9 Best Practices for Writing Effective SMS Campaigns

24 Sep
9 Best Practices for Writing Effective SMS Campaigns

It’s 2021, and 97% of all Americans now own a cell phone. And together, we average 27 trillion text messages are sent per year.


And get this: 99% of all texts are read, and 45% of texts get responses. . . within 90 seconds

On top of that, 96% of marketers who use text SMS marketing campaigns say that it’s helped them drive even more revenue than when they weren’t using it. 

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.

It’s 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 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.

SMS Marketing: How hard can it be to write 160 characters?

Text messages are generally restricted to 160 characters, with spaces. So, if this paragraph had been sent as a text, it would have exceeded its limit eight 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 text messages that are 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.

9 Best Practices for Writing SMS Marketing Campaigns‍

1. Keep it short and sweet

When doing SMS marketing, 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, like this:

There’s not too much and not too little. The consumer will know exactly who sent this message and they’ll have all the info they need to take advantage of the sale.

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • Don’t use your whole URL. 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 in your SMS messages. Instead, use a link optimizer to shorten the link. Some third-party tools may already have this as part of their tool’s features, but if not, you can use something like to reduce your long-winded URL to a space-saving snippet that’s much easier on the eye.
  • Always make sure the recipient knows who the sender is. Not only is it a nice way of saying hello, but it’s also a legal marketing requirement. In the first example image above, the business name is obvious in the image and URL, so there’s no need to clarify who sent the message again. If you use an URL shortener, ensure that your brand name is stated in an image or somewhere else in the text. 


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 all at the same time. That’s why you have an email newsletter.

Instead, your text message should stick to one message and one call-to-action (CTA), and that's it. 

To do it correctly, you need to stay laser-focused on the outcome you want and be as specific as possible.

For example, let’s say you want to push some of last season’s styles; here’s what you might send out:

Listing the percentage off and how long the sale is on gets straight to the point while helping customers know what to expect from the sale. Also, stating what’s on sale, “shorts, tees & tanks,” is a great way to get the text to drive more traffic and sales.  

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • One text. One message. One direction. No matter what your SMS marketing strategy involves, this rule of thumb won't let you down. If you have a sale starting soon, stick to that in your messages. If you have a new product out, use one text to stick to that. I think you get the point. Make sure that links point to the right URLs and that there is only one CTA to point to them in the right direction. 

3. Be quick on the draw

Surveys show that 95% of customers who opt in to 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 promoting time-sensitive, short-term offers, which compel the recipient to make an immediate and sometimes last-minute decision.

Take a look at this example from Dressbarn. Here they alert SMS subscribers that there’s a Flash Sale, which all know to mean that time is limited to land a deal on something we’ve been eyeing on a site or in-store. 

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • Nail the timing of when your text campaign is sent. The timing of when you use SMS is just as important as the wording in your SMS messages. Sending these out at the right time is important, so don’t aim for midnight or in the middle of the day when people are stuck in traffic. Aim for before work, during lunchtime, and after dinner time to make the most of your SMS strategy. 

4. Use uppercase and emojis sparingly 

One of the advantages of SMS marketing as part of your marketing channels is its simplicity. But that’s also one of its disadvantages. 

While 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 real tricks you have up your sleeve is capitalization and emojis. Let’s start with the first one there.

Now, just because you can write in all uppercase doesn't mean you should.

If you overdo it in that respect, you’ll water down the effect and dilute your keywords, and you’ll end up SHOUTING! 

And no one likes being shouted at unless it’s a matter of life and death. This message from Quay is a great example. 

Now, let’s chat about emojis. These are a fun way to add a bit of personality to your SMS marketing messages that may be hard to accomplish in only 160 characters using only words.

And while you can use these, it’s important not to go too crazy with them since they can pull away from the message you’re trying to get across. 

As long as your message itself doesn’t get buried under the emojis being used, you should be just fine. 

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • Use uppercase or emojis to highlight either the sale, event, or CTA.  Capitalizing certain words helps you highlight the key elements of your message, like 50% OFF or FREE PIZZA. If you lead that with an emoji like this, “🍕FREE PIZZA🍕”, then that part of the message will really pop. You can also apply these ideas around your CTA to pull the idea to that area. Again, don’t overuse this approach. Think of it like salt; you want it to enhance your message, not take away from it.

