Whenever a new communication technology comes about, aggressive marketers are sure to try to piggy-back on it. We’ve seen it in emails, landlines, mobile and social media. And before those we were plagued with junk mail. Fortunately, good sense usually prevails, and such marketers usually have a relatively short window of opportunity before the law (or the private networks that carry their messages) closes in on them.
That’s where we are now with direct mail, email, phone calls and SMS: companies can use them to advertise products and services, but they’re bound by guidelines that are an attempt to balance the opportunities to business with the privacy and personal space of the general public. If the rules can be boiled down to one concept, however, it is consent, and the ability to easily withdraw it.
Not all Marketing is Unwanted
When anti-spam laws are being drawn up there can be a temptation for legislators to side with the vocal minority who claim to speak up for the general public, and who want all SMS marketing stopped. But it’s easy to forget that consumers do have an appetite for marketing.
The past few years have seen an explosion in voucher culture and the growth of companies such as Wowcher, Vouchercloud, Groupon and Quidco whose users willingly sign up for marketing opportunities, even to the point of being geo-tracked so that they can be offered discounts when they are near certain stores and restaurants. It is arguable that some mild SMS marketing from a company that has sold the customer a product in the past year is many times less intrusive than these apps, which consumers in their millions have downloaded. Consumers who like a bargain or those who like to be kept up to date with developments or new products are often more receptive to SMS marketing than might be imagined.
Active Opt-in is Key
The best way to avoid complaints to Ofcom – and probably your own offices – is to make sure you only send SMS messages to people who have indicated that they want to receive promotional messages from you. This can be a tick on a form or web application, an email, an SMS or vocal permission.
However, the default position should be that the customer does not want to receive messages. If no action is taken, the assumption is that they have not granted permission. You cannot have a box that is pre-ticked with the option to uncheck it to not receive texts. This was the default position in the past, and is partly responsible for much of the bad rap the SMS marketing industry got. Looking at the past situation in the light of current practices and legislation, we can only really agree that the law is correctly applied.
Make it Easy to Cancel
Cancelling SMS marketing from a company should be as easy as sending a text message or an email, and the marketer should put up no resistance. Remember, the customer will already have opted in for marketing, so there shouldn’t be a goodwill issue. They might simply not be getting any value from the marketing – perhaps you’re marketing baby products to customers whose kids have grown up, for example. You should respect that.
It is accepted that opt-in is given by customers who have had some dealings with a company whereby their mobile phone number was given (for example to track a delivery or as a second means of contact) without distinct opt-in to SMS marketing. Of course, this privilege shouldn’t be abused, and opt-out should be simple.
Do Unto Others …
We’ve established that consumers are not averse to being personally targeted by marketers, and customers are a self-selecting demographic by virtue of their already being users of the product or service on offer. And let’s not forget that SMS marketing is highly effective, by some estimates 6–8 times as likely to be read and acted upon as email marketing.
It’s great for retaining clients and growing databases, and should not be overlooked through fear of backlash. As any sensible marketer knows, SMS marketing should:
- be done conscientiously and relatively infrequently;
- make only appropriate offers that are of genuine interest to the customer; and
- respect time zones so that customers aren’t woken in the night or hassled during family time.
If possible, ask customers if there are any times or days when they do not want to be contacted, and enter the information into your CRM. Remember, you’re probably not the only company to be marketing to an individual via text. While you might not feel like you’re sending a lot of messages, that doesn’t mean the customer isn’t receiving many, and consumers clear out their “dead wood” from time to time.
It’s probably nothing personal. Once you’ve eliminated the potential negatives of an SMS campaign in the eyes of customers, you can set about optimising it to get the best ROI on this highly successful and effective marketing channel. The short version of this whole post is simply that as a marketer, you should treat your customers as you’d be happy to be treated yourself when you’ve got your consumer hat on. You shouldn’t have any problem staying within the law and maximising the return on your SMS marketing effort if you obey this mindset. Now watch your engagement grow.