SMS Marketing: The beginner’s ultimate guide

Text messages are great for welcome and onboarding flows


What’s the first thing you do when you hear that familiar sound? 

If you’re like us, you pick up your phone — or dig through your bag to find it — and check who the text is from and what it’s about. 

And we’re not the only ones doing it. 

With 98% open rates, SMS is a powerful channel for businesses, too. 

But it’s not all fun, games and money-making conversions. 

Read on to learn how to unlock the best results from your SMS marketing campaigns and why it should be a part of your omnichannel marketing strategy. 

What is SMS marketing?

SMS stands for Short Message Service. 

SMS marketing is when a brand promotes and sells products and services by sending text messages straight to their followers. It’s like sending a personal message right to a customer’s phone. 

The beauty of SMS marketing lies in its directness and personalisation. That’s why companies often use it for sending time-sensitive offers, important updates, or messages tailored to individual customers. 

By leveraging SMS marketing, businesses establish a direct and intimate line of communication with their subscribers, leading to increased engagement and conversion rates. 

It’s like having a secret customer club where you get all the inside scoop and exclusive deals delivered right to your pocket.

And when you add personalised communication designed around first-party data to the mix, you create texts your audience will actually want to read. 

Why work with SMS marketing?

On average, consumers check their phones around 150 times per day.

It’s no surprise that SMS marketing has such a high conversion rate — people are seriously attentive to their phones. 

According to LinkMobility, the open rate for SMS campaigns is 98%. And that happens within 5 minutes of receiving an SMS. 

Compare that to an email opening rate of 16.9%. Why the difference? A large part of the explanation may lie in how many SMS and emails a person receives per day. 

You probably get more emails, meaning that when you hear that familiar ping, it could just as well be a company behind the message as it could be your best friend inviting you to brunch. 

Another survey found that 85% of consumers want to receive SMS marketing from brands they care about, and brands that can keep their customers subscribed on SMS leverage conversion rates of 45%

The strengths of SMS marketing — it’s intimate, immediate, disruptive, attention-grabbing and unusual — can also be weaknesses if not managed properly. 

Text is the perfect channel for some messages like time-sensitive promotions, event reminders and shipping information. But it’s bad for others, such as inspirational content. 

SMS statistics showing the power of SMS for omnichannel marketing

Those statistics above are just a few of the many reasons why the ‘mobile first’ strategy is making waves in the marketing world. From websites to newsletters, successful brands are realising that consumers are more and more online on their mobile phones. 

All of that means SMS becomes an opportunity to have a direct connection between you and your (potential) customers.

How to do SMS marketing right (so you don’t drive customers crazy)

When it comes to SMS marketing, whether your customers love or hate your messages largely depends on how relevant and valuable they find them. 

That means it’s super important to make sure your texts are personalised and hit the sweet spot of your target audience. The sweet spot is something they find valuable. 

SMS marketing may seem a bit old-school to some marketers who crave creative freedom. And while you might not have a lot of wiggle room to flex your creativity muscles, SMS marketing is still a powerful way to engage your customers directly and build all-important brand loyalty. 

We suggest using SMS marketing as part of your larger omnichannel marketing strategy.

Here’s an example… 

You own a t-shirt shop. On Friday, you want to run a flash sale where you put all graphic tees on sale for 25% off. 

If that’s you, SMS is your best bet to get the message out to your consumers quickly and efficiently. Better yet, you can use SMS and app push notifications to target all app users. 

Because SMS messages (and push notifications) are usually read immediately, while emails can languish in inbox purgatory for weeks, it makes them the best platform for promoting quick offers like the one above. 

With Agillic, you can even use first-party data to target only those who have purchased graphic tees before, for example. Or use SMS to offer those customers an extra 10% discount. 

Text messaging is beneficial for B2B and B2C brands

Advantages and disadvantages of SMS marketing

As with so much else, there are a lot of positives, but also some possible cons to be gained from working with SMS marketing.

Advantages of SMS marketing

  • Quick and easy way to convey limited-time offers, sales, etc. 
  • High average open rate — about 98%
  • SMS works great as part of an omnichannel marketing mix — email marketing, paid media, app push notifications 
  • Can be sent any time, day or night

Disadvantages of SMS marketing

  • There’s a risk of disturbing someone in their private space, creating irritation instead of engagement 
  • Need to find the balance between too many and just enough 
  • SMS is limited regarding design and content compared to email, landing pages, etc. 

The main takeaway is that SMS marketing should be a strategic part of your overall marketing strategy. And that you use your customer data to constantly update and edit your plan. 

Getting started with SMS marketing

Before you start sending SMS, GDPR and consent have to be taken care of. Like most marketing types, there are also rules for when you may (and may not) send your customers messages and how you update their data.

One way to get permissions to send SMS to your customers is by requesting phone numbers from newsletter sign-ups and including SMS permissions in your terms and conditions. Try advertising your SMS marketing campaign across your other channels, too, especially email, social media and your website. 

When you send your first SMS, you should also include disclaimers so that customers know which prices may be incurred. This message should also include instructions for how to opt out. And just like with email unsubscribing, make this option as easy as possible.

SMS marketing tips

Here are our top tips to know before sending marketing texts from your business. 

1. Make sure you have the correct permission before sending

Never send an SMS to a customer without first obtaining permission. It’s illegal. 

2. Pay attention to the frequency and timing of your SMS 

Unlike email, most people open text messages within minutes of receiving one. That means you have to consider the time of day before firing one off. Will your customer want to read about a weekend sale at 2 in the morning on Monday? Probably not. 

