Of the 7.7 billion people on the planet, it’s estimated that about 3.5 billion of them have Internet access, and over half of them use email. That’s pretty impressive, but did you know that around 5 billion people can send and receive SMS (short message service) messages, also known as texting? It helps that SMS can be used on non-smartphones too.

Among consumers, according to TechJury, 75% of them don’t mind receiving SMS messages from brands (after they’ve opted in, of course). They also redeem coupons delivered via SMS 10 times more than coupons sent to them in other ways. In general, SMS messages have an astounding 98% open rate, with 90% of them read within 3 minutes of being received.

Before you stop reading and rush off to send SMS messages to your customers, though, there are some best practices to keep in mind. Here are 5 tips to help you integrate an SMS strategy into your email marketing campaigns, so you can create an omnichannel marketing approach that delivers a consistent experience everywhere you communicate with customers.

1. Approach SMS the same way you handle email

First, you need your customers’ permission to send them SMS messages, like email sending usually requires. In the United States, the FCC requires written consent before sending commercial texts, which you can handle by asking for cell phone numbers and then sending people an SMS message that requires them to reply with “yes,” or some other form of consent, to receive future messages from you.

As always, though, check the laws that apply to you and consult with legal counsel at your company, if necessary.

Next, you’ll want to segment your list of SMS message recipients, as you do with your email list, so you can speak directly to those cohorts in your messages. Many SMS message sending services offer personalization, so you can insert first names, birthdays, cities, and other information. Just don’t overdo it, since space will be at a premium.

Finally, make sure you honor unsubscribes sent via SMS too. You will hurt your company’s brand equity if you send SMS messages to people who have unsubscribed, and there’s a good chance that they will complain to their carriers, who will likely block you as a spammer. You could also incur the wrath of the FCC or other government agencies.

2. You can send triggered, transactional, and promotional SMS messages

Consider sending different types of communications via SMS, just as you do with email:

  • Triggered messages alert customers to events, such as order shipments, suspicious account log-in attempts, upcoming due dates for bills, and monthly reports.
  • Transactional messages are sent in response to customers’ actions, such as purchases, bill payments, new account creations, and password resets.
  • Promotional messages let customers know about new products, special deals, rewards based on their activity, and other ways that you drive sales. You can also create upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

Given the immediacy of SMS messages, they’re useful for communications that have more urgency than an email would. For example, you could send a coupon code that’s good for one day only, or let customers know about a new product or service, complete with a shortened link that will take them to your mobile website. (Your website is responsive, correct?)

SMS messages are also a good way to offer two-factor authentication for user accounts, which allows you to provide a useful layer of security for your customers.

If you’re going to send a lot of SMS messages, you may want to invest in a short code so carriers don’t consider you a spammer. A short code is a five- or six-digit phone number that’s typically pre-approved by mobile carriers for use with commercial activity. Try choosing one that spells out a word, so it’s easy for people to remember. For example, Kmart uses 562-78, which spells out the name of the retailer on a keypad.

3. Brevity is the soul of SMS messages

SMS messages can’t be more than 160 characters long, so while your emails should be short and to the point, your SMS messages need to make every letter count. It may be tempting to string multiple SMS messages into one communication, but doing so will increase the odds that your recipients will start opting out in droves. Try not to send SMS messages more than a few times a week, at the most.

If you had experience writing marketing messages on Twitter before the character limit for tweets was increased, then you should apply what you learned here. Limit each SMS message to one thing at a time, saving the fuller storytelling for emails.

Consider how your SMS messages can complement your emails. For example, if you email your list about a special deal that has an expiration date, you could send a follow-up SMS message reminder shortly before the deal ends. You can schedule SMS message sending, allowing you to orchestrate your marketing campaigns.

An SMS message can also be useful for alerting your customers to time-sensitive news, such as a delay with shipping an order or a problem with their account.

4. Use simple, relevant keywords and reply immediately to messages

When you publicize your new SMS message service, you can ask customers to text a word or phrase to your phone number (ideally, a short code) to enroll. Try using something memorable. For example, if you have an online store that sells women’s clothes and accessories, you could ask people to text “fashion” to your number to enroll.

Use an auto-responder to ensure customers receive an immediate response when they enroll. Welcome them to the service and let them know what to text back to unsubscribe, such as “stop.” Make sure it’s easy for them to opt-out, and acknowledge them when they do, so they know you will honor the request.

You can also set up and publicize keywords to enable customers to do other things, such as getting directions to your business location or to an event or receiving a link to download a mobile app. In addition, you can use SMS messages to gather information, such as asking people to text you their first names.

5. Find the right partners for your omnichannel marketing strategy

SMS messaging allows you to complement your marketing efforts via email, social media, your website, and other channels. That’s important because today’s typical consumer uses an average of nearly six touch-points per purchase, whereas 15 years ago, they often used two. In addition, 90% of consumers expect to see consistent interactions with businesses across channels.

Companies that implement omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain on average 89% of their customers, and those customers have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop with one channel.

If you’re using SparkPost to send email, you’ll be glad to know that we have a strategic partnership with MessageBird, a cloud communication platform that extends your messages across channels, including SMS. MessageBird’s platform is highly scalable and offers unrivaled speed and reliability for message sending anywhere in the world. You can read more about our partnership with MessageBird on our blog.

~ Casey