Second coming: Why SMS marketing has become popular again

Digital marketing has changed beyond all recognition over the last decade, with new way to target consumers seemingly being developed every day. Businesses communicate with potential customers via email, social media, video, and more, but whilst many marketers chase after the next shiny opportunity, SMS marketing – advertising by text message – has re-emerged as one of the best performing methods today.

SMS marketing may not appear as innovative or “cool” as Instagram influencers or YouTube ads, but with billions of people around the world carrying a phone in their pocket all day, the scale of the userbase is staggering. Moreover, as SMS is an old and established technology (SMS was put into action back in 1995), every mobile phone on the market is able to receive such communications, no matter how “dumb” the device is. Unlike popular apps like Facebook or WeChat, SMS is available on both modern smartphones and the more basic devices still used in various parts of the world.

The main reason that some marketers have embraced SMS marketing, however, is not its broad adoption but the open rates. Everyone knows how difficult it is today to get people to open a marketing email, and banner blindness and ad blockers have sent the digital advertising business into a tailspin over the last few years, but people open and read their text messages. It doesn’t matter if they are at work, on the train, or sitting at home in front of the television – if your phone “dings” with a message alert, you read it. Mobile engagement is big business, and that is what marketers are tapping into with SMS marketing.

How does it work?

There are a variety of services that let you add in customer or potential customer phone numbers and then broadcast a message. However, most marketers today work across a variety of mediums and so rather than use a various disparate services, a number of companies now offer an SMS API that can be plugged into the marketing suite or messaging platform you already use, meaning no extra learning curve and analytics can be easily combined.

What can you send?

As text messaging technology goes back a quarter of a century it is little surprise that the messages are generally limited to a short piece of text – 160 characters to be precise (a bit longer than a traditional Tweet). Whilst picture message marketing does exist, the benefit of SMS marketing is the simplicity – customers know within seconds who the message is from and what they are being offered. And because everyone understands the limits of the technology, you don’t have to spend time beautifying the image – all you need is engaging, and more importantly concise, copywriting. If you can distil your brand, value proposition, and call to action down to a single sentence, SMS messaging might be the right platform for you (and if you can’t then maybe work out what your business should be focusing on).

What about the law?

The law is always running a few paces behind technology, but thanks to the SMS’s long history, the regulations surrounding its use are well established and relatively strict – it is not the wild west. In the UK, SMS marketing is governed by the information Commissioners Office (ICO), but every country has similar regulations to make sure that only those who have opted into receiving the marketing messages will receive them, and unscrupulous businesses cannot send out mass messaging campaigns without expensive penalties and legal action. Each country has its own set of regulations surrounding SMS marketing, but in general if you have the consent of the person you are messaging and the messaging fits in-line with what they would expect (ie. don’t send them a message at 2am), then you are probably a-ok.

Photograph by Alok Sharma