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The Beginner’s Guide to SMS Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

Consumers are becoming more comfortable interacting with businesses on their mobile devices. Better get on the SMS marketing train now.

Christina Newberry July 7, 2021
cover illustration

Gone are the days of single-channel marketing. Instead, marketers now have access to multiple contact points across various channels. And customers expect businesses to use all of them to offer the best experience.

SMS marketing can be an effective complement to social marketing, allowing you to reach customers—and potential customers—in real-time with targeted and effective messaging.

Let’s look at what SMS marketing is and how you can incorporate it into your marketing strategy.

Bonus: Get a free, easy-to-use Customer Service Report Template that helps you track and calculate your monthly customer service efforts all in one place.

What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing is the practice of sending marketing messages by text message.

It’s a form of opt-in marketing that requires contacts to subscribe. This differentiates it from social marketing, where the marketer posts public content that people can choose to like or follow.

Common types of SMS marketing examples include:

  • personalized promotions
  • offers or discounts
  • remarketing
  • surveys

Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable interacting with businesses on their mobile devices. In many cases, they expect to be able to reach businesses by messaging or text.

So it’s no surprise that even back in January 2020, before COVID-19 upended the ways in which businesses interact with customers, more than half of U.S. retailers planned to increase their digital marketing investment in messaging and SMS.

By June 2020, that number had increased to 56%, outranking any other area for potential investment.

emerging technologies in which US retailers plan to increase marketing investments

Source: eMarketer

What is SMS customer service?

SMS customer service is the practice of serving customers through SMS messages, allowing them to “talk” to customer service agents via text.

Juniper Research found that global mobile business messaging increased by 10% in 2020, reaching 2.7 trillion messages. SMS accounted for 98% of that messaging traffic, and the retail sector accounted for 408 billion of those messages.

Juniper found that retailers primarily used messaging for:

  • order confirmations
  • dispatch notifications
  • tracking information
  • delivery updates

All of these functions fall under the larger umbrella of SMS customer service.

And Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of customer service organizations will be using SMS and messaging, rather than native apps.

Customers perceive these service SMS messages to be the most valuable ones sent by businesses. Appointment reminders, delivery updates, and booking confirmations all rank above product or service discounts in terms of perceived value.

most valuable text messages received from businesses according to US adults

Source: eMarketer

That means if you’re planning to incorporate text message marketing, it’s a good idea to also include SMS customer service. Customers are more likely to stay subscribed to SMS messages when they see real value in the messages you send.

Of course, SMS customer service is not just about these automated confirmations or reminders. It also involves allowing customers to chat directly with customer service reps using one-to-one text messaging.

SMS marketing best practices

Don’t send without a clear opt-in

You probably already collect phone numbers from your customers. That does not mean you should start mass texting them. Much like email marketing, SMS text marketing requires a clear opt-in.

You can ask customers to opt in to text messages on your website or other online channels. But, before you start sending, you should get a text confirmation that they really do want to subscribe.

One way to do this is to send one SMS (and one only) thanking them for subscribing and asking them to confirm their opt-in with a simple Yes or No. If they don’t respond, don’t text them again. And, obviously, if they text No, don’t text them again either.

Here’s another way to collect opt-ins through your website. Knix offers a 10% off coupon for subscribing to text messaging. Clicking the link in the offer automatically opens the messaging app on the user’s phone with a boilerplate message to subscribe.

Knix 10% off next order SMS opt-in

Source: Knix

Knix text message personalized marketing alerts

Source: Knix

Include instructions to opt out

This is a best practice (and often a legal requirement) for all marketing communications. But it’s especially important for a more intrusive method like SMS. Repeatedly texting people who don’t want to hear from you is more likely to lose customers than lead to sales.

You should include unsubscribe information even for transactional messages like shipping updates or appointment reminders. Not everyone wants to get these kinds of details by text.

IKEA opt out from text message notifications

Since open rates for SMS messages are consistently much higher than those for email, your unsubscribe rates will be higher, too. Don’t panic if you see a spike in unsubscribes after a message goes out.

