Monday, May 10, 2010

Recently in a new business pitch meeting I was asked my opinion of utilizing text messaging in an advertising campaign. The potential client was dead set on it and asked me what I thought was the best way to acquire the list of phone numbers to text to. He didn’t have cell phone numbers in his database and wondered if they could be purchased.

There were so many things wrong with this line of questioning; I thought it warranted an article.

Text messaging is indeed a viable marketing communications tool, but like anything else, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use it. And like any social media vehicle, the appropriateness depends heavily on what you’re selling and whom you’re selling it too.

Advantages of Text Messaging
The advantages of text message advertising are obvious – texts are cheap to produce and have the ability to travel directly to the eyes of your potential customer. With people so glued to their phones, you know with absolute certainty they’re going to read it – unlike TV, radio, print or outdoor where you have to hope that:
1. They randomly come across it
2. They’re paying attention when they do

And because it’s a relatively newer tool in the marketing arsenal, it stands a greater chance of being read than other direct channels. Consumers have developed immunity to tangible and electronic junk mail. Think about yourself when you’re checking your email account or rifling through your mailbox. You can tell almost immediately what you need to read and what you don’t. But there is no spam filter or shiny coated envelope for your text messages – not yet anyway. For the moment, people give every text message they receive equal consideration.

That being said, text messaging can be the sharpest of double-edged swords. If you use it incorrectly it will annoy your customers faster than anything else you can think of. And with text messaging being a point on the blurry line that is the “Do Not Call” list, there can be legal implications as well. But given the right message about the right kind of product to a customer who wants to receive them, text messaging can be highly effective.

Golden Rules of Text Messaging
1. Only send them to people who have explicitly told you they want to receive it
o Even if they’ve given you their contact information for something else, they have to explicitly agree to receive emails or texts
2. Only use texts to send messages that are legitimately important and time sensitive
o No one wants to hear puffery or cares that you’re offering $00.10 off all purchases in the next 20 minutes
3. Don’t use a text to ask people to make too major a decision on the spot
o No one will come in to buy a car after 1 text message
o For bigger purchases, get them to do something smaller first – check out a website, enter into a sweepstakes, etc.
4. Never send too many text messages in too short a time
o Once a week is definitely too often
o Once a month probably is too
o Use your judgment
5. Use text messaging in conjunction with other communications – NEVER in place of them.
o Text messaging is for telling an important and time-sensitive thing to people you know want to hear about it.
o Text messaging is not the vehicle for building awareness of your product/service or cultivating your market image.

Things to Keep in Mind
Text messages need to be clear in what you want your customer to do, and you shouldn’t expect the text to do too much heavy lifting.
• A text message might compel someone to look at a website for more information, or to swing by a store to check out a huge tent sale
• A text message will never sell a car, house or insurance policy by itself

Always keep in mind that text messaging isn’t free – for you OR for your customer. Many text messaging add-on plans give people a finite number of text messages per month, or charge by the text. That applies to texts sent or received. That means many customers will be charged by their phone companies to receive a text message whether they asked for it or not. Consider that the next time you’re thinking of doing a text messaging campaign – would someone want to pay $0.25 to receive this message?

When thinking about whether you should do text message advertising, don’t think in terms of “does this customer want to receive messages about my company/product/service?”

Think specifically -- what about your company/product/service does your customer really care about? And is that thing appropriate to convey in 160 characters? Tell your customers something about you they’re not used to hearing – like in these examples below:

Examples of Good and Bad Texting
Example 1:
• If you’re a retail store and you have sales all the time, no one wants to hear about every single item as it’s marked down. Just because people may individually care about some things doesn’t mean they want to be overwhelmed with every little thing.
• But, if you rarely have sales or you have only small ones, people might care to know when you’re having that once-a-year event where everything in the store is 30% off. You know they like to shop with you, and an event like that doesn’t happen very often.

Example: 2
• If you’re a restaurant, don’t send customers random messages to the effect of “make a reservation for this weekend!” They can eat at your restaurant any weekend. If there isn’t anything special going on this weekend why would they want a text message from you?
• But, your customers might like a text message reminding them that Valentine’s Day is in 2 weeks, that you’re preparing a special couples menu and that you still have reservations available. If they’ve forgotten to make a restaurant reservation (which they probably have) all they have to do is click “Reply” to your text to lock one in. It saves them the time of picking a restaurant to go to and then calling around to see who still has reservations available.

Example: 3
• Some national bands or music groups will send texts to their fans when they’ll be playing in their area. Texts include the date, time and venue of the event and where (whether website or location) you can go to get tickets.
• If you’re a big fan of the band and they’re not in town every day, then that’s probably something you’d want to hear about.

We hope these suggestions and guidelines will help you determine whether text message advertising is appropriate for your company and customer. Of course, proper implementation and tracking a text messaging campaign is more complicated than just hitting “send.” If text messaging as part of a larger social media strategy is something you’re interested in, Stone can help with the details.

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