While executing an SMS program is easy - no graphics, no code, just 160 characters - planning requires thought and discipline. For a program that delivers value to your customers and results to your company, follow these steps to SMS success.
Choose your code. Short or long? Random or vanity? Shared or dedicated? Obtaining a short code for your use alone (dedicated) can take eight to 12 weeks, so this must be your first consideration. Here are some basic features of each:
Short code: Four to six digits for sending within a single country.
Long code: Essentially a phone number with country code that can be used to send to multiple countries.
Shared code: Shared by different senders. Pro: you can get started right away. Con: keywords must be managed carefully to avoid conflicts; may create a weird brand experience for users who get messages from Company A and Company B on the same code.
Dedicated code: A code for your exclusive use. Requires approval of your code and program, which can take eight to 12 weeks, and there are blackout periods. Best in the long-run for a robust program.
Vanity code: A specific number that contains an easy-to-remember numeric sequence or spells out a brand name. Available for short codes only. Consider this before you spell out your name: users are accustomed to sending texts to a person, not a number, so they tend to use letters. On smartphones, which don't have the number/letter association (2=ABC, 3=DEF), typing out your brand name will result in an error. Better choice: an easy-to-remember number.
Build your list. Unlike email, SMS is 100 percent permission-based. You cannot send to current customers without an explicit opt-in (in some cases a double opt-in), and you cannot buy an SMS list. Start by condensing the value to the consumer into a single benefit-packed statement and promote it everywhere you promote your email program:
Packaging and package inserts
Learn the rules. As I described in this column, there is required language that must accompany your promotions and you should be ready to confirm online opt-in with a triggered SMS message or you will lose subscribers. While you may get away with non-compliance for some time, and will see many examples of programs that don't comply, your program will be in danger of suspension or cancellation if you don't follow the rules.
Brainstorm to deliver consumer value. Mobile is the most personal channel to date, so mobile marketing has the potential to be the most intrusive and most aggravating. Consider the needs and desires of your customer first and foremost. What "instants of value" can you provide?
Consider the featurephone owner, approximately half of a U.S. audience. How can you work around their lack of Internet access? Keyword response and subsequent fulfillment via email are good options.
For the smartphone owners, make the experience mobile-friendly end-to-end. Don't dump the user on a non-optimized web page or require a lot of text entry.
Flow chart it. Lay out all the steps in the experience, showing promotion, inbound and outbound messages, database interactions, and web pages. Get input from your tech team so the back-end supports your marketing vision.
Develop the SMS editorial. Write out all the outbound (mobile terminated or MT) and inbound (mobile originated or MO) messages, check character count (160, including spaces and required language), and get internal approvals. For outbound messages, include the anticipated date and time of send. To define your program and create a historical record, include the goals, approach, and task list as well.
Plan for post-promotion. If your SMS program is centered on a particular event, consider the experience once it's over. You have worked hard to acquire subscribers; now you'll need to keep them engaged. Rather than say, "Sorry, the event is over," invite the subscriber to opt in for ongoing communication. If you plan for this in advance, you can spell out post-event content and frequency in your opt-in language (see Step 3). Then you just need to remain committed to providing content of value. And therein lies the secret to a successful SMS program.
Melinda Krueger is a senior marketing consultant with ExactTarget and a digital marketing veteran – starting with direct, moving to interactive, specializing in e-mail, and now charting a course for mobile marketing. Working with the best agencies in the business, she has helped Harley-Davidson, Miller Brewing, Sears/Kmart, CDW, and many others build their interactive marketing programs. Melinda holds an MBA from Marquette University and is a highly-rated speaker for professional organizations and business schools. As the Email Diva, Melinda answered questions on all aspects of the practice. Your questions about mobile are welcome!