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When it comes to marketing, brands always want to know what’s new and what’s next. One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is: "What should we be doing (or thinking about doing) to reach our customers?"
As the vice president of marketing for a marketing technology company, I’ve spent the better part of two decades helping brands use online, social and mobile marketing tools to grow their business. Looking ahead and understanding where the marketing industry is headed is not just part of my daily grind — it’s what fuels me.
For the majority of organizations — from corporations to startups to nonprofit groups to local businesses — one answer is to explore the benefits of mobile marketing (also known as SMS marketing) as part of an integrated marketing strategy that may also include more traditional channels.
We’ve entered a new era of communication in America. When taking a closer look at consumer behavior and preferences, it appears that the future lies in text messaging over email to enhance business-to-consumer interactions. According to Gartner, text message open and response rates are "as high as 98% and 45%, respectively — in contrast to corresponding figures of 20% and 6% for email." This makes text messaging an effective way to get through to a defined audience.
Texting is how many people prefer to communicate these days — and there are a couple of compelling reasons behind this shift:
• People are on their phones more than ever. As reported by VentureBeat, Americans send 2.27 trillion texts every year. What’s more, one study found that people look at their phones an average of 80 times per day. Mobile marketing is a way to reach consumers, quite literally, exactly where they are.
• The send-and-receive is almost instantaneous. Ninety percent of text messages are read within three minutes, according to TechJury. For this reason, organizations can get important and time-sensitive information, such as extreme weather warnings and appointment reminders, in front of people quickly and in real-time.
Companies are increasingly open to the digital revolution that’s underway and are employing text messaging because of its proven effectiveness. One company — which polled 1,000 consumers and 1,000 businesses — found that:
• 'Businesses are swiftly adopting text messaging as a communication tool.' Thirty-nine percent of the businesses polled use some form of texting with their customers, and more than half of the businesses polled in various industries see the value of texting even if they haven’t yet used it.
• Most consumers are already being texted by businesses. More than 75% of the consumers polled are already receiving some kind of text message from a business.
Understandably, despite this movement toward mobile, some decision makers may pause before testing or implementing SMS marketing as part of an overarching campaign. Because I’ve seen numerous companies benefit from this type of customer engagement (particularly small- and midsized businesses), I’d like to share some advice about how to use mobile marketing effectively.
• Keep messages brief. Individual SMS messages are limited to 160 characters (if more, they’ll be broken down into multiple messages). To keep the customer’s attention, send one text that focuses on one theme — using succinct sentences and proper punctuation. Ideally, texts should take approximately five seconds to read. Link to your website to offer additional information and drive conversions.
• Consider auto-reply keywords. This feature enables customers to receive more information by sending a specific keyword in response to the text. For example, they can text the word "DIRECTIONS," and a link to your Google Maps or Google My Business listing would automatically be sent. This is particularly useful for answering common questions (address, phone number, hours) as well as for promotions ("Text DEAL for a coupon") and growing social media ("Text INSTA for a link to our page").
• Watch your frequency. In my experience, flooding customers’ phones will likely get you blocked quickly. Reach out when there’s a reason, at most three to five times per month. This could include sending texts about upcoming sales, new product launches, holiday hours or closures, appointment reminders or emergencies.
• Be visual. From time to time, include a high-quality photo as part of your message to avoid the repetitive nature of sending only text. This can be particularly effective for companies in the creative space, along with retailers. I've found that an image can prompt consumers to take action.
There’s no question that, in the majority of cases, marketing efforts should be comprehensive. In my experience, text messaging is most effective when it complements and works in unison with other tactics based on your company’s particular industry, customer and budget. What can this look like for your company?
• Use mobile marketing to amplify your message. Never the solo platform to announce something newsworthy, texting for business should serve as one of multiple mediums to spread the same news. Using more traditional approaches — such as social media, blog posts or even a video — in tandem with texting can ensure that you’re reaching a broad audience.
• Connect your messages. Using a website or social media profile as a home base, route all customers there for key information. In short, use the text message as a teaser that directs the consumer to a larger platform where they can learn more, place an order, sign up or access the report.
• Build your customer base with special offers. When launching mobile marketing or attempting to grow your following, consider offering an incentive for customers to opt in. This could be in the form of a one-time discount or gift with purchase. In addition, add a statement ("text JOIN" to a phone number) to existing marketing collateral like signage, brochures, banners and your website. The impact can be two-fold in that the company is generating brand loyalty and increasing sales.
Many companies with an eye on the future are embracing mobile messaging to better engage customers. These conversations can be the key to growing relationships and, ultimately, building loyalty.
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