SMS marketing: How to get it right

When the government announced earlier this year that it was to clamp down ‘spammy’ marketing tactics, it brought into stark contrast how important it was for businesses to market themselves effectively and ethically. Though few reputable businesses actively choose to spam their contacts, many were worried about the ways they could unwittingly stumble into the regulator’s bad books.

We published an extensive guide to Swimming Against the Spam for anyone worried about falling foul of the new regulations, but that’s only half the story. To really be effective, businesses need to do more than just keep their toes on the right side of the law. In reality, there are plenty of good and bad practices to always bear in mind – not just to stay lawful, but keep your contacts happy as well.

Here are the dos and don’ts of text marketing.

Permission

The single most important policy for text marketers covers the issue of permission. Without obtaining permission from contacts before sending them messages, companies are straying into spammer territory and could even find themselves facing serious financial reprisals. As such, getting the green light must be top of the priority list for prospective marketers.

Building a list of contacts who have opted in for messages might be a long process, but the results certainly make it worthwhile. Not only does it mean best practice has been adhered to, it will also make for a much more engaged, receptive audience.

Think of it this way; if a company were to text you completely out of the blue, and you didn’t know how they got your number, your suspicions would be raised immediately. Even if the message they sent just so happened (by some happy coincidence) to be of interest, the suspicion with which you’d view their message won’t be enough to dispel your irritation. After all, blanket messages to people who’ve not opted in will put you among such disreputable businesses as ‘no win no fee’ lawyers or PPI companies. This is company that nobody wants to keep.

Frequency

Once a company has built up an impressive list of contacts that have opted in to receive messages, the next main focus is that of frequency. Much thinking and hand-wringing goes into the process of trying to find the golden ratio, that of sending enough messages to remain in contacts’ thoughts, but not so often as to annoy them, appear desperate, or drive unsubscribes.

There is, of course, no magic formula to work this out; instead it varies from case to case. A taxi company, for example, might find reactive messages more effective than proactive ones (such as a message that lets passengers know that their car is five minutes away). In this instance, a brace of messages may be required, depending on how many cars they’ve booked or how many journeys they’re taking. In such a scenario, this series of messages will be welcomed.

On the other hand, a retailer could instead find the opposite, with information overload being detrimental. Instead, information regarding short-term deals or offers would be the best way to drive footfall through stores – and these would need to be sent only intermittently. To send five messages in one day is likely to have the opposite impact as it would for the taxi firm – annoying audiences and making them consider unsubscribing. Instead, well-spaced messages would keep the brand firmly in mind for contacts, but not drive them to despair with overly frequent updates.

Tone

When fine tuning campaigns, tone is a major consideration. Text speak may be entering common parlance, and emojis may be the world’s fastest growing language, but that doesn’t mean they’re suitable for all circumstances. A solicitor is unlikely to let property buyers know that their conveyancing is done with a winking face or a ‘C U l8r’. That much is obvious to anyone with a modicum of sense, but that needn’t mean that so-called txtspk is a complete no-no.

Music festivals, footwear retailers or nightclubs, for example, target a younger audience than most. Marketing 101 says to match your audience’s tone for the best results, as it puts everyone on the same level and elicits the most positive results. Thus, speaking to digital natives in a way they’ll be familiar with could bring about significantly greater gains than staid, stuffy and formal messages.

For all these positives, it’s not something that should be entered into blindly. Instead, conduct thorough research on sample groups before messages are sent out, to gauge the tone. As with all testing, regardless of your own personal preferences, the most successful option among your contacts has to be the one that is finally used.

It’s also worth noting that ironing out tone is an ongoing process and not something that has a definite start and end. Getting the main gist of your tone is one thing, but there’s always room for tweaking and fine tuning, to get those marginal gains that take a text campaign from being proficient to being excellent.

Getting it right

Whilst there may be many potential pitfalls and ways of straying into spam territory, conversely, this also means there are plenty of opportunities to follow best practice guidelines and set the SMS standard. By following our simple rules, brands, companies and establishments can be sure they’re not only staying on the right side of the law but also keeping their audience happy and engaged.

For more information on getting SMS marketing right, check out our infographic.