SMS Marketing: Examples, Explanations, & Services [2024]

January 18, 2024 (Updated) | By Sam Pelton
A hand holding a phone with a dollar sign icon popping out

SMS marketing is in my veins...

I've been working in the SMS marketing sphere for almost 10 years now. In that time, I've seen platform changes. Personnel changes. Regulation changes.

But one thing hasn't changed: SMS is still a thing. And not just a thing, but one of the most popular ways for people to contact and be contacted.

Yet oddly, not every business has caught on to SMS marketing (yet). Many still don’t use SMS for their marketing, or don’t use it to its full potential.

While we couldn’t find definitive statistics (and the percentages varied), the highest number we saw cited was that only 68% of businesses use texting to connect with customers.

And yet, we all know how attached people are to their phones. One study from the tech company Asurion reported that Americans may check their phones a whopping average of 352 times per day.

That means there’s ripe potential for businesses to use SMS marketing to reach people and get more sales.

But how?

In this article, we’ll walk you through what SMS marketing is, how it can help your business, and the first steps to getting started. We’ll also discuss some best practices and some of the platforms available for you to use. Here are answers to some of the top questions you may have regarding using an SMS platform… whether you're using it for marketing, or for some other purpose.

SMS Marketing Definitions, Benefits, How It Works

What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing is the process by which a business or organization uses texting to help accomplish its marketing goals.

This would include sending out text promotions, follow-ups, check-ins, and any other messaging within the realm of marketing.

SMS marketing platforms can also be used for transactional messaging—including order confirmations, 2-factor authentication notices, emergency updates, or appointment reminders.

What is a texting platform?

A texting platform is an online software and/or mobile app that allows you to send mass text messages.

A “platform” would differ from SMS API in that it will be an essentially out-of-the-box tool that allows you to send, receive, and monitor messages without any coding knowledge. API, on the other hand, requires coding in order to implement. (See "What Is an SMS API?" under "Questions Regarding Sending Messages" below.)

Texting platforms will contain features such as contact grouping, automated messaging, reports, and other functionality conducive to managing your SMS marketing efforts.

Your account with Mobile Text Alerts includes access to both a platform and API for sending texts.

What are the benefits of SMS marketing?

Since read rates for SMS are as high as 98%, SMS marketing can be an effective way to reach people where they’re actually looking (their phones).

Since email read rate averages tend to be around just 21.5% (for marketing emails at least), SMS is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

And, since people mostly ignore their emails (and they almost certainly won’t see your social posts unless you pay to boost them), texting becomes a way to really cut through the noise.

People actually pay attention to text messages.

These text messages show up in the same place that they receive texts from their spouse, kids, parents, grandparents, close friends. Sharing the same space with these personal conversations carries immense opportunity to provide value to your recipient.

SMS marketing gives you a simple and straightforward way to “get personal” with your customers. If you can group your contact list according to relevant segments, you can send highly relevant messages that really speak to their situation. You can send a personalized text message on their personal phones including their personal name.

How does SMS marketing or sending text alerts work?

SMS marketing is essentially a 2-step process:

  1. Add subscribers
  2. Send texts

Adding subscribers can be done in one of several ways, including:

Once you have contacts added, you can send a message by typing out the message content into the platform or mobile app, and clicking “Send.”

Do you have an SMS affiliate program?

Yes, you can make money by simply referring people to Mobile Text Alerts.

When you create an account, you’ll receive a unique referral link.

You can share this link anywhere and as often as you’d like, and you’ll receive 20% of all of the revenue generated from anyone who creates an account using your link.

Your referral link also includes an incentive for people to sign up, to help you get more sign-ups: anyone who uses your link will get 50% off their first month automatically applied.

Sign-up page example

Example of sign-up page opt-in form.

SMS Marketing Compliance and Best Practicies

The good news for SMS marketers is that a Supreme Court ruling has lessened the strict requirements regarding obtaining express written permission for sending texts.

Do I need to get permission to send SMS marketing?

However, best practice would still dictate that you get permission from people before sending them texts.

