Mobile Tutorial Series – What is SMS Marketing

By John Koetsier January 1, 2017

SMS: Short Message Service

SMS, or short message service, are monikers for mobile text messaging. Such mobile marketing messages are usually sent phone-to-phone or brand-to-phone, and are limited to 160 characters including spaces and punctuation. While texting was once a niche means of communications, it is now nearly ubiquitous.

SMS and Marketing

With US text messaging adoption rates estimated by various sources at well over 80%, it’s natural that marketers have sought – and found – ways to leverage SMS messages in their programs. Naturally, some of the first brands to adopt SMS messages as a marketing vehicle were the cellular carriers themselves. But since those pioneering days, literally thousands of small and large companies have deployed SMS marketing programs in a variety of use cases.

SMS Marketing Strengths

SMS marketing campaigns offer many strengths for the mobile-savvy marketer and brand. Here are a few of the most important reasons why brands leverage SMS messages for their marketing programs.

  • It’s mobile, and mobile is where consumers increasingly spend the bulk of their time. More than 60% of connected consumer time now takes place on cell phones, according to comScore 2016
  • Near universal consumer adoption, in both industrialized and developing countries
  • Ability to message most phone types, not just smartphones
  • Very low creative costs, because messages are delivered in text form only
  • It’s very trackable, so brands get immediate feedback on their initiatives
  • High read rates among recipients. A variety of industry estimates peg text read rates far higher than email open rates
  • Immediacy. It’s estimated that more than 90% of text messages are read within a few minutes of their being sent
  • When done right, it feels personal to the user, and can foster rich and enduring brand connections
  • Can reach consumers at virtually anytime, because most people take their phones with them virtually anywhere
  • Ability to solicit and collect responses from consumers for customer service, polling, and many other use cases
  • Very low cost per message delivered versus most forms of paid media

SMS Marketing Limitations

While SMS text message marketing does offer a variety of great characteristics as a marketing vehicle, it is an extremely simple and constrained form of communication. Here are a few of the limitations for SMS marketing text messages:

  • Creative limitations, not least that brand campaign messages can only be delivered in text form and in very short lengths
  • Generally low consumer willingness to opt-in for text message marketing programs
  • Consumer backlash when brands use text without getting explicit permission, or when consumers forget that they opted in
  • Slowly declining rates of SMS messaging, as mobile IM and other chat tools have gained share at the expense of the core SMS platform
  • Laws in some countries that strictly regulate when and how a brand can use texting as a marketing service vehicle

SMS Marketing and the Broader Arena of Mobile Marketing

Mobile marketing has grown to encompass a broad array of media, from SMS to display advertising, video, branded app-based experiences and more. Broadly, SMS messaging to mobile phones is best used for cultivating richer, more personal connections with customers, versus prospects who are unlikely to opt-in to receive brand communications.

Further, the immediacy of text messages can help a brand communicate important developments and some forms of “news”. Other forms of mobile media are better at creating rich and immersive brand experiences.

Whether and how SMS fits into your marketing strategy really depends upon your objectives, customer relationships, and brand needs. Like any other marketing vehicle, it needs to be evaluated in the context of your goals and all potential consumer touch points, including other tactics for mobile devices.

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