Although every marketer and charitable coordinator likes to bask in the glow of a successful outreach campaign, many find it easy to forget that successful promotions don’t just happen. Forget about having them spring into existence ex nihilo (i.e., out of nothing) in a brilliant flash of inspiration. Despite all of the metrics and quantifiable measurement, marketing is a creative pursuit. And like most creative pursuits, marketing takes time and effort to develop—even when dealing with super-short SMS messages.
Think of an SMS campaign like pulled-pork barbecue. You find the perfect place to prepare it, gather the main meat of the thing, throw in spices for flavoring, and fire up the oven (or pit if you’re dealing with the real Carolina stuff). But there’s still an element missing: a full day of cooking. SMS promotions need the same thing, a period where marketers can mull over the various elements of what will hopefully become successful campaigns.
In 17th century Britain, scholars codified a process for doing just this. It involved something called a commonplace book. Part compendium, part scrapbook, part selective encyclopedia, commonplace books were tiny tomes into which people would put bits of interesting information and refer back to them when developing complex ideas. John Milton, H.P. Lovecraft, W.H. Auden, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes all used them.
Indeed, marketers—and everyone interested in anything creative—should do so, too. And while I can’t craft a personal creative catchall for you, I can do the next best thing. This post contains ideas and inspirations related to SMS marketing, little tips and small bits of inspiration that will hopefully help you as you work on your own campaigns.
So without further ado, take a moment and consider …
The Wombo Combo
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of this term. That simply means you’re a well-adjusted individual who isn’t overly familiar with internet memes. But everyone should have an easy enough time understanding the basic idea: Marketing communications work best when you combine them.
Think back to the last purchase you made. Now think about why you did so. Were you simply responding to a single message? Probably not. Society is positively saturated with sales-related stuff, everyone from radio spots and print ads to email solicitations and embedded social-media spots to billboards and bandit signs.
Notice what’s missing? Despite the repeatedly demonstrated effectiveness of SMS, far too few companies combo it with their already extant marketing. So look at the way in which you’re already working and think how you might be able to amplify your efforts with SMS.
Marketers can sometimes seem snobbish. I don’t mean that as an insult. Any marketer worth his or her salt should feel confident about the efficacy of their approaches, and a passionless promoter should frighten you. But that confidence can become problematic when it gets too exclusive.
Ponder the physical space in retail stores. Too often it’s simply used to hawk new merchandise or advertise in-store credit. The same could be said about SMS when marketers keep all of their messaging focused entirely on the phone. Each component stays in its nice, neat silo—and doesn’t do anywhere near the amount of promotional work that it could.
But much like the wombo combo, getting physical focuses on rooted, real-world commerce and tries to break it out of its context. That empty counter, the wall of an elevator, even the floor on which customers walk—you can use all of them to remind to gently nudge people toward an SMS mailing list.
Similarly, businesses that don’t subsist solely on an online presence should mull over their immediate geographical surroundings. What is the community like around them? How do the various demographic factors impact customers’ wants and needs? And how can they help meet those desires with SMS?
Something for Nothing
In a world where quid pro quo is a common modus operandi, giving something for nothing gets you noticed. Businesses don’t have to provide delivery notifications, complimentary coupons, status updates on important projects, or reminders about prescription refills. But freely offering value has its own rewards.
So really examine your organization’s competitive strengths. Now peer at your customers and constituents with just as keen of an eye. Then stop thinking about how communicating with them can benefit you. Instead, think about how you can aid them, an open and ready transfer with no strings attached.
This value swap doesn’t have to be big. A helpful alert. An interesting white paper or study. A time-saving step. All of them aid consumers in an increasingly cut-throat world. Some of them may become your clients. Many won’t. However, in a time when classical capitalism seems to be losing ground, freely offering value provides more benefits than you might imagine.
In his tiny 1922 tome The Way to Will Power, pop economist Henry Hazlitt talked about the importance of desire and longing in determining action. He also discussed another more primal factor: “We come now to something quite as important, if, indeed, it is not more important than these. While it is often determined by them, it sometimes determines them, and it often guides action with no relation to desires whatever.” That factor is habit.
If you think about it, habit defines most of the limits in our lives, and nowhere more so than with deadlines. From the ending of work days to the closing of weeks to the shifting of months, we order commerce and existence itself around totally arbitrary boundaries. That might sound depressing, but it also presents an opportunity.
Look at your clock or calendar. Are there any major holidays on the horizon? Is it the end of the tax year? What about the calendar year? Is this a period where a particular industry swings into action or winds down its activities? Any and all of these de jure or de facto deadlines can become a point where you reach out to customers with SMS.
Position the Ping
Another related area is pinging. While pinging originally referred to a way in which one could measure how long it took a message to go from one computer to another, most today use it to talk about simple marketing measures that reestablish contact with lapsed customers. As you may have guessed, SMS is perfect for this.
