Five Rules for Successful SMS Marketing Campaigns
There’s no rulebook for a successful mobile marketing campaign—at least not yet. But with each successive mobile promotion, the rules of engagement become just a little bit clearer, offering deeper insight into what businesses should and shouldn’t do to help get their message across to consumers on the go.
A new study conducted by the digital engagement services firm ePrize’s Cellit mobile division analyzed 1,180 SMS-based campaigns run by national retailers over 450 days throughout 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 (average customer database size: 40,868 subscribers), and the results offer vital new information as to how and why mobile promotions hit the target or miss the mark. Here are five lessons small businesses should take away from the study:
1. Mobile engagement is uniquely immediate and intimate.
Cellit reports that SMS campaigns generated engagement rates an average of six to eight times higher than retailers normally achieved via email marketing efforts. The majority of sales attributed to SMS promotions came from in-store transactions, not online purchases, indicating that mobile campaigns drive consumers to brick-and-mortar locations. Retailers credit their success to integrating mobile marketing with existing customer relationship management databases, helping them transmit targeted mobile coupons based on past purchase behaviors; they also sent shipping alerts, gift reorder notifications, and in-stock notifications to consumers’ phones.
2. Integration is key.
Mobile marketing is most successful when it’s incorporated into the business’ overall marketing effort. Signage at the point of sale and within the retail environment drives the most significant customer awareness and engagement. Collecting phone numbers via the company’s website is a proven tactic, whether it’s a standard opt-in form or an enter-to-win promotion; Facebook and Twitter pages are also vital channels for promoting SMS campaigns and driving signups. Dedicated emails spotlighting a SMS program can drive significant engagement as well. And don’t forget print: Cellit notes one brand in the study devoted a full third of a catalog page to its SMS campaign, and another inserted a banner ad into its Sunday circular.
3. Know your audience.
After crunching the numbers, Cellit determined that an average of 167 consumers per day joined SMS campaigns on weekends, compared to 139 per day on weekdays. Growth of SMS subscriber lists is strongest during the fourth quarter: Mobile databases increase by an average of 41 percent during the period, with most activity taking place during the holiday shopping rush.
“High value joining incentives, defined as an immediate coupon or deal sent as a thank you for subscribing, tend to generate lots of interest and attention, but also result in high unsubscribe rates and lower overall engagement by users,” Cellit notes. “Regardless of the season, many retailers have chosen to lower their churn by eliminating or reducing joining incentives.”
4. Content and cadence are crucial.
Consumers who sign up for an SMS campaign are typically your most loyal customers, meaning they follow your social media presence, look at your weekly ads, and participate in loyalty programs. That means delivering a mobile value proposition unique to your SMS signups—e.g., exclusive coupons, sales alerts, even branded content like free wallpapers.
But don’t overwhelm customers with content: Cellit recommends no more than one message per week and no less than once a month, at least during the first nine months of the calendar year. The rules change during the fourth quarter, with Cellit clients sending an average of 2.27 campaigns per week in Q4 2011. “By sending up to two messages per week during peak seasons and no more than four messages per month during non-peak seasons, Cellit’s retail clients have proven this cadence works with extremely low unsubscribe rates throughout the year,” the firm said.
5. Churn is unavoidable.
No matter how effective and engaging an SMS campaign may be, some customers are going to drop out. In the Cellit study, an average of roughly 64 consumers opted out of a program on any given day—weekdays averaged 62 opt-outs, and the number increased to 68 on weekends. Cellit found a strong correlation between unsubscribe activity and outgoing message activity: The average unsubscribe was a little more than 37 for every thousand messages sent, broken down to 18 per thousand messages sent on weekdays and 85 per thousand messages sent on weekends. You can’t control churn, but you can contain it by making sure all messages are relevant, timely, and actionable. In other words, follow rules 1 through 4, and rule 5 will take care of itself.
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