Barbara Casey brings an extensive depth of marketing experience in SMS text engagement. Her mission is to help small business owners compete with robust marketing tech once only available to large brands.
Small Business Text Marketing: Text message marketing is a powerful way for small companies to expand their businesses and grow their loyalty. I draw on my over 30 years of experience in customer retention and engagement marketing to explain how it can help your business, how to be compliant, and what it takes to be successful.
WHAT IS SMALL BUSINESS TEXT MESSAGE MARKETING?
Text message marketing is a tactic a small business will use to send advertising directly to their customer’s smartphones. Marketers will use a short message service (SMS) to craft the content that will be sent as a text message to their customers.
Text messages are one of the few channels where you can have confidence that your content will be seen and when it will be seen. Texts see an almost instant read rate. A small business can set up an SMS text marketing program to capture customers’ phone numbers and invite them to opt-in.
Once they say yes to receiving texts, you can legally send them alerts and announcements to keep them engaged and thinking about your business.
IS TEXT MESSAGE MARKETING WORTH THE EFFORT FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?
Texts are one of the few things that get read today. A business must be respectful of a customer’s data and only send texts that deliver value. Once people opt into a small business SMS marketing program, not many opt-out. A well-run program should see less than 8% opt-outs.
“What I tell my small business owners is that the heaviest lift is building your list.” explains Bob Casey, COO. “Once you build it, it is worth gold. Of course, that timeline differs for each business and depends a lot on how invested that owner is in the program’s success.”
Small businesses can benefit significantly from SMS marketing and communications to reach customers directly. It’s a gold mine!
Today, many small business owners continue to pour all their efforts into social media as they have amassed many followers on those accounts. What they don’t realize is that Mark Zuckerberg owns those “followers”, not the business. He determines what content gets seen by your followers and, by and large, it is a direct line to how much you pay for advertising. The benchmark changes constantly, and keeping up with the changing algorithm is difficult.
In recent years, that algorithm has skewed towards rewarding personal posts over business posts, a complete shift from how it was during the early days of social media marketing. In those days, a business could post content and expect to see a fairly high level of engagement.
Today, unless you paid for advertising, your content will be put in front of just 1% of your followers. That is a lot of work for a tiny number of eyeballs. When you own your customer data, you control who sees your content and when they see it.
For example, Hootsuite indicates that on Facebook, the average engagement rate for a post is just 0.07%, and that on Instagram, the average engagement rate for a post is only 0.54%. With SMS you are able to reach your customers instantly and directly.
SMS Text has by far the highest number of global users when compared to large social media platforms. Place a higher priority to reach customers via texting.
Compare SMS To Social: With SMS marketing, we have found that businesses retain 92% of their subscribers. When we send a text blast out for a client having a sale or special event, we watch the analytics and see traffic spike 5-10X for that day; usually, it halves the day after.
BENEFITS OF TEXT MESSAGE MARKETING FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Text message marketing has many benefits for small businesses. SMS marketing can boost customer engagement and build loyalty. It’s a cost-effective way to increase sales. Among other things, it’s also easy to track the results of an SMS campaign.
These are many of the benefits a small business can reap from using business text messaging marketing:
Increase Customer Retention: Small business owners should focus on the total customer lifetime value vs. that one-off purchase. A 5% increase in customer retention can result in a 25% increase in profit. It’s one thing to get a customer in once, but to cement real loyalty, and it is that fourth visit that is even more important. Offer incentives to drive your customer back with a specially timed offer.
Boosts Customer Engagement: Create contests or surveys to increase engagement. Each time a text is sent, it is branding and keeps your business top-of-mind. Even if you don’t send an offer, you remind your customer about your business. When they are ready to buy, your business will likely be the first to come to mind.
Builds Brand Loyalty: You can grow brand equity by using SMS to interact with your customers. Create personalized offers like a birthday club or trigger offers that generate a “surprise and delight” experience for your customer. Use a text message to remind them how many points they have until they reach their reward. Make it easy for them to check their loyalty status.
Respond to their replies promptly. Treat this crowd differently than any of your other customer groups. They have invited you into their most personal room – their cell phone. So, give them something extra, whether it is an experience or a higher incentive than you give to anyone else, and it will help build brand loyalty.
