Marketing Basics: 3 SMS Marketing Best Practices & Tips

Melanie Balke
April 23, 2024

Like any marketing strategy, SMS marketing requires tactical insight. You can’t dispatch endless SMS messages and expect positive returns. In fact, taking the “shock and awe” approach is more likely to annoy and repel your target audience.

In that sense, SMS marketing is like its close relative, email marketing. Both are a delicate balancing act. You’re constantly juggling your financial goals with your audience’s needs and preferences.

However, text message marketing plays by different rules. It has its own regulations and guidelines. It’s a unique marketing channel, after all!

What to Know About Commercial Text Messages

Tw postal boxes. "The Basics: What to Know About SMS Marketing."

I’ll start with the basics.

SMS marketing software is often bundled alongside email marketing services. However, it’s a much different beast. An SMS marketing strategy requires different thinking and — by some accounts — slightly more creativity to succeed.

If you think of marketing efforts in terms of art, an email campaign can be compared to a blank sheet of canvas. It can be stretched and molded to fit any length. You can be as complex or as simple as you’d like with your marketing messages. Your standard text message marketing campaign is closer to a paint-by-numbers sheet. You can still create a masterpiece, but you’re given a hard-coded set of restrictions.

Those guidelines form the backbone of the medium’s best practices. However, I want to briefly discuss the specifics of SMS marketing efforts before tackling the primary issue of today’s blog post.

Text Messages Follow Different Laws

First and foremost, despite its status as a frequent bundle addition to premium email software packages, SMS marketing abides by different laws.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has a unique section dedicated to SMS marketing.

The United States is even more complex. Here, SMS marketing efforts are governed by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), overseen by the Federal Communications Commission, and commercially moderated by the Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA).

Specifics aside, most cellular marketing laws share one trait: All SMS messages require explicit consent.

Fortunately, most SMS marketing software has built-in checks to prevent illegal SMS campaigns. Nonetheless, it’s your responsibility to monitor your marketing communications for legal compliance.

SMS Messages Are More Trustworthy

Those strict legal requirements have a surprising benefit: Consumers rank SMS marketing efforts more trustworthy than other marketing channels. Thus, SMS campaigns gain more traction than comparable email or social media outreach efforts.

Text Message Marketing Performs Better

That inherent trust breeds interaction.

SMS marketing messages perform better than other marketing channels, including emails! They receive better open rates and higher conversions, and most also achieve a higher click-through rate.

Brands can improve those metrics further with strategic enhancements. For example, personalized messages increase campaign appeal. Similarly, well-segmented promotional messages can dramatically boost a brand’s revenue.

The Limitations of SMS Marketing Campaigns

A painting of a bridge. "The Limits: The Challenges of SMS Marketing."

Whenever you send messages to your SMS subscribers, you’re using its namesake short message service.

First introduced to consumers in 1993, SMS messages retain many of their original limitations. A single SMS message can never exceed 140 bytes — about 160 “standard” characters. Anything more will be broken into multiple 160-character messages. And this is where things get complicated.

The “160-Character” Limit

I want to emphasize the modifier in my last statement.

Plain-text messages — using only the basic Latin alphabet — can be up to 160 characters. These text messages will use the default 7-bit letter system. However, if you add any unconventional characters (such as curly quotes), the message is converted to 8-bit, limiting your length to 140 characters.

Adding emojis takes an even bigger bite out of your SMS message’s length. Even a single smiley face converts the entire message to Unicode, a 16-bit encoding system. When using emojis, SMS messages are limited to 70 characters or less.

Notably, emojis aren’t the only way to half your character count. Most non-Western languages require Unicode encoding. (Some prominent examples of requisite Unicode languages include Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Russian.) Thus, international businesses may find themselves further limited by their audience’s lingua franca.

When SMS Becomes MMS

Another notable limitation of modern short message service infrastructure is its relative simplicity. You can send text messages with images from the same mobile application, but it won’t be the same message type. Instead, text messages with media attachments use multimedia messaging service (MMS) infrastructure.

As its name implies, an MMS message is a more complex text message. It includes an attached file and has an increased message length. Longer messages will not be broken into separate deliveries when sent as MMS campaigns.

However, MMS messages use wireless data and can inadvertently punish SMS subscribers. Marketing tools cannot discriminate between unlimited data users and limited data plans. So, if you send a multimedia marketing campaign, you may push a subscriber beyond their data limit. Not surprisingly, that won’t win you any sympathy!

So, considering those facts, it’s time to dig into the meat of the matter.

1. Guarantee Compliance for Your Commercial Messages

Samurai armor. "Tip #1: Obtaining Consent Is Essential."

I’ll kick our top three tips off with a no-brainer: Always double-check your compliance.

