Michael O'Neill

Marketing campaigns have certainly come a long way from the ancient 50% off coupons for Phoenician sandals, which were handwritten on parchment scrolls that drifted aimlessly in clear bottles across oceans, only to be intercepted by murderous sea monsters.

Today, SMS marketing not only beats these old-fashioned methods in terms of reliability, but it’s also an efficient way to attract, engage and retain customers.

What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing refers to the use of Short Message Service, commonly known as text messaging, for the purpose of directly or indirectly encouraging prospects to purchase a product or service while also ensuring that existing customers continue to patronize the business. Text marketing may incorporate visual elements, limited-time promotions or other engagement techniques that are intended to boost general brand awareness, keeping the company at the forefront of the recipient’s thoughts.

A brief history of SMS marketing

While text messaging has existed in some form since the 1990s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the growing ubiquity of cellphones made SMS messages a viable avenue for marketing at scale. In addition, the introduction of short codes in 2003 represented new opportunities for eager marketers looking to expand their efforts by leveraging a novel communication platform.

Since the beginning of SMS marketing, big-name innovators have taught us how these tools can be used to:

  • Generate enthusiasm.
  • Drive conversions.
  • Build an audience.

In 2005, Nike launched a splashy SMS-based interactive campaign from Times Square to promote its customizable iD product line.

Source: Communication Arts

To participate in the process, users dialed in. They customized their own sneaker design, modeling it off the image displayed on a real-life billboard. Then, they received cellphone wallpaper featuring their handiwork and instructions for how to purchase this unique footwear.

What does it mean to use this type of marketing today?

Today, users are so comfortable with SMS that mobile marketing doesn’t need to be quite as eye-catching to make an impression. As long as prospects and customers have a tangible incentive for opting in to receive text messages from your brand, and your offerings align with their interests, you have an opportunity.

In fact, for an era in which users are bombarded with push notifications from apps, text messaging might seem somewhat quaint to forward-thinking marketers.

However, SMS definitely offers some advantages:

  • Opting in demonstrates a great deal of trust from the user; think of it as a high-value conversion.
  • Receiving text messages won’t require users who have limited space on their phones to download an app they don’t have room for.
  • Even customers who are going on a digital break from their social media accounts may still check their text messages.

Keep in mind, though, that if customers trust your brand enough to receive texts, you have to respond to this honor with humility. That means delivering value and not overwhelming your audience. People won’t put up with spammy texts the same way they might ignore a little inbox clutter.

Who is SMS marketing for?

SMS marketing is a relevant and useful tactic for a broad range of businesses. As of 2020, 69% of marketers use mobile messaging, including SMS and push group messaging, to communicate with customers and prospects, an increase of 40% since 2018.

Digging into these numbers a little bit deeper, it’s important to note that there was almost no difference between the B2B and B2C marketers in terms of adoption.

Texting is clearly an important B2B marketing strategy today.

What types of customers or interactions make sense for SMS marketing?

SMS marketing is suitable for practically any age range, and promotions are a particularly useful way to leverage this technology.

You may think that SMS marketing doesn’t apply to your company because of the general age range of your audience. If that’s the case, you may want to double-check your assumptions. On average, consumers between the ages of 45 and 60 check their phones 7 times per hour, while those over 60 still take a look at their device about three times each hour.

Text messages are commonly used for marketing techniques like:

  • Distributing coupons.
  • Conducting customer service follow-ups.
  • Publicizing sweepstakes.

Can SMS marketing pair with email marketing?

Contemporary marketing campaigns rely on multiple touchpoints to connect with customers no matter where they are. Email marketing can, and should, be integrated with SMS outreach and engagement efforts.

How does that look?

SMS opt-ins can serve as a conversion metric for email marketing campaigns. For example, acting on a CTA in an email and signing up to receive timely promotions over text could demonstrate a high level of engagement with the brand. Prospects who indicate over email that they’re interested in text message marketing may be more likely to become customers, and those who already are may be more willing to buy again.

After ordering a pizza from Domino’s, this CTA was delivered in the email confirmation. Timely promotions could keep customers coming back for another slice.

Source: Domino’s email

You can also give users the choice to receive communications by text or email. Some users may be hesitant to sign up for an SMS campaign, but they’ll gladly agree to email. In such situations, providing the option has the potential to increase your contact list more than would be possible if you only relied on one channel exclusively, as in this example from Sears.

Source: Sears.com

What are some examples of SMS marketing campaigns that might work well?