Provides An Immediate Communication Channel: Gone are the days of planning your marketing way in advance. Text marketing is a channel that allows for on-demand texting, meaning if it’s raining and you expect lower traffic, send out a rainy-day offer to drive people into your store. Since texting is also an informal channel, there’s plenty of room for creative expression.
See Immediate Results: You can literally see traffic spiking sometimes within an hour or two of sending a text.
Can Make It Personal: Texts should be personalized because that will deliver better results. For personalization to be successful, it should extend well beyond just capturing someone’s name. Instead, segment your data based on spend or number of visits or how long ago they interacted with your business. Use that information to create offers around the type of customer you are engaging with — one size doesn’t fit all.
Increase Sales: This marketing tactic delivers revenue almost on demand. Text marketing can be timed, so you can send offers on slower days to prompt traffic. Even if you must give out incentives, you will see higher traffic. If you design a program well and use automation, you can let your marketing work in the background to even out those up-and-down business cycles. Turn slow days into phenomenal days.
Cost Effective: This type of marketing may initially seem expensive as you build your list, but it will pay off in spades once complete. Depending on sales volume, some businesses can build a list in a few months, and for others, it could take a year. Working with someone who specializes in expert program design will garner greater results earlier because they draw from an extensive knowledge base.
Easy To Track Results: Robust text messaging platforms provide valuable intelligence, such as:
- where a customer joined;
- where they redeemed an offer (useful for multi-location businesses);
- whether they actually redeemed an offer or made a purchase;
- the last time they checked in at your business or made a purchase online and
- how many times they have come in.
Just knowing if a customer clicked a link doesn’t tell you if the bought anything. To really track success, you’ll want to track from text to purchase. The DIY platforms do not provide this level of detailed analytics.
More Reliable Than Email: Today, when you send an email, you can never really know if and how much of your content a customer viewed. The new privacy standards from Apple (and Google will soon follow suit) have bots pre-opening emails and clicking links before forwarding on to the recipient.
That means that all those open and click-through rates don’t mean much anymore. Plus, you could send an email about an event or sale, and by the time it’s read, those events may be in the past. Texts are generally seen within 5 minutes, and 90% of messages are seen within the first 90 seconds.
SMS MARKETING USE CASES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Text message marketing is an effective tool for all types of verticals. Common uses include sending coupons, rewards, we miss you texts and reminders. A small business will also send texts to get reviews, a bonus offer opting-in to receive messages and weekly or monthly updates. In this article we provide many business text messaging examples.
In this video, Barbara Casey, SMS Text Communications expert, covers small business text marketing 101. Learn the benefits and ways small businesses can use texting to grow.
TOP USES FOR SMS MARKETING
Explore SMS use cases, integrations and automations to achieve results and greater efficiencies with your marketing, communications, customer service and operations.
Find more ideas for using text messaging marketing to promote your small business. You can also watch this video on how retailers and restaurants can use text marketing.
SMS MARKETING USE CASES FOR SMALL BUSINESS RETAILERS
Retailers typically see traffic spike within hours of sending a text message for their small business. There are multiple ways a retailer can take advantage of using text message marketing. They can send texts to promote an event and get more customers to attend. Events can be trunk shows, special private shopping experiences, anniversary promotions, and sale events. They can also use SMS marketing to build a loyalty program that delivers repeat customers.
One client, 12 West, a woman’s clothing boutique, has maintained an extremely high level of engagement since we began working with them in 2018. Out of their entire database (currently at 1930 subscribers), 82% have continued to interact with their text marketing program and returned for new purchases. The small retailer sends texts about events and new arrivals.
Boutiques use SMS text with an integrated loyalty program. Communicate with customers directly for rewards, special offers and flash sales. The benefits include higher revenue and engagement.
Learn more about how boutiques are benefiting from text message marketing.
Both SMS and MMS messages work well for retailers. Below is an example of an MMS message sent out during the two-month closure many retailers experienced during the early days of the pandemic. Stores that kept up their text engagement during the pandemic emerged stronger post-pandemic. Many retailers have made personal shopping as an ongoing service offering.
Use MMS picture messages to influence customer engagement. With MMS you have at least 500 characters to convey your promotional offer or event.
