the importance of mobile SMS marketing – what I’ve learned

A year ago I had very limited experience with mobile marketing in general, let alone SMS (text messaging) on behalf of a brand. The far and away priority in my world when I started the new job was the social media program and strategy, content marketing, and building a new model in that realm that better connects the brand to consumers and gives them more of what they want to engage with. It’s not something that happens overnight so it took the majority of my time for a long while. But along with the social and content side, I also had the responsibility to oversee the mobile SMS program – something I needed to learn quickly and get rolling. It soon became much more of a priority for me and my team.

Mobile messaging is something I’ve learned an immense about over the last 12 months, and I now can consider myself relatively experienced and knowledgeable about the discipline. A year ago, not so much. But over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve inserted myself into this marketing and communication channel and gotten my hands dirty. I’ve had help – a great team and solid partner/vendor, but a lot of what I’ve discovered and learned has come from personal exploration. And, asking a lot of questions. Many are still unanswered, and that’s OK, however – there needs to be a goal to eventually get them figured out, and that’s my mission.

Mobile SMS at its core sure doesn’t seem sexy. Text messages from a company? Not too fun, or too innovative, right? That’s how I originally felt. But, with tests, data, and optimization, a brand’s SMS strategy can come to fruition and offer new, different and innovative ways to reach consumers where it’s most personal – the phone in their pocket, on a channel that typically is a place for quick messages from friends and family. If the consumer lets you in to their text messaging feed, that’s huge. But don’t screw it up…

Behold, the top 5 things I’ve learned about mobile SMS messaging in one year’s time of leading it for a large retailer:

The goals are to add value and not be invasive 

It’s really that simple at the highest level. I sat in on a presentation at a conference recently and those two things were discussed, and it totally applies to SMS as well. I’m not taking credit for thinking of them in this form, but I’m sure as hell using them, because it’s so true. You get to directly, and immediately, text message a consumer. That’s powerful. But what should you say? What do they want from your brand in that format? How many texts it too many texts in a given time? All of these play a role in truly adding value for the end user.

And, every one of those users is not the same. Mobile messaging needs to feed from CRM just as email marketing does. Segment the list(s) into different consumer groups based on historical data and performance, and give those people what they truly want. In doing so, you won’t be invasive. You start to become annoying, spammy, and invasive when you send texts to consumers that are irrelevant, at poor times of days or days of the week, too frequent, etc. Then you lose them on that marketing powerful medium forever.

Data is everything

Broken record. But yes, data is so immensely important to mobile messaging, especially consumer data (you know, the kind that marketing departments care so much about). And then yes, purchase and behavior data is a huge driver of decisions and optimization for the channel as well. Combine all that together and you have the core of what you need to understand left from right and up from down. Without it, you’re guessing, as with any media channel. However, with mobile SMS your incorrect guess could mean the loss of that consumer touch-point, or the loss of that consumer altogether. Like I said earlier, it’s a very personal marketing channel. With email, people can choose to not even open it or delete it before they really pay attention to it, or have it go in to spam folders without losing much love for the brand. But with SMS, you’re literally right there in their feed that runs most of their personal communication!

Use the data, use what you know about who your members are and what they want, and give them what they want.

Mobile messaging can be sexy

A plain text message can be very effective, to the point, and efficient. But, sometimes it can create a much more dynamic experience for consumers to interact with texts involving images, videos, and other rich content (MMS). Or, you can lead people to mobile-only destinations like games made for the specific campaign or message, or integrate with things like Passbook and Google Wallet, NFC for live engagement, beacons, live countdowns, and beyond. There are so many opportunities. That’s why I’ve come to really enjoy mobile messaging. There’s no “right” way to do it, and the limits of creativity and innovation continue to be pushed, all with the consumer as the centerpiece.

Always be testing

With so many different data points that you can collect and learn from, you’re never done. You don’t hit a point where you’re like, “OK, we have a fully optimized, perfect mobile messaging list, segments, content, plan, etc.” Even if you run executions that work, and show promising results, that doesn’t mean you should not keep learning, trying new and different ways of executing, time, cadence, offers, wording, image vs no image, regions, interest, other demographics, and more!

Prove the value and shout about it

Mobile SMS messaging is a marketing channel that a lot of people are very unfamiliar with as I’ve come to learn. When I took this current role I thought SMS from companies had been around for a while, and it has, but I was surprised how many big companies either didn’t have it, or had a very elementary program. We honestly weren’t that far behind when we kicked it off. A welcome surprise.

What I have learned, is that this channel produces results, and is (for now) still a pretty low cost marketing channel with high return. You’d have to really care about a brand and their products, offers, and sales to sign up to get text messages from them. It’s a pretty engaged group. Track results, find successes, and continue to educate others around you about how this channel can continue to do things other marketing channels cannot. Successes come in different forms – it’s not always just straight sales from one text. It could be membership growth, low opt-outs during a given content plan, web traffic, store traffic, and of course, conversions and sales. There are others, too – just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. But, you need internal stakeholders to understand it and see the success, so you can continue to grow the program and support from within your own walls. Then it will take off outside.

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