And get this: 99% of all texts are read and 45% of texts get responses. . . within 90 seconds.
As consumers we love texting. We keep our notifications switched on. We have several messaging apps on our devices, and we don’t filter text messages the way we do emails.
All that represents a goldmine of opportunity for you to connect personally and immediately with your customers.
But hang on.
Just because everyone’s got a cell phone it doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy instant success by launching headlong into text marketing.
First, you’ve got to know how to write messages your customers will love.
How hard can it be to write 160 characters?
Text messages are generally restricted to 160 characters, with spaces. So, if this paragraph was being sent as a text it would have exceeded its limit 8 characters ago.
That’s how brief you need to be.
So yes, it can be darn hard to say everything you want to say and motivate the recipient to click a link, make a booking, or take whatever action you want them to take. . . all in 160 characters.
It is possible to send longer messages of up to 918 characters, but they will be broken up into separate parts and you’ll be charged accordingly.
But here’s the thing. No-one wants to read a text message 918 characters long. It goes against all texting etiquette. That’s why we have emails, blogs and social media.
The trick is in knowing when to use texting to your best advantage, and how it fits in with your other marketing activities.
Is text marketing right for my business?
Let’s say you run a customer loyalty program. Texting would be an effective way to communicate exclusive offers and rewards to customers who have already opted in. But you’re better off promoting the details of the program itself through another channel like email.
Similarly, text marketing is a great way to drive traffic to your website or sales pages by offering coupons and discount codes.
Many businesses have discovered the benefits of texting as a customer service tool. (Think about the messages you receive that track the status of an order or remind you of an appointment.)
Not only does this help personalize and strengthen your relationship with existing customers, it’s also an efficient way of reducing phone enquiries and minimizing no-shows and cancellations. Perfect if your business is in the service or hospitality industry.
It can be used in conjunction with your social media marketing to run competitions or polls. And, of course, text marketing is an ideal communications tool for in-store sales and promotions.
Text marketing is a fast and immediate way of communicating a single focused message to a mass audience, with a strong call to action (CTA). If this sounds like it’s a good fit for your overall marketing strategy, let’s dive right in to the 9 golden rules for writing text messages.
9 Golden writing rules for writing text messages
1. Keep it short and sweet
You need to get to the point. Straight away.
Throw out everything you learned in school about complete sentences and grammar. Forget all those copywriting techniques about building empathy.
Go straight for the jugular and spell out the benefit of your offer or your key message. You have a split second (literally) to grab their attention and tell them what action they need to take.
Write in short sentences. Use simple words and abbreviations to convey your message quickly.
A simple technique is to use the ‘what-where-when-how’ structure. Like this:
Hot tip #1
Unless you have a short, snappy domain name and you’re linking to your home page, you should try to avoid spelling out an entire URL. Instead, use a link optimizer like Bit.ly to reduce your long-winded URL to a space saving snippet that’s much easier on the eye.
Hot tip #2
Always make sure the recipient knows who the sender is (which is a legal requirements, by the way). In the first example above, the business name (The Dress Shop) is obvious in the URL; while in the second one, it has to be included separately (Reds Salon) because you can’t identify the brand from the Bit.ly URL.
2. Be specific: Focus on one message, one action
Texting is not the way to promote your summer sale, change of address and your new website in one hit. That’s why you have an email newsletter.
However, if you stick to one message and one call to action (CTA), a text campaign is perfect.
But you need to stay razor focused on the outcome you want and be as specific as possible.
For example, let’s say you have an eyewear store and you want to get rid of last season’s frames, here’s the text you might send out:
Or maybe you’re a realtor and you want to get the word out about a newly listed property, like this:
3. Be immediate
Surveys show that 95% of customers who opt into a business’s text messaging program, open and read the messages within 3 minutes.
You have their instant attention. But once you’ve lost it, the opportunity to get them to take action or respond to your text diminishes with every passing hour.
This makes texting a perfect medium for the promotion of time-sensitive, short term offers which compel the recipient to make an immediate and sometimes last-minute decision.
Let’s say you run a live music venue and you’ve got a hot new band playing at 10.30pm.
It’s a crowd puller, but you want a steady flow of customers buying drinks from 9pm, not a mad rush at 10.25.
So, give them an incentive to re-think their plans and come to your venue earlier. Like this:
The timing of your message in these circumstances is as important as the wording. If you’re trying to entice people to your venue on a Friday night, send the text late Friday afternoon when they’re more likely to be making plans, not two days earlier.
4. Use capitals (SPARINGLY).
One of the advantages of text marketing is its simplicity. But that’s also one of its disadvantages. While the technology has come a long way (you can now jazz up your texts with images, audio and video), you can’t style or format your words.
The only trick you have up your sleeve is capitalization.