Today, retailers will benefit from an omnichannel shopping experience. When a rewards or loyalty program is integrated into the ecommerce store and also seamlessly into the brick-and-mortar location, customers can shop anywhere and get the same experience regardless of how they shop. When a small business uses automation, the text marketing program requires minimal staff to manage it.
Even very small retailers with older style Point Of Sale (POS) systems can integrate SMS into their POS simply by adding a barcode to each offer. When they scan the barcode, it automatically records the discount in their POS. Other businesses that use Shopify POS, for example, can integrate a program right into the platform, thereby automating many tasks.
Integrate POS with SMS to automate loyalty invites, capture data and win customers back with incentives.
REAL ESTATE TEXT MESSAGE MARKETING EXAMPLES
Realtors can use text message marketing to offer extremely personalized interactions. For example, a real estate agent could place a sign extension that says, “text 102Main to 888-625-XXXX to learn about this property.” When a customer sends a text, they will receive an instant response with a link to a landing page with a profile of that property.
A benefit over using a QR code for this action is that now the realtor has the contact info of the potential buyer. The realtor can send a follow-up text asking for more info on what the buyer is looking for or to ask they respond with their first name. The realtor can then address them by name when they make a follow-up call.
Another use case is to advertise a “hot list” to their email list. This works especially well in a market with low inventory. Buyers are looking to be the first to know about a property that comes online. By inviting them to subscribe to the hot list, the realtor is building a text subscriber list that they can use for a multitude of purposes. They can start to build a profile for each subscriber.
Knowing about potential buyers can help you show them properties that resonate with them. With a properly designed text program that incorporates data collection and trigger messages along with a drip campaign, this marketing tool can be quite effective.
Learn how to use SMS Texting for your business. Book a call with our CEO, Barbara Casey, for a free brainstorming session.
SALONS AND SPAS SMS MARKETING USE CASES
Spas and salons are a vertical where unused space means unrealized revenue. Text marketing can help fill those empty treatment rooms. Since text marketing is essentially an on-demand communication method, sending a text to customers to incentivize the use of an empty room can be effective.
Often salons and spas struggle because the both performs the service and need to manage the phones. They could use a phone-to-text-solution like Answer IT, that receives staff of answering the phone. With Answer IT phone manager, callers’ questions can be answered with a text response in most cases.
Only those callers who specifically need to speak with a live person will be patched through to the the salon’s phone.
“What are you hours?” The caller gets a text with a link to your hours or they hear the hours read to them.
“I’d like to make an appointment.” The caller receives at text with a link to your scheduling portal so they can make an appointment online.
“Where are you located?” The caller is sent a link to your location on Google Maps with driving directions.
Below are analytics from a nail salon that only has an in-store loyalty program running, meaning they do not send out text blast offers. Over forty percent of their customers are recurring. They have a 79.2% redemption rate on their loyalty reward offers!
Salons and Spas use text-based loyalty and texting for cross-promotion, to fill empty appointment time-slots and to entice customers back in for their next visit.
USE CASES FOR FITNESS STUDIOS USING SMS TEXT MESSAGE MARKETING
Fitness studios are notorious for signing up customers and losing them after some months. Retention is key for this vertical. They can use SMS text to keep motivation high by sending out inspirational texts. They can create a text marketing program to support refer-a-friend promotions and contests. High engagement means higher retention.
In addition, motivation and engagement are critical in the early stages, so coaches and fitness studio owners can benefit from creating a text program with helpful tips each week for new clients for let’s say 8 weeks and the tips can vary from recipes for a smoothie to a link to a video on a particular at home exercise workout.
SMS USE CASES FOR RESTAURANTS
Text messaging marketing holds a particular superpower for a restaurant because if you can send out an offer timed for when a person is likely to be getting hungry, it will likely resonate better, and you’ll see better results. Restaurants can use text messages to take online orders for food delivery. Once a customer opts into this service, they can receive automatic alerts and special offers.
Fast food establishments can also use SMS marketing to send offers to customers on slow days to drive traffic to their establishments. Here are some actual analytics from sending a text blast for a smoothie or acai bowl restaurant.
Business owners often see additional customer engagement for 1 to 2 days following a text blast. Our dashboard analytics provide a helpful view into your results.
