The benefits of SMS as a marketing & communications channel

Why companies and organizations should do SMS.

The solo series has been about explaining messaging channels. We’ve been concentrating on SMS and there is a lot of background information and terms that we’ve discussed over the last two episodes. It’s been a lot of detail, this episode is the payoff.

We’re going to talk through from an organization or marketers point of view, what SMS is good for and how an organization should use the channel. These are not the only answers, but they are pretty comprehensive and we’re talking at a high level, so it covers a lot.

I’d love to discuss all of this or answer questions. So if you disagree, or are thinking about a use case that I don’t mention, please connect on Messenger so we can discuss. CTA.

Let’s talk about the cold hard facts. First and foremost, SMS is the most ubiquitous channel of communication on the planet. I’d imagine there are more phones on the planet than any other type of device and every single phone has SMS. Like every one. Almost everyone on the planet has one.

I’ve helped to launch campaigns that were focused on homeless populations and SMS was the obvious and only channel. You might be thinking that you’re a marketer and the homeless is not in your target demographic, but young people it’s their only channel in a different way. They just don’t use email even if they do have to have an email address for some reason. I don’t think anyone really uses email until they have a job that requires it.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. First factor is the ubiquity of SMS – absolutely everywhere.

The second factor is the importance of the channel. Text messaging is the way that people talk to their parents, children, best friend and significant other. It’s simply the most important channel out there.

Now this is still true, but I feel it’s slipping a bit. I have some friends that moved out of the country and we use Facebook Messenger. I have one friend in the UK and we use Whatsapp. Most things that are group messages we’re doing on Messenger. And of course I have friends that work in the messaging space, so we use Allo ironically. Although I do like it a lot.

For now, SMS is still king. When anyone here’s that sound they automatically & instinctively look at their phone. It simply can’t be helped. In fact I’d argue that the messaging ping, SMS or your messenger of choice, is the number #1 trigger in the world. If you’re a marketer and want to get someone’s attention there is nothing that grabs attention like the message ping.

What the ubiquity and importance of the SMS channel means is that when an organization sends a message, it’s going to be read and it will be read quickly. That’s something easy to say and easy to hear, but the numbers that are floating around are that messages have a 99 percent open rate and the average test is read in 90 seconds. This is just simply insanity. I bet for the average link on the internet, 99% of the people that click, don’t actually make it to the page. That’s how crazy a 99% open rate is.

NOW, there is a chance these numbers aren’t exactly true. It’s really hard to tell. It’s just way too much of an echo chamber out there. If you google for it, there are a million hits, all the numbers are impressive, but they are all companies sell or promote SMS campaigns or news stories talking about SMS campaigns. It’s unclear what the source for this data is and/or who a credible source would actually be.

BUT even with that uncertainty, SMS is ubiquitous and an important channel for almost everyone. Because of those facts open rates are very high and opens happen very quickly.

What is SMS good for from a marketing/communication channel view? First, let’s review what it’s NOT good for. Remember, SMS requires an opt in, so it’s not an advertising channel. By advertising channel I mean that a brand can use the channel to find new people. They can pay to get their message in front of people. This is not possible with SMS. You cannot just send a user a text, they would have had to message in first. And if they messaged in first, that means the brand reached them somewhere else and asked them to message in.

This is actually a common question. It’s not possible to buy a list of numbers and send them a text. That’s a big reason why you, as a text message user do not get spam texts often.

SMS is not an advertising channel, but it’s great as a response channel to advertising. This is actually the first big super-power of SMS. If you do a tv commercial and the call to action is to join, call 1800 or go to www.com or text join to 12345, the text message call to action will beat the 800 number and website. From a call to action someone is more likely to text in rather than call in or visit a site.

Let’s even take this a step further. Once someone texts in they are more likely to provide their email address over SMS compared to the phone or URL response channel. The first superpower of SMS is as a response channel (response to a brands ads and media) and that means that the brand gets more people, more leads from all of their advertising efforts.

Here’s a theoretical example. We’ve all seen heard and read a one hundred Geico commercials. Whether it’s cavemen or the lizard, they all basically say that I can save 15% or more on car insurance by getting a quote from Geico.com. From what I’ve seen with clients if Geico added or text the word GEICO to 12345 each commercial would drive more people to get a quote.

