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SMS Marketing: How to Harvest Your Customers' Mobile Details

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to obtain customers' mobile numbers for SMS marketing
  • SMS campaign pitfalls to avoid
  • Why SMS marketing is more effective than email marketing

SMS marketing is a huge growth area for businesses of all sizes, and it's not hard to see why. It's cheap (texts cost just a few pence, especially if bought in bulk), and it's easy to track return on investment.

But most of all, SMS marketing is direct and personal. Look at it this way: If you send your customers a marketing email, it's probably just one of dozens they'll receive that day. Chances are that only a few of them will open your email, meaning you'd need to send it to thousands of potential customers to make the exercise worthwhile.

That's not the case with SMS. Most people receive relatively few text messages from businesses (we'll look at why in a moment), and it's very hard to ignore a text when it arrives.

If you send 10,000 emails in a marketing campaign, only a few hundred will likely be read—even if you have a brilliant headline, great copy, and a must-have offer. But if you text 10,000 people, you can be pretty sure that nearly all your recipients will read your message. If your conversion rate for SMS marketing is close to your conversion rate for emails, that translates to 10 or 20 times as much business.

Interested? Before you start collecting customers' mobile numbers for SMS marketing, you need three essentials in place: a great offer, the right technology, and most important—your customers' trust.

A Question of Trust


There's a reason most people don't get as many marketing texts as they get marketing emails. They see their phone numbers as more personal and more valuable than their email addresses, so they are more careful about whom they trust with their number compared with their email address.

The issue of trust is the great advantage that lies at the heart of SMS marketing. Because people are reluctant to give out their numbers, few businesses have those numbers, and so fewer marketing texts are sent compared with marketing emails. The result is that customers are unlikely to get bored with marketing texts the way they've become bored by marketing emails.

But trust is also the greatest obstacle that you, as a would-be SMS marketer, have to overcome. How do you persuade customers and potential customers to hand over their mobile numbers?

Obtaining those numbers comes down to your offering and your relationship with the customers you're targeting. SMS marketing isn't always great at converting absolutely new, cold customers who know nothing about your product or your brand (neither is email). But SMS is devastatingly effective when used on warm leads, or—in particular—when used to drive repeat business.

Let's imagine some scenarios:

  • You run a restaurant. Some of your customers travel several miles to visit you, and you'd like them to come more often. You collect their mobile numbers and send them the occasional text message—not too many, maybe one every couple of weeks—telling them about a special offer or your Dish of the Day.
  • You're an independent financial adviser. You use SMS to quickly notify customers when a great new product comes along.
  • You run a bike shop, selling new bikes, accessories, and spares. You also offer servicing. You text your customers to tell them about new offers, or to tell them that their bike is ready to pick up, or to notify them when their order has come in.

Those scenarios are based on driving repeat business in situations where customers have a genuine, proven interest in your product or service. They are all, to use the technical term, examples of permission-based marketing.

Getting the Numbers

But how do you persuade your customers to hand over their mobile numbers, and let you use them on a continuing basis?

You'll first need to establish trust. Once you've done that, you'll have several options open to you. Broadly, methods of acquiring mobile numbers from your customers fall into two categories: indirect and direct.

  1. Indirect acquisition means asking for your customers' numbers for purely practical reasons (e.g., letting them know their order has arrived, reminding them about service dates, confirming appointments). That tends to be very effective because customers generally find SMS notifications and reminders very useful. However, if you're planning to use the numbers for further marketing activity, you must get your customers' active permission. If you don't, you'll probably be breaking your country's data-protection regulations.
  2. Direct acquisition means asking for your customers' numbers specifically for the purpose of telling them about products and offers. It's a more upfront approach that tends to have a slightly lower success rate than indirect acquisition, but it deals directly with the problem of permission.

Keeping the Numbers

Once you've gotten the mobile numbers, you need to make sure customers remain happy with your marketing. If a customer asks you to stop sending messages, in most countries the law requires that you do indeed stop.

So, to retain the right to use a customer's number, you have to keep that customer happy. Don't text too often (maybe one offer every two weeks, unless you're really sure of the customer's loyalty), and make sure you're sending genuinely good offers that are very likely to appeal to them.

Above all, make sure you're sticking to those data protection rules—both in your country and your recipient's country (if it's different from yours).

Different legal systems offer different levels of protection for consumers regarding data security and marketing, but it's best to do a bit of research before you start your campaign. If you understand the relevant laws, you shouldn't find them too much of a burden—and they'll help you deliver a legal, effective, customer-friendly campaign.

Using Technology

Another way to grab your customers' mobile numbers is a form on your site. That method is effective because it saves time: a number submitted online can be fed directly into your marketing database, ready for automated inclusion in the next round of marketing.

Of course, technology plays a role in how you'll actually deliver your messages. Obviously, you don't want to be manually sending each text from your own phone (your thumb would get pretty sore!). That's why software exists that allows "texting on the computer." You can send and receive bulk SMS from your computer; you can also manage and build SMS lists.


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Bill Hilton is a marketing communications specialist and trainer based in the UK. TextMagic, one of his longest-standing clients, is a provider of SMS marketing software.

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  • by Avishek Thu Sep 8, 2011 via web

    What is the efficasy of sms marketing, if you receive atleast 30 sms/day from real estate agents to sauna belt companies. In India these sms`s have became a meneace, which now pisses of customers which intrudes your personal space(i.e. your mobile inbox).
    In such a senario how can we make it more effective and increase conversion rate.

  • by Carmia Thu Sep 8, 2011 via web

    Nice article - don't see many on good ol' text messaging anymore.