Capitalizing certain words allows you to highlight the key elements of your message, like 50% OFF or, FREE PIZZA.
But a word of warning: don’t overdo because a) you’ll water down the effect and dilute your key words and B) YOU’ll end up SHOUTING! And no-one likes being shouted at.
5. Avoid text talk
Unless you’re promoting your business to highly attuned teenagers who want to be BFF with your brand, do everything you can to avoid text talk.
CUL8R may save you 9 characters compared to ‘See You Later’. But to the uninitiated it takes time and effort to work it out. It’s annoying and it cheapens your brand.
However, sometimes it’s completely unavoidable within the 160-character limit, so there are some acceptable shortened words that allow you to get your message across, while still sounding professional.
For example, if you want to say, ‘Please book early’, it’s okay to use ‘Pls book early.’ Or, ‘T&Cs apply’ instead of ‘Terms & Conditions apply’.
Most people are familiar with these forms of abbreviation, and understand they’re used as a space saving technique.
Don't do this:
And instead, try this:
Use common sense and think about the people you’re texting. You’ll never offend anyone by using acceptable language, but tacky text slang may you lose you a customer.
6. Pack some punch with your words
With only 160 characters to play with, you need to make sure as many words as possible are punching above their weight.
In marketing, we call these ‘power words’, and they’re more important than ever when it comes to text messages.
Power words are those that provoke strong emotions. They can make a huge difference when your customer is deciding whether to focus on your text, or one of the many other distractions vying for his attention.
Power words make you feel fearful of missing out, greedy to get your hands on a bargain, curious to know more, grateful, tempted or safe.
Here’s a few power words that work particularly well in text messages:
7. Personalize your message
We all know that people like to read or hear their name. We’ve been personalizing emails for years because we know it makes the recipient feel valued. It’s no different in text messaging.
Special: Get $20 off when you buy 2 or more desserts with your full priced meal.
Hi Jane, we want to say thanks by giving you $20 off when you buy 2 or more desserts with your full priced meal.
Which one leaves you feeling a little warmer and fuzzier?
But what if you don’t know their name? Try using a friendly alternative like ‘Hey there’, or ‘Hi friend’. Just make sure it fits with the voice and tone of your overall brand.
Hot tip: Sometimes your message will fall well short of the 160-character limit. So, maximise the opportunity and go for broke with the personalization. Like this.
8. Make your call to action (CTA) work its butt off
Every text marketing message should have a CTA, otherwise what’s the point?
Even the friendly reminder of an appointment has a CTA (‘text YES to confirm’). This technique has proved to reduce no-shows by up to 80% for the service and hospitality industries.
But making your CTA count in a text is a massive challenge, so here’s some hot tips:
Hot tip #1
Make sure the CTA instruction is as clear as possible. Don’t leave any room for doubt. For example, say “Show this text at the Wharf Club Bar by 9PM 2night and get $30 off your tab.” Tell them where to show it, as well as when.
Hot tip #2
Similarly, make sure your CTA isn’t open-ended. If the sale lasts for one weekend only, say so. Or if they have to redeem a coupon, make sure you include the expiry date. Not only is this good practice, it also adds a sense of urgency to the offer.
Hot tip #3
If you include a link, make sure it goes directly to the relevant page, or better still a dedicated landing page. Don’t make them search through your website for your offer.
Hot tip #4
Make the CTA as time sensitive as possible to compel them to take action straight away. The longer they leave it, the less likely they are to click through or make that call. Like this: “30% off for 1st 10 bookings ONLY. Call Reds Salon 4000 4000.”
9. Keep it legal
This is the dull, dry bit, but you need to know it. Texts from a business are considered a commercial electronic message and, in the States, they must comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and The CAN-SPAM Act.
Similar laws apply in other countries.
How does this affect how you write text marketing messages? Well, if it’s deemed a commercial message, you must include accurate identification of your business name (which is plain good sense), and a clear unsubscribe function.
As you will see from the examples in this post, the most common way to do this is to add ‘Reply STOP to opt out.’ And yes, these 21 characters count as part of your 160 limit.
You may have noticed the last example didn’t include an unsubscribe option. That’s because it’s not considered a ‘transactional message’. In other words, the text is a customer service message (a reminder of an appointment) and not one that is seeking to sell the customer anything.
But if in doubt, always include an unsubscribe option.
The Final Word on Writing Text Messages
Text messaging is one of the most important tools in a business’s marketing strategy, but it shouldn’t be the only one.
Your first point of contact with your customers and prospects will always be via another method, either physical or online. After all, you can’t start sending them texts until they’ve opted in and to do that, they need to discover your store, website, social media account or some other presence.
But, following them up via short, focused, punchy, powerful texts is one hell of a way to stay connected.