Restaurants can also use SMS marketing to add followers to their loyalty rewards programs. For example, once a customer enrolls in the program, the customer can redeem coupons and loyalty rewards right on their phone. Learn more about how a local restaurant used texts to help grow its business.
Compared to email, use an SMS text-based digital loyalty program for your restaurant, so customers actually see their rewards and your special offers.
SMS marketing isn’t just for promotional opportunities. There are many ways a small business can use texting for customer service or operational efficiencies. For instance, a restaurant can use a text program for their waitlist. Staff can text a customer when their table is ready. The customer can also let the restaurant know if they go someplace else, and to take them off the waitlist.
Our system enables staff to have one-to-one text exchanges with customers, right from their tablet or or computer. Such transactional texts are becoming more common for customer service and refer to messages that provide a direct response to a purchase or action by the customer.
Businesses can also use text as part of a curbside pickup system to streamline the process so customers send a text when they arrive and staff can promptly bring out the order to the customer’s car.
Curbside pickup solutions using two-way communications can make your take-away order process way more efficient. Our dashboard allows an easy way to manage customer arrival and order completion.
EXAMPLES OF HOW AUTOMOTIVE SERVICES USE SMS TEXT MARKETING
Think about oil changes, tire rotation, state inspections and other services that auto repair places use to get cars in the door. Oil changes are loss leaders in that they are services provided as a way to identify more expensive repairs that may be necessary. Oil changes and tire rotations, in particular, are at an expected interval.
Once a customer opts-in, an annual reminder about one month before their inspection sticker expires helps to keep customers safe and brings them back in. Inspections often help to identify more routine maintenance that needs to be performed and required repairs. Just a small incentive for an inspective can result in more repairs to keep your customers vehicles running like a top!
If the auto repair shop can track when a customer has been in for an oil change or tire rotation, they can time sending an offer via text to get them back in again. Since oil changes are recommended after a range of miles, imagine the bottom line impact if a repair shop could incentivize drivers to come in for just one more oil change or tire rotation per year! The precise timing of SMS is why it works so well for this sector.
EXAMPLES OF HOW SMALL BUSINESS GROUPS USE SMS MARKETING
When businesses band together, they lift all boats. Even communities and chambers have found success using text message marketing to drive foot traffic to their business districts. So many business districts fly flags promoting a shop local initiative, but few put any marketing teeth behind it. They can build a mobile subscriber list by offering community members who sign up for insider-only deals from local businesses.
The Malvern Business & Professional Association in PA built a shop local program in the Malvern Borough during the pandemic to try to re-engage the community to support the local businesses. With a population of just 3,500, they enrolled 1,500 community members to receive twice-monthly texts about what is happening locally and get access to insider-only deals.
This program has kept foot traffic to the business district during one of the most challenging environments in recent history and the database grows bigger every month.
Text communication is essentially different from e-mail communication. Most marketing e-mails are never read. But texts have a very high rate of engagement because they are brief and typically contain a clear call to action like a link to your website, special offer coupon or other landing page. Make the call-to-action attractive for the success of the text campaign.
TEXT MESSAGE MARKETING EXAMPLES FOR BEER, WINE AND LIQUOR STORES
Liquor, Wine and Beer stores are great candidates for this type of marketing as they regularly receive branded merchandise from distilleries, breweries or wineries to promote their products. They can easily use this merchandise for monthly giveaways to drive in customers.
Text marketing that takes advantage of automation can make running these contests easy. “These businesses must work with a company that will implement an age gate because it is a requirement to remain compliant,” says Bob Casey, Mobile High 5’s COO.
Building the list can be done in several ways, from incorporating QR codes, webforms, text-to-join, kiosk, or a responsive phone manager tool, like Answer IT.
Host Andy Jones discusses with Mobile High 5 CEO, Barbara Casey, how Answer IT is changing how customers interact with businesses today.
Successful small businesses leverage all four ways to add new contacts and, if appropriate, the fifth way (an automated phone manager solution). Once the customer list is built, these small businesses can send text alerts to invite customers to weekly tasting or sampling events.
SMS MARKETING TIPS FOR A SMALL BUSINESS
A small business that wants to have a successful and profitable SMS marketing program needs to remember it takes time to build. Experts say they should hire help when needed and that how you handle the first 90 days of a program is critical.
