SMS Marketing: How to Get Started

How to build an SMS Marketing List

I have heard from many clients who are eager to get started with text message marketing because they’ve heard SMS messages have a 98% open rate. Unfortunately, that statistic doesn’t tell the full truth about how SMS marketing campaigns work. 

The first step is to build an SMS marketing list. According to the Mobile Ecosystem Forum, only 25% of smartphone users want to receive marketing messages via text. The 25% of customers who will sign up right away can’t come at the expense of the other 75%. 

Building an SMS marketing list requires clear communication with customers before they will be ready to enter their phone numbers into a form. It’s about building trust through transparency and then giving your customers a reason to subscribe. 


1. Find a platform

Any SMS marketing plan starts by finding a platform to help you manage your SMS list and stay in compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

2. Check your TCPA compliance

The TCPA, which applies to marketing calls and text messages, makes it illegal to contact consumers without explicit consent. The best way to comply with TCPA is via a double opt-in process. After someone adds their number to receive SMS marketing, send a text with a code they must use to receive further communications. 

Here are some of the TCPA guidelines to be aware of: 

  • To be compliant, texts must be sent between 8 AM and 9 PM in a customer’s local time zone. 
  • You can’t send a marketing text messages to anyone on the national Do Not Call registry.
  • Every message must include your company’s name.
  • Every message must tell users how they can opt-out.
  • 13 states (AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, IN, NJ, ND, OK, RI, UT, WA, and WI) have their own laws governing text messages. Review the applicable laws to make sure that you are in compliance.

3. Be transparent about your plans for SMS

Avoid customer annoyance by clearly communicating what someone is signing up for before asking for their phone number. Tell your customers how often you’ll text and what you’ll send them.

The best way to communicate this clearly is to set up a page people can visit to learn the details of your texting program and your privacy policy. You can then send the link to customers as part of the opt-in message, so they’ll know all the terms before joining the list.

4. Build an SMS list

You’ll want to consider how to drive sign-ups through all marketing campaigns on your:

  • Website
  • Emails
  • Social media

As a rule, the easier it is to opt-in to your SMS list, the more likely people will do it. Try pop-ups or a form embedded in your email. 

You can also build your SMS list during in-person interactions. Offering consumers a chance to sign up while they’re browsing your store or at the checkout register gives them the opportunity to ask staff about your program. If you attend or host events, consider setting up a phone number collection program there.

Keyword campaigns instruct customers to text a certain word or phrase to your short code to sign up for your text message list. They’re one of the most popular ways to get sign-ups, likely because they work well across all mediums. 

5. Give your customers a reason to sign up

Your customers won’t sign up if they don’t have a good reason to do so. Make people excited to join your SMS list by offering a reward for signing up. Here are some incentives that have worked for others:

Offer a VIP club or insider program

Your most loyal customers will love a program that offers them ongoing perks. The benefits of your VIP program will depend on your brand and sales model, but it should offer perks your customers can’t get any other way. Access to pre-sales, birthday rewards, and free shipping are all great options.

Exclusive text message deals or contests

You can also create an ongoing text message deals program with offers exclusive to those on your SMS marketing list. You may also run contests for prizes that are also exclusive to those on your SMS list. 

6. For best results, combine SMS marketing with other channels 

SMS is great for certain marketing efforts, but its limits to message length (160 characters) and reach mean that it can’t do everything for you. You will not abandon email marketing for SMS marketing in most instances, but your marketing strategy should constantly evolve to communicate with your customers through the medium that is most comfortable for them.

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