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How to tap into the marketing power of SMS

Nordstrom is known for personal high-touch service, so it makes sense that the brand would look for marketing channels to offer simple, fast engagement and more personal, threaded conversations with its customers. The company’s TextStyle fashion concierge program deployed text-based SMS messages so text-happy customers could engage directly with their personal shoppers. Shoppers can then alert their customers to new styles and take orders via SMS.

SMS remains an effective, yet underutilised, mobile tactic among marketing leaders and is particularly valuable when used in conjunction with mobile techniques such as wallet, web and native applications to orchestrate a deepening level of customer engagement.

Brands are in a pitched battle to engage customers and prospects across the various stages of the buying journey — and to do so through a channel and in a format that fits the needs of the customer or prospect. While many marketers already engage consumers via email, that increasingly means on a mobile device, as consumers are more likely to read email there.

According to the Gartner 2016 Digital Channel Survey, SMS (i.e., text messaging) is currently one of the top four most-adopted mobile marketing tactics. Yet 61 per cent of mobile marketers surveyed don’t use it, and one-third of these companies have no plans to invest in it in the coming 12 months.

Improve customer engagement
Mobile marketers who employ SMS are more advanced in their ability to leverage the unique capabilities of mobile. On average, they are 79 per cent more likely to employ other mobile-specific tactics than are marketers who do not use SMS. Actively seek opportunities to benefit from SMS as a form of mobile engagement and employ SMS as an easy initial method for customers and prospects to connect to your brand.

Achieve massive reach
No other messaging medium approaches SMS in its reach. Virtually every mobile phone is able to natively send and receive SMS messages. Subscribers need not possess a smartphone, download an application or include a data plan in their mobile subscription. This is especially relevant in many developing economies, where most subscribers have neither a smartphone nor a data subscription.

Simplified enrollment
Enrolling in an SMS campaign typically only takes two steps. First, send a keyword to a registered “short code,” a five- or six-digit number, that is the SMS equivalent of a web domain name. Second, just reply “Y” to the response message to explicitly opt-in.

Elevated read and response rates
Various sources report SMS open and response rates as high as 98 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively — in contrast to corresponding figures of 20 per cent and 6 per cent for email. This is partly due to the number of messages a typical user receives for each type. Users need to wade through far more email noise than SMS.

Consider the caveats
There are important realities of SMS marketing that marketers need to address before jumping in. SMS campaigns are significantly more costly than email campaigns on a per-message basis because all the messages must flow through mobile operators that charge a premium. To address legal concerns, marketers must follow consumer privacy best practices, including explicit opt-in procedures, easy access to program terms and conditions, and simple mechanisms to opt out.

Identify specific opportunities to engage customers and prospects via SMS. “Focus on useful and actionable pieces of information that you can deliver at their moment of peak value.”

Charles Golvin

Charles Golvin is the research director at Gartner for Marketers.
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