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What is SMS Marketing?

SMS marketing refers to marketing to your customers via their mobile devices’ Short Message Service (SMS) feature, more commonly known as “text messaging.”

SMS marketing is a highly effective way to engage directly with your customers. SMS messages have engagement rates between six and eight times higher than email marketing. Moreover, research shows that 50% of customers actually want to receive SMS updates from their favorite brands, but only 20% of brands in our mobile marketing engagement report are currently using SMS messaging as a marketing channel.

Clearly, SMS is a valuable but underutilized channel for many brands. Let’s take a look at how it works and best practices for getting started with text message marketing.

How SMS Marketing Works

Through SMS marketing, you can send short promotional messages to your customers on their mobile devices.

Your text messages have a character limit of 160 characters, but you can also incorporate rich media, such as an image or video. This feature can be used to include product pictures, coupons, or even product launch videos in your messages.

SMS can be used as a standalone channel, but we recommend it be used as part of a cross-channel marketing campaign. Because customers are highly engaged with their phones, it’s the perfect channel for sharing time-sensitive offers and information, such as a limited-time promotion, or sending a transactional message to alert your customer that their product will be arriving that day.

Like email marketing messages, SMS messages can include dynamic fields that enable you to personalize the content with details such as the customer’s name, location, and product order.

SMS marketing is highly effective, but it’s worth noting that you can’t send SMS messages to customers who haven’t granted you permission to receive them. You also need to allow them the opportunity to opt out at any point.

Next, let’s look at some use cases for incorporating SMS marketing.

When to Use SMS Marketing

SMS marketing should be used as a part of a cross-channel marketing strategy. SMS messages can be sent on a scheduled basis, or triggered in response to user action and they can be generic, or personalized. Here’s a look at some common use cases to consider.

New Sale or Product Launch

Launching a product or offering a limited time sale? Send out an SMS marketing campaign with a photo of the product or a coupon, linking through to your website or app, where the coupon is automatically applied. This promotion can be paired to sync with an entire cross-channel marketing sequence that can include other channels such as email and push notifications.

This type of message can be sent to your entire SMS marketing list, or it may be sent to a segmented audience based only on their purchasing preferences or other behavioral data. For instance, if you’re promoting a sale on your children’s apparel, you might send the promotion only to customers who’ve previously purchased clothing for children or have noted it in their style preferences in their profiles.


Did a customer leave an item in their shopping cart? Sending an SMS message with a link back to their cart can be an ideal way to jog their memory and encourage them to complete the purchase. They can also be used to send reminders about, for instance, the customer’s loyalty program status, letting them know they’re “just 10 points away” from a special reward.

Time-Sensitive Messages

SMS messaging is one of the best channels for sharing urgent information, such as a booking confirmation, or a change in order status. For instance, if your customer’s order delivery date has changed, you can send an SMS message to update them on the new arrival schedule.

From there, you can send a “your order’s on its way!” text that includes tracking details. Because SMS messages are opened far more frequently than emails, it’s an ideal channel for sending important transactional information that may be time-sensitive.

Location-Based Marketing

If they’ve downloaded your app and allowed location sharing in their settings, you can incorporate location-based content into your SMS marketing. That means you can use a customer’s proximity to one of your stores to trigger special notices or offers. For example, you can use geofencing data to identify when they’re within a certain range of one of your stores, and send an SMS alert about a special offer to encourage them to visit.

You can also use geolocation data to trigger actions on your brand’s behalf. For example, when a customer is within five miles of your restaurant, you can begin preparing their to-go order without them needing to check in. While in-app or push notifications are more commonly used with location-based marketing due to their tie to an app, you can also use standard SMS marketing as an additional channel, ensuring that you can connect with customers who don’t have your app.

SMS Marketing Within a Cross-Channel Marketing Strategy

SMS marketing can have the greatest impact when you leverage it as one channel within a broader cross-channel marketing strategy.

For instance, your cross-channel marketing sequence in support of a new site-wide promotion might begin with an email newsletter announcing the offer. Those customers who don’t click on the email will then receive an SMS message spotlighting the offer. If the customer has downloaded your mobile app, you can also send a coupon for the promotion via a push notification, linking them directly to the sale in your mobile app.

Using a cross-channel marketing platform like Iterable, you can easily adapt your messaging between SMS and other mediums based on the customer’s needs, preferences, and location. By adapting your marketing messages to the right channel for each customer, you’ll be able to optimize engagement at every turn.

Iterable is a cross-channel marketing platform that powers unified customer experiences and empowers marketers to create, optimize and measure relevant interactions and experiences customers love. Leading brands, like Cinemark, DoorDash, Calm, Madison Reed, and Box, choose Iterable to power world-class customer experiences throughout the entire lifecycle. Discover our growth marketing solutions for personalization, increasing customer engagement, and more. Discover our platform and schedule a demo today.