Of all the mobile marketing channels–SMS, MMS, banner ads, mobile websites, mobile video ads, mobile apps, and a couple of others–SMS is the least graphic-intensive. In fact, the completely text-based format of SMS offers marketers many benefits, including reducing both creative development time and resources needed to execute a campaign. Despite its simplicity, however, the SMS platform does still require marketers to make strategic creative decisions. Here’s a guide to shaping and designing the creative for your SMS marketing campaign.
SMS Message Options
Knowing the requirements, restrictions, and capabilities of SMS technology is essential to designing an SMS campaign. The 160-character limitation, for example, favors marketers with sharp copywriting skills–those who can write very economically but clearly motivate as well in just a few words.
Another example is compliance: rules about short codes and SMS messaging on different carriers (e.g., the requirement to add “MSG & DATA RATES MAY APPLY”) could also influence your design decisions, which is why working with a mobile agency who can guide you through the design process is really helpful. See below for the design elements for text message marketing.
Elements of an SMS Campaign
1. The Keyword: The word that users text in to the shortcode needs to be memorable, easy to type, and also relevant to your brand. It’s just a short word (usually 8-characters or less), but choosing that keyword (or keywords) can be one of the most parts of the creative picture for your SMS campaign.
2. Short Code: In many cases, because of the costs and timing involved, you’ll use a leased, random 5-digit short code that’s shared with other companies and that you can use for the length of your campaign. One strategic decision you have, though, is whether to procure a dedicated or vanity short code (e.g., BRANDS) instead of a shared and obscure one (e.g., 53421) for branding purposes. If so, another creative decision you’ll have to make is what the vanity code should be. CHASE and COKE are obvious choices for those brands, but for other companies the translation from brand name to short code may be harder to decide (e.g., Continental Airline’s short code is COCOM and The Weather Channel is CLIMA.).
3. Call To Action: As with other types of campaigns, the CTA is critical. Because there are so few elements of an SMS campaign, however, the call to action be the major factor. It involves the keyword and short code mentioned above (“Text KEYWORD to SHORTCODE”)–and should also include the benefit/value. Why should the consumer execute the CTA?
Therefore, another creative decision you’ll have to make is what to include as your value proposition in the call to action. “Text KEYWORD to SHORTCODE for a free trial” is not as strong as “Text KEYWORD to SHORTCODE for free music downloads”. The challenge for SMS campaign copywriters is to encourage action in just that one imperative sentence.
Considerations for the CTA include time-sensitivity (do you need to include words like “now” or “ending soon” to motivate your audience to take action?) and offer/value (are you communicating the best compelling–and obvious–reason for the consumer to interact with you?).
4. Supporting Media: This is the print, digital, or audio advertisement that invites the users to text the keyword in. The choice of media type, placement, and creative for that media placement (e.g., outdoor billboard or TV spot) will influence the success of the SMS marketing campaign more than anything else. The creative choices and options for other/mass media are many and varied and will require knowledgeable execution, naturally.
However, the extent with which SMS is integrated as an enhancement channel for those other media will determine the campaign’s success. For best results, the SMS call to action needs to be obviously and continuously displayed in the ads–a dedicated area on the TV ad, for example, that has the SMS call to action.
5. Message Flow: What happens when the user responds? Creative word choices for the call to action (keyword, short code, and offer) are just the first part of the equation.
After the user responds, you’ll need to send back a message in 160 characters or less, and that wordsmithing also needs to be considered. The reply message offers another opportunity to add some personality to your SMS messages, however short they are. You can say “thanks, dude” if it’s appropriate to your brand–but use carefully.
It’s helpful to create an SMS campaign message flow chart in Excel or other spreadsheet program, which contains a sort of script step-by-step of what should happen for each stage of the process, from the CTA displayed on the media, to the user texting in the response, to the system sending a reply with a link to the mobile website, etc. This can help you get a better feel for the elements needed and how to best select them.