I love Entrepreneur Magazine. It’s insightful, covers a variety of topics, and interviews top people in their field. So I was quite distressed to find an article entitled, “Here’s why SMS Marketing Is Literally the Worst Idea Ever”.
As I read it, it became clear that the author, Rustam Singh, must be having a really bad day. Or he suffers from some sort of anxiety to be so upset about SMS messaging. But at the end of the article he pointed readers to their Facebook page for comments. It was Entrepreneur India. SMS might be totally different in India. Still, I think his treatment of SMS marketing was extremely harsh. And potentially misleading for those who read it.
I don’t know all the laws and procedures in India, but here in the UK none of his arguments hold up. Here they are one by one, paired with the reasons SMS is “the best” here in the UK (but maybe not India? I can’t say).
1. "It's blatant spam"
While there certainly is SMS spam, it’s much less than you’ll find in email or even voice calls. In the UK, the ICO takes spam complaints very seriously and regularly fines or takes action against companies that send unsolicited messages.
And alternatively, if you’re receiving SMS marketing messages that you signed up for, then by definition it isn’t spam. It’s more likely you’re receiving great offers from a brand that you love anyway – which is why you signed up in the first place.
Of course, not every brand does SMS well, so whether you continue to get messages is completely under your control. Simply follow the instructions to opt out. If you can’t find the instructions and the company won’t tell you, or you still get messages afterwards, then you can complain to the ICO who will take action if enough customers complain. In the meantime, block the number and you’ll never see it again.
2. "Nobody is reading it. Ever."
Singh insists he doesn’t know anyone that reads “the whole SMS anymore”. Really? Most marketing messages are less than the 160 characters allotted per message. He goes on to say that government regulations require advertisers to display their brand first so it appears on the notification screen. So everyone, he says, simply swipes the message away and never reads it.
Here in the UK, it’s best practices to use some sort of identifier in your messages so your customers willread it. I can’t emphasise that enough. They are much more likely to delete it if it doesn’t have a brand name, or appears as a random message from a number or name they don’t recognise.
Beyond that, all the data I’ve ever seen shows SMS messages are still the most read and most acted upon form of direct marketing available today.
3. "160 character limitation"
Yes, SMS is short on space. Singh argues this makes it too difficult to “put everything you want to say” into a message. Further, advertisers compensate by using poor English, capital letters or exaggerated words.
Once again I argue the opposite is true. The fact SMS is so short is why it is so effective. There’s no commitment to read a text. You can scan it and be done in a matter of seconds. When it’s a marketing message you can decide quickly if it is something that interests you or not.
There are those advertisers that feel they need to emphasise a little too much, but they will soon learn better methods or lose subscribers. If their messages bother you, opt out. When everyone else does too, they’ll be forced to figure out what they did wrong.
Another point he makes is that if advertisers go over the 160 limit, they’ll have to pay double for the message. That makes them “wasteful” in the author’s mind. I wonder why he cares. If a company thinks it needs 175 or 200 characters in its message, so what? They’ve decided to pay more, undoubtedly in hopes of getting more. Only the company can decide if it ends up being a wasteful – or effective – choice.
4. "A major chunk of the population is already registered with DND"
DND stands for Do Not Disturb registry. We have the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) in the UK. If you don’t want to receive spam phone calls, you register your numbers with the service. After a few weeks you shouldn’t receive calls from reputable companies (disreputable ones don’t care about the list anyway).
I don’t know about the DND in India, but the TPS doesn’t prevent text messages (or voice calls from outside the country for that matter). And going back to point number 1, if you opt in to receive messages (or voice calls) the TPS doesn’t matter anyway. If you give permission for a company to contact you, then they can contact you even if you are on the do not call list.
Ultimately, the regulations regarding SMS marketing messages are under the purview of the ICO, not a do not call registry.
5. "Cost incurred isn't worth the responses"
This “reason” is probably the most frustratingly inaccurate of the bunch. There’s no real data behind this claim offered by Singh. He simply says most companies have an app, so they should use that. Or that they should use email because everyone is already on the internet if they are reading email.
Again, I’ll give him a pass because I don’t know the ins and outs of the mobile market in India. Smartphone penetration is only about 30%, so it’s possible most mobiles there can’t access a mobile website.
However, in the UK the statement is patently false. The cost of SMS messaging is extremely reasonable, especially considering ROI is often hundreds or thousands of percent. The average open rate is 99% and the click through rates average around 35%. That’s ten times, or more, better than the average email response rates.
Beyond those numbers, many brands are able to engage their customers, provide better customer service, and receive loyalty – which is priceless – because of their SMS programmes.
One thing he is right about is “nobody in their right frame of mind likes such spam soaked marketing anymore”. Actually, he’s not entirely right. I don’t think anyone ever liked spam, so that isn’t anything new.