Sending texts to subscribers who don’t want to receive them is against mobile carrier policies and may result in your messages getting flagged as spam by the mobile carriers—and could even result in your phone number getting blacklisted (which means the mobile carriers would block all of your messages).

That being said, there are some easy ways to obtain permission from people before sending them texts, including text-to-join and online web forms.

Using the text-to-join method, web form method, or any of the other opt-in methods we mention, you can allow your subscribers to opt themselves in to your text list. That way, you can ensure that your recipients actually want to receive your texts.

If you prefer to collect consent on your end, just make sure people know what they are signing up for when they provide you with their phone number.

Here’s an example of some disclaimer language you could include:

By providing your phone number, you’re opting in to receive [number of texts] per month about [topic]. Messaging and data rates may apply. Reply STOP to opt out at any time.

Note that any information included in this article does not constitute legal advice.

How do I make sure my text messages are compliant with regulations?

Although the legal requirements for SMS marketing have lessened (as mentioned in the previous section), it’s still a good idea to keep some guidelines in mind as you go about your texting campaigns.

The guidelines in the bullet list below will help ensure that your messages are successfully delivered by the mobile carriers and aren’t filtered out as spam or rejected as non-compliant traffic.

In addition to receiving permission from your subscribers, some best practices you should follow in order to maintain compliance with mobile carrier regulations include:

  • Register your brand—Mobile Text Alerts will provide you with an easy form you can fill out (and we’ll submit it for you), to get your brand registered with the mobile carriers
  • Mention your company/organization’s name in every text—this ensures clarity in your messages
  • Include opt-out instructions in every text—these instructions can be as simple as “Text STOP to stop”
  • Don’t include links created from public URL shorteners such as Bitly or TinyURL
    • You can, however, use brand-specific URL shorteners
    • You’ll get access to use Mobile Text Alerts’ own branded URL shortener (with the option to add on your own domain as well), so you can still shorten your links for your texts
  • Don’t send messages with content that mobile carriers deem “questionable”—this would include content that explicitly mentions any of the following…
    • SHAFT (which stands for sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, and tobacco)—messages that mention legal cannabis and CBD fall under this category
    • Loans
    • Questionable financial practices (even if these practices are technically legal)
    • Gambling
    • Anything illegal

If you follow all of those guidelines, your messages are much more likely to be successfully delivered to your recipients.

What other practices should I follow to remain compliant?

In addition to the 2 sections mentioned above, there are a few other guidelines you should follow in order to keep out of any legal trouble or trouble with the mobile carriers:

  • Don’t “randomly dial” phone numbers—use a legitimate list as you go about your texting efforts
  • Send texts at a reasonable hour of the day (i.e. not early morning or late at night), in the local time of each recipient
  • Make sure to respect opt-outsif the user replies STOP to your message, the platform handles this automatically for you

How can people opt themselves out of my texts?

If people decide they no longer want to receive your messages, all they have to do is reply STOP to any of your messages.

Their phone number will then be automatically removed from your subscriber list, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally texting them again.

You’ll be able to view all of your opted-out subscribers from your Opt-Out Report.

What is an SMS keyword?

An SMS keyword is a method you can use to get people to opt in to receive your texts, and to get them organized into specific segments within your subscriber list.

You’re able to set up a specific “keyword” and assign a “group” and “auto-response” to that keyword. When people text in that keyword to your account’s phone number, the user’s number will be automatically added to your subscriber list.

They will also be added into the “group” (segment) that you designate, and they will automatically receive the “auto-response” text message that you set up.

Carrier restrictions to follow

Sending SMS Marketing Messages

How do I send marketing text messages?

Sending your marketing text messages is not difficult.

It involves:

  1. Setting up an account on the Mobile Text Alerts platform
  2. Adding at least 1 contact to your account
  3. Typing out your message content and clicking “Send.”

Can I send pictures in my SMS marketing?

Yes! You can send images in your texts.