Allow me to share the personal experience of an acquaintance who was recently shopping for a new pair of glasses. He decided to buy them from Warby Parker, an online retailer that sells designer frames and lenses starting at less than $100. The company will ship up to five pairs for a potential customer to try on free of charge. After returning them, the purchaser is supposed to take the additional step of ordering a preferred pair through the company’s website.
You can see the potential for the process to break down, can’t you? I imagine that many people never complete their orders due to confusion over which styles work best or how to decipher their prescriptions. So Warber Parker has a personal stylist contact them via text on a prescreened cell number to clarify any potential issues, a simple and effective ping.
Wear the Meat Dress
During the 2010 MTV Movie Awards, quirky pop star Lady Gaga not only received 13 nominations (a first for a female performer), she won Video of the Year for her single “Bad Romance.” None of that made news, though. What stole the show was the outfit she wore while accepting it: a dress made entirely out of flank steak.
Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress might earned scorn from cultural critics tired of celebrities going to ever increasingly outlandish lengths to gain renown. But her gross couture did its job. People paid attention to it. They talked about it. And they remembered Lady Gaga.
Here is where I’d like to draw your attention to a bunch of really striking SMS campaigns that captured the public consciousness and really made their mark. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any. Organizations such as Calvin Klein, PETA, Britain’s National Health Service, and Amnesty International have all produced memorable marketing (some of it a little too memorable). I’m sure the first really eye-catching SMS campaign is out there—and it just might be yours.
Ride the Wave
The Walking Dead. Fidget spinners. VR. What do these disparate things have in common? They’re all hot cultural trends that tastemakers are talking about, people are participating in, and marketers should note.
Just like surfers can catch a wave and ride its moment further than they could ever hope to go through their own effort, so promoters can harness the energy of trends to further their own products or services. Of course, I’m not advocating crass copying or tasteless mimicry. Religious organizations sometimes seem prone to this, often with embarrassingly counterproductive results. Still, tactfully co-opting the substance or style of a broader phenomenon can truly work wonders.
Last month, I highlighted the case of Georgia’s Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, and I think it bears repeating as an applicable example. A few years ago, the charity decided that it didn’t want to raise funds by hosting the traditional (and tiresome) gala dinner with rubber chicken, rote awards, and a downright dull speaker. Rather, it decided to ride the wave of ABC’s smash show Dancing With the Stars.
Good Neighbor could’ve opted for an uncreative, copycat effort. Instead, it got ingenious. The organization solicited the involvement of local celebrities, recorded them cutting a rug, uploaded their dancing to YouTube, and had donors “vote” by texting donations to a short code. That may seem like a lot of effort, but Good Neighbor cleared six figures with the campaign. What’s more, you can bet that outreach stuck in donors’ minds.
Peppy, Persuasive Personalization
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Bernie Sanders rewrote the playbook during the 2016 presidential elections. Who would have thought that a 75-year-old Democratic Socialist from Vermont could’ve given one of America’s most powerful political dynasties a run for its money? But Sanders competed , and he powered his impressive run through more than just fiery rhetoric, ironclad commitment to his ideals, and an iconic shock of tousled white hair. SMS was also his not-so-secret weapon.
Unlike other campaigns, Sanders’ staff and volunteers personally sent out text messages to a pre-approved list, creating far greater engagement with many more people over a shorter time period while using less manpower. And when it became evident became evident that he wouldn’t secure his party’s nomination, he sent out personalized messages that urged unity.
Sanders understood something important: Impersonal communications are often impotent. People simply don’t engage with robocalls, door hangers, or direct mail. Provide a message tailored specifically for them, though, and they’ll eat it up.
Share Yo’ Knowledge
People don’t care how much knowledge you have in your garage. They’re concerned about schedules and timetables, product specs and bulk discounts, unexpected delays and breaking news. In other words, they’re searching for information to help with their buying decisions or to make their lives easier. And that very well could be information you have.
Like the “Something for Nothing” section above, this approach looks to add extra value to a customer’s experience. However, it involves more than open handedness. The smartphone is a true technological marvel, a method of interacting with info in ways that once seemed the domain of science fiction. Remember how “multimedia” was the technological watchword during the nineties? Well, with its ability to easily handle text, pictures, audio, and video, the smartphone is a true multimedia machine.
Even more impressive is that such multimedia capacity is native for virtually all smartphones. How? I bet guessed it: Text messaging can handle all of them in one form or another. So mull over the knowledge your constituents needs and think about how SMS can help get it to them.
Constant Creative Cannibalization
The first SMS message shot from phone to phone in 1992, and although this marvelous technology has existed for over two decades, it hasn’t stayed stagnant. That’s part of the reason why I’m in this business and you’re reading this post. User creativity keeps cannibalizing the old ways of using text messaging, digesting them, and building them up into something new.
That’s what I hope you’ll do with these commonplace entires. They aren’t definitive suggestions. They aren’t guidelines to a bulletproof campaign. They won’t magically make you successful. But if you pour yourself a cup of coffee, turn them over in your mind, work out some specifications unique to your situation, and even add a few entries of your own, I suspect that success might find you all of its own accord.