SMS tips for e-mail marketers

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It’s not surprising that marketers—both b-to-b and b-to-c—are starting to use short message service (SMS) in addition to traditional e-mail marketing. Today, more than 240 million people in the U.S. own a mobile phone, according to JupiterResearch. About 216 million people in the U.S. were connected to the Internet at the end of 2007, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. But SMS, with its 160 character limitation and a potential added expense for the recipient, isn’t for every marketer or every message.

This week e-mail service provider ExactTarget will release the “Field Guide to Short Messaging Service (SMS).” Most important, said RJ Talyor, ExactTarget’s product manager: Know when to use SMS and when to stick with e-mail.

“The two most important words for SMS are urgency and portability,” he said. “The best [marketing] candidates for SMS are the ones who have an urgent message or one that their end users will need on their person—if they are walking into a retail store or are in the field and need a coupon code.”

Another great use of SMS, Talyor said, is communicating a prospect’s interest in your e-mail marketing directly to your sales force. “If someone downloads a white paper or case study, it might trigger a text message for the sales rep so they know to get on the phone immediately,” he said.

Talyor suggested these pointers to help marketers get started using the medium:

1) Get separate permission. Just because someone has opted in to your e-mail marketing doesn’t mean they want to hear from you via SMS, especially considering that most mobile carriers still charge recipients for mobile messages delivered to a handset. Wireless carriers and aggregators require marketers to secure a double opt-in, so make sure you’re doing just that before sending out your first mobile marketing message, Talyor said.

2) Design an SMS-specific call to action and tracking code. There’s no way to track open or click-through rates with SMS messages—although most carriers and aggregators can provide delivery metrics—so if you want to calculate ROI, you’re going to have to be creative. “You can target really well, actually,” Talyor said. “You can create different tracking codes for different portions of your list and send them out so you know which segment is most responsive.”

3) Let subscribers select frequency. Marketers should create an online preferences form so prospects and customers can specify exactly how often you can contact them. This is especially important for SMS marketing—even more so than e-mail, Talyor said. “I go back to our new motto: Subscribers rule,” he said. “And make sure subscribers know exactly what they have chosen. It should be clearly spelled out in their preferences.”

4) Make sure messages contain a “Help” and “Quit” option. “You’ve got 160 characters, but that includes a ‘Help’ message—if a subscriber needs help they can click on it to text back—as well as a ‘Quit’ or ‘Unsubscribe’ message,” Talyor said.

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