Not Prioritizing SMS Marketing? One Metric Will Change Your Mind.
SMS messaging is indelibly woven into the fabric of everyday life for many people. Which makes sense because we’ve been texting — the more commonly used term for SMS — since long before the iPhone even existed.
In fact, the first SMS message was sent 30 years ago. (Seriously.) If you’re a marketer in your 20s, text messaging is older than you.
Our emojis and GIFs — not to mention our phones and apps — have certainly evolved since that first text. But the core SMS technology remains both simple and roughly the same: bursts of text, composed and sent from one device and delivered instantly (more or less) to another — or to many others. It’s fast, cheap (at least with the advent of unlimited text plans for consumers) and, above all, easy.
Yet many brands and their marketing teams give SMS the short shrift relative to other digital channels. It seems, well, old. That may be accurate, but it’s also a potentially misguided way to think about it. SMS is one of the most powerful tools in a consumer marketer’s toolkit.
If you’re skeptical, one metric should quickly change your mind: approximately 90 percent of SMS messages are opened within three minutes of receipt, according to an oft-cited report published by research firm MobileSquared. If you’re even a bit patient, that rises to 99 percent within 20 minutes.
Think about that for a second as a marketer. If you do email (as you most certainly do), you’re probably thrilled with an open rate of 20 percent to 25 percent, and completely fine with clickthrough rates in the single digits. In some industries, a 2 percent clickthrough rate is good.
With SMS, virtually every message gets opened. If you’re not making SMS a big part of your marketing plans, it’s time to start.
Here’s more motivation for you: While SMS may be old, SMS marketing is still in a growth phase. The number of people worldwide who opted in to receive texts from businesses increased 23 percent between 2016 and 2020. All arrows continue to point skyward for SMS marketing, especially as smartphones hit a global saturation point and become the online gateway for much of the world’s population.
What the time-to-open metric tells you is that engagement is both immediate and enthusiastic — the fast-and-furious nature of text messaging makes it a natural fit for brand marketers.
We’ve got an app, you might be saying. That’s great, and it can work wonders, But most stats and research — not to mention anecdotal evidence from our everyday lives — indicates that it’s a lot harder to get people to download your app. And even if they do, they’re not necessarily going to enable push notifications. People tend to tune out notifications, but we're conditioned — with decades of practice now — to open and read texts. And we do it a lot: two-thirds of Americans check their phones 160 times a day, on average.
All of this also puts a little extra pressure on you as a marketer. That massive open rate means people will actually see your message, so you’d better make it count.
It can be relatively simple to get people to opt into SMS — especially if they’re already a customer or interested in your brand. It’s a low barrier to entry and there are ways (such as a discount or offer) to sweeten the pot.
But once you do, you need to be hypervigilant about not overmessaging. Treat SMS campaigns preciously (especially relative to email, which you can do at greater volume). The last thing you want to do once someone opts in to receive texts from you is to overstay your welcome and cause them to opt out, because then you’ve lost them. Reserve SMS campaigns for specific purposes and goals.
Flash sales are a great example — especially when there’s a narrow timeframe for the customer to act. SMS is perfect for that since you know they’re going to open it; giving them a great offer and a deadline to act can be highly effective.
When you get customers to opt into location sharing, SMS geo-fencing can be a good way to get nearby customers to visit a physical store, restaurant location, or other site. And you can stack that with special offers and timeframes, as in the flash sale example. This is another tactic where the massive, rapid open rate of SMS offers a huge advantage relative to email. Any campaign or offer that has time sensitivity is often a great fit for SMS.
The overmessaging issue is real; it’s a balancing act. Err on the side of caution, especially when you’re ramping up your program and building up marketing data that you can analyze and learn from. A good rule of thumb: Put yourself in the customer’s shoes (or phone): Would you want to get this message from a brand you like? How often would you want to hear from the brand? (Probably not that often.) And so forth.
If you’ve been ignoring SMS or taking a ho-hum approach to it up until now, you’re missing out on a powerful tool with incredible engagement. Sometimes the “latest and greatest” technology is actually a three-decades-old messaging protocol. It’s time to embrace SMS. With a near 100 percent open rate, you can’t afford not to.
Jeff Haws is a senior manager at MessageGears, an enterprise customer engagement platform.
Related story: Building Customer Loyalty Through SMS Marketing