SMS marketing can be incredibly effective - but there's more to it than just sending texts, from handling responses to personalising messages. So how do you choose the right SMS provider? Dan Parker of FireText offers some valuable advice
Businesses are increasingly turning to SMS as a simple and cost-effective marketing tool to boost their awareness, customer service and importantly, revenues. Whether it's an ecommerce business updating customers on the status of their order, a hotel confirming reservations or even a veterinary clinic reminding customers of their pooch's annual vaccine, the technology is quite simple and familiar too - after all, we've been using text messages for years.
So, choosing a company to assist with this should be easy too - right? Well, there are a few points to consider when searching for a reliable provider.
Sending SMS messages via reliable networks
The routing of your SMS messages can have a serious impact on your campaign. Sending messages via overseas connections can be unreliable with numerous delays, if received at all (trust us, we tried once. It sucks!). Sending via UK Tier-1 networks means your messages will be sent in the same way as your usual mobile SMS, ensuring your campaigns are sent in an instant.
Paying for your SMS campaign
Some providers will charge you for credits you don't use or put an expiry date on them - you'll need to check this before you sign up and ensure there are no hidden costs. If you're new to SMS, it's best to go for a pay-as-you-go option so you have flexibility whilst you get up and running. Every business has different needs in terms of the volume and frequency of their campaign, so being able to manage your account flexibly is a big bonus.
Receiving SMS message replies
Marketing campaigns are all about getting responses, that's the first rule of the marketing club. As such, it astounds us how few providers offer any kind of response handling mechanism. You'll probably want to receive replies at some stage - whether this is a call to action or to handle unsubscribes (for instance, "to opt out, reply 'stop'"). Look for the additional options and costs for receiving replies on a virtual mobile number or text short code. There are plenty of options to suit your requirements - make sure you find the best one to suit your campaign.
Very few companies now have additional charges to use certain features in the account. However, it's worth checking - you'll want to use delivery reporting so that you know which numbers are no longer in use and those that are. Check what else is available too, such as message templates and SMS forwarding. You?ll find it handy to have access to a URL shortener and click-through tracking. A great marketing campaign is nothing without knowing how customers are interacting with it.
Try the messaging service out first
This is all about personal preference. You should have the ability to try out the software beforehand with a handful of messages. You might want to integrate SMS into your website or hook it up to your existing software apps; be able to send the occasional SMS from within your email; schedule messages or even personalise each and every one. Whatever the requirements, it's worth making sure the software behind the system is easy to use and makes your message sending a success.
Trust your instinct
Does the company have a reputable customer base? Do these customers seem happy with the service? These are things we all think about when making any purchase, and it's no different here. Whether you are a seasoned hand or a SMS newbie, you may require some additional support with message ideas now and then. It's definitely worth testing this out right at the beginning - simply ask the question.
Dan is one of the founding directors of FireText, an SMS marketing company based in Cornwall and London, and also won the title of Young Business Person of the Year 2011 (Cornwall Business Awards). Having successfully provided SMS communication services to sports clubs, FireText was launched in 2...