What is SMS Marketing? Definition, Benefits, and How to Get Started

what is sms marketing
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SMS Marketing
Published on
Sep 28, 2022
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Hadley Irwin
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What is SMS Marketing? Definition, Benefits, and How to Get Started

If you're brand new to SMS, this post will walk you through the foundational basics and best practices inspired by our thousands of customers. If you are already using SMS, this is a great resource to educate your team about the benefits of reaching your audience on such a direct, owned marketing channel. We’ll include:

What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing, or short message service marketing, involves sending offers, promotions, and reminders to subscribers' mobile devices via text messages. Key points about SMS marketing include:

  • Messages are limited to 160 characters, accommodating plain text, numbers, and emojis
  • MMS marketing (multimedia messaging service) expands SMS capabilities by allowing multimedia content like video, images, audio, and GIFs within messages
  • SMS marketing is similar to email marketing, offering a personalized and measurable way for brands to connect with consumers.

Over the last few years, SMS marketing has become a differentiator for brands of all sizes who’ve used it to drive revenue and build loyalty with their customers. This performance marketing channel allows brands to have 1-1 conversations with consumers at scale, and lets consumers reply back.

Why is SMS marketing so effective? 

Most of us have only one cell phone number. We keep it for a long time and are pretty selective about who we share it with. We carry our mobile devices with us everywhere for immediate and reliable communication with our friends, families—and now brands.

Being able to text our favorite brands feels natural and convenient. And because SMS requires consent and is easy to opt-out of, we can feel in control of which brands are in our “favorites.” For marketers, SMS marketing stands out as a channel that’s uniquely data-informed and measurable. 

With analytics, channel orchestration, and reporting tools, you can better engage your audience so they’re receiving content and offers they’re interested in. Brands who use Attentive for text messaging are driving $55 for every $1 spent through SMS.

When it’s done well, SMS can power much more than the acquisition stage of your marketing efforts. It can become a central part of your CRM. 

SMS marketing benefits

SMS marketing builds unmatched engagement and customer loyalty across a variety of industries:

  • E-commerce brands convert mobile browsers through relevant text messages, like cart abandonment reminders, product launches, and sales. 
  • More traditional retail brands increase foot traffic to stores with location-specific SMS marketing campaigns. They’re also using text messaging to drive website traffic and conversions.
  • Food and beverage businesses use text messaging to build diner loyalty with special offers or discounts. They can also drive in-store traffic with localized campaigns. 
  • Entertainment brands and influencers connect with their fans by promoting merchandise and events. 
  • Media and publishing companies can increase page views and drive paid subscriptions with SMS marketing by segmenting their audience based on interests and past behaviors—like topics they care most about and stories they've read. 

Brands across the board—from small and medium-sized businesses to global household names—use text messaging to interact with consumers in more personalized ways, in real time, and at every step of the customer lifecycle.

Why the time to launch an SMS marketing channel is now

It’s getting harder to reach consumers, as they opt for more modern and convenient brand interactions on their own time.

Email click-through rates have decreased by 75% in the last eight years, down to 1.1% on average for e-commerce and retail brands. Similarly, digital ad performance for display and social is down by about 50% over the last few years. Recent privacy and data sharing changes—such as updates with iOS 14.5, 15, and 16—have raised even more challenges for marketers.

It’s clear that brands need to diversify their channels—both from a consumer preference and marketing performance perspective. 

Consumers see personalized text messaging as a way to have more direct access to brands—whether it’s to get support, access behind-the-scenes peeks, or stay informed about their order status.

Notably, 91% of consumers are interested in signing up for texts, but not all brands offer it yet—meaning they’re leaving money (and consumer goodwill) on the table. With the majority of consumers interested in texting, you have a massive chance to capture consumers' attention and e-commerce revenue.

How to get started with SMS marketing

Put compliance at the forefront of your strategy

Before sending any text messages, you should make sure your program meets legal and regulatory compliance standards. At a high level, SMS marketing compliance requirements in the US include the following:

  • Your subscriber must explicitly opt-in for SMS marketing in writing.
  • This opt-in has to be a separate from email marketing.
  • You must clearly explain to potential subscribers what types of messages they’ll receive and how to opt out.
  • You must respect opt-out requests.
  • You can’t send text messages during federal- and state-specific “quiet hours."
sms compliance text example

Make sure to choose an SMS marketing partner who can help you keep compliance top-of-mind with tools and services. 