“Picture messages,” otherwise known as MMS, are supported. Sending an MMS counts as 3 messaging credits per recipient toward your plan’s messaging totals.

The file size of your image (including GIF files) can be 500 KB or less.

MMS can also include up to 1,550 characters within your text (unlike “regular texts,” or SMS, which can include 160 characters per text).

How do I send automated text messages?

There are several ways to automate messaging within your texting platform:

  1. You can schedule messages to send at specific times that you designate.
  2. You can create recurring messages to repeat at daily, weekly, monthly, or annual intervals.
  3. You can set up a drip campaign workflow including a sequence of messages and delays that your subscribers will automatically go through.
  4. You can create a library of “smart replies” - specific words that will trigger specific responses when users text them into your account’s phone number.
  5. You can set up other automated replies to send to people when they reply to your messages.
  6. You can create your own automations via integrations or API.

You can use whichever of these automated messaging methods works for your business… or all of them!

What is an SMS API?

API is a way for web developers to program software so that they can set up their own tools and integrations.

Every Mobile Text Alerts account comes with free access to an SMS API that you can use to program SMS according to your own specific situation’s needs.

API allows you to add subscribers, send messages, and manage your account in a way that works for your business.

Your SMS API will work with any programming environment and uses an API key that’s assigned to you when you create your account. (You can easily view your API key from your platform’s Settings page.)

You can view documentation for the API here.

How many characters can be in an SMS?

Although a text message can’t technically be more than 160 characters (including spaces), you can include as many characters as you’d like. If you exceed the 160 character mark, your text will just be sent as 2 or more messages rather than 1.

Most mobile carriers will be able to recognize the message as a single unit and will display the message to your recipients in a single block. (This is called concatenation.)

So while it’s recommended that you keep your messages under 160 characters whenever feasible, there isn’t really a limit to how long your messages can be.

Can I use my business’s phone number to send texts?

Yes, you can typically use your own business or organization’s phone number (even a landline) to send your texts. (There is a small fee associated with porting this number over and maintaining it.)

You’ll just need to contact us to let us know the phone number you’d like to use, and we’ll handle the process of getting that all set up for you.

It’s a common practice to text-enable your business’s landline, so that people can call and text the same phone number associated with your brand.

How do I get a text number for my business?

Each Mobile Text Alerts account will come with a free text number for your business. You can port over your own texting number or change numbers at any time (some fees may be associated with these changes; see the “Are there any additional fees?” section below).

Can I use a mobile app to send texts?

Yes, there is a free mobile app available for both iOS and Android.

The app allows you to manage your account and send messages from the convenience of your mobile device.

That way, you don’t need to log in to an online platform every time you want to use it.

What is an SMS drip campaign?

You may be familiar with the concept of a drip campaign in email marketing.

It’s a series of messages that automatically goes out to recipients over a period of time.

An SMS drip campaign is similar. You can set up a series of messages and delays, and then your recipients can start receiving the messages at the beginning of the sequence and move through the entire campaign.

What is an SMS short code?

Historically, text messages sent through SMS platforms would be processed through shared short codes. These were 5- or 6-digit numbers that were shared across multiple brands.

However, mobile carriers have since phased out shared short codes and they are no longer the standard for sending SMS.

SMS platforms now typically send messages through 10-digit local numbers or toll-free numbers—although dedicated short codes (5- or 6-digit numbers that are specifically dedicated to a particular brand or company) are still an option.

At Mobile Text Alerts, you’re provided with a free 10-digit phone number you can use to send your messages.

(Contact sales if you have any interest in getting a dedicated short code set up for your own business.)

SMS short code example

SMS Marketing Billing

How much does SMS cost?

Plans are subscription-based and renew either on an annual or monthly basis.

Annual plans start at $20 per month and monthly plans start at $25 per month.

Plans are based on how many messages you would like to have access to send.

You can view all plans here.

Are there any additional fees for sending SMS?

Most people will not have any added fees.

If you choose one of the lower-tier plans but end up sending more than 1,000 messages per day, you may need to consider purchasing a new sending number due to limitations from the mobile carriers.

