SMS in general—and SMS marketing in particular—may seem like fairly new technology. The truth, though, is that it’s really not. SMS has been around for about three decades, and its longevity has given plenty of people an opportunity to study it. Today, I want to talk about one of those studies in particular. Back in 2005, Electronic Commerce Research and Applications published a paper written by Drs. Arno Scharl, Astrid Dickinger, and Jamie Murphy entitled “Diffusion and Success Factors of Mobile Marketing,” a piece the purported to examine what just what made SMS marketing work. Yes, it’s older research, but many of its points remain just as applicable as they did back in the day.
One of the first things Scharl, Dickinger, and Murphy noticed was that SMS seemed to lend itself naturally to marketing in all sorts of industries. They approached the topic of what made successful SMS campaigns tick by searching the websites of Fortune Global 500 companies for mobile-phone terms and then following it up by interviewing various European marketing experts. Notably, almost two-thirds (59%) of the companies’ sites returned an SMS-related search term (remember, this was about 10 years ago!), and the types of businesses involved stretched across a surprisingly broad span of fields.
Naturally, most of the SMS engagement came from telecoms (over 55 percent), but auto, electronics, engineering, finance, retail, fossil fuel, pharmacological, electrical, and chemical businesses also used mobile messaging in some way, shape, or form. Indeed, it’s no wonder that the authors stated that “text messaging is an additional communication channel for marketing campaigns that integrates easily into the media mix.”
Things got even more interesting once Scharl, Dickinger, and Murphy started their interviews. They filtered the responses through a conceptual framework that basically broke the information down into 1) the factors that made a campaign work; and 2) the ways one measured that success. The former dealt with analyzing both the SMS message and the physical media itself (i.e., consumers’ phones). Sadly, the phone-related findings hardly apply today. The researchers were cautioned about how computers’ ease of use might make them superior to cell phones in many applications (an assertion the smartphone has rendered null and void) and how buying phone numbers to gain access to cells could become a marketing substantial cost (a nonstarter since Federal law now requires consent from all SMS recipients).
Message factors, though, remain far more relevant. The experts noted that the content of messages had an impressive impact if they “were short and to the point (28 percent), funny and entertaining (26 percent), relevant to the target group (20 percent), eye catching (13 percent), and informative about prizes and promotions (12 percent).” What’s more, SMS succeeded more when it took into account the timing of message blasts. Texts don’t demand the same instant attention as phone calls, but the experts noted that messages sent during normal business hours had better response rates than those fired off after hours. Also, location-based SMS can solidify market segments, and people tend to prefer personalized content.
So how do you know if your SMS marketing campaign is working? Scharl, Dickinger, and Murphy’s European experts urged them to consider if an outreach showed viral characteristics. Are people sharing the messages? Do they have high recall rates? Are click-through rates staying within normal ranges? These are all external indicators of internal message-crafting success. If answers haven’t come back in the affirmative, a few tweaks may be in order.
Of course, none of this new. As far back as 1996, Singaporean taxi drivers were using SMS messaging to connect with fares, navigating to their locations through the embedded GPS in their cells. Call it a pre-smartphone Uber if you’d like, but the principles for mobile outreach remain the same. SMS honors targeted pithiness, consumer respect, appropriate personalization, and focused creativity. Given such preconditions, expect audience engagement and potentially even message sharing among peers if appropriate. Adhere to these guidelines, seek out these symptoms, and you’ll probably have a successful SMS campaign on your hands. After all, it’s science!