    While I agree that SMS can be effective (in South Africa we see great success among lower LSM groups and especially when using USSD), I think that it - like email - is competing in an overcrowded inbox space. Unfortunately, many companies that require you to submit a mobile number for service delivery are then targeting their databases with excessive promotional and marketing content. It's annoying. And yes, SMS open rates are high, but for the most part I think that's because you have to open an SMS for the new message alert to be removed from your screen. Don't ask me why, but personally it seems easier on email to delete and on SMS to just open and delete (as opposed to just deleting). So yes, SMS'es attain higher open rates, I'd like to see more on what the conversion rates in this medium are.

  • by Rodney Brooks Thu Sep 8, 2011 via web

    This is why a service like speakEZ is so effective. speakEZ allows you to call one number, from any type of phone; say a promotion or marketing phase and get a SMS marketing message back. You would never have to send bulk message to you customers. They would get the message of the day and you would be able to tailor your message based on what you want to promote.

  • by Jeff Thu Sep 8, 2011 via web

    From my perspective, unless there is a very clear and positive "Opt-In", SMS marketing is a horrible idea!

    1) Many people don't have unlimited texting with their cell plans, so why would we want to annoy them by sending commercials that might cost them money?

    2) Most people view text messages in a different light than emails, and will often stop what they are doing to read one. How annoying would that be to stop everything just to read a commercial?

    3) We all have spam filters to control unwanted emails, but not for text messages. In other words, as consumers (and we are all consumers), this now puts us at the mercy of marketers. (And yeah, there might be some form of 'opt-out', but that doesn't seem to be in place at this time).

    4) If the goal of marketing is to make a positive impact with potential customers, why would you possibly send something that would more than likely annoy them?

    The bottom line is that I think this form of marketing is a really bad idea. In fact, I even blogged about this back in January (http://tinyurl.com/3u2vlg4) when the holiday "offers" that came by SMS were becoming overwhelming.

    My advice: Don't do it unless your customers and prospects clearly agree to opt-in.

  • by Tom Thu Sep 8, 2011 via web

    I run a small business and found that SMS text message marketing has help more then any other marketing I have ever run. It's cheap, ( a penny a message!) and easy for me to do on my own. I 100% agree through that it should only be opt in, and that they can unsubscribe at anytime. If this gets abused this will become spam like everything else! I run my marketing through http://mytextlist.com and love the service!

  • by Scott Fri Sep 9, 2011 via web

    Very interesting thoughts above. I have not seen it effectively used in my market, but think there are real possibilities if done right.

    Because text messages are viewed in a different light than email messages, personally I feel we bear a greater responsibility to clearly explain the opt-in and ability to opt-out. Secondly, there needs to be greater value/reward for our customers to opt-in. Maybe a higher tier of reward than your standard email target list.

  • by Jeff Fri Sep 9, 2011 via web

    I think we need to put ourselves in the place of our clients and prospects in ALL of our marketing efforts. What would appeal to us as individuals? Certainly opting-in for SMS is critical, but even beyond that, our marketing efforts need to be all about the client or prospect. What's in it for them?

    As an example, I've been using Groupon (as a consumer, not as a marketerer). I opted in and was receiving notices on my phone every day just as I had expected. After a while, though, I realized that they rarely had anything I was looking for at the time they sent it, and it was becoming annoying. So, I changed my account settings to stop receiving the notices, but I can still login whenever I wish so I can see what's available. Now if I'm looking for a place to eat, or a particular product, I login and see what's availabe at the time that I want/need it. (I realize this isn't ideal from a marketer's perspective, but it does make their efforts all about ME, which should be the goal). I'm going to be far more likely to buy from someone who doesn't annoy me!

    And that, to me, is the ideal sort of messaging process. It provides all of the information I want, but I get to choose if/when I want to take the time to review it.

    How much better than receiving a text message (in 160 characters or less) that says something like: "Buy my widget and, if you do, I'll take 20% off the retail price..." I may have no interest in that widget - and I probably won't if I'm one of the 3000 who receive the text where the marketer is hoping for a 1% or 2% response rate.

  • by Noelle Fri Sep 9, 2011 via web

    Online sign up pages are a great way to collect consumer information. This is a great article, a lot of mobile marketers have trouble figuring out how to collect mobile numbers since the industry is fairly "new."

  • by K Patrice Williams Sun Sep 11, 2011 via web

    I run a Marketing Company and I've seen the effectiveness of SMS Marketing in Resturants, but not for B2B. I would love to see a B2B case study.

  • by Steve Wed Oct 5, 2011 via web

    I run an SMS service in the US. So far I have not had any problems with any of my clients subscribers opting-out or complaining. I know other operators that have had bad experiences with opt-outs and spammy type of messaging.

    The key is to treat the subscribers exactly the way you want to be treated. Push this down their throats and you won't have that customer long. Mobile Consumers are a different breed an you market to them on their terms.

    I would like to see a B2B case study on this as well.

  • by Isabella Fri Mar 2, 2012 via web

    Hi, I am a Chinese student and I want to get your perimission to use your article to finish my homework which asks me to translate an English article. I am apreciate for ur article and agree with you, thx very much!

  • by Donna Burdett Fri Feb 15, 2013 via web

    I agree that SMS text message marketing can be an effective marketing strategy, I think that, like email marketing - is competing in an overcrowded inbox space.

  • by Donna Burdett Thu Feb 28, 2013 via web

    This is why a service like Blend SMS Marketing is so reliable and effective. It allows users to call one number, from any type of phone; say a promotion or marketing phase and get a SMS marketing message back. Businesses would never have to send generic messages to their customers. They would get the message of the day and advertisers would be able to customize their text messages based on what they really want to promote.

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