Disclaimer: the materials in this article 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.

Focus on growing your SMS subscriber list first

Growing an engaged SMS subscriber list is one of the most important steps in launching a successful program. To meet list growth compliance requirements, subscribers must explicitly opt in for text message marketing, and it needs to be a separate opt-in from email marketing. 

  • Make the process simple: The sign-up process should be as easy as possible, limiting the number of steps that shoppers have to take to opt in. You can design your sign-up units to enhance subscriber growth and drive cross-channel acquisition, such as increasing email sign-ups in the same easy flow. 
  • Create sign-up opportunities across channels and devices: Both mobile and desktop sites should be the foundation of your SMS list growth strategy. We recommend showing your sign-up unit to 100% of site traffic, and using a full-screen pop-up. 
  • Customize to match your brand: Design your sign-up units to match your brand’s look and feel. You can also set display rules for your sign-up units to appear exactly when and where you want them to. 
  • Determine your incentive strategy: Depending on your brand’s SMS channel goals, you can also include offers and incentives to encourage more sign-ups. If you’re not able to offer a discount, you can offer loyalty or rewards points, access to exclusive content, or entry into a giveaway. 
  • Measure and optimize: Once you start growing your list, keep an eye on subscriber performance metrics to understand where you’re collecting the most opt-ins. Analyzing and iterating your list growth strategy over time will help you continue to scale your list. 
sms subscriber list growth
text to join sign

Develop and layer your messaging strategy

Lay the strategic foundation for your program by activating triggered welcome and personalized auto-responder messages. Whether someone is browsing or close to purchasing, you can send messages to them to encourage them to buy. 

When your triggered messages are set, you'll be ready to send your first SMS marketing campaigns. If you’re not sure what'll resonate with your target audience, consider A/B testing—and use those tests to inform your future messaging strategy. 

sms segmentation examples

For example, maybe you want to test one message that contains emojis, and another message that doesn’t. Or, you can find out if plain SMS or texts with images resonate better. 

Track and analyze subscriber behavior to identify gaps and opportunities

As with any marketing channel, reporting and analytics can help you meet and exceed your goals. By understanding what’s working with your SMS program (and what’s not), you can refine your strategy over time to get the best results. 

subscriber growth graph

Key reports for your SMS channel should include subscriber growth, message engagement and opt-out reporting, revenue attribution, and integrations with analytics platforms. 

SMS marketing best practices & strategies to try as you get started

Once you’ve laid your SMS marketing foundation, it’s time to put your strategy into action. Keep in mind what you want to accomplish with your SMS channel—and what your target audience wants. 

Make your text messages stand out and engage customers by including a mix of different SMS strategies:

  • Segmentation: Take your text messages to the next level by including different segmentation strategies—like location-based targeting that lets you send messages to the right people in the right places. 
  • Exclusive discounts: Reward your most engaged customers with exclusive coupon codes, early access, and BOGO deals.
  • Non-promotional offers: For brands who don’t typically discount—or want to send different types of updates to subscribers—non-promotional strategies include content like product launches, loyalty program announcements, and brand marketing campaigns.
  • Triggered journeys: Engage your subscribers at scale with triggered messages. From abandoned cart reminders, to price drop and back-in-stock alerts, these examples are always on, so you don’t have to be. 
  • Two-way conversations: For a more personalized approach, take advantage of Two-Way Journeys™ These back-and-forth conversations prompt responses from your subscribers, and help you collect valuable customer data that you can then use to deliver even more curated experiences.
  • Customer service: Attentive Concierge™ delivers hyper-personalized, human-to-human interactions between brands and their subscribers. You can think of it as an extra customer support team that’s trained to provide best-in-class support and reflects your brand values, tone, and messaging. 

You can find more tips in our actionable 30-Day Plan to Driving Results From a New SMS Program or use our SMS planning templates to get started.

Learn more about why thousands of brands choose Attentive as their #1 SMS marketing solution, and see what we can do for you. Try us for free. 

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