SMS is one of the most attractive marketing channels available to businesses nowadays. To begin with, almost all cellphones—whether smart or otherwise—can send and receive text messages. SMS also happens to have an extremely high open rate—almost all the text messages that people receive on their phones get opened. This open rate seats at around 98% and it is said that SMSs, are on average read within three minutes of their being received.
Even as we speak our three mobile network operators combined have greater reach than all the newspapers, radio stations and the lone television station in the country and where there is coverage there is SMS. This means that this older technology holds great potential as a marketing channel and tool for local companies and businesses of all sizes.
What you can use it for
Businesses all over the world use SMS to send promotional content, reminders, discount coupons, sales alerts and other notifications to their customers. The immediacy of SMS makes it especially suited for delivering these kinds of messages to customers.
The anatomy of a text message
An SMS is normally only 160 characters long. You should usually word your marketing message to fit this limit. If more characters are needed (for longer content) the message will be broken and sent as several SMSs which will be recombined on the recipient’s phone. An SMS also carries a sender ID. If this is sent from an ordinary cellphone this would usually just be the sender’s phone number, however, most SMS platforms allow you to customise this into any combination of letters or numbers of your choice. Most businesses choose to use the names of their firms as sender IDs.
There are many platforms online which allow users to send SMSs to several recipients. These are called bulk SMS providers. The “bulk” in the name says it all—the purpose of these platforms is to allow users to send messages to large numbers of contacts all at once and many of them come with decent tools such as those that allow you to view how many of the sent messages have been received. To get started in your SMS marketing endeavours you will need to sign up with one of these services. Be careful, some of the companies are quite unreliable—some can be slow, often taking several hours to deliver your messages to their destinations while some do not even deliver.
The relevant laws in Zimbabwe
In more developed countries regulations were developed to protect cellphone subscribers from annoying torrents of texts from advertisers. Some of the rules include the requirement that potential recipients of texts first opt-in before they receive any and the stipulation that there should be a way of opting out. Zimbabwe currently has no explicit laws regarding this so the control of SMS advertising is largely left in the hands of the bulk SMS service providers and the mobile network operators.
Getting the numbers
Without contacts, you have no one to send your promotional texts to. There are many ways of obtaining these phone numbers. The (above mentioned) weaker regulations in Zimbabwe surrounding SMS marketing allow marketers to use some of the most unorthodox methods to obtain these contacts. However, you should never consider a lack of regulation to be sufficient permission and encouragement to annoy random people with your spam.
One of the most acceptable ways of getting your customers’ phone numbers is simply asking them to provide these through the filling of, say, the forms for a competition which you organized. You can also extract numbers from receipts and invoices. Always try to ask for permission first.
Avoid buying number lists as most of these just contain randomly generated entries. This means that there is no guarantee that all the numbers on those lists exist.
Avoid unnecessary language shortcuts
Due to the 160 character limit, you might be tempted to use slang or abbreviations to reduce the length of your message. Do this with care as your language may not be as clear to your recipients as you think it is. Only use slang and abbreviations when necessary and when you are certain that the recipients will understand it.
It matters what time of the day you choose to send your texts. Your timing affects your messages’ effectiveness and perceived annoyance. Sending texts at times when most of your intended recipients are likely to be busy, tired or sleeping are obvious no-nos. Send your texts as close as possible to break and lunchtimes. Your message is more likely to sink in during weekends and holidays.
Using the sender ID or otherwise, always identify yourself in your texts. It does not matter how good your message is if you then proceed to forget to identify yourself.
Do not send too many texts
I mentioned above that Zimbabwe does not currently have specific laws that regulate SMS marketing; nevertheless, you must avoid flooding people’s phones with your texts. Try to be as infrequent as possible in your communications particularly when the recipient did not sign up or agree to receive messages from you. The more texts someone receives, the more likely they are to be annoyed. If you are aggressive enough in this ill-advised approach you may eventually attract the attention of the mobile network operators who may arbitrarily decide to block your messages. Remember that MNOs, banks and mobile money services already rely heavily on SMS so there is no need to unnecessarily add to this deluge.