5. Use images in your texts

A picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s good news when it comes to SMS marketing. 

Many tools allow you to send an image along with your text message, which means you can let your image do a lot of the work for you. 

Take a look at this real-world example from Great Jones, a newer cookware brand that’s taking social media by storm. 

Here you can see both the image and text messages being used. The image itself is on-brand with the colors they’re known for, and they made sure to add “New!” to the image to make it very clear that this is about new product launching. 

The rest of the text message backs up the image and gives a single CTA for people to follow. 

Since the text is rather long, we’d recommend emphasizing “limited-edition” to create a better sense of urgency. 

This is just one example of how you can use images as part of your strategy, but it shows that they really do pop in on your screen. 

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • Don’t use an image just for the sake of having one. Any image you use should have a purpose and some creativity behind it. Even in the image example above, if they had just put the picture in the message without the stand out “New!” blue sticker on it, it would have taken a bit longer for the recipient to know that the image was regarding a new product. 

Those split seconds matter. So don’t just use a photo for the sake of it. Make sure they add to the goal of the message as a whole. Is there a sale? Make sure the image easily implies that. Are you releasing a new product? The same applies; make it clear. If you can’t, skip the image for this time around. 

6. Pack some punch with your words

With only about 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 an example that packs in some power words:

Can you guess the power word? If you guessed, “NEW,” then you’re right. How about in this photo below? 

If “EXTRA” popped out to you, then you’ve got a keen eye for these things. Using power words is a great way to pull attention into your message and create desire.

How to Implement This in Your SMS

Sprinkle in these power words in your message copy. If you’re not sure what power words to use, here is a list you can pull from that work particularly well in text messages:

7. Personalize your message

We all know that people like to read or hear their names. We’ve been personalizing emails for years because we know it makes the recipient feel valued. It’s no different in text messaging.

Personalization is more than just tossing their name into the message. To leverage personalization well, you should also do the work of creating segments for your SMS contacts. 

For instance, if you have a retail store, did they sign up in-store or online? You should have lists set aside that segment these if that’s the case. Why? Because it gives you an idea of how they came upon your SMS opt-in and gives you a chance to personalize how they like to shop. 

Really, all the same types of segments you create for an eCommerce email list would work for SMS as well. Those would include: 

  • Where they live
  • Past purchases
  • Average order value 
  • Level of engagement 

Let’s say you own a yoga shop and have a segment of shoppers that purchase high-rise leggings. You could send an SMS similar to this one below when you have new products similar or complementary to high-rise leggings, like new matching sets.

These can help you double down on personalizing offers, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • Start building segments for your SMS subscribers. Segmentation is the foundation good personalization is built upon. Chances are you have segments in place for your email list, but you should have them for your SMS subscribers too. 

We gave some suggestions on what to create above, but if you’re not sure where to start, you can download our segmentation ebook for free right here. It’s designed around email marketing, but the same principles apply to SMS marketing too. 


8. 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 nine 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 some acceptable shortened words 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.

This message from Tommy Hilfiger is a great example. 

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 lose you a customer.

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • Go for clarity and not cleverness in your message. If you ever spend any amount of time learning about copywriting (which all your messages are), you will have hammered into your head again and again that it’s always better to have your messages be clear and not clever. Why? Because, generally, speaking, trying to be overly clever detracts from the overall message, as you can see from the examples above. 

So, yeah, you can absolutely use abbreviations in your SMS campaigns, but always double-check them for clarity. If you have a hard time understanding the message, your customers will feel the same. 

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, like this message from Quay does. 

How to Implement This in Your SMS

  • Make sure every text ID’s your business and has an opt-out option. While saying who you come naturally to most in business, you may feel some resistance toward giving contacts a chance to unsubscribe from your messages, but it’s a must. Don’t skip on it. 

The Final Word on Writing SMS Marketing Campaigns

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. Check out these SMS marketing examples for additional inspiration and this article on how to grow your SMS marketing list.

Happy texting!

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