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6 SMS best-practice tips for brands and retailers

June 24, 2011

Melinda Krueger is senior analyst at ExactTarget

By Melinda Krueger

Text messaging is unlike any channel before it. For most, it is reserved for our inner circle of friends and family. It is for important updates and requests: ETA?/On way/Pick up milk please. It is for inside jokes, wry asides and late-night musings.

While many time-honored marketing principles apply to SMS, we must appreciate this unique channel in the context of human behavior. These basic practices lay a solid foundation.

1. Start with the value proposition. We should be asking, first and foremost, “What value can I provide to my customers that is important enough to warrant inclusion in their inner circle?”

While most of us have turned off notifications for new email on our phones – if not they would be buzzing all the time – we still get notifications for text messages.

Consider the disappointment when it is not a friend’s message but a ho-hum offer – again – that one can get via email, in-store or on site.

2. Promote value to build your list. For basic blocking and tackling, include a mobile opt-in alongside your email opt-in, in all the places it appears – site, Facebook, print, signage, packaging, package inserts, IVR messages and traditional advertising.

Be sure to clearly spell out the unique value of the SMS program and state frequency. For other important guidelines, check the site at

My favorite method is to lead with the offer and pull opt-ins. Start with the offer: text X to [short code] to get Y. Then provide the payoff along with a subscription request.

The customer’s first experience with your SMS program is positive and the reason for opting in is demonstrated rather than promised.

3. Plan for re-engagement. Remember that when a customer changes carriers, even with the same phone number, the opt-in needs to be re-confirmed.

Link email and physical address with the mobile phone number whenever possible and develop campaigns to request a renewed opt-in to your SMS program.

If you have built a program based on customer value, and provided it consistently, your job will be easier.

4. Make it easy. A time-honored principle is to make it easy for the customer to respond.

If you are directing customers to your site, is it optimized for mobile, and is the path to redemption clear? Is the coupon code easy to remember? Even better: it repeats the offer – for example, SAVE10.

Do not forget that the majority of your customers do not have a smart phone. Can they take advantage of your offer through traditional channels? Is your staff aware of the offer and trained in the redemption procedure?

I used a mobile coupon code recently at a major retailer, known for its sophisticated mobile program. The salesperson had no idea what to do with it and had to ask three people to find someone who did.

5. Test and learn. The time to start testing approaches and collecting data is now.

You should compile a table for each send with the numbers and percentages of messages sent, delivered (sent – delivered to carrier – undeliverable), unsubscribed, Web site visits and redemptions.

Visits will require a unique URL and redemptions a tracking code. You will want to see how response trends over time and compare reach and cost/benefit with push notifications, email and other digital direct response efforts.

Decide what you want to learn and set up basic A/B split tests, keeping all other factors constant.

You will likely get the biggest bang for your buck with offer testing, so save creative and timing tests for further down the road.

6. Consider the Do Not Text list. Unlike email, which relies on filters that are far from foolproof, it is entirely possible to block commercial texts.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission prohibits automated dialing, which includes mass SMS, without the express consent of the called party.

India has already instituted a Do Not Text list. Telecommunications companies exist to serve their customers, not marketers. SMS can be an entree to a customer’s inner circle or it could go the way of telemarketing.

IT IS IN your own best interest to use the SMS channel wisely. When in doubt, see Best Practice No. 1.

Melinda Krueger is Milwaukee, WI-based senior marketing consultant at ExactTarget. Reach her at

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