This is because mobile carriers require messages to be sent through a certain type of phone number if you send 1,000 or more messages per day. This type of phone number is included for free on all plans except the lowest tiers (the “500 messages per month,” “1,000 messages per month,” and "2,000 messages per month" plans).

In the rare situation in which you would be on a lower-tier plan but want to send a lot of messages per day, we would recommend setting up a new phone number. The fee for this would be the at-cost fee we incur from carriers (which is $15 per month) for maintenance of the phone number. (Ask us about other alternatives if you’re in this situation but need to avoid additional fees.)

How many “message credits” will a message use up?

When sending a text message, your message will count as 1 message credit per recipient. For example, if you send a message to 500 recipients, it would count as 500 credits.

If your message is more than 160 characters long, it will count as 2 or more messages per recipient. In this case, your message to 500 recipients would count as 1,000 or more credits.

If you send an MMS (picture message), it will allow up to 1,550 characters and will count as 3 message credits per recipient. So in this case, your message to 500 recipients would count as 1,500 credits.

What happens if I run out of message credits?

If you run out of messages in your plan, you’ll just receive an error notice when you try to send a text. The error notice will let you know that there aren’t enough messaging credits available.

At that point, you can decide if you’d like to make a one-time purchase of additional credits, upgrade to a higher plan, or wait until your message credits are reloaded.

What happens to unused messaging credits?

If you don’t use all of your messaging credits in a given month, the unused credits will rollover into the next month, and you’ll still have access to use them.

On monthly plans, unused message credits rollover for 1 month and then expire after that if unused.

On annual plans, unused message credits rollover indefinitely and never expire.

Am I charged when people reply to our texts?

You are not charged for any incoming messages people send in reply to your texts.

(The exception to this, of course, is if you have an automated message that goes out when someone texts in.)

Can I cancel my SMS account?

All plans are subscription-based, so you can cancel anytime before your next renewal.

There’s an easy cancellation button within the platform that allows you to cancel without a hassle if you decide that the platform’s not the right fit for you.

Can I change my SMS plan?

You can upgrade your plan at any time by simply clicking a button within the billing section of your platform.

If you upgrade part way through an annual subscription, you will only be charged a prorated amount.

(So if you’re unsure how many messages you’ll need, we would recommend starting with a smaller pricing tier and ramping up as needed.)

You can also downgrade your plan for your next renewal at any time by contacting support. Your downgrade will go into effect on your next annual or monthly renewal.

Are there any guarantees?

All account purchases come with a 30-day money back guarantee.

That means if you make a purchase and within 30 days you aren’t satisfied with any aspect of your service, you can get a refund upon request.

Managing Your SMS Marketing Account

How can I segment SMS subscribers into targeted groups?

You can organize your subscribers into unlimited segments (we call them “groups”).

You’ll just create all the groups that you’d like to use for segmentation purposes, and then you can add subscribers into those groups as appropriate.

You can either add your subscribers into those groups on your end, or you can have them add themselves to the groups they’d like to be a part of.

To add on your end, you’ll do one of the following:

  • Add subscribers to appropriate groups manually
  • Add subscribers to appropriate groups by importing a spreadsheet
  • Add subscribers to appropriate groups via integrations or API

To allow your subscribers to add themselves to a group, you can enable one of the following:

  • “Text-to-join” keywords: your subscriber can text in a particular word in order to be automatically added to a particular group
  • Web forms: your subscriber can select the group they’d like to be added to from an online form

How many users can I add to manage my SMS account?

There is no limit to the number of users you can add to manage your Mobile Text Alerts account.

Users can have different permission levels allowing different points of access to the account, including:

  • Full account access
  • Access to send messages, but no access to billing
  • Access to send messages to specific groups only (no access to billing)

Can my SMS marketing subscribers respond to my texts?

Yes, subscribers can respond to your texts.

Any replies will show up in a 2-way messaging Inbox within your platform/mobile app.

From that Inbox you’re able to manage all of your message replies and easily respond to those replies.