The most effective SMS marketing campaigns often have a few things in common:

  • They’re timely: There should be a reason you’re sending this message at this particular moment.
  • They’re concise: This isn’t the best method for delivering complicated sales pitches or discussing complex product tiers.
  • They provide value: It doesn’t always have to be a coupon. Relevant, useful information works, too.

While it’s also true for other marketing channels, that last point is absolutely essential to keep in mind for text messaging: You must provide something of value. Keep in mind that you’re reaching out to your customers using the same channel through which they talk to their partners, close friends and family members every day. They’ve invited you into their inner circle. You need to honor that trust thoughtfully.

As long as you keep the above principles in mind, campaigns like these can work very well over SMS:

  • Limited-time announcements and promotions.
  • Reengagement initiatives.
  • Lead nurturing.

Let’s look at how these kinds of campaigns play out in some real-world examples.

What are some examples of SMS marketing?

These SMS marketing examples get their point across clearly in just a few words while delivering value for their contacts at precisely the right time.

A just-in-time announcement: Redbox and Keanu

While fans waited almost thirty years for a new installment in the “Bill & Ted” franchise, once the movie dropped, Redbox was ready. They fired off the following text message just a couple short days after the movie was released so that viewers would know where to find this totally bodacious new comedy.

Source: SMS Archives

If recipients were segmented based on user preferences, that would be a huge plus for this example. Even if that’s not the case, though, customers will likely see the value in getting quick announcements about coming movies that they may be more interested in. This simple example elegantly explores what’s so perfect about SMS messaging.

Reengaging with restless families: Sonic

In the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like there was no shortage of corporate updates offering a common and comforting thought: We’re all in this together. Sonic shared that sentiment with their followers, but they did it one better.

Source: SMS Archives

By offering users a link to download a free “Family Fun Pack,” this restaurant chain quickly reached out to users about a topical concern and provided something of value while also subtly sharing that they were open for business and ready to help families out with a limited-time promotion.

Nurturing leads by lifting spirits: The Humane Society of America

Just because it’s called texting doesn’t mean you’re limited to alphanumeric options. With MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), savvy marketers can leverage the capability of mobile devices to process images. In fact, that’s one of the things that the Humane Society does best.

Source: SMS Archives

By sharing the story, and the picture, of an adorable rescue dog named Cassie, the Humane Society delivers a compassionate and thoughtful message with an unmistakable soft-sell angle: This pup can thank the Humane Society, and its donors, for her health and well-being. Recipients of this message will likely think about contributing if they haven’t done so already.

What tools are useful for SMS marketing?

As with most other modern marketing strategies, automation tools are essential for effective SMS marketing.

In addition to using an application programming interface (API) that offers the ability to send personalized bulk SMS messages, integration with existing solutions that facilitate audience segmentation can ensure that users receive messages that are relevant to their needs.

The ability to implement A/B testing during SMS marketing campaigns can also help drive engagement and conversion rates.

If your SMS marketing software offers recipients the opportunity to interact with an effective chatbot, you can improve the user experience quite significantly.

What types of content creation are involved with SMS marketing?

In addition to the automation products discussed above, SMS marketing tools should provide adequate support for content creation and distribution. Otherwise, look for products that integrate seamlessly with your existing suite.

It’s probably clear by now that SMS marketing consists of more than just a short string of letters, numbers and punctuation. Often, you’ll also want to share high-quality images that could be repurposed for sharing on social media, like Facebook or Twitter.

If your SMS marketing campaign requires the user to navigate to a landing page, you’ll need to make sure you have the capacity to modify your website easily.

What else do I need to know before setting up an SMS marketing campaign?

There are a few other factors you should consider before you start messaging your contacts.


Similar to telemarketing conducted over the phone, SMS text marketing is subject to government regulations, such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and CAN-SPAM. Local regulations for your recipients may also apply to your communications. Always ensure you have the proper tools at your disposal for maintaining compliance.

As a general rule, among other things, this means that SMS marketing messages must follow all relevant opt-in and opt-out guidelines.


Text messaging etiquette extends to SMS marketing, too. For example, that means sending your messages at the appropriate time of day, which is also bound by legal restrictions like those mentioned above.

Delivering an SMS before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. in the user’s time zone is not allowed, and additional local restrictions may apply.


While shared short codes were once seen as the wave of the future for SMS marketing, they’ve been abused by spammers, and their days may come to an end before too much longer.

Think carefully about whether you want to use a shared or dedicated short code, or perhaps a dedicated long code or an 800 number.

You may also want to look into options that will allow you to maximize your use of Rich Communication Services (RCS), a format with expanded functionality that may supplant SMS and MMS in the coming years.