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Are SMS campaigns too intrusive, or not invasive enough?

Marketers are continually finding new ways to get consumers to opt-in to their databases. However, it seems many companies are either not sending enough messages or bombarding users constantly instead of finding a happy medium.

SMS is a great way for marketers to build an ongoing dialogue with consumers. Brands such as Target, Macy?s and Starbucks are continually looking at new ways to build their SMS databases.

?When I tell friends that I that I work in mobile marketing the most common response I get is ?So you?re the one that sends me those annoying text messages about refinancing my house or getting cash,? said Shuli Lowy, marketing director at Ping Mobile.
?The SMS industry has come a long way in diminishing spam and improving relevancy, however, we all still bare the scars of a dark past time when unsolicited and intrusive text messages were rampant in the kingdom of mobile,? she said. 
?Marketers engaging in SMS marketing now have to begin their consumer dialogue with clear instructions on how to opt out as well as information about message charges, frequency of messages, and information on how to get further assistance. Opt-in consent that is received via non-mobile portals need to be confirmed via mobile and premium SMS campaigns need to exercise a double opt-in process.?

Marketing target
With a clear opt-in process, consumers are only sent messages that they expressly want to receive from brands that they would like to hear from.

Through SMS, marketers can build a strong relationship of mutual interest between the brand and consumer.

However, with SMS there are many challenges.

Nowadays, it seems that many marketers are sending out too many SMS messages.

According to many industry experts, it is customary to send three to four messages per month.

Many companies are exceeding that number.

Moreover, there are also marketers who are sending less than three messages per month. This may cause a rift in the brand-consumer relationship because they are not top of mind.

?Marketers must remember that the goal is not to dangle a piece of candy in front of consumers and then trap them into a mobile relationship prison,? Ms. Lowy said. ?Instead the goal is to invite consumers in to engage with your brand through mobile and make sure to offer compelling content to keep the consumer interested and strengthen that relationship, but always leave the door open should they wish to leave.

?Accordingly, it is highly recommended to exercise a double opt-in process on standard campaigns ? even though that is not required ? and from time to time close your messages with a closing restatement of how users can opt out,? she said.

?The second most important strategy tip to create a powerful SMS experience is to ensure that your text messages don?t repeat information that consumers already know. Do not send consumers the same content via email, social media, and mobile. Your marketing channels should work together and weave into a multi-faceted brand relationship.?

SMS is a simple channel to use and is quite effective.

According to Ms. Lowy, more than 97 percent of SMS messages are read almost all of which are read within minutes of receipt.

?In 2013 we will start seeing small businesses adopting SMS marketing,? Ms. Lowy said. ?SMS marketing has already been used by large brands for years; those brands are already moving on to more complex forms of mobile marketing which are propelling the smartphone era.

?However, small businesses are still very new to mobile and SMS is the most sensible place for them to dip their toes in the mobile marketing pool,? she said.

?Small B2C facing businesses have a lot to gain from SMS and we will see them starting to adopt it as a marketing tool in 2013.?

Ideal channel
Properly run SMS programs are not intrusive, per Jeff Hasen, chief marketing officer at Hipcricket.

?On the contrary, they provide relevant information sought by the mobile subscriber,? Mr. Hasen said. ?Wise marketers don't abuse the privilege of an opt-in ? they send as few messages as possible to provide value to the subscriber.

"SMS remains the reach mechanism for marketers because nearly every phone has the capability and 75 percent of American subscribers text on a regular basis,? he said. ?"It also is a terrific way to take a one-time activity ? a response to a call to action ? and make it an engagement through an opt-in.

"In 2013, I see SMS being as criticized as ever. With that said, I see it being used more and more by marketers at businesses of all sizes. Often the best programs use SMS and other products to give consumers choice on how to engage."
Great SMS campaigns can be intrusive in a valuable way to the consumer.

As long as the message is relevant, consumers will not feel bombarded by the brand. However, marketers must remember to personalize the message, as well as offer consumers an incentive, such as a discount or video link which can lead to engagement.

?I?m totally fine being intruded if the content is something I value at that point in time,? said Alex Campbell, co-founder/chief innovation officer of Vibes. ?In fact, I actually want you to interrupt me if it means I don?t miss out on something I want or need.

?An example of a valuable mobile experience is if I?m walking past a store and a retailer sends me a message about redeeming an in-store coupon,? he said. ?I wouldn?t want to miss out on such a timely and relevant opportunity.
When it comes to SMS, there are many important aspects to consider, such as time, location and interaction.

Companies must thing about when a person is going to receive the message and where they will be.

?SMS is the only media channel where you know the person will read your message,? Mr. Campbell said. ?It?s also a very personal way for a marketer to communicate with a customer.

?People text with their friends, and if you as a marketer are let into that circle, you?ve really earned someone?s trust,? he said. ?Once you build trusting relationships, that?s a powerful ? and winning ? connection for you and your customer, which often leads to brand loyalty.
?While SMS will remain an important message delivery channel, push and other forms of IP messaging will become more important for marketers. I also think we?re going to see a few new messaging clients from carriers that add a little more functionality into standard SMS, for example, group messaging and delivery receipts. The carriers know they?re losing traffic to IP-based solutions, such as Whatsapp, and I think they?ll start to respond with ways to redeem lost traffic.?

Key tactics
One of the elements of SMS marketing that many marketers forget is that SMS and MMS marketing is permissions based marketing. 

?This means that the customer must opt-in in order to receive brand message,? said James Citron, co-founder/CEO of Mogreet. ?This ensures the customers only receive the information that they want, but it also provides the brand with a list of super fans.

?After all, given how personal mobile phones are to their owners, consumers only opt-in to programs they want,? he said. 

To entice consumers to join a program, brands must be create unique content. It is important to not repurpose content found other places on the Web.

It is also important to use multimedia in SMS campaigns to build deeper brand relationships.

Including brand logos, product images or even how to videos increase the ROI of text message marketing tenfold.

?You should promote your SMS/MMS campaigns everywhere,? Mr. Citron said. ?Text marketing successes increase as one?s database increases.

?Integrate social sharing within your text marketing program,? he said. ?Dramatically increase impact and word of mouth marketing, allow your super fans to share your content out across their own social channels.

?Don?t forget that your mobile database is a long-term marketing tool ? don?t create short-term strategies.?

Marketers must remember to not spam.

Users get agitated quite easily and if bombarded with messages, they may choose to opt out of the program.

At the same time, companies must not go silent.

SMS is a real-time action channel that works best with ongoing messaging.

?There are so many reasons why text message marketing is a perfect fit for today?s marketers,? Mr. Citron said. ?First, it is ubiquitous. 

?In addition, most phone plans now include unlimited text messaging,? he said. ?Other tools such as apps or QR require smartphones and data plans ? not to mention discovery ? to engage with consumers.

?2013 is not the year of SMS. 2013 is the year of MMS ? the addition of mobile coupons and video.  As more and more consumers being to take part in the content creation cycle, the more they are used to and expecting to see multimedia programming.  Marketers who are seeing strong results now with SMS are moving towards MMS to increase the impact of their programming as well as overall ROI.?

Final Take
Rimma Kats is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York