Commentary

Grow Your Audience Of SMS Opt-Ins

SMS is suffering from chicken-or-egg syndrome. Brands do not have a large SMS audience, so they don't put much effort into their programs. They don't put much effort into their programs, so they don't have a very large audience. Focus first on building a high-value program and then try these tips and tricks for growing your audience.

First, craft your value statement: why should customers give you their mobile number? Then, as wise marketers once said, make it “prominent, compelling and everywhere” (Stephanie Miller and Sean O'Neal, from a presentation at the first Email Insider Summit).

JCPenney's site provides a good example, with a prominent “Coupons & Extra Savings” link at the top of the home page, just below the primary navigation. Pop-overs are increasingly popular for email opt-in, because they are very effective. While I haven’t yet seen an SMS pop-over, The Ladders uses a pop-over to encourage users to “text to get” their app, and it was a good user experience. Don’t try to do both email and SMS on a pop-up, but test it and see how it delivers for you.

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Text messages are more personal and more intrusive than virtually all other forms of marketing, so the value proposition must be that much more compelling. Consider why people opt-in for SMS from brands. From our research, the top reasons are:

  • For coupons or deals (77% of those polled provided this answer)
  • Personal alerts (50%)
  • Like being in the loop (48%)
  • More meaningful content (33%)

Craft your program with these goals in mind. Service messages are good examples of personal alerts and meaningful content: Get a text message when your order is ready/your service person is on the way/your claim status has changed/unusual activity is detected on your account. For order-related messages, include the SMS option as part of the order process.  For channel selection (email, text, mail), include the SMS option in a preference center and call it out in your onboarding communication. 

Once your compelling value proposition is established, put that call to action everywhere

  • Web Site
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Mobile sites
  • Store signage
  • POS
  • Packaging and package inserts
  • Traditional advertising
  • Store personnel
  • IVR Messages

Often it's simply a matter of co-locating the SMS opt-in request beside your email opt-in request. But for offline media, a text-to-join flow makes sense: “Get weekly coupons. Text OFFER to 12345 to join our super SMS savers.”

Should you promote SMS in your app? If you are using Push notifications, I would say no. The content is likely to be similar, Push is the best way to ensure app usage, and apps can provide a richer overall experience. 

Should you have an SMS program as well as Push? App downloaders are superfans, and not everyone is a superfan. Give the casually interested a reason to connect with you on their phones. An SMS program also allows you to respond to one-off customer requests, aka Marketing on Demand. Invite customers to text-to-get a coupon, enter the sweepstakes, download your app, get a delivery notice, etc. These requests allow you to provide value first and ask for opt-in second, broadening your reach to the uncommitted. 

Should you allow users to sign up online as well as by texting in? Most definitely yes. Forcing someone to pick up their phone when they are at a computer is an awkward UX. Encourage and allow users to opt in however and wherever they choose.

Note that there are strict rules set by the carriers that must be followed when promoting SMS opt-in as well as federal laws. Be sure to follow the carrier rules and confer with your legal team.

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