I’ve seen many different tests and they usually work something like this. Let’s stick with the Geico example. In order to give a quote, Geico needs to understand zip code, make & model of the car, age of the driver and miles driven each year in order to give a quote. So sending the user to the website is just the first step of this process. Same with the user texting in, it’s just the first step of the data collection process.
With test I’ve run in the past the SMS channel will drive about 3 times more leads than the URL call to action from a TV commercial. That’s huge. This ratio will change depending on the advertising medium. For a TV commercial, viewers will probably be near a computer or they’ll have a phone with a browser. If someone were to stand up at an event and do the same call to action… a person would be much more likely to text in rather than go to a URL.

Basically, the further away a viewer/listener is from a computer, the bigger the ratio will be.

Think about a scenario where Bruce Springsteen wants to help a charity…

Another big advantage for SMS as a response channel is that it’s an instant subscription. If a user messages in, but doesn’t provide the information asked for, the organization can follow up. If a user goes to the URL and just leaves, that user is gone.

Again, the best way to describe this value is that SMS works as a response channel and will drive MORE PEOPLE – whether that means leads, donors, customers etc.

Super power number 2 for SMS has to do with activation. When a message is sent, it’s going to be seen and it’s going to be seen quickly. The best use for messages is to drive action from the recipients.

In the Geico scenario, it would be better to send an activation message such as “remember that you need to add a credit card to the account before you’re covered” rather than an information message like, “Geico was rated #1 by JD Power and Associates.”

Texts are great at getting people to do things. Sometimes that means replying with data, sometimes it means a real world action and sometimes it can lead to long term behavior change. The one thing that I’ve seen over and over again is that the mobile list will take more action compared to any other list a marketer can access. Most of the time we’re comparing the mobile list to email.

I’ve seen campaigns where people on the mobile list are more likely to vote, donate or even quit smoking. This activation idea is a big deal for brands – Geico wants people to buy their insurance, Amazon wants people to sign up for Prime and a presidential campaign wants people to donate and vote. Everything comes down to activation at some level.

Here’s where it gets interesting. People will probably not finalize their insurance on the phone most of the time. They probably don’t sign up for Prime on the phone and they definitely can’t vote on the phone. But the people on the mobile list that receive a text will be more likely to take the action even if the action isn’t on text or even the phone.

An example that I used all the time. It’s a trick, but just think through it with me. Let’s say that you are the marketer for a CRM company like Salesforce. People come to a webinar and give their email address to attend the webinar. After the webinar there are automated follow ups over email. The whole point is that we want to nurture the leads that attended the webinar and get them to signup for salesforce give a credit card etc. So let’s say 100 people attend the webinar and Salesforce has email addresses for all of them. How many people signup for Salesforce through that email???

It’s a trick question. Zero people sign up through the email. It’s actually impossible to do that. People signup on a webpage. The email will link people to the webpage or simply remind them to go to the page and signup. SMS works the same way.

It’s slight of hand because email is definitely a direct route the signup page. With SMS it’s tough to link out and get the person to signup on their phone. With SMS it’s also probably that people get the text, but then signup on the desktop computer. And it’s also common that the text would actually capture the person’s attention, increase the chances that they open the email and then convert.

Whatever the route, the data is pretty solid. We would regularly see the mobile list convert 3-5x better than the non-mobile list. Just to get really specific, the text campaigns are usually working in the same department as the email campaigns or CRM. So the cohorts that are being compared are the email + SMS list vs the email – only list. In that scenario, the mobile+email list will usually do 3 times better.

It’s not surprising, right. The mobile phone number is a sign of interest. I mean when you’re single, you’re more likely to go out with someone if you get their number. This is a little like the business equivalent.

There’s one more thing to talk about quickly. I sold SMS capabilities for almost 8 years. When an organization would reach out they would always have one of these benefits in mind. So I’d get a call saying something like – we have this opportunity to partner with a rock back. We think it makes sense for the band to tell their fans to text in.

Or they would be thinking about the second superpower – we want to text people and get them to do X.

In order the campaign and organization to be successful both benefits, both superpowers need to be used. If you’re thinking of a great way to use SMS as a response to media, you still need a long term plan to activate the people that respond to the media.

If you have a great idea to text people and get them to purchase, or show up for an event, you also need an idea of how the person will join the list in the first place. That opt in is a requirement.

It’s really similar to the approach of email – an organization needs a way to grow their list and something to say to the list they’ve grown.

Lastly, I boil down the benefits of SMS to More People and More Action. In terms of direct marketing, not brand marketing, these two benefits are about all there is.

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