You’ve heard about it. You’ve probably received some of it from other businesses. But what is SMS marketing, exactly, and how can you use it to serve your existing customers, gain new potential customers, and boost revenue? Is it something you add to your marketing mix or a replacement for an outdated program? 

As you’re about to see, SMS marketing (or text message marketing) uses a unique channel to reach and engage with customers.  

SMS marketing has several advantages over other forms of marketing communication and customer service. For one, customers want it. They often appreciate receiving text messages from businesses that are important to them. 

Use it well, and SMS marketing will help you retain more customers and strengthen their loyalty to your products and brand. And it offers a different marketing channel for potential customers who may not want to join your email list. 

What is SMS Marketing?

SMS marketing refers to the use of text messages to engage, communicate, and market to customers and subscribers who have opted in to receive texts from your company.  

You can send: 

  • Bulk SMS messages 
  • Automated SMS messages
  • SMS messages to individuals or segments of your audience
  • SMS campaigns 
  • One-off marketing messages 
  • Weekly or monthly marketing texts 

As the near-universal use of smartphones has proliferated over the last couple of decades, so has the use of text messaging, and not just as a way for people to communicate with each other in a fast and convenient way. Eight out of ten Americans use texting.  

And like with email marketing, businesses have found that SMS marketing can be a very effective tool for staying in touch with their customers and prospects. SMS marketing messages get opened about 98% of the time, far more often than email, and they average 19% click through rates. And according to Adobe, texted coupons are redeemed about ten times more often than traditional coupons.  

Promotional SMS messages work.  

The Origins of SMS Marketing

It was only as recently as 1999 when the very first SMS texts could be sent between two network phone users. By 2002, consumers were sending more than 200 billion texts, and in 2003, the first commercial mobile SMS service launched. Short codes came out that same year.  

By 2005, big brands such as Nike were already producing SMS marketing campaigns, and Blackberry devices dominated text messaging in the early years. But then, Apple came along.

In 2007, Apple released the iPhone, which was the first handheld device with a touchscreen and internet access. Within a year, worldwide use of SMS messaging exploded, with 2.4 billion people using SMS and the average number of texts per month surpassing the number of phone calls. Communication was changing fast.  

SMS Marketing Today

Today, it’s changing even faster. In those early years, carriers still charged a lot to send a text — sometimes as high as 15 cents for a single message. That’s unimaginable today, with most carriers offering unlimited texting as a standard feature of their plans, or at far lower prices than before. 

It also used to cost extra to use the internet on mobile devices, so folks would limit their time online. But again, pretty much every telecommunications company offers unlimited internet access across mobile devices now. 

In 2010, 62.6 million US consumers owned smartphones. By 2020, it was over 250 million. The smartphone, and the use of text messaging, are now a staple of life. And companies are realizing that using SMS marketing to engage their customers isn’t just something that’s nice to have. Customers want and expect it. 

The good news is, setting up an SMS marketing system is pretty easy. All you need is a platform with SMS marketing capabilities like emfluence. From there, you can simply offer your customers the opportunity to opt in to your SMS list, and once they join, you can begin sending them marketing messages.  

There’s a bit more to it than that, which we’ll get to later. But again, the general process to run SMS marketing isn’t that different from email marketing. Subscribers opt in. They receive a welcome text. From there, they receive the occasional SMS marketing message from the company and can opt out at any time. 

SMS Marketing Terminology

Let’s go through a few basic terms related to SMS marketing. Most of the terms that you’re already familiar with from email marketing apply here too, so we aren’t going to rehash most of those.  

Here are some important new terms related to SMS marketing:  


SMS stands for short messaging service, and this is the most commonly-used term for text message marketing. SMS marketing is limited to text only and usually allows up to only160 characters total. So you have to be very economical in what you say and how you say it.  

MMS stands for multimedia messaging service. With this, you can also use images and GIFs to get a little more visual engagement with your text marketing.  

Long Code 

A long code is basically a traditional phone number that you can use to send and receive SMS marketing. There are three types of long codes:

Person to Person Long Codes (or P2P): These are just like any other text messages and can include charges for the user.  

Application to Person Long Codes (or A2P): One-way messages from an app or a platform, like emfluence, that are specific to your business. These texts cannot be replied to. They are bulk SMS messages sent to your entire list, or segments of it. 

