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Can retailers still get excited about SMS marketing?

SMS has the potential to enable retailers to leverage unparalleled communication opportunities with consumers, yet still a number of marketers are failing to embrace the true potential of the humble SMS. Here, Adam Oldfield, Managing Director of Force24 and an eCRM specialist, looks at the role of SMS in a modern multichannel marketing strategy, before evaluating where some brands are still going wrong.

On average, an individual is subjected to 5,000 marketing messages per day, and in that same 24 hour period, a typical professional will also send and receive 131 emails. That’s an incredible amount of ‘noise’ for marketers to try and cut through when communicating with a target consumer. So how do retailers ensure they are heard?

It would be foolish to suggest that the day of the email is dead. But it is becoming harder to generate a meaningful return from this channel. Email service providers are becoming increasingly stringent too, which makes it harder for a retailer’s email – even if legitimate – to reach a recipient’s inbox. Marketers are therefore being urged to improve their email practices and deliverability profiles as they prepare for their 2017 campaigns. There can no longer be a disregard for what goes on behind the ‘send’ button, if retailers want to navigate the ever-changing email landscape.

Ecommerce marketers must also look beyond email. Yes it has proven fruitful to date. In fact, the success of such consumer dialogue has long meant that email has dominated marketing strategies. It isn’t the only way to engage consumers and convert sales. Has the true concept of multichannel marketing been forgotten?

Whilst it isn’t appropriate to suggest a ‘one size fits all’ multichannel strategy for all internet retailers, there needs to be greater appreciation for the role of SMS. It is predicted that, by next year, 4.77 billion people will have a mobile phone – that’s more than two thirds of the world’s population. Add to that the fact that 63% of smartphone owners keep their devices with them for all but one hour of their waking day, even on a weekend, and mobile marketing has huge potential – IF it is executed correctly.

The technology underpinning SMS has never been so sophisticated, yet marketers’ understanding of effective SMS techniques remains in its infancy.

To a certain degree, this may be because there is a reticence to use SMS, given a text costs more to send than an email. There is also the perception that recipients are more likely to have a strong opinion about receiving a marketing SMS, moreso than they are an email. Brands can use SMS to boost revenues though without damaging customer rapport.

A tool throughout the buying cycle

This is definitely a ‘right message, via the right channel, at the right time’ moment. SMS should not be thought of as an acquisition tool. Instead it should be respected as a powerful medium to amplify a brand’s voice and drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, advocacy and retention – all crucial factors in an age of cost-conscious, savvy shoppers.

However, it is important to note that the aforementioned benefits will only be achieved from SMS, if the communication is timely and relevant. Bombarding customers with ad hoc, impersonal and uninteresting messages will be purely viewed as spam. Used effectively within an eCRM strategy, SMS will nurture the retail funnel and ensure customers feel loved by a brand that is by their side.

The content therefore needs to mimic that of human conversation, whilst working at an acceptable speed. Force24 research has found that consumers are more likely to keep replying to SMS messages if the response takes into account information already known about the individual, and is received within 10 seconds.

As a guide, an informal, friendly but succinct tone should be used. However, marketers should stay true to the character of the brand to remain consistent with what customers would usually expect. The content should also be personalised. A talented retail marketer wouldn’t dream of sending an email out without addressing the recipient by name and considering data such as their previous purchase history. SMS is no different. The text should therefore include the receiver’s name and information such as order details, status or next steps to increase relevancy.

SMS should not, however, be exploited as an opportunity to sell. Instead it should primarily be adopted for service-related communication that enhances the buying experience. Reminders, confirmations and updates are generally well-received as are contextual surveys that drive reviews. Questions should be sent, in order of importance, to encourage dialogue, with the majority of responses kept closed if possible. If the SMS has to be used for sales, there should be an added incentive for using this channel to buy.

An opportunity for creativity

Whilst the channel has obvious limitations due to character counts and a lack of formatting, SMS does actually pose a significant opportunity for marketers to be creative. They may not be able to devise eye-catching artwork that they would usually deploy in email, for example, but they can think carefully and cleverly about the timeliness of SMS communications and the content of the messages sent. Shortening services should also be considered to hide tracking information that will prove key to analysis of an SMS campaign.

The administration of SMS campaigns also needs careful management. Numbers must be continually cleansed as part of a data strategy and opt-in permissions must also be obtained before the imminent tightening of data regulations.

Such intelligent use of SMS is not restricted solely to retailers such as high street fashion brands. We’ve seen fantastic examples of service-focused texts incorporated into the multichannel communication campaigns of incredibly varied retailers from online car auctions and bespoke kitchen outlets, to e-travel operators and household appliance firms. It has even been proven to improve post-purchase cognitive dissonance. It’s not about who you are, but what you say and how you do it. That’s the key to reaping a return from SMS.

It’s understandable for marketers’ heads to be turned by technologies that are seen to boost store footfall or online basket completions, but often too much attention is wrongly paid to tools that are perceived as novel. Innovations such as virtual reality, beacon technology and proximity sensors, for example, may be nothing more than expensive gimmicks, unless the retailer has an extremely sophisticated app real estate in place. SMS therefore shouldn’t be overlooked. There are still plenty of reasons to get excited by texts.

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