But do analyze your unsubscribe rates over time. Once you’ve fully implemented your SMS marketing program, you can establish an unsubscribe baseline. Check all future messages against that baseline, and look for any outlying results. If unsubscribes are unusually high or low, analyze the message to see if you can identify what led to the change in result.

Identify yourself

You can’t assume your customers have you in their SMS contacts. That means your message will appear from a number they don’t recognize, with no inherent identifying information. If you want them to get past the first couple of words, you need to identify yourself right away.

A simple way to do this is to put your brand name right at the start of the message, followed by a colon, like Victoria Emerson does here:

Victoria Emerson SMS

Source: Victoria Emerson

And here’s an example of what not to do. Yes, I can tell by the content of the message that it must have come from my cell service provider. But they never identify themselves, and the recipient shouldn’t have to play a guessing game.

cell phone provider unclear text message

Send at the right time

Choosing the best time is important for any marketing message. But for SMS, it’s critical. That’s because people are more likely to have alerts turned on for text. And while some people put their phones on Do Not Disturb at times they don’t want to be interrupted, you can’t count on this.

The last thing you want to do is wake your customer up in the middle of the night with a marketing offer. Your customers probably don’t want to receive messages that would interrupt their dinner, either.

The good news is that area codes make it relatively easy to identify your target audience’s time zones. Rather than sending a blast message to everyone at once, choose an appropriate time and send it out in stages by time zone.

If you have an in-person business, another great option is to send SMS messages right after an appointment. You’re already on the customer’s mind and you know they’re up and about. For example, my dentist sent this message right after a recent appointment.

Atlantis Dentist follow-up SMS

Source: Atlantis Dental

It’s a good idea to do some testing to see what times get the best response and the lowest unsubscribe rate.

Know your character count

SMS messages max out at 160 characters. That’s not a lot to work with when you’ve got to identify yourself and provide an opt-out option. You’ll need to know exactly what you want to say and not waste any characters.

Get to the point quickly, and use links (and link shorteners) to fill out the details of your message.

SMS marketing software

SMS marketing and SMS customer service require more than a simple messaging app on your phone. Here are some SMS marketing platforms to help you incorporate SMS into your marketing and customer service strategies.

Sparkcentral by Hootsuite

Sparkcentral brings all your customer service messaging—from SMS, social media, WhatsApp, and apps—into one inbox. Since customers may reach out across multiple platforms, this is a key way to make sure your SMS customer service response is part of a unified customer care approach.

Sparkcentral also allows you to incorporate chatbots. Routine care requests can be handled automatically, without overwhelming your customer care team. When it’s time for an agent to step in on SMS, they’ll have access to data from your CRM and the existing chat. They’ll be well equipped to delight your customers with the most helpful response possible.

You can connect Sparkcentral to CRM systems such as Zendesk, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Salesforce CRM.

Sparkcentral conversation view

Source: Sparkcentral

EZ Texting

EZ Texting allows you to send a broadcast SMS campaign to your opt-in list. Your SMS marketing campaign can involve contests, coupons, and promo codes, as well as transactional messages like appointment reminders.

They also offer a built-in web form that helps you convert email subscribers and website visitors to SMS subscribers.


Omnisend has pre-built SMS templates and workflows for cart abandonment and birthday offers, as well as order and shipping confirmations. They also provide SMS opt-in tools like pop-ups and landing pages.

Omnisend also supports MMS, so you can send GIFs and images with your text messages.


Attentive is an enterprise-level SMS marketing platform used by brands such as TGI Fridays, Pura Vida, and CB2. With a focus on compliance, it helps you create personalized, targeted text messages that directly lead to revenue.

Use Sparkcentral by Hootsuite to engage with your customers and respond to messages across SMS, email, live chat and social media — all from one dashboard. Deliver a seamless cross-platform customer service experience with chatbot and CRM integrations.

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By Christina Newberry

Christina Newberry is an award-winning writer and editor whose greatest passions include food, travel, urban gardening, and the Oxford comma—not necessarily in that order.

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