Toll-Free Texts: These long codes are typically 800 numbers or some variation of them, and are used most often for SMS customer service interactions.  

Short Code 

A short code is usually just a five-digit number. It can also have six. You’ve seen these in campaigns where you text in a word like WINBIG to a five-digit number. Short codes are also one-way communications, and can be used to sign up new subscribers, run contests, or participate in other types of mobile marketing campaigns. 

SMS Keyword 

The word you text to a short code or long code, such as WINBIG, is known as an SMS keyword. It can be a single word or a short phrase, and it typically relates to a specific marketing campaign.  

Dynamic Fields 

You can personalize your SMS marketing, just as you would with email, by inserting information unique to each subscriber such as their name, location, or workplace. Dynamic fields operate here much like they do in email marketing, as placeholders within the text where the personalized information will appear. 


You can send text message marketing to particular regions, cities, or other geographic locations if a campaign might be most relevant to people in a particular area. On a more advanced level, you can even send messages to people when they enter more specific areas such as a radius around a store location. In a lot of ways, it’s a form of segmentation. 

QR Code 

A quick response (QR) code is a square code that can be scanned by your device and will take you straight to a web page that lets you engage with a particular campaign. This might be a page to opt in to an SMS marketing list, or a landing page for accessing a special offer. 

Short Link

Because SMS is character-limited, you don’t want to waste too many on long URLs. Short links are those that have been truncated so they take up fewer characters in your text. These are also known as mobile tracking links, as the same services that provide a shortened link (which is really just a redirect to the actual page you want to send people to) also provide data about the usage of the shortened URL. 

How to Get Customers to Join Your SMS Marketing List

The key is to ask and keep on asking. Your most responsive audience will be your email list. Send out a series of emails asking your subscribers to join your SMS list, and send additional emails now and then to the segment of people who didn’t sign up during your previous campaigns.  

You can also place SMS opt-in copy on in-store marketing, at your checkout counter, on your menus and product lists, on your website, on your thank you pages, and pretty much anywhere else you can make it work. 

You can offer incentives to motivate more people to sign up. One study found that dollar-off discounts were the most effective incentive for getting people to opt in to an SMS marketing program.  

Tied for second were percentage-off discounts and free gifts. Those kinds of things might not apply to your organization or perhaps don’t motivate your audience. The good news is that you can continually try different approaches and see what works best. 

SMS Marketing Strategies and Use Cases

How do other companies use SMS marketing? According to one SMS marketing study, the majority of retailers use mobile marketing primarily for transactional SMS messages such as purchase and shipping notifications, delivery updates, and confirmations. Many also deploy SMS customer service. 

Those are all good things to do, and customers expect it. But you can do so much more to unlock the many benefits of SMS marketing. 

Here are some SMS marketing examples and ideas for how different industries can use SMS as part of their digital marketing strategy: 

Automated Bank Loan Campaign

When a customer at a bank inquires about a loan, that means they’re potentially in the market for one. But just because they have a savings or checking account at your bank doesn’t mean they’ll turn to you. You have to win that business from them. 

Create an SMS marketing campaign that you can trigger to send to anyone who asks about a loan. You could even adjust the campaign slightly for different types of loans, such as home loans, auto loans, and business loans.  

Each SMS message should touch on a different pain point related to loans, and include a link to a landing page or other resource where the customer can find out more.  

People looking for loans tend to move quickly, so you want this campaign to go out over a couple weeks, composed of 4-6 messages. 

You could also cover a wider audience to identify warmer leads by periodically texting subscribers about potential interest rate changes or policy updates. Those that engage with those particular messages are likely considering a loan in the future, even if they’re not actively searching at the moment. You can segment that list for more aggressive marketing campaigns in the months that follow.  

Build Excitement for an Upcoming Hotel Stay

Suppose you have customers registering for an upcoming event, such as a hotel reservation. Use your SMS marketing efforts to build anticipation, serve the customer with practical information, and reduce cancellations and no-shows. 

This sort of campaign works well for anyone booking more than a month in advance. Each week, send them a text that promotes one specific perk or benefit they can look forward to when they arrive. And include relevant short links. For example, if you mention room service or an on-site restaurant, include a short link to the menu.  

Encourage reservations at on-site dining, spa, and entertainment venues. This can help forecast demand and keep more of each guest’s spending on-site instead of at competitor properties.  

This campaign also serves as a reminder that their room has been booked. You avoid the need to send pedestrian confirmation texts, and instead get the customer excited about their upcoming stay.  

