Learn how to engage your entire SMS audience strategically—without sending mass text messages.
The phrase “bulk SMS” is often used interchangeably with the term “SMS marketing”—but they’re not actually the same thing.
While bulk SMS refers to reaching as many subscribers as possible with one message, SMS marketing is about more than that. It’s a direct and personal channel that allows you to connect with and engage the right subscribers with the right message at the right time.
Consumers also expect (and prefer) this kind of personalization from brands, rather than receiving generic content that could be relevant to anyone and everyone.
That’s exactly why SMS shouldn’t be thought of as a bulk messaging or batch-and-blast tool. When text message marketing isn't done in a thoughtful and compliant way, it doesn’t set your brand up for success or create the best possible experience for your subscribers.
Keep reading to learn more about the difference between bulk SMS and SMS marketing, and how you can reach and engage your audience more effectively with text messaging.
What is bulk SMS marketing?
Bulk SMS—also known as mass texting or blast texting—is the practice of sending marketing text messages to a large database of recipients (i.e., hundreds or thousands) simultaneously.
In other words, it’s when you send the same message (SMS or MMS) to a lot of people at once.
What are the disadvantages of bulk SMS marketing?
Bulk SMS is typically thought of as a cost-effective and efficient marketing strategy because it’s a low-lift way to reach a lot of people quickly. But there’s a downside to approaching SMS marketing through that lens: mass texts don’t necessarily have mass appeal.
When you send the same messages to your entire subscriber base—without proper targeting or personalization—you’re not maximizing your potential engagement and revenue. You might be reaching as many people as possible, but it’s unlikely that one message will resonate with everyone on your list. Some people might click through and convert, but others might ignore it (or unsubscribe) if they don’t feel like it’s relevant.
Is bulk SMS effective?
Truly effective SMS marketing campaigns are more sophisticated than simply sending out a mass text. They involve segmenting customers into different lists based on specific criteria, such as their geographic location, demographic, purchase history, or preferences—and then sending targeted messages to those groups.
That doesn’t mean you can never send SMS campaigns to your full list of subscribers. There are scenarios where this might make the most sense for your brand—like when you’re early in your SMS marketing journey and are still growing your subscriber base, or when you want everyone to hear about an exciting new product launch or big holiday sale.
But it’s not a long-term or sustainable marketing strategy. As you mature your SMS program, you have to be intentional about who you text, when you text them, and what you text them about.
How to use SMS effectively for your brand
If you want to get the most out of the text messages you send, there are three main steps you need to take to set yourself up for success:
- Grow your SMS list quickly and compliantly
- Learn about your subscribers’ shopping habits and preferences
- Create targeted audience segments to increase personalization
Grow your SMS list quickly and compliantly
Growing a healthy and engaged subscriber base is essential. The larger the list, the more people you have the opportunity to reach and influence through SMS.
If you’re not sure where to start with your list growth efforts, focus on capturing new subscribers from your website first, since you’re already driving traffic there on desktop and mobile. Then, you can branch out to your other channels: email, social, paid media—and even offline, if you have physical stores.
But keep in mind: SMS is a regulated channel with strict standards of compliance and a specific set of rules for each country.
In the United States, you must be compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the carrier guidelines of the CTIA. In Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, you need to adhere to other regulations like Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK-GDPR), and Australia’s Spam Act 2003, respectively, as well as carrier guidelines.
Before you start sending marketing text messages, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the best practices for SMS compliance in your region to make sure your program meets the basic requirements.
While the exact regulations depend on the country you're sending to, at a high level, most require you to:
- Get express consent from mobile subscribers before sending them marketing text messages.
- Explain to potential subscribers what they’re signing up for (e.g., that by sharing their phone number, they’re agreeing to receive recurring marketing text messages from your brand).
- Allow subscribers to opt out of your SMS program at any time by responding with a recognized opt-out keyword—and you must respect their opt-out requests.
The right SMS vendor should also be well-versed in compliance laws in all regions and be able to provide you with guidance and recommendations on how to navigate them.
Disclaimer: the materials in this section are for informational purposes only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your legal counsel to obtain advice with respect to any particular issues or problems.
Learn about your subscribers’ shopping habits and preferences
Tailoring your text messages to appeal to different groups within your subscriber base can help increase engagement and revenue. But how do you do that? The first step is getting to know your subscribers on an individual level to understand their habits and preferences.
There are a few ways you can do this:
- Tap into insights you already have about your subscribers’ behaviors or how they’re interacting with your brand and products. That includes their browsing history (e.g., viewed a specific product, added to cart), purchase history, purchase frequency, average order value, or engagement (e.g., clicked on a text message recently).
- Add a preference collection form to your email and SMS sign-up units. These forms allow you to learn what new subscribers are interested in during the opt-in experience. For example, if you're a beauty brand, you can ask subscribers to indicate their skin type (e.g., dry, normal, oily, combination). If you’re a clothing brand, you can ask subscribers to select which categories they’re interested in (e.g., casual, work wear, accessories). Anything you can use to customize their experience later.
- Ask your subscribers directly about what they like or want through two-way text messaging. By incorporating Two-Way Journeys™ into your campaigns and triggered messages, you can prompt subscribers to reply to questions with certain keywords and then save their preferences as custom attributes. For example, if you ask subscribers how often they want to hear from your brand, you can add anyone who replies with the keyword for “1-2 texts per month” to a segment of subscribers you message less frequently—and only about the most exciting updates—to avoid fatiguing them.
The more insights you can gather about what your subscribers want and need, the better you can curate their SMS experience and keep them interested in engaging with—and buying from—your brand via text.
Create targeted audience segments to increase personalization
Once you have a strong foundation of first- and zero-party data at your fingertips, the next step is to build out your segmentation strategy.
There are a lot of ways you can segment your audience to reach and engage different groups with relevant, personalized content. Some examples:
- Create a segment of engaged or active subscribers who have clicked at least one text message recently (e.g., in the last 30 days). Prioritize sending SMS campaigns to this group since they’re the most likely to make a purchase.
- Develop winback campaigns for unengaged or lapsed subscribers who haven’t clicked or made a purchase in a certain time frame (e.g., in the last 90 days). Offer them a significant discount to come back and shop.
- Recommend upsells or cross-sells to subscribers based on their past purchase history. For example, if you’re a beauty brand, create a segment of “Foundation purchasers” and promote related products to help them complete their makeup look (e.g., concealer, mascara).
- Send exclusive offers or coupons to your most loyal shoppers, using criteria like lifetime spend or number of purchases made over time to create a segment of “VIP” subscribers.
- Text subscribers about specific products or experiences based on their geographic location or time zone. For example, promote summer-related items to people who live in warmer climates, or invite subscribers who live near a specific retail location to shop in-store (e.g., Chicago subscribers).
Bottom line: Text messages that are tailored to meet your subscribers’ wants and needs are more likely to inspire action and conversion. That’s what sets SMS marketing apart from bulk SMS—it’s about engaging your entire audience in a strategic way, rather than sending one message to everyone on your list and hoping it clicks.
Want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your SMS marketing efforts? Check out our guide to launching and scaling your program successfully.