In terms of frequency, less is more. We suggest around 2-4 texts per month, depending on your business. SMS is a supplement to your other channels, not a replacement. 

Time-wise, be sure to text during a respectable time, preferably within business hours. 

Keep time differences in mind if you have clients across time zones. Trust us, no one wants to be woken up by a marketing SMS. 

Finally, reply quickly to any inbound responses you receive. Learn more about inbound SMS here.

3. Add value, not noise 

All communications should add value, but this is especially important with SMS.

Such a disruptive and personal format requires that your message be worth the recipients’ attention. 

When drafting your communication, ask how your message will add value to the customer — otherwise, they will view it as an unwelcome interruption and unsubscribe.

Some ideas for content types to be sent via SMS include: 

  • Welcome offers
  • Birthday and holiday discounts
  • Shipping updates
  • Time-limited discounts
  • Reminders of expiring vouchers 
  • Notifications of donation allocation

Exclusivity is a clear way to add value. Offer something unique to SMS subscribers, such as special discounts, priority notifications of flash sales, or early access to new content. 

4. Keep your message clear and to the point 

Keep the language simple, clear, and within the character limit to prevent having your messages broken into two separate messages. 

Though it is tempting to use slang to shorten your character count, this will appear unprofessional and may confuse certain users (unless that’s your brand). 

Instead, use the same tone of voice across your channels for brand consistency. 

Always include the link if you have a webshop. There’s not much point in sending out a discount code if your recipient doesn’t know where to go to use it.

5. Use SMS as a supplement to your marketing strategy.

The beauty of a successful omnichannel marketing strategy is that you can talk to and with your consumers on many different platforms and channels — SMS is just one of them. 

What we mean is that text messaging can and should be implemented as part of your strategy. It should not be the entire strategy.  

SMS should not be a standalone channel. It works best in tandem with other channels, such as email, web and offline channels. 

Use these channels to lay the groundwork through introductions, inspiration, thought-leadership, etc. and let SMS pick up where your other channels leave off, nudging customers towards conversion with timely and personal messages. 

6. Personalise every SMS using first-party data 

Go beyond simply inserting customers’ names and show them you care about what they care about. 

Sending birthday discounts, abandoned cart reminders or upselling products they’ve expressed interest in will show your recipients you’re paying attention and creating a streamlined experience across channels. 

7. Always include a CTA in your texts 

Don’t leave your subscribers without a clear action. Include links so they know where to go and how to interact further with your brand. Long links will eat up your character count, so you might want to use a link shortener. 

8. Use an omnichannel marketing automation platform

Omnichannel marketing automation platforms and software like Agillic maximum personalisation by enabling recipient segmentation and data collection. 

They also enable triggered send-outs, so recipients receive them at exactly the right time without requiring manual marketing work. And they allow you to coordinate send-outs across channels for a continuous, omnichannel customer experience. 

What is inbound SMS?

Inbound SMS refers to the process of receiving text messages on a mobile device or application. It allows individuals or businesses to receive messages from their customers or contacts.

Inbound SMS, for businesses, are text messages coming from your customer back to your organisation. 

This means that your customers are a part of the conversation. They can reply to your communication and make inquiries. 

Inbound SMS does more than allow customers to respond to your SMS marketing. It allows your customer to engage with you anywhere and anytime, picking up the conversation from any touchpoint — whether through SMS, email, online or even offline advertisements. 

And with automated responses, you can reply instantly and push them towards conversion.

What is the difference between inbound and outbound SMS? 

The main difference between inbound and outbound messages is the direction of communication. 

A recipient receives inbound messages, while a sender sends outbound messages. Inbound messages come from external sources, such as customers or contacts, while outbound messages are initiated by the sender.

When to use inbound SMS

There is a wide range of use cases for inbound SMS; check out some examples below for how you can engage your customers in the conversation.

Opt-in: Use your other channels to invite customers to opt into your SMS marketing through Inbound SMS. By providing a short code and a keyword through any other channel (such as email, web, digital or physical ads, in-store material and more), they can opt-in instantly.

Managing bookings or appointments: Use outbound SMS marketing to invite your customers to schedule bookings for appointments, events, and meetings and enable them to do so immediately with inbound SMS. 

You can send them a reminder shortly before the event, and enable them to cancel or modify their booking through inbound SMS. Inbound SMS makes it easy for customers to act on your invitations — starting conversations and boosting conversions.

Feedback: Through inbound SMS, enable your customers to provide feedback on your products or services. Simply send an SMS requesting their survey participation response, and ask them to reply with keywords such as “yes”, “no”, or numbers in responses to your questions.

Text-to-join: Customers can opt into marketing deals or offers by providing their SMS permissions in exchange for a special offer. They can also text to request more information about an ad or offer across your other channels. 

Incentivise them to opt-in through creative marketing campaigns such as text-to-win competitions or quizzes.

Customer service information: Customers can request and manage their account information with your company with inbound SMS.

Best practices for inbound SMS

There is a lot you can do with inbound SMS to build a relationship with your customer, but there are a few key actions you should take when using inbound SMS. 

Firstly, you should respond quickly. Create triggered instant replies to respond to the customer instantly, or flag a customer to contact manually if necessary. 

Always send a disclaimer for the costs they may incur, and what they can expect from whatever campaign they are opting into. Remember that although your characters are limited, you should maintain the tone of your brand. That’s how you continue building the relationship.