When most of us think about SMS, we envision the (sometimes creatively) abbreviated messages, like “R u on yr way home?” But in addition to being a convenient and addictive personal communication tool, SMS is proving to be a great platform to help marketers reach and engage hard-to-find audiences.
Due to the personal nature of communicating with consumers on their mobile phones, marketers need to get smart about the medium and how to tap its potential to not only push information to consumers, but to spark a conversation with them. So, here are the things you need to remember about SMS Advertising.
1. There is big reach in text messaging, and audiences are already opted-in.
Don't worry about having to deal with fragmentation. If you want to reach tens of millions of consumers through their phones, you can do it today. Moreover, the demographics of this consumer base are not purely teens or twentysomethings; lots of other demographics opt-in for SMS content as well.
Taking a step back, SMS is also the most commonly used mobile technology (besides voice), and because virtually all mobile phones can send and receive text messages, SMS advertising messages reach the widest possible audience.
According to the Nielsen Company, 77 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers used SMS by the end of 2007. In comparison, the same report said that 36 percent of mobile subscribers accessed the mobile web in the same period. More evidence of SMS' pervasiveness: SMS-based information search was used by nearly 15 million consumers to get sports scores, news or weather during the final quarter of 2007, according to the Nielsen Company.
The things that make SMS a great tool for personal communication -- ubiquity, relevance and immediacy -- also make it a great channel for marketers.
Publishers like Yahoo, MySpace, Evite, USA TODAY, the NBA, and most television networks are all sending out content that users are asking for. The diversity of the content available leads to an equally diverse audience.
2. Getting started isn't hard -- it requires little legwork.
The biggest complaint I hear from marketers is that they don't know where to start to find an audience for an SMS campaign. The good news is that this work has already been done for you. With built-in audiences provided by carriers and text message ad networks, marketers simply need to choose who they want to target and go for it. For example, Virgin Mobile recently launched its Sugar Mama program, allowing its customers to earn free mobile minutes in exchange for responding to SMS and mobile web banners on their mobile phones. Marketers have access to Virgin's subscribers, as well as key demographic information about them.
In an example of quick set-up and launch, a leading sports entertainment company wanted to promote the commercial-free premiere of a documentary film on their network to an audience of young sports fans, and in the process, create a dialog with interested consumers. SMS served as a great medium for reaching on-the-go 18-25-year-olds who may not see traditional advertising. The company retained my company, 4INFO, to launch the SMS campaign.
Advertising was placed in 4INFO's text message sports channel, with copy that invited users to respond to "TUNEIN." Those who responded received information about the show and were invited to sign up for an SMS reminder about the air date of the show. No mobile website or rich media was required.
The campaign successfully drove viewers to tune in to the premiere, making it the most-viewed documentary in the company's history. Twenty-four percent of users who interacted with the mobile advertising went on to sign up for a text message reminder about the show. Overall, 14 percent of users who received the SMS ad reported they had viewed the program.
3. Targeting is the key to advertising success.
The text message campaigns that perform best are those with a direct and simple call to action. Relevance is paramount -- relevant ads are effective and memorable, especially when inserted into opt-in content. Here are some other tips:
- Understand the different ways you can target your audience using SMS, including targeting by carrier and consumer interest. Consider the social, financial and tech savvy profile of the audience you want to reach, and target accordingly. If you consider only one of these dimensions, your advertising will be wasted on consumers who either can't use your product or can't hear your message.
- SMS advertising offers the ability to target consumer segments with specific offers. The more relevant the campaign, the better the ad performance. It's not rocket science, but writing "one size fits all" ad copy is one of the most common reasons for poor campaign performance.
- Example: one mobile marketing firm was able to increase conversion rates by 60 to 100 percent by writing specific relevant copy in text message advertisements by targeted audience channel.
- Example: For "Make Me a Supermodel" on Bravo, messages to Alltel customers promoted the My Circle offer, while messages to other consumers promoted different content.
4. Create a conversation with the consumer.
“Participation media” is the new buzz word in mobile. Campaigns that create a dialog with the consumer are more effective in generating conversions and are more measurable than simple media placement campaigns. A campaign can engage its audience by inviting the user to answer a question, play a game, or look something up. These invitations maximize campaign response rates.
Subtlety is not effective. An unclear, confusing or hard-to-notice call to action will get lost, even on the small screen. One example of this is an SMS campaign for the last Harry Potter novel. After being invited to vote on whether Harry Potter would die (the text message below on the left), audiences were initially sent the text "Harry Potter 40% off Learn more Reply HARRY." After that copy was tweaked to "Thank you for voting! Harry Potter 7 goes on sale July 21st. Get 40% off at Borders Books, reply BORDERS," responses improved by nearly 30 percent.
A conversation can go beyond a simple question and answer. Brands can create an ongoing connection with consumers by offering sponsored content that fits with their brand identity. Coors Brewing Company is the National Football League's "Official Beer Sponsor." Its agency, DraftFCB, wanted a campaign to support the fanatical interest of passionate NFL fans, so they sponsored NFL Draft text message alerts, offering consumers over the age of 21 the opportunity to opt in to Coors Light NFL Draft alerts, which are real-time text message updates on the first-round NFL draft picks with Coors branding on every message. This SMS alert service saw thousands of sports fans opt-in to these branded messages with no additional promotion outside of SMS.
5. Use SMS as the entry point to a richer experience.
SMS offers a variety of ways that marketers can engage consumers. Just because you start with text doesn’t mean that’s all you get. SMS offers a variety of ways to further engage customers and leverage the initial response to further interaction via additional text message, multi-media messages, email, voice, mobile web, and video. Marketers offering mobile services can drive sales instantly, targeting a built-in audience that is already interested in getting information on their phones. The ability of SMS to deliver cross-media interactivity allows marketers to pick the method that best fits their business goals. These methods include
- SMS reply: A short ad with the option to reply with a keyword for additional information. This platform can also be used to allow the consumer to search for information, play games and receive coupons, reminders or special offers.
- SMS click to WAP: Advertising containing a URL to a mobile website
- SMS click to call: Advertising including a phone number
- SMS branding ad: Branded content without a call to action
SMS can act as a bridge to connect a customer to another medium. Universal Pictures and their agency Ignited recently demonstrated excellence in cross-platform promotions with their campaign surrounding the release of box office hit "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." In addition to an innovative viral campaign using billboards, bus ads, television and radio spots and online advertising, the studio launched an SMS ad campaign targeted at consumers of digital media. Teaser ads invited consumers to reply SARAH to find out more; those who responded got more information about the film and an opportunity to view the trailer. Thousands of consumers viewed the movie trailer on mobile devices as a result of this campaign.
As you can see, SMS offers a wealth of opportunities for meaningful customer engagement. The key to success with an SMS campaign is to remember that consumers respond best to a targeted, direct call to action. By nature, SMS lets marketers provide consumers with a “digital snack” -- a bite sized morsel that intrigues customers because it’s contextually relevant to their search or opted-in content. And like the best snacks, a great SMS campaign will keep them engaged and coming back for more.