This sort of campaign would work just as well for conferences and event marketing.  

Win Over Prospective Students for Your College or University

So much of marketing is simply about staying in touch. A graduating high school student might receive mail from a hundred colleges. But how many of those campaigns include an offer to opt in to an SMS marketing list?  

Simply offering this will set you apart from the pack and give you the opportunity to communicate with prospective students on an ongoing basis as they make their decision about where to attend.  

Include opt-in offers in all your communications — social media, email, direct mail, and your other marketing channels.  

Promote special events tied to prospective student tours that can only be accessed by SMS subscribers. 

Once they’re in, you can begin dripping out benefits and perks of attending your institution. You can also simply send congratulations texts for academic and athletic achievements current students have attained. It’s a great way to get prospective students actively rooting for your programs. 

Again, because text messages are so short, you have to focus on just one sliver of information in each one. One text could mention a local hangout. Another could mention intramural sports clubs. Internships, campus clubs, featured departments, application deadlines and processes, notable alumni, recent job placement data, scholarship opportunities, testimonials from other students, campus life — there’s almost no limit to how much you can share. And make sure each text links to a page on your website with more details about that topic.  

How many other colleges are doing this? Perhaps a few, but an SMS marketing campaign like this will make your university stand out and be remembered as students decide on where to apply. 

Instant Gratification Fast Casual and Restaurant Campaigns

SMS marketing from restaurants can capitalize on answering that age-old question — “Where should we go eat tonight?” 

People ask this question, discuss it with friends and family, and make decisions very quickly.  

Restaurants can create SMS campaigns where they send messages between 3-5pm to everyone who has opted in to their list. One simple text, sent at the right time, will put it in the minds of people to eat at your establishment. Done well, you don’t even need to offer discounts or coupons.  

This type of marketing is banking on its timeliness and convenience. People will respond because you entered the conversation already going on — at the right time.  

You can also include a short link to book a reservation or place an order online. 

SMS Marketing Metrics and Analytics

Again, SMS marketing best practices have a lot in common with email marketing. You can easily measure click through rates. You can use A/B testing to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. You can use trackable codes to see how people engaged with your various offers.  

The ideal strategy for tracking your metrics is to get a handle on three numbers: 

  • Cost per subscriber 
  • ROI per campaign 
  • Revenue per subscriber 

Your costs include whatever you pay for your SMS marketing platform, as well as the creation of the actual texts and any marketing assets that go with them. If you’re linking to existing pages on your site, these costs will be minimal. If you create unique landing pages for your SMS marketing campaign, the costs go up a little. Then, divide all of your costs by the total number of subscribers to get your cost per subscriber.  

The reason to create unique landing pages and use trackable codes is so you will know how well your SMS marketing campaign has worked. This doesn’t mean you have to write new copy, create new designs, and reinvent the wheel. You can reuse approved landing pages, with small tweaks that better fit your SMS subscriber list. 

A college sending out texts over a period of months can track opens and clicks for all their subscribers. In the fall, after students who have paid tuition begin showing up, you can go back and see which new students were receiving and engaging with your texts. You can then attribute some of that revenue to your SMS campaign. 

As you acquire more data, use it to optimize and create even more effective SMS marketing campaigns in the future.  

SMS Marketing Platform

So how do you choose which platform to use for your SMS marketing? 

The reality is that there are tons of SMS marketing platforms. Most of the good SMS marketing platforms will integrate with CRMs, email service providers, and ecommerce platforms. But if you’ve done much with integrations, you know how frustrating those can be to set up and maintain. 

It’s much simpler — and much less prone to disruption — to have as much of your marketing media as possible under the same roof. emfluence’s marketing automation platform includes SMS marketing as part of our suite of features. 

Our platform allows you to create campaigns for all of your major marketing channels including email, social media, and text messaging. You can do it all from the same place. That means one account, one platform to learn for yourself and train employees and contractors, and one customer service team when you need assistance. It also means one price.  

If you’re a marketing manager juggling more than one hat (who are we kidding, of course you are), the ability to see your campaigns in a single calendar and make adjustments to touchpoints without opening new tabs and logging into additional applications is priceless.  

Existing customer? Reach out to to learn more about adding SMS to your marketing mix.  

Curious about the benefits emfluence can have on your organization? Schedule a demo today.  


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