I don’t want people to be able to reply to our texts - can I turn off message replies for my mass texts?

Although you can’t disable message replies, you are able to set up an automatic response to go out whenever people try to reply.

You can use this automatic response to let your subscribers know that replies are not monitored. That way, they’re not expecting a response.

Replies are not monitored. Please call 596-784-9987 with any questions or concerns.

SMS Marketing Examples

Here are some specific examples of SMS marketing.

Engagement & Loyalty

Since text messages are by and large read by almost all recipients, SMS is one of the most effective means to reward and engage with loyal customers. You're able to connect using a direct line to the palm of your customer's hand - resulting in an impactful way to provide loyalty offers or customer care.

Welcome message

Hey [Customer Name], thanks for joining our SMS list! Enjoy 15% off your first purchase with code WELCOME15. Reply STOP to unsubscribe.


Birthday greeting

Happy birthday, [Customer Name]! Celebrate with 20% off your next order! Use code BDAY20 at checkout. Valid today only.


Loyalty program update

You're almost there, [Customer Name]! Spend $50 more to reach Gold status and unlock exclusive perks. Check your rewards here: [link].


Customer appreciation

Thanks for being a loyal customer, [Customer Name]! Enjoy a free gift with your next purchase. Just show this text in-store.


Promotions & Sales

Beyond engagement and loyalty, SMS gives you super easy way to get a revenue boost with promos and sales. You just don't want to run these too frequently, or your audience may get worn out.

Flash sale

FLASH SALE! Get 50% off all jeans for the next 2 hours only! Shop now: [link].


Abandoned cart reminder

Hey [Customer Name], forgot something? Complete your purchase and get free shipping with code CART10: [link].


Product launch announcement

New arrivals just dropped! Be the first to shop our latest collection with early access for SMS subscribers: [link].


Seasonal promotion

Happy holidays! Get 25% off everything for a limited time. Shop now and spread the cheer: [link].


Information & Service

One key use for SMS is to send timely transactional updates - an easy way of providing value to your audience without a "salesy" agenda.

Order update

Your order is on its way! Track your package here: [link].


Event reminder

Reminder: Your appointment is tomorrow at 10 AM. Reply YES to confirm or call us to reschedule.


Feedback request

Help us improve! Share your experience with a quick survey: [link].


Customer service

Need help? Text us your question or concern, and we'll be happy to assist you.

Top SMS Marketing Software

Mobile Text Alerts

Mobile Text Alerts

The above explanations have been describing processes through the lens of our SMS marketing service, Mobile Text Alerts.

With an easy-to-use interface, dedicated support team, and robust features, you'll find what you need in Mobile Text Alerts. Pricing starts at $20/month (annual plan) or $25/month (monthly plan) for 500 messaging credits per month.

Other top SMS platforms all primarily offer similar features but may differentiate themselves on customer service and pricing...

EZ Texting

Get a Free 14-Day Trial with Mobile Text Alerts

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EZ Texting

EZ Texting customers tend to have positive things to say about the EZ Texting interface. Pricing for EZ Texting is a bit confusing as it's different than most SMS providers - you are charged a set monthly rate which includes 500 messaging credits, and then you can purchase more credits at the rate that you choose. Reliably reaching customer service seems to be a recurring issue.

Textedly

Textedly

Textedly receives positive feedback in regards to both its interface and customer service. Pricing is typical of similar SMS marketing platforms, with plans starting at $26/month, which gives you 500-600 messaging credits per month.

SlickText

Simple Texting

Customers of SlickText are generally pleased with their ease of use and customer service. Pricing again is typical of SMS marketing plans, starting at $29/month for 500 messaging credits per month. One difference with SlickText from most platforms is there is no discounted annual pricing option.

SimpleTexting

SlickText

SimpleTexting is another easy-to-use SMS platform with high-rated customer service. Pricing starts at $33.20/month (annual plan) or $39/month (monthly plan) for 500 messaging credits per month.

