24% of emails.

Perhaps this perception might have something to do with its legacy as a communications tool for young people.  When it first became popular, back at the turn of the century, SMS was a “cool” new technology, eagerly taken up by the first generation of teenagers to own mobile phones. Today, much of that space is occupied by cheaper Over-the-Top communications tools such as WhatsApp, Viber and Internet Messenger.

So now SMS is a mature technology in the best senses of the word – trusted, reliable, familiar, comforting. As such it remains a very valuable business tool, particularly when used cleverly and in conjunction with social media applications, traditional e-mail and corporate websites. Yet it retains the excitement and warmth of a new technology. By contrast with the weariness with which one addresses the daily mountain of email that has escaped the spam filter, the receipt of an SMS can produce a “serotonin boost”, an enthusiastic reaction to a message that has come from a trusted source and usually contains welcome information.

Along with the immediacy and intimacy of person-to-person messaging, SMS can be combined with professional measurement and management tools that let organisations maximise the relevance of messages, gauge their impact on customers and, importantly, to conform to today’s strict data-privacy rules.

To use SMS effectively, there are a few key points to bear in mind.

Maintaining trust.

First and foremost, is the intimacy of communication: you can only send an SMS to somebody who has agreed to share their phone number with you, which is a privilege most people grant warily. That implies a degree of trust in your organisation from individual customers that should be valued and not endangered through inappropriate or excessive use.

Brevity and relevance.

To maintain that level of acceptance, keep messages short and relevant. From a customer service point of view, SMS is an invaluable way of reminding people of important events, such as medical appointments, or refuse-collection schedules. Such messages are likely to be appreciated by recipients and are brief by their nature. But be sure not to send them at inappropriate times. Nobody wants to be awakened in the middle of the night by a beeping phone only to learn that their recycling bin is due for collection.

For marketing purposes, brevity is also important as is relevance to the customer. Here, SMS works best when used in conjunction with other media channels so be sure to maximise the best features of different tools. SMS works best as an alert mechanism, not a two-way conversation. Teenagers in the 1990s might have welcomed an exciting new medium with its thumb-based entry and associated argot of acronyms such as LOL and CUL8R; business customer in the 21st century expect more.

With brief messages using SMS to pique interest, the call to action must be clear and the options for customer response tailored to make use of the best available mechanism. SMS is a perfect tool for alerting contacts to the availability of an exciting new product introduction, or of a time-limited cut-price deal available to regular customers. But how should they respond?

Clear calls to action.

Short codes, which allow recipients to respond immediately using only a few characters, are a useful and popular tool for instigating quick decisions. Call-back functions, which invite recipients to reply immediately with a voice call offer an even quicker response.

Invitations to participate in surveys are ideal for SMS, by including a link within the SMS a corporate website or social media page, where respondents can interact comprehensively and easily.

Combine with other tools.

For marketers, the value of SMS can be enhanced by the ability to integrate with back-office applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) tools which allow you to build up a broad picture of a customer’s needs and preferences. If somebody has entrusted you with their mobile phone number, you are likely to know much about their previous interactions with your organisation and so can tailor campaigns likely to be of interest and value to individual customers.

Other integrations offer real power: for example couriers delivering packages from online retailers can use SMS to enable delivery to occur within very specific timeframes, to maximise customer convenience and control.

Professional SMS tools allow you to schedule SMS messages for the most advantageous time, to set expiry dates so that messages do not get sent after a particular offer is no longer applicable, and to insert links to landing pages that can be assembled quickly without the need for a web designer to create an entirely new page.

Importantly they also help you to manage opt-outs so that compliance can be maintained with data privacy regulation should a customer no longer wish to receive messages.

How well did it work?

To maintain an ongoing valuable relationship with customers, you must review the effects of each campaign at its end. Did many people opt out of receiving future messages? If the rate was higher than 1% then ask how was the question worded? Was the message and call to action clear? Was it relevant to recipients? Did it go out at a bad time?

Taking account of the answers to such questions will allow you to fine tune future campaigns with a better likelihood of success in terms of customer engagement. This will ensure that SMS messages continue to be welcome, that recipients continue to respond to them to access great deals, or provide useful survey-based information on their needs and preferences, and that SMS will retain its value as a simple, direct and intimate communications tool well into its maturity.

Interested in discovering more ICT trends? Visit Three’s Business Learning Centre.