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5 SMS Marketing Tips for Small Businesses Almost 100 percent of text messages are opened. Learn the rules of SMS marketing, and get started.

By Anand Srinivasan Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


A number of small and local businesses do not have Short Message Service (SMS) marketing high on their priority list. The primary reason for this is the stringent anti-spam laws that govern marketing strategies. American businesses are bound by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) that can impose a fine of anywhere between $500 to $1500 per unsolicited text message sent. This can add up quite exponentially if you have been making use of bulk marketing techniques.

While text spam is dealt with quite strictly, it is perfectly possible to stay clear of violations and still make a killing off SMS marketing. Consider this -- the average open rate for emails is somewhere between 20-30 percent. In comparison, the open rate for a SMS is nearly 98 percent. And nearly 90 percent of SMS recipients open their text messages in the first three seconds. The potential return on investment here is too attractive to let go of.

Understanding the rules of SMS marketing.

Before you get started, it is important to understand the rules of the game so that you adhere to TCPA regulations. The most important rule to remember is that you may only send marketing messages to recipients who have explicitly opted in to receive these messages.

Related: Redefining The Language Of SMS To Steer Your Business

Email marketers routinely send promotional messages to recipients who downloaded their PDF or signed up for a free trial. This is not possible with SMS marketing. The correct way to do this is to ask your prospects to manually click a checkbox to opt-in or by asking them to subscribe personally by sending you a text message with relevant keywords. This makes lead acquisition much harder, but in terms of quality, these leads are a lot more valuable and consequently convert better.

Restrict your message to 160 characters.

When you send a lengthy SMS -- more than 160 characters -- mobile networks typically break the text into smaller chunks of 160 characters each. Messages are restitched before they are delivered to the intended recipient. This does not happen seamlessly at all times. Some networks do not break or merge messages and other networks can refuse to carry such texts. As a result, your recipient may either fail to receive these messages altogether, or messages may sometimes get delivered out of order. Either way, the essence of your marketing promotion does not get communicated to your recipient.

Related: Planning Your Mobile Marketing Strategy

Besides, SMS messages are meant to be short. Long text messages can distract recipients, and they may fail to engage with your communication.

Timing is everything.

Have you ever received an SMS from your local pizzeria offering discounts just when you were about to order food? With SMS marketing, timing is everything. The nature of the medium is such that the recipients open their messages instantly upon receiving them. But at the same time, the lack of a visual medium makes it difficult for marketers to build brand recall through this channel.

Consequently, the main objective for a marketer must be to reach out to their consumers just when they are making a purchasing decision. So while a pizza chain may send out their offers during lunch hour, a salon may schedule their messages to align with how frequently a particular customer needs their service.

Include a phone number or URL as the CTA.

The success of any marketing campaign depends, to a great extent, on the call to action (CTA). With SMS marketing, there are no fancy buttons or anchor links to include in your messages. However, the only way to get an interested consumer to buy is by letting them know how.

Related: Quartz to Text You the News, Joining Other SMS-Based Services

One of the most popular and easy ways to do this is by including a phone number or URL at the end of your message. You may make use of URL shorteners like Bitly to keep your messages down to 160 characters. While this may not be the most ideal call for action, it is still important to enable your recipient to act on their impulse, and reach out to your business.

Advertise your shortcode on all promotional materials.

No matter how good your promotional message is, SMS marketing is still a numbers game. The size of your list determines the success of your campaigns. One trick to organically grow your SMS marketing list is by promoting your shortcodes over other channels like email, fliers or through stickers inside your store. Investing in a shortcode is extremely crucial and promoting your opt-in keywords are a pretty effective way to build a pool of recurring buyers for your business.

Anand Srinivasan

Founder, Hubbion.com

Anand Srinivasan is the founder of Hubbion, a free-to-use project management tool for small and medium businesses. He is the author of How We Did It.

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