Twilio

Twilio

Twilio is different from the other providers mentioned in that they don't offer an out-of-the-box platform. Rather, they are an API service for developers. (Most other platforms offer some level of API as well.) They also offer other services such as WhatsApp messaging. Pricing is per message and is a bit complicated because there are a few different levels of fees to consider.

How to Get Started with SMS Marketing

Getting started with SMS marketing doesn’t have to be a huge headache.

There are a few steps you can keep in mind…

1. Figure Out Your Goals

What exactly are your goals and how do you anticipate reaching them?

Are you hoping to send frequent notices to your customers? Just engage with them occasionally? How many recipients do you think you’ll have? How much of your marketing budget are you willing to allocate?

You’ll need to think through those questions so that you can make informed decisions about how to move forward.

2. Select Your SMS Platform

Once you’ve determined answers to the questions mentioned above, you’ll be able to make a decision about which SMS platform (such as Mobile Text Alerts) to pursue.

There’s a wide variety of SMS platforms out there. We’ll discuss more about SMS platforms below, but you’ll need to make sure to choose a platform that has the features, support, and pricing that fits for your situation and allows you to meet your needs.

3. Build Your Subscriber List

SMS platforms give you opt-in mechanisms to help you build your subscriber base. The most common of these is “text-to-join” functionality so that you can tell people to simply send in a text message to a particular phone number to be subscribed.

Additionally, there are other ways SMS platforms provide so you can allow people to subscribe, including customizable online forms, web banners, QR codes, and integrations with current services you already use.

Or if you want to handle building your subscriber list on your own end, you can collect people’s information and import it into the SMS platform via spreadsheets or integrations.

When you’ve decided which opt-in method(s) you’d like to use, a common tactic is to offer an incentive to get people to subscribe to your texts. It’s best if the incentive can be something they’ll receive right away (like a free item or a coupon code for their next purchase).

Here are some specific strategies you can try for building your subscriber list…

Website Opt-In Forms

Place opt-in forms on strategic pages of your website, such as the homepage, product pages, and checkout process. Make sure the forms are prominent, easy to fill out, and clearly communicate the benefits of subscribing to your SMS marketing list.

In-Store Promotions

If you have a physical store, use signage and point-of-sale materials to promote your SMS marketing campaign. Offer discounts or rewards to customers who opt-in while they’re in-store.

Social Media Advertising

Use the power of social media platforms to promote your SMS marketing campaign. Create targeted ads that highlight the benefits of subscribing and direct users to your opt-in form, or to texting into your opt-in phone number.

Cross-Promotion

In addition to social media ads, use all of your other existing marketing channels, such as email newsletters, and blog posts, and organic social media posts, to promote your SMS marketing campaign and encourage subscribers to opt in.

4. Create Compelling Messages

With SMS, shorter copy is often better—and can save you money because of SMS’s 160 character limit. (Messages longer than 160 characters cost more to send.)

So you’ll want to get straight to the point but still be engaging and winsome. As with any marketing, clear calls-to-action help make your message more effective.

We mentioned this previously but personalization, such as including the recipient’s name, could help as well. SMS platforms can automatically parse in each subscriber’s name—but be careful with this. It could backfire if you don’t have the right name or if the name you have on record isn’t actually the name they go by.

5. Send or Automate Your Messages

Once your message content is created, you’re ready to start sending!

You can either schedule one-off messages, or you can automate workflows of messages. If you select specific times, you can experiment with what times work best for your audience. (Keep in mind that with text messages, timing is significantly more important than with email—you should not be sending texts outside of normal daytime hours in the recipient’s time zone.)

6. Analyze Results

Monitor the performance of your SMS campaigns by tracking metrics such as delivery rates, click rates, and unsubscriptions.

You can use analytics tools provided by your SMS marketing software to gain these kinds of insights into the effectiveness of your campaigns. This type of data can help you see what messages are being more effective than others, so you can make informed decisions about what factors in your messages best resonate with your audience.

Analyze the data to identify trends, optimize your messaging, and make data-driven decisions to improve your SMS marketing strategy over time.

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Yes!

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