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SMS Mobile Strategy: A Guide to Go From Novice to Pro

SMS Mobile Strategy: A Guide to Go From Novice to Pro

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If you’re like many, setting up an SMS program is not part of your everyday tasks. And if I were a betting woman (I’m not), I’d bet you’ve likely never done it before. If you have, then you likely need a refresh.

Moreover, if you have an existing SMS program and now find yourself in a situation where you’re switching providers, you might be even more unsure of where to even begin.

TDLR: Whether newbie or pro, there’s a lot to consider and unpack not only from a strategy perspective but the technical stuff as well. In this post, we’ll cover everything you’ll need to consider for your SMS mobile strategy — whether you’re new to SMS or rethinking your SMS program.

SMS Mobile Strategy Considerations

Many times, when organizations begin on the path of charting out their SMS communication they naturally start down the path of wanting to replicate all the communications they currently have for the email channel.

DON’T BE THAT PERSON.

Instead, consider the following. 

The purpose of your program

Why do you want to communicate with people via SMS, to begin with? Better yet, what’s the benefit to the organization, and more importantly, to your customers?

A common purpose of an SMS program is to provide direct, efficient ways to engage, which leads to improved customer satisfaction and better business outcomes. The net on this point is to ensure you’re doing it for good reason. You may be in an industry where an SMS program just doesn’t make sense, and that’s ok! 

Examples of typical SMS communications

By refining the purpose of your program, you can begin to back into what makes sense to send via SMS.

Consider your customer experience: What are the types of things that might be beneficial to receive via text? If you think about the intent of a text message in general and why we send them in our day-to-day lives, you’re usually sending a text because:

  • Your message is short, direct, and doesn’t require live dialogue.
  • It’s something timely and you’re desiring a response back quickly.
  • It’s efficient.

With that lens in mind, let’s think about the types of messages your organization sends and what fits into this criteria mentioned above.

Here are some examples of communications that make sense to send via SMS:

  1. Appointment Reminders: Remind customers or clients of upcoming appointments, reservations, or important deadlines.
  2. Order Updates: Notify customers about the status of their orders, including order confirmation, shipping updates, and delivery notifications.
  3. Account Notifications: Send account-related notifications such as payment reminders, account balance alerts, or security alerts (e.g., suspicious login attempts).
  4. Promotional Offers: Inform customers about special promotions, discounts, or exclusive deals to drive sales and increase customer engagement.
  5. Event Invitations: Send invitations or RSVP reminders for events, webinars, conferences, or workshops.
  6. Customer Support: Provide quick and efficient customer support by allowing customers to text inquiries, report issues, or request assistance.
  7. Emergency Alerts: Send timely alerts and updates during emergencies, natural disasters, or other critical situations to ensure the safety and well-being of customers or employees.
  8. Surveys and Feedback Requests: Gather feedback from customers by sending SMS surveys or requesting feedback after a transaction or interaction.
  9. Authentication Codes: Use SMS for two-factor authentication (2FA) or one-time passwords (OTPs) to verify user identities during account sign-in or transaction authorization processes.
  10. Appointment Scheduling: Allow customers to schedule appointments, consultations, or service bookings via SMS, with automated confirmation messages.
  11. Membership Renewals: Remind members or subscribers about upcoming membership renewals, subscription expirations, or important membership-related updates.
  12. Event Reminders: Send reminders about important dates, deadlines, or milestones related to events, campaigns, or initiatives.
  13. Internal Communications: Communicate important updates, announcements, or reminders to employees, contractors, or stakeholders within the organization.
  14. Educational Messages: Deliver educational content, tips, or tutorials related to products, services, or industry trends to inform and engage customers.
  15. Feedback and Reviews: Prompt customers to leave reviews, ratings, or testimonials after a purchase or interaction with the organization.

More times than not, these communications fall into the transactional bucket. But as you saw above, they don’t have to. When deciding which communications to send via SMS, it’s essential to consider the relevance, timing, and audience preferences to ensure that messages are well-received and contribute to a positive customer experience.

Real-world SMS example: Player communication for a bocce ball league

Incorporating SMS into a communication strategy doesn’t have to be all or nothing either. There are instances when sending both an email and text makes sense.

Here’s a real-life example: I play in a bocce ball league (yes, those exist), and if the courts are too wet because of rain, they’ll cancel. The challenge is since there are no makeups, they really try to avoid canceling. It really comes down to the wire for making the decision to cancel. The league used to send an email as soon as they decided, but chances are you didn’t see it until you were already there.

