Message Received, SMS as a vital sales and marketing tool

Published on 16 March 2015

By Dr Piet Streicher

As a well-established method of business communication, Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director at BulkSMS, explains how SMS is an effective channel for SMEs to create dynamic marketing campaigns and drive sales in today’s digital age.

Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn… The list of new ways to interact digitally with one another is endless and continues to grow as the proliferation of smartphones and constant technology innovation blur the boundaries of what is possible now and what tomorrow could bring. But as companies are rushing to try out the latest communication tools, they could be neglecting one of the most traditional and widely used methods of business communications: SMS messaging. Today, SMS still remains one of the most effective ways for companies to reach their customer base, despite the growing number of strings in the digital marketer and salesperson’s bow.

Why SMS?

The very first SMS was sent in 1992 and, according to a 2011 blog by mobile thought-leader Tomi Ahonen, by 2010 it became the most widely used data application, adopted by 80 per cent of mobile subscribers – so approximately 3.5 billion active users globally. Unlike instant messaging services, SMS is standard on every mobile and doesn’t rely on an internet connection to work. It has far more reach and flexibility than online services and pre-pay mobile users can still receive text messages even if they’re out of airtime. What’s more, SMS is the most effective way to reach users; according to a report by SinglePoint, SMS achieves a 90% read rate within minutes. SMS boasts the highest engagement rate in comparison to emails and OTT mobile messaging apps. With customers more likely to open, read and respond to SMS notifications than email or IM messages, this puts SMS at the top of the list in terms of its ability to drive and impact sales.

The growth opportunity for SMS

Recently, there has been a drop in the usage of person-to-person (P2P) SMS messaging due to the boom in social media and mobile instant messaging apps. However, there has simultaneously been an increase in the use of application-to-person (A2P) and person-to-application (P2A) SMS messaging – digital communication use cases being driven by businesses. Analyst house Juniper Research estimates that the A2P SMS messaging market will be worth almost $60bn by 2018, driving overall SMS revenues as organisations increasingly harness text messages to contact customers and employees.

It’s not just larger organisations that can reap the benefits of SMS messaging to boost sales. Now there are more affordable solutions available allowing SMEs to stay in touch with customers on sales promotions and company updates. Depending on the scale of the sales initiative, businesses running high volume or interactive campaigns can enable their systems to deliver SMSs using an API (Application programming interface). This connects directly to an SMS gateway (the technology platform that relays SMSs to mobile networks for delivery to a mobile phone number). SMEs running lower volume, targeted mobile marketing campaigns can send SMS messages from a desktop or web-based application.

Choosing the appropriate communication channel

While there are many benefits to using SMS messaging as a sales and marketing tool, it doesn’t mean the channel should be used for any and every customer-facing task. SMS should be used in conjunction and integrated with other digital marketing tools to have the best effect. SMS communications are great for achieving global reach and broadcasting to larger audiences with quick and easily digestible information. This means any short-form, urgent and time-sensitive content, such as delivery updates or appointment reminders works best when sent as an SMS.

If a company wants to provide more detailed information, then an SMS text message can still work. Despite the limitations of 160 characters in a single text message, A2P SMS messaging platforms enable the sending of messages that can concatenate (that is, join) several text messages to be delivered as a single communication to a mobile phone. Another means of sending more detailed information or rich content via SMS marketing is to include a link to a webpage embedded in the SMS message.

However, other electronic communication channels may be more appropriate that an SMS, depending on the context. For example, businesses should opt for email to send out longer-form content that is a value-add for customers and less urgent in nature – such as recommendations following a product purchase. Instant messaging services are better for providing push notifications – call-to-actions or prompts to visit other channels rather than providing information that needs to be referenced later on, such as an invoice number.

Castle Triathlon wins the SMS race

SMS messaging proved to be a very handy sales tool for the organisers of the Castle Triathlon Series events. The company has been using SMS to provide triathletes with timely and relevant updates ahead of each race for some years now. With the help of BulkSMS.com, it recently used SMS to help drive a promotion that offered a 20% discount on the purchase of a race entry, providing recipients with unique URL links tracking back to its website.

The feature proved to be very popular with the athletes; through this SMS initiative, Castle Triathlon was able to boost response rates and overall race registrations, with 150 athletes signing up on the penultimate day of the promotion, and nearly 500 people on the final day. The direct call to action in the SMS was instrumental in the success of the promotion, and enabled the business to reach a broader set of triathlon participants.

If it ain’t broke…

SMS will continue to play an integral role in business communications for many years to come, and it’s not too difficult to understand why given its flexibility and ubiquitous nature. As a one-size-fits all mobile communication solution, businesses don’t need to worry about browser or operating system compatibility, or internet connections to deliver their message. While businesses stumble to work out how to use Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp in order to innovate and stay ahead of the game in today’s digital age, really they should be thinking ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ for remaining innovative in reaching their customers. SMS might have been around for 23 years, but as a sales and marketing tool, it gives the less mature communications channels a real run for their money.