Breaking long lasting perceptions of SMS – and realizing the potential. A young marketer’s perspective.

Posted by: Account Management

Author: Felice Forsstrom, Sales Support Specialist, Channel Partners at MessageMedia 

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In my experience, people generally tend to associate SMS with two things, appointment reminders or SMS marketing. We then go on to think, “Appointment reminders is not needed in my business and SMS marketing doesn’t suit our target market”, and that would be the end of it. The truth is though, that SMS is so much more than reminders and spam, it is a powerful communication tool and when it is used correctly and as a complimentary part of the communications mix it can drive meaningful business outcomes and have an impact on the bottom line.


My own perceptions proved wrong.

I will be honest with you, even as an emerging marketer, I too just associated SMS with reminders and marketing. But over the past three months, since starting my career at MessageMedia, I have completely changed my previous perceptions about SMS and have started to realize its potential as part of a business’s communications. I have seen through real life examples that, when executed appropriately, SMS can contribute to an improved customer experience, drive business outcomes and have an impact on the bottom line. Just continue to read if you would like to know how.


Improving the customer experience

One of the first real examples I came across was Walmart stores in the US. Walmart stores are known for being huge, both in area of the stores and in the amount of articles they stock, and one of the major pain points for Walmart’s customers is to be able to quickly find the item they are looking for in the endless array of aisles. Enter Walmart Simple Text, an idea initiated by Clara and Rachel Tsao and Devin Finzer. Walmart Simple Text allows customers to send an SMS saying “Hi” to a Dedicated Number (unique to each store), which will automatically send a SMS back asking which product the customer is looking for. The customer simply SMSs back with the name of the product, and Walmart Simple Text sends back aisle location together with a link to a map of the actual store so that the customer can easily find the product they are looking for. Talk about a great customer experience!


Nurturing Drip Campaigns

While we are on the subject of enhancing your customers’ experience, many businesses today have some kind of nurturing communications in place. Be it after a conversion has been made, or after a customer has called your support center. Sending an SMS thanking for their time, or asking them for feedback can be much more effective than an email which most people would ignore. Sending an SMS which they can simply reply to breaks down the hurdle of providing you with feedback, I can speak out of my own experience. I called Virgin Mobile’s support a while back, and after we ended the call I received a SMS asking me for feedback. I replied to the SMS which prompted a second question and then again a third question. I replied to all three SMSs, but I know for myself that I would not have filled in a survey with the same three questions had it been sent through via email.


Motivational Messaging

Another real life example, this time from Australia, which I came across shortly after I heard about Walmart, was m-health. I read about a study conducted by George Institute for Global Health in Sydney which looked at the use of SMS to help patients, who were at risk of having a heart attack, and motivate them to stay healthy. Half of the 710 participants received the motivational SMSs and they were substantially more likely to exercise regularly and become non-smokers. This use application got stuck in my head, as it is making a real difference in people’s lives. I think it could be applied to any recurring health issues, for example, receiving a SMS wondering how they feel might make a real difference to a patient going through a difficult time. There is so much potential to make a great impact.


Integrated Campaigns

The power of SMS really comes out when it is included in an integrated marketing campaign. Dunkin Donuts did exactly this with great result back in 2012. The aim with their campaign was to increase sales in the Boston area in the US, and they decided to utilize SMS to achieve this. They installed mobile display ads and they also had local radio DJs urging customers to send a SMS to a Dedicated Number, which would generate a coupon offering $0.99 lattes to drive store traffic. The campaign was highly successful and generated an increase of 21% in store traffic.


Running customer competitions is another great way of using SMS in an innovative and fun way. Just set up a dedicated number for customers to be able to send an SMS with a code word, which will then automatically send back an SMS containing a question or the like. This two way communication can go on for as many messages as you would like, and the end game can be that a coupon is generated with a product discount, or that the customer gets entered into the draw for the grand prize. Customers initiating contact like this is also a great way of growing your database.


Speaking of coupons, sales promotions is another great application for SMS. Due to the timely fashion a SMS reaches your customer, sending promotions at the exact appropriate time is now easy. For example, a product discount on bikinis and board shorts sent out to customers on the Friday before a hot weekend, or a lunch promotion sent out at 11.30 am. All your customers need to do is show the SMS they received containing the promotion code.


Direct Marketing Follow ups

It is safe to say most businesses use Direct Marketing as part of their communications mix to some extent, be it in the traditional letter form or through an email. The effectiveness of these channels can be quite poor, especially email which on average only generates an open rate of just over 20%. So, how great would it be to be able to stay in the customers mind for longer, long enough to drive a higher open and effectively click through rate. With today’s communication tools, you can actually set up a drip campaign targeting your non-opens with a SMS. SMS enjoys a far higher open rate of 98% and a majority of SMS messages are read within 5 minutes. This is another great example of SMS working harmoniously with other communications channels.


Event Activities and Management

Using SMS for events is another one of my favorite applications, simply because there is so much potential. If you are speaking at an event, SMS is a great tool to use to engage the audience. For example, you might be referring to an interesting article or to research in your presentation, why not send out a link to the source through SMS? Or if the event is large scale, such as a trade show or a festival, SMS can be used for timely updates going out to attendees. And as SMS allows for two-way communication, you can use it for interactive purposes as well, like having people SMS a location specific keyword to get information relevant to that area of the event. Oh, and we can of course not forget about the event reminders! With this potential it is really only limited by your imagination.
These are just a few of the ways SMS can be used to generate revenue, enhance the customer experience and even have a life changing impact. And this is of course beyond the more common applications of SMS which improves business operations, such as appointment reminders or supply chain management. As I mentioned earlier, three months ago I was very limited in my understanding of how businesses can use SMS, but these examples (and many more) have really opened my eyes and I hope these will also open your eyes and make you realize the potential that lies within this 160 character long, immediate and non-intrusive communication channel.

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