To improve this customer experience, they developed not only a rain hotline (via webpage), which shows the last time it was updated (e.g., “10 mins ago” with status updates like “we will make a decision by x time”). The league will now also send a text message via SMS letting you know the status of your game as soon as it’s canceled.

They also must have gotten tired of fielding emails and phone calls (who knew us bocce ballers were such a passionate group) that they now remind everyone via text message that the rain hotline exists, and they send a link that you can access via mobile as well.

End Destination

Once you’ve established ‘the why’ of your SMS messaging and what you’re sending, don’t forget about the end destination. This is where the true professionals shine. 

Ensure your end destination is mobile-optimized. For example, there’s nothing worse than sending an SMS to provide feedback via survey, and it takes you to a non-mobile-optimized web page. Not only have you wasted money, effort, and time setting up this message, but you are creating a customer experience of friction (which is likely the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve). To add more fuel to the fire, this extra stinks — especially when it comes to getting feedback, which is already hard to receive. The oversight means you’ve just blown your chance. WOMP WOMP.

Real-world SMS example: Frequent flyer

So, let’s talk about a positive SMS example. If you’re like me and fly a decent amount, you’ve got your flight app (Delta in my case) up and running the day of your flight. It works great (most of the time… I could do another blog post on that… but another day), and if you remember to open the app and look at it on occasion, you’ll see that a gate might have changed or the time of flight has been updated.

However, I’m not always able to check the app when I’m on the move. So, Delta is sending SMS notifications as soon as these changes occur. This is especially helpful — I can see these notifications pop up on my phone without having to open the app to learn more. I also see them on my watch (when the battery isn’t dead). And if I want to see more from the text, I can click the link and it delivers me to the app, which makes the end destination all that more valuable.

I’ve seen some brands come close to excellence where they will drop you off to a mobile-optimized page. However, the real pros consider app downloads too.

As new tech and consumers evolve, so should a marketer’s strategy. SMS programs are tablestakes these days, so getting your strategy right is a must for most consumers.  

Technical Considerations for SMS Messaging 

How SMS marketing works

With a solid grasp of what a mobile strategy should entail, we can pivot to the technical piece. Let’s start with how SMS works for marketers as a whole, taking Salesforce as our platform of choice in this example. 

For Salesforce users, there are 4 steps to send an SMS message: 

  1. Marketing creates a personalized text message in Marketing Cloud Mobile Studio
  2. Aggregator preps message for delivery to the appropriate carrier
    (Aggregator = Salesforce partners that connect our messaging platform with carrier networks around the world) (Carrier = mobile providers across the globe)
  3. Carrier receives messages and delivers them to the final audience
  4. The customer receives a personalized text message

Preparing for SMS Sending

But for those simple steps to happen, there’s a bit of preparation involved, especially if this is your first time.

Here are the steps to prepare for SMS sending: 

  1. Determine your code needs – Short vs long code, dedicated or private. Learn more about these options here.
  2. Select an SMS platform provider and negotiate a contract – Many times as part of your contract they will acquire the code for you, but provisioning is extra.
  3. Provision your short code (this can be done with a consulting partner like Sercante or directly with the provider, which is typically more costly than going with a partner). 
  4. Once the shortcode is made available within the platform, you’ll need to set up your required keywords, and messages as well as obtain consent. (Keep on reading to learn about opt-in best practices). 

To migrate or not migrate your SMS program

If you’ve had the luxury of setting up your organization’s SMS program once and are now looking to switch providers, you might be scratching your head and thinking about what’s better: migrating our existing one or spinning up a new one?

In true consultant fashion, the answer is: IT DEPENDS 🙂.

Like with many options in life, it all goes back to what’s important — in this case — time, money, and customer experience.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of both scenarios:

ScenarioProsCons
Migrate ExistingRisk of losing people is lowThere could be up to 8-12 weeks of downtime as you move your code across platform providers, aggregators, and the like. It can get complicated — especially from a lease/ownership perspective
Acquire NewThe implementation process is relatively straightforward, sometimes quicker than the migration route. There’s no downtime in the ability to send SMSEducation of new code may be required for existing subscribers. There’s a risk of retention losses.

