Creating a successful text message marketing campaign

Gather new leads and convert them into paying customers. That's the foundation of most successful small businesses. It's also much easier said than done. If you're considering text-message marketing, check out these tips for developing a successful campaign.

The Scenario

To help illustrate successful SMS marketing strategies, we'll use the following scenario. Let's imagine that an independently owned restaurant has operated successfully for two years, but has recently suffered reduced revenues due to competition from a new start-up. Our restaurant owner wants to "recapture" former customers and distinguish the brand from the start-up.

Knowing that, unlike traditional mail, nearly all recipients open SMS messages (most within one hour of receipt), a text message campaign seems appealing. What steps should our small business owner take to conduct an effective text-message marketing campaign?

Step One: Go It Alone or Hire Professional Help?

Any professional text-message campaign should adhere to a few industry best practices.

The Mobile Marketing Association, the industry power-broker and trend-setter, has developed an extensive Mobile Marketing Code of Conduct. In summary, the Code calls for notice to consumers that helps them informed choices about participation, choice and consent about receiving messages, customization of marketing messages to consumers' preferences, security of private information, and conformity with federal and state laws.

Sound complicated? For many small business owners, the best choice is to hire a marketing firm (which come in a range of costs, from $10 per month all the way up to thousands of dollars per year). Such firms can also take care of technical and procedural details. Either way, once the decision is made, the process moves toward the campaign's launch.

Let's imagine our restaurant owner hires a small firm to help with logistics.

Step Two: Secure a Shortcode

Remember when, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross plastered its shortcode, 90999, on commercials and billboards? That five-digit number is the shortcode, a sort of address that consumers use to respond to a text message campaign.

Anyone can purchase a shortcode, but prices range from $500 to $1000 per month just to reserve the code. For most small businesses, this is out of reach. That's one reason our restaurant owner chose to work with a marketing service. Most such services accept independently registered shortcodes, but most also provide random shortcodes at a reduced cost.

Step Three: Timing is Everything

Once the shortcode is reserved, the campaign launch is near. The final step is to establish a campaign timeline.

One of our restaurant owner's goals is to reconnect with former customers. A particularly effective strategy is to present a tempting, time-sensitive deal that can be accepted only by text message (sent to the shortcode). In response, the customer receives a coupon code that can be redeemed that day. Often these deals take the form of buy-one-get-one-free offers, which naturally invite customers to visit with a friend or family member

To gather attention, our restaurant owner might invest in some traditional advertising, or might post the deal to established social media accounts. If possible, the owner should time the campaign to line up with high-traffic days or times, so walk-by converts can be maximized. Holidays, school snow days, and days of special local events make perfect campaign days.

Step Four: The Follow-Up Sell

Providing the coupon deal gives our restaurant owner a chance to catch some new customers and to give former customers a reason to visit again. During that visit, it's the restaurant's job to distinguish itself from the competition ("The best 99 cent desserts in town!"). But the real draw of text message marketing is the potential for follow-up sales. Here's how it works.

Text message marketing firms will collect the mobile phone numbers of customers who text message the shortcode in response to the initial offer. Within the framework of the above best practices, these phone numbers can be messaged with follow-up offers.

Our restaurant owner could offer an exclusive follow-up deal only to those customers who responded to the first deal. This helps build brand loyalty and provides a value incentive for customers to continue to subscribe to messaging.

Our owner might offer a lure-in freebie (one free cookie) or early access to reservations or new products. Similar campaigns, especially those providing consumers exclusive access, have led many small business owners to success.

Step Five: Evaluate and Repeat

The final step for marketing success is to evaluate the initial campaign. By tracking coupon codes tied to the campaign, our restaurant owner will be able to see the actual effects of the campaign.

If initial response numbers are low, a more appealing deal might be appropriate. If the numbers are too high, choose a different day or less appealing deal.

By continuing to offer regular deals and exclusives, business owners can develop an extensive list of mobile phone numbers for future marketing purposes.

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