Here are some more expert SMS marketing tips:
- Patience, Yoda. Small business owners are more highly reactive because they have small budgets, and so they tend to want instant results. Just like building your email list back in the day, your SMS subscriber list will take time.
- The first 90 days of a program are critical, both in terms of managing your staff and making sure they talk about the benefits of the program with each customer. You also need to manage your own expectations. Those first 90 days should be entirely focused on how to get more people to subscribe. Once that list is built, that is when it will start to perform.
- Don’t get hung up on whether the system you’re using to send messages integrates with your POS. It can easily run alongside it and perform just as well. Often those programs that come with your POS are not as good, don’t have as many features, and require YOU to run the program (which you don’t have time for, right?)
- Consistency is the name of the game. If you don’t have a dedicated person to run this marketing program, farm it out. You’ll see better results. The most expensive decision a small business owner can make is to not hire a professional for their SMS program. It takes someone with deep knowledge of this channel, both the compliance end and the nuances of the channel, to best maximize results and not waste money.
- Most small businesses focus their marketing efforts on getting new customers, when, in fact, that is the costliest form of marketing. It costs 5x more to find a new customer than it does to just activate your existing customers to buy more. Customer acquisition is still important, but a small business owner will get more bang for their buck if they focus marketing efforts on customer retention.
- The biggest mistake a small business can make is to think a text marketing program is a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. It requires ongoing management and optimization over many months to determine what works best for YOUR business. What works for one doesn’t automatically mean it works for all.
- When you work with a DIY service, often the only analytics they provide is how many messages were sent successfully, how many opt-outs were received, how many new opt-ins came in and if they have an internal link shortener, they can track how many click on a link. Without the deeper analytics that come with a professional agency, you’ll be operating much in the dark.
- If your small business is omnichannel, look for an SMS marketing provider that can integrate with Woo Commerce, Shopify (and Shopify POS), Big Commerce, Magento, and any other platform like a CRM System that allows for outside APIs. The automation that comes with that integration is a small business owner’s best friend. Most marketing e-mails are never read. But texts have a very high rate of engagement because they are brief and typically contain a clear call to action like a link to your website, special offer coupon or other landing page. Make the Call-to-action attractive for the success of the Text campaign.
SMS COMPLIANCE TIPS FOR A SMALL BUSINESS
The most frequently asked question from business owners is: “What are the rules for text message marketing?” The most important compliance tip when starting an SMS marketing program is to get the subscribers’ consent. Equally important, they should be able to easily revoke their consent.
Here are some more expert SMS marketing compliance tips:
- Obtain a consumer’s consent to receive messages.
- Ensure that consumers can revoke consent. Be sure to include opt-out instructions in each text you send.
- Make sure to get explicit written permission to specifically receive marketing messages from each customer before you text them. If that written consent is literally a pad of paper, make sure you save that pad of paper forever — there isn’t a statute of limitations.
- Work with a professional who maintains these sign-up records on your behalf, as it will be way easier for you. They should also be able to incorporate guard rails to ensure you don’t inadvertently break the law.
- When advertising a text program, include the proper disclaimers that are readable and near where you are advertising that call to action.
- Incorporate a double opt-in protocol whenever possible for further insurance. This simply asks a caller to confirm they did, indeed, want to subscribe.
- Selling alcohol? You must incorporate an age gate during the opt-in process to remain compliant.
- Customers should, at some point, be told they are signing up for recurring messages. Be sure to include the likely frequency of the communication and that message and data rates may apply (even though in the U.S., carriers do not charge extra for messaging, this requirement remains). Read the CTIA guidelines about text messaging for more clarification. The TCPA (telephone consumer protection act) and the CTIA guidelines are constantly changing, so it is advisable to work with an SMS expert to ensure you don’t get into any legal hot water. Fines can range from $500 to $1,500 per text sent, so if you have a list of 2,000 customers and you send one non-compliant text out, that could result in fines of over one million dollars. Best to work with an SMS expert who stays on top of this.
- Selling cannabis? You are not allowed to text at all, even if cannabis is legal in your state. Until it is federally legal, texting is off the table for you.
- Work with a professional who can highlight products, services and communications that are prohibited or restricted for texting.