Failing to heed the law can turn even the best SMS marketing campaigns into costly mistakes. And I’m not just referring to those fines. You’ll also face scrutiny from SMS marketing platforms. In particularly egregious cases, brands may be blackballed by marketing platforms and refused further service.

Send Confirmation Messages

Prevention is easier and cheaper than curing a non-compliant SMS marketing strategy.

Ideally, your marketing efforts should come with a pre-built confirmation flow. These automated SMS marketing messages include a link or prompt for new subscribers. Should a subscriber decide to opt-out, it’s as simple as sending a reply.

If you don’t have a confirmation flow, now is the time to add one!

Like opt-out flows, opt-in flows ensure your campaigns meet and exceed SMS marketing regulations. They also prevent consumers from complaining about future messages.

2. Watch Your Frequency and Delivery

A plastic bag. "Tip #2: Know When to Send Text Marketing."

However, gaining access is only the first step. You must also determine how and when to send messages.

Knowing When to Send SMS Marketing Messages

Start by segmenting the audience by location. Obviously, this helps you deliver targeted messages, but it also lets you time your campaign delivery. And that’s a huge plus.

While you may not mind being woken by SMS surveys, most people dislike the intrusion. It’s such a detestable act that the TCPA added guidelines for timing text campaigns! Legally speaking, all marketing text messages must be delivered between 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM in the recipient’s time zone.

Knowing How Often to Send SMS Marketing Campaigns

You must also pay close attention to the frequency of your text messages.

Like the CAN-SPAM Act, the TCPA curtailed unregulated mobile spam. It may seem like your enemy, but its regulations birthed a sense of indelible consumer trust.

Again, prevention is the key to success. Let consumers know what to expect on your sign-up form. Tell them how often you’re sending messages and give prior consent. Then, let them decide if that’s too many messages. If it is, they won’t join your SMS list, and you’ve saved a few cents!

Most SMS marketing teams send five monthly messages. They may send extras in high-performing months — such as December — but five is the industry standard.

3. Keep It Short

Overlapping leaves. "Tip #3: Keep It Concise."

Shorter messages engage customers better than longer messages. It’s true for emails and SMS marketing campaigns. Length is your enemy!

The good news is that SMS marketing has built-in limits. You can never exceed 140–160 characters. However, you don’t need to hit your limit every time. In fact, short-form SMS strategies are more beneficial.

Focus on the Point

Producing consistently concise messages is an art. It takes time and practice, and many online marketing pros still have room to grow.

So, let me give you an insider tip: The best SMS marketing focuses on one point.

Allow me to demonstrate. Assume you’re writing automated appointment reminders. Per specifications, these must be personalized messages with a brief confirmation link.

The ideal SMS campaign will contain little more than the customer’s name, appointment time, and requisite link. You don’t need anything else! In fact, any additional content is a distraction. The bare-bones SMS marketing example conveys everything in just a few words, unobtrusively appeasing your target audience.

3. Test Your SMS Marketing Strategy

Finally, you’ll get the most from your SMS marketing campaign when you use data. Run frequent A/B tests and monitor your results. Then, tweak your content to fit customer feedback.

Ideas for Improving Marketing Efforts

Once you add SMS to your marketing strategy, testing can seem overwhelming.

Break your content into smaller bits. Consider how you can vary your SMS messages without violating your branding. Think of ways to encourage customers without seeming overbearing.

Some of these tweaks will have massive impacts; others will do little. Either way, your tests will reveal the best way to engage consumers. Consider testing some of the following factors to boost your SMS marketing:

  • Branding: You should always make your brand a prominent part of promotional messages. However, the specifics of its conclusion vary. Some place the brand at the beginning. Others add it to the end of the message. Try different things and see how consumers respond to various branding strategies.
  • Length: How long is your text message? There is such a thing as too short. Use loyal existing customers for feedback. Vary the length of your text message marketing and pay close attention to the click-through rate.
  • Timing: Your target audience determines your ideal timing. Don’t trust a single source for your ideal parameters. Ask your audience!

Let the Professionals Handle Your SMS Marketing

These are just three of many SMS marketing best practices. There is much more to learn and many more ways to reach customers. However, there’s an easier way to achieve SMS marketing success.

I founded The Email Marketers to give every business a chance to succeed. My team of hand-picked pros understands SMS marketing best practices. More importantly, they know the specifics of this marketing channel’s many strategies. They’ve worked with SMS marketing software and crafted eye-popping campaigns for countless brands.

If you’ve been considering an SMS marketing plan, now is the time to invest! Schedule a free strategy session and get a personalized plan for your SMS marketing. I’ll show you how a team of pros can amplify the impact of your marketing efforts and increase your reach. I’ll detail the perks of SMS marketing and show you the outstanding power of text marketing.

More importantly, I’ll show you a team of dedicated experts ready to get your business name out there!