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The most common SMS marketing mistakes

Photo of David Gilbert, VP of Americas

David Gilbert

VP Americas

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1 Oct 2018
6 min read
A close up of a hand holding a phone through a window

Text messages have an incredibly high open rate. Over 80% of Americans say they open all of their text messages. With these impressive SMS marketing statistics, why isn't an SMS marketing campaign featured in every brand's sales kit, like email marketing has become? In fact, not only are people receptive to receiving messages, 60 percent say they actually want businesses to use them as part of their interaction.

Is SMS marketing really that easy? The answer is not straightforward and, like all marketing channels, it depends on how it’s used. With only 160 characters at your disposal, word choice is critical. But it’s amazing how so brief a message can create such fertile ground for mistakes.

Surprisingly, the same gaffes are committed time after time. Here are the four most common:

1. Short but not always sweet

You might expect that there would be little chance for errors in such a short piece of text. Yet companies continue to send out bulk SMS messages without checking them for typos. One result is simple spelling mistakes. Unfortunately, these minor blunders often distract readers from the message itself. The popularity of SMS today has given rise to its own grammar, abbreviations, and syntax. A frequent mistake is for brands to dip too deeply into these common idioms in their quest to connect with customers. 

It’s a fine balance between not sounding too stilted and old-fashioned or coming off as faddish or even incomprehensible. Most pundits agree, with only a few words available, it’s wise to stick to Standard English and maintain your brand’s credibility. Your target audience will dictate how far the language can safely lean one way or the other. A well-designed SMS campaign will be targeted, rather than being broadcast to all customers. By personalizing each message with the correct name of the recipient, you will make the customer feel valued. It’s recommended to never send messages addressed to “sir/madam” or “dear customer.” An SMS campaign is an opportunity to build a relationship between the brand and potential customers. Structure each message so the recipient sees its value to them as an individual.

2. Making them guess

Although the number varies by age group, the average American receives 32 texts a day. Millennials are reported to exchange up to 74 a day. With busy lives, recipients of any age will delete the ones that are not immediately relevant. Worse, customers may opt-out of your marketing database in irritation if they feel your SMS advertising is a spam act or heavy on the promotional material. SMS communication should be immediately clear - few things annoy the receiver of a text more than wondering why it was sent. They shouldn’t have to guess what they need to do. Tell them clearly and concisely with an obvious call to action (CTA). The keywords in your CTA should be chosen carefully to have impact and be easy to remember. It is wise to avoid quotation marks, as they may confuse readers. Pepsi found this out to their cost: they asked customers to text “PEPSIMAX to 710710.” Sadly, people did just that, quotation marks and all, not realising they were referencing a phone number. The campaign missed a great opportunity and irritated the ignored texters.

3. Bad timing

A good reason to use text message marketing systems is the ability to choose the time a message is sent. Failure to manage this correctly has cost many companies dearly through opt-outs and low response rates. Most people are creatures of habit. They have set times for work, relaxation, and sleep. If their mobile phone wakes them up at 3 a.m. to advise them of a great holiday offer, they will not respond well. Research shows that the best time for text messaging is between midday and 6 p.m. Weekends are viewed as a poor time to fire off messages. In practice, there is an element of flexibility with the timing, but only when it is based on knowledge of the recipient. Analysis of the target demographic will reveal any suitable variations, such as night workers. 

The culture, time zones, and product or service should all be taken into consideration. A nightclub has a different target audience than a kindergarten. Each will have its own expectation and willingness about when an SMS is welcome. Another common error is to bombard recipients with frequent notifications. For most businesses, two messages a week is adequate. However, if you run a health spa and you send inspirational notes, daily may be acceptable. As with all marketing, know your audience. Timing also comes into play when you share information. Telling a customer you are having a sale, and including a clear CTA, is an excellent plan. But send the message too early and you risk it being forgotten.

4. Lack of proper analysis

A blanket “one size fits all” SMS promotion is a common mistake. An SMS campaign is successful only if it achieves its goals. Too many companies assume success based on inadequate analysis. Before the campaign starts, identify its goal. Your aim might be more sales, greater engagement, or brand awareness. This goal will drive the action: its content, timing, and CTA. Unless you cater to a niche market, your customer base will include a diversity of people. Each is an individual. There are plenty of tools that allow you to learn your customers’ habits, incomes, and preferences. 

Market research will pinpoint the “who, when, and where” of the demographic focus. Even with a carefully targeted campaign, failure to analyze the results makes any claims of success subjective. Sales may have increased, but by what percentage and at what cost? It is important to track the conversions. And as with any marketing activity, the ROI must be factored in.

Continuous A/B testing during the operation will contribute to its success. A/B testing can be used to discover the effect of timing or how certain CTA keywords are working. The campaign can then be adjusted for the optimum impact and conversion rate.

An explosive opportunity

With 90 percent of all SMS messages read within three minutes, it’s easy to see why investing your marketing efforts into mobile marketing is expected to reach USD 200 billion by 2019. It’s a productive tool.

An easy way to avoid simple mistakes is to use a bulk messaging system. Some companies rely on outdated software—which could be considered the fifth most common mistake. Their lack of functionality often inhibits essential features, such as the inclusion of loyalty programs. A recent report showed more than 90 percent of people felt they had benefited from loyalty programs and thought them worthwhile. The best way to improve a text messaging strategy is to learn from industry mistakes to avoid common pitfalls. By avoiding these typical blunders, your brand will be one step ahead of the competition - and ready to engage your customers.

With a full suite of mobile-integrated tools, including advanced SMS software, Whispir is uniquely placed to help you skip the gaffes and develop an effective mobile engagement strategy.

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