Learnings from enhancing over 700k SMS messages

mass text messaging

Hi everyone. I went through an exercise of writing down insights I picked up in 2019 working with a bunch of companies on their SMS strategies (and over 700k msgs!). The fact is, even though SMS is picking up a lot of momentum, many people I talk to still don’t know the basics so I hope this primer with some concrete examples and tips is helpful.  I’d also welcome any feedback to my thinking in case you all think i’m off. Enjoy!

Why SMS Marketing?

Thanks to an overwhelming rise in robocalls and spam, businesses are struggling to make contact with prospects and customers through traditional channels like phone and email. In the US, SMS has represented a viable alternative however with its 98-99% open rate! It’s one of the last channels left that people still fully read and one of the last unread badges on your phone that people keep clear.

Whoa. OK so how do I use this effectively?

Because of the personal nature of the SMS channel, there’s a very delicate balance you need to take as a business in crafting messages to be casual enough to pass for the format yet detailed enough to deliver the message you’re intending to send. Additionally, you don’t want to overwhelm people with a wall of text – this isn’t email and your customers will immediately ignore your message or opt-out if you’re not careful. 

You’ll also want to keep a few things in mind when it comes to sending these messages:

  • Timing is important. There are two aspects to this, the first is that you’ll want to respect the windows when people are most likely to be awake and on their phones – it’s best when you know the timezone of your recipients. The second aspect is more of a strategy: response time is incredibly important for relevancy and engagement. Texting your customer after they’ve taken a particular action (purchase, registration, donation) or texting a lead immediately after they’ve expressed interest will get the best results because your business is still top-of-mind for them at this moment. Wait too long and they’ve gotten distracted, stopped caring, and now think you’re a spammer. (Pro-tip: check out Zapier to automate some of this)
  • Be careful about how frequently you send SMS messages so as to not annoy or bother your customers.

Ok.. So what am I supposed to do?

Honestly every company and campaign is different so testing and iterating your approach is key.  There are some tips that we believe in that in various combinations (not all together) have worked for our clients. 

Here are 8 tips and how we’d apply them to real life SMS campaigns we’ve run into in the wild.

#1 – Empty lines can be your friend

Here’s an automated marketing message from Verizon.  In this case it’s obviously an automated blast and there’s no need to head fake a human touch, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to improve.

This message would read way better if you added some spacing. If you read closely, you’ll see two main points that could each trigger a user into action.  1) you have some sort of credit expiring and 2) you can choose a reward at this link.  

By giving each point its own space, they both stand out like so:

#2 – Emojis part 1: add a human touch

Like every other political campaign, the Biden Campaign has relied heavily on SMS and text messaging to connect with its supporters. Many times these messages, all sent from a shortcode, are represented by specific people with real names like Greg.  

There is a line for sure (too much can look cheesy) but adding an emoji here and there the way a normal human would can add a bit of humanity and, in turn, gravity to a text message.

#3 – Emojis part 2: make things fun and eye-catching

Square helps drive more value for their customers by helping grow their mailing list in the automated text messages it sends post IRL checkout. This message however is jumbled and doesn’t seem like an easy or fun ask. Especially when it’s immediately preceded by boilerplate welcome text, the ask needs help standing out.  A few emojis and the same spacing from #1 would go a long way.

#4 – Emojis part 3 – but let’s not go too far

Emojis are great when done tastefully. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing with emojis though. Do I have a rule of thumb like “X emojis per Y words”?  No – unfortunately it’s not like that. It’s more like, when you know you know. Here’s an example that I know is too many emojis. To give some benefit of the doubt, this is a Community.com message that is trying to make this feel like it’s being sent by Kerry Washington herself (see the “accidental typos”). Even with the benefit of the doubt, this comes off too try-hard.  For your business, watch out for crossing the line of too many emojis.

#5 – Branded shortlinks

IMGE ran an interesting study on the SMS strategies of the 2020 presidential candidates (https://imge.com/imge-study-how-the-presidential-contenders-are-using-sms/). In it they shared how important text messaging is for this election. From Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump to Andrew Yang, all of them are using text messages. In that same study, they mentioned that over 67% of messages include a link. Links are powerful as it allows you to take a message with limited space, and connect to an even more valuable experience on a website like a purchase page, a donate page, or more media.  

A big caveat regarding links – nothing is more visually unappealing or even spammy though than a super long link.  Bed Bath & Beyond should take a page out of Elizabeth Warren’s book and invest in a nice branded shortlink. What looks more inviting to click


#6 You’ve tapped them on the shoulder with a text, engage more!

SMS messages are so incredible because of their ability to immediately capture a consumer’s attention. That said, this power needs to be used judiciously and leveraged fully.   By judiciously I mean just because your first text message drove X dollars, does not mean you should try texting daily to drive 7x dollars a week.  Texting is a sacred channel so you’ll get unsubscribed SO quickly. Leveraged fully means, if you are given the OK to enter a consumer’s text messages make sure you engage.  

Take Everlane’s dressing room waitlist message.  Pretty nice use of technology and I wasn’t bothered by getting it.  It was like a digital tap on the shoulder saying “hey – don’t worry, we’ve held your place in line”.  But why not engage more and provide additional value? You should think about every SMS engagement very carefully and take advantage when you can

#7 – Sign off / Sign your messages

Another way to add a bit more humanity to your sparse texts is with a simple sign off or signature.  Especially if your company & brand does not fit the emoji strategy of adding a human touch…or maybe you took it too far with your last message (see #4), a simple signature can make a recipient pause and say “hey a real person probably wrote this” which can be enough to increase engagement or lower opt-outs.  

BizCounsel (https://www.bizcounsel.com) is a service I love and they do a great job of using SMS.  They even sign their messages. I would suggest taking it a step further and sign with a name.

#8 – “Maybe: Andrew Yang”

iOS does a lot of fun things to try to make the text messaging experience better for its users. One of those things is looking for signal within messages that could help identify a sender that isn’t in your address book.  You can take advantage of that by identifying a name in the body of your text like starting with “Hey, it’s Andrew Yang…”   

On the low end of reactions, it can simply make a message feel more comfortable or add some curiosity that increases engagement.  On the high end, like with Andrew Yang, the 2020 democratic candidate for president, you can trigger a lot of enthusiasm from recipients who might share their excitement on Twitter…

Anything else?

There are also a few legal details to consider. While there are some exceptions, it is safest to make sure you’ve gotten express opt-in from your customers before engaging over SMS and don’t message them after they’ve opted out. It’s not hard to follow those rules and avoid being another Jiffy Lube (https://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/8/prweb9818865.htm) cautionary tale.

Closing Remarks / Feedback Request:

I really hope this has been helpful and would be excited to answer any follow up questions you all might have.  Feel free to comment or dm me!  Finally, with any goodwill that was created through this post, I’d love to ask for feedback on the new free product my company launched today. Tape is a mobile video platform designed to enhance text message campaigns and I think anyone who got this far in a post about SMS strategy might appreciate it.

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