SMS Marketing

In the fall of 2012, my Mt. Shasta marketing agency added text message marketing to its list of services. Also referred to as SMS, which stands for Short Message Service, text marketing is just one facet of the red-hot mobile marketing category.

Since it’s a pretty new player in the game as far as marketing tools go, many clients aren’t quite ready to buy into text marketing yet. However, those who have added it to their marketing mix are enjoying notable results in their foot traffic and their bottom line. My clients are even having lots of fun with it, which is a big bonus in my opinion. After all, marketing shouldn’t be a chore – it should be fun!

If you are a business owner considering adding text messaging to your marketing mix, the following tips gleaned from first-hand experience may be helpful when making your decision:

1) It’s Not Right for Every Business – I would be lying if I said that text marketing is a grand-slam solution for every small biz. In fact, just like ANY marketing tool you’re considering, the very best reason to choose something is because it puts your business exactly where your audience is. In the case of text message marketing, this means your audience has to already be using text as a form of communication. Hard as it may be to believe, there are still some people who don’t text! I know, OMG! right?

What I’ve seen so far is that text marketing works really well for restaurants, coffee shops, and general retail stores. It gets a little trickier as you get into upscale stores offering big-ticket items, service-based companies, or non-profit organizations. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for these types of companies to effectively employ text marketing, but you do have to be a little more creative with how it is used.

2) You Have to Give in Order to Get – The campaigns that have proven most successful for my clients have been of the Weekly Deals variety. The bottom line is that if you want your customers to give you permission to send them texts, your communications need to provide value for them. In order to build an audience of engaged, responsive consumers, you need to employ the following:

• Carrot Offer – Building your text message list is similar to building your email marketing list in that you need to offer something valuable (i.e. dangle a carrot) to get people to opt in. Some examples are “Sign Up and Take $2 Off Today’s Order,” “Enter to Win $25 Gift Certificate,” or “Join Today & Get Free Dessert.”

 It needs to be special enough to get people to give you their cell phone number, without you losing your shirt in the process.

• Exclusive Deals – Once people are on your list, you need to create text content to send them. However, you can’t just send promotional texts of no value; they have to be unique, fun and special enough to make the recipient feel like they are part of a secret club getting an exclusive deal. Deals can be Buy-One-Get-One-Free, a coupon-style discount, or even a Flash-Sale style such as “$1 Lattes for the next hour only!”

As you can imagine, the deals that get the best response involve discounts. I’m not a fan of giving away the farm, but if done properly you will actually Get money, even as you Give discounts. If your company is allergic to discounts, refer back to Tip #1.

• Freebies – Whether a free espresso drink, micro-brew, or small gift item, awarding a freebie to a random member of your list every week is a great way to surprise and delight your customers while building loyalty and generating positive word-of-mouth buzz. One of my clients uses text message marketing as a customer rewards program and gives away a $25 Gift Certificate every week! Meanwhile, other clients choose not to give out weekly freebies at all, and just focus on providing good weekly deals. The choice is yours, and whatever choice your company makes should feel comfortable, not be a cause of anxiety and stress.

3) You Need to Respect Your Audience – The same SPAM laws that apply to email apply to text marketing. People need to feel trust if they are giving you their cell phone number. If that trust is abused, you will lose customers and damage your hard-earned brand reputation as well. When crafting your deals, ask yourself, “Is this deal awesome enough to get ME off the couch and into the store if I received it?” If not, keep crafting.

As for frequency, you can send weekly deals, bi-weekly deals, or monthly deals. Ultimately, you’re trying to find the sweet spot between engaging your audience enough so they don’t forget about you, but not so much that they get irritated and opt out.

4) Text Messages Are Personal & Fun – People have special connections with their cell phones, and they rarely go anywhere without them. One of my clients held a reception during an art walk and sent out a special limited-time offer via text. During the reception, I overheard a customer say she got the text while she was out hiking and got excited to come to the art walk. I can’t think of any other marketing tool that would excite a customer while she was out enjoying nature.

Another client runs a brew pub restaurant, for which we’ve created “Sunday Fundays.” On designated Sundays, customers can do crazy things to get a 50-cent beer, such as dance an Irish jig on St. Patty’s day, sing a line from a Broadway musical, or act out a movie title with charades. Only the people on the text marketing list are in the know, so the other patrons are wondering what the heck is going on. When they find out these people are singing and dancing, you better believe they are eager to sign up!

5) Text Marketing Works – In the six months that I’ve been selling text marketing services to my clients, they have all enjoyed noticeable results. The patrons who enjoy their 50-cent beers during the brewery’s Sunday Fundays always buy additional beers and food at full price. The local gift shop clocks 7 – 12 sales during their art walk events that are directly related to the text deals. A pizza parlor client tracks 15 – 30 customers redeeming their text deals with each offer. As for the coffee shack owner, her list is pushing 300 and continues to grow every week. Do you think your business would benefit from placing secret, exclusive deals in the pockets of 300 customers every week? You won’t know unless you try.

If I add up the text marketing lists from all my clients, we are collectively reaching over 3,000 people with custom, value-oriented text messages. While this number may not seem staggering by big-city standards, Mt. Shasta is a small NorCal mountain town of around 10,000 people, where the typical local business owner’s marketing strategy consists of opening her doors and waiting for the tourists to stumble in. Taking all that into account, I am not only quite pleased with these results my clients have been experiencing, but I’m also quite proud of these business owners for having the courage to step out of their comfort zones and give new marketing techniques a try.