Text_Marketing_body.jpgBy Jennifer Shaheen.

Text message marketing is one of the fastest growing ways to communicate with your customers. However, many business owners are more comfortable with email marketing and therefore overlook this opportunity to reach current and potential customers. We spoke with some experts to figure out how best to reach your audience.

Understanding the technology

There are two terms you’ll hear as you explore text message marketing: SMS and MMS. SMS stands for Short Message Service and refers to the familiar text-only text message. MMS stands for Multimedia Message Service and refers to text messages that include images and video. Both types of messages can include clickable links, allowing your customers to go directly to your website.

MailChimp, one of the largest providers of email marketing services, provides a chart explaining the open rates of different industries when it comes to email. Most categories fall somewhere between 12 percent and 25 percent. Retailers, for example, come in at 23.16 percent, which means that slightly less than one out of every four emails are opened.

Text messages, by comparison, have an open rate of nearly 90 percent. “People are in love with their phones and they have them with them constantly,” says Saeed El-Darahali, CEO of SimplyCast, a company that helps business owners automate and coordinate their marketing messages over several platforms, including text, email, and phone contacts. According to the Pew Research Center, the typical smartphone user checks his or her phone over 150 times a day.


“Ninety-seven percent of the texts that are opened, are opened within seconds of receipt,” says Steve Gordon, co-founder of the Gordon Partnership Group, a business communications coaching and consulting firm based in Connecticut. “Text messaging is the most immediate form of communication. It puts your business’s message directly into your customer’s pocket.”

Text message marketing is entirely opt-in

As with email marketing, text message marketing is entirely opt in. “Business owners choose a keyword that’s relevant to their business. Something short, memorable and to the point,” Gordon explains. “Customers text this word to a specific number, and they receive a follow up text that confirms they want to receive your messages.”

Customers can opt out of text message marketing at any time by texting the word ‘stop’ to the sender. However, opt-out rates are exceptionally low. Both El-Darahali and Gordon put the opt-out rate at less than five percent; email unsubscribe rates hover around 50 percent.

Text_Marketing_PQ.jpgUnderstand what makes text message marketing successful

“Many business owners shy away from text message marketing because they’re worried it will be seen as some version of spam,” Gordon says. “However, these aren’t random people you’re texting. They’re your customers who have opted in and want to hear from you.” The most important point is to keep it relevant. The car wash owner who texts customers with an offer of “Wash one car, get your second car free” immediately after a big snow storm gets good results because it’s immediate and relevant, Gordon explains.

Timing is also critically important when sending text messages. Because text messages are typically opened immediately, they’re great at prompting impulse buys. Sending a text about your Happy Hour specials at the end of the work day will be more effective than sending that same text at 9 a.m.

You have to think about what your customers are likely doing at different points of the day, El-Darahali says. For instance, “don’t send texts when your customers are likely to be sleeping.” He recommends that small business owners use a service that allows them to create their text message campaigns in advance, sending each message at a specific time that will be convenient to the customer.

Frequency is another important criteria. “Even though we’ve had cell phones with texting capabilities since the early 1990’s, few businesses have used texting as a marketing channel,” El-Darahali says. “As a result, texts are still seen as a pleasant surprise by the customer.”

Maximizing the value of text message marketing

Text message marketing can do more than prompt a buy. “Text messages can be forwarded,” Gordon points out, “and customers do that in order to share good offers with their friends.” This makes text message marketing a relatively inexpensive way to acquire new customers. Text messaging can also encourage customers to engage with you on other platforms, such as Facebook or Pinterest.

Text messages can also include contests and surveys. GrapesWine.com, a client of Gordon’s, ran a text message contest where people could vote for their favorite kind of wine and win a gift card. Not only did this contest get a lot of participation—boosting the number of customer names in the database—but it is now possible to segment that customer base by their favorite wine, Gordon explains. Now when GrapesWine.com wants to run a special on Cabernets, for example, they have a list of customers who voted for Cabernets and can target their messaging directly to them.

Promotion of text message marketing is essential

“For text messaging to be a successful part of your marketing mix, your team needs to promote it and encourage customers to sign up,” says Lori Gordon, of the Gordon Partnership Group. While people can be encouraged to opt in via signage, your website, and even through TV and radio commercials, she feels that in-person recommendations from business owners and employees is the best method. “If you’re reluctant to promote your text messaging service, it won’t work,” she adds. “Train your sales team to talk to every single customer about it. That’s how you build a database of people who will appreciate and respond to your text messaging campaigns.”