HOW TO INTEGRATE TEXT MESSAGING INTO YOUR CURRENT MARKETING
A texting program should be incorporated into all current marketing as a call-to-action. You can add it using copy, such as text OFFER to 888-451-XXXX, to get 15% off your first purchase.
You can strengthen your other ad spend by creating a different keyword for each campaign so you can track which ads are pulling better. If you use email, add information about it to your signature or send a special announcement inviting those subscribers to join your text club.
You can provide either a QR code or a text-to-join campaign. Create signage in your brick-and-mortar with a QR code for joining. Add a kiosk tablet so customers can sign up by typing in their phone number on a keypad. (hint: kiosks will build your list 5x larger as customers prefer to enter their own number on a keypad)
Add a web form to your website so that people can join. You can also add a button that automates the process by having that person’s messaging app open automatically, pre-populate with your keyword and your text number, so all they have to do is press “send.”
Integrate a virtual kiosk into your Shopify, Woo Commerce, Big Commerce, or Magento e-commerce stores to automate the invitation to join. You should also automate a loyalty program wherever your customers purchase your goods or services.
FEATURES TO LOOK FOR IN SMALL BUSINESS TEXT MARKETING TOOLS
When looking for text messaging tools, they should be able to collect data and segment messages. Work with an SMS expert to ensure your program is designed well right from the start – you’ll see better results in a shorter time frame.
- Consider the cost of MMS vs. SMS and what you get for your money. Other features include list personalization, reporting tools, and integration with your existing systems.
- Some of the product features a text messaging tool should include are data collection, the ability to trigger messages based on customer action or in-action, message segmentation, and a built-in link shortener.
- Research the cost of MMS vs. SMS and what is actually included in your package. Lots of DIY platforms offer very little for their entry program and have you pay extra for everything else.
- Speed of message send. If the provider cannot tell you the speed, that’s a red flag. Depending on whether the text is being sent on a short code, a toll-free number or a 10DLC, speeds can vary widely. Depending on the size of your list and intended use, speed may play an important role, or not, but you should still be aware of what that speed is!
- Ability to personalize your list and this feature should let you customize more than just a customer’s first name.
- Find out if you can segment your list using a variety of criteria, not just one. How many custom data fields do you have?
- Message Capabilities: The service should also provide automated message capabilities, drip campaigns, and trigger messages.
- A tool should feature in-depth reporting. If you don’t know what they’re tracking, how will you know how your campaign is doing? It’s critical to look at exactly what metrics they are tracking. At a minimum, it should track coupon redemptions, spend, and geo-location tracking of opt-ins and redemptions.
- Integration is important in many cases. Pick a solution that works with the marketing tools you already use. If it doesn’t have a direct integration with your existing systems, make sure you can connect it via Zapier. And if all else fails, make sure bar codes can be added to all mobile offers to offer that integration.
- Dedicated support for small business owners. Most small business owners don’t have the time to learn or manage complicated marketing tools. And they don’t have the time to sit on hold or wait on a chat for help.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT TEXT MESSAGE MARKETING PLATFORM FOR YOUR SMALL BUSINESS STARTS WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Text programs are powerful marketing tools – really nothing like this has ever been accessible for small businesses before. At the end of the day, a text messaging marketing platform is just a tool. The person who is running the program and designing it is much more important. When you work with an agency that is devoted to helping the small business owner, you will have dedicated support delivered by a marketing professional, not a customer service rep.
Small business owners are unique in that they wear 47 hats all the time. So many small businesses sign up for SMS because their POS offers it or it comes with their email program, but they have to run it. Anytime a service is bundled with another service, like a POS, it typically is an afterthought by that POS provider. Their main business is to provide a POS, not text marketing, so what they make available in their SMS programs are minimal features compared to what you would access through an agency that does SMS and only SMS all day long.
If you opt for one of the DIY messaging platforms, not only do you have to design and manage it, but you must sit through hours of video tutorials just to get past square one. Customer support is typically through an automated chatbot and/or an 800-number customer service line.
Making the most of SMS marketing requires knowledge, consistency, and ongoing optimization. That’s why you should work with a professional.
It is our mission to level the playing field for the small business owner, so they can more effectively compete with much larger brands. Ask a small business SMS expert with over 30 years of marketing experience.
Bonus Reading: What is SMS Marketing?