SMS migration route — let’s stay friends

If keeping your existing code outweighs the downtime you’ll encounter, there will be a decent amount of coordination between both old and new providers.

Below are some high-level steps of what’s involved when migrating SMS programs:

  1. Contact existing provider – Let them know your intention to retain the existing shortcode and inquire about the process for releasing the shortcode to use with the new provider, as well as any associated fees or requirements. Please note: not every provider will release their shortcode.
  2. Verify Contractual Obligations – Review your contract or agreement with the current to understand any terms or obligations related to the shortcode. Ensure that you comply with any contractual requirements before proceeding with the migration. 
  3. Coordinate with the new provider –  Let them know you desire to transfer your existing shortcode to their platform. Provide any necessary information or documentation requested by the new provider to facilitate the transfer process.
  4. Coordinate Timing– Coordinate the timing of the shortcode transfer between old and new to minimize disruption to your messaging campaigns. As mentioned in the cons, there’s normally a downtime where your code will not be operational. Ensure that there’s a smooth transition between the two providers.
  5. Update Opt-in Process – If necessary, update your opt-in/opt-out process to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements when using the shortcode via the new provider. Obtain opt-in consent from subscribers to receive messages on the new platform.

Once this is all squared away and your shortcode is available in the new platform, you can proceed to set up your ‘from’ keywords and ‘to’ message.  While migration of an existing code has its perks, the timeline is typically elongated compared to its counterpart. 

New SMS code route — Team ‘New Friends’ 

So if downtime, or getting up and running is more your concern, a new code may be the best (friend) route. 

All joking aside, when acquiring a new shortcode it’s essential to ensure compliance with regulations like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) if applicable. And with that responsibility of re-opting everyone in here are some general best practices. 

New SMS code best practices

  1. Inform: Send out a clear and transparent communication informing subscribers about the change in shortcode and the reason behind it. Explain any benefits they might gain from the transition.
  2. Highlight Benefits: Emphasize any advantages or improvements associated with the new shortcode, such as better service, more relevant content, or enhanced security measures.
  3. Request Opt-In: Clearly ask subscribers to re-opt-in to continue receiving messages by sending a specific keyword or opting in through a designated method (e.g., texting a certain number, clicking a link, filling out a form).
  4. Provide Instructions: Offer simple and straightforward instructions on how to opt in. This could include step-by-step guidelines via text, email, or on your website.
  5. Assure Privacy and Security: Reassure subscribers that their privacy and security are a priority and that their information will be handled in accordance with relevant regulations.
  6. Offer Incentives (Optional): Consider offering incentives or rewards for those who re-opt-in, such as discounts, exclusive content, or entry into a giveaway.
  7. Set Deadline (if applicable): If there’s a deadline for re-opting in to ensure uninterrupted service, clearly communicate this to subscribers to create a sense of urgency.
  8. Follow-Up: Send reminders to those who haven’t opted in yet, closer to the deadline if applicable, to ensure they don’t miss out on staying connected.
  9. Respect Opt-Outs: Honor any opt-outs or preferences expressed by subscribers who choose not to re-opt-in and ensure they’re removed from the communication list associated with the old shortcode.
  10. Track and Monitor: Monitor the opt-in process closely and track the success rate. Analyze any feedback received to improve future communication strategies.

Remember to maintain transparency throughout the process and make it as easy as possible for subscribers to re-opt-in to the new shortcode.

Evolving with your customers

In conclusion, as technology and consumer behaviors evolve, marketers must adapt their mobile program strategies to remain effective. SMS marketing, as a powerful tool, provides a direct and personal way to reach customers. By incorporating SMS into your overall communication strategy, you can enhance customer engagement, drive traffic to your website or app, and ultimately achieve your marketing goals.

A successful SMS marketing program requires careful planning, compliance with regulations, and a focus on delivering valuable and relevant content to your subscribers. By following best practices and continually optimizing your campaigns, you can leverage SMS to create a strong connection with your audience and drive business growth.

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  • Kirsten leads the Sercante Salesforce Marketing Cloud Engagement practice. With over 15+ years of experience working in the digital marketing industry, she's passionate about helping organizations (both B2B and B2C, alike) go from good to great, including Fortune 500 brands such as CVS Pharmacy and Delta Airlines. When she’s not working, you’ll find her supporting Atlanta local sports teams, Atlanta United and Hawks, or on the soccer pitch playing the best game in the world!

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