If you have a mobile phone, you know how simple SMS messaging is. You type a few words and hit send. The message arrives almost instantly. That isn’t complicated at all.
When you use SMS for marketing though, there is a little more to it, but I still wouldn’t call it complicated. The technical processes still work as described above, but there are additional legal considerations. Even those though, are not complicated.
But while researching the other day, I came across another SMS provider’s website (to be left unnamed), that used a tagline beginning with “SMS is complicated”. After reading some more, I got the impression that they wanted people to think SMS marketing is so hard, that only they can give you the guidance you need.
That’s not true. At its most basic, text message marketing is quite simple (as demonstrated in the opening paragraph). And the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) goes to great lengths to make the legal requirements simple too. In fact, it lists just one “General rule” for marketing with SMS.
Granted, the entire section is four and a half pages long. Most of the remaining text though, goes into careful explanations of how SMS marketing (and email) falls under the same rules as other electronic marketing. It also covers the special case of a “soft opt-in” and the individual’s “right to opt out”.
But before I get to those other two descriptions, I want to finish up the idea of consent. The guide says that, “To be valid, consent must be knowingly and freely given, clear and specific”. It goes on to provide some examples of what that means. It’s worth reading those examples (pages 17-19) because it makes it clear how simple it is to obtain consent – from the perspective of a legitimate organisation at least. Spammers will find them irritatingly clear too, which makes it hard to circumvent the rule.
The ICO guidance goes into some detail about a special circumstance called a “soft opt-in”. These occur when an individual contacts an organisation and provides their contact details in the course of a sale (whether the sale was completed or not). In this specific case, the individual is considered as opted in for messages, even though they never explicitly signed up.
This means organisations can send marketing messages about anything that the individual might expect relating to their initial sale. The example in the guide goes like this: Someone buys groceries online and provides their mobile number in the process. That individual could expect to receive messages relating to sales on other grocery items (not necessarily the specific ones they purchased). But they wouldn’t expect messages promoting insurance products.
This may seem like a complication, but it just follows common sense. But the ICO takes the time to describe it at length so that it is clear for any organisation that takes the time to understand what is required.
The soft opt in has one more requirement too. The individual needs to be given the opportunity to opt-out prior to any messages being sent, and every message after that. Everyone, actually, should have the option of opting out of any list.
"Right to opt out"
The final section of the ICO guide relating to SMS marketing to individuals begins with the phrase: “The right to opt out”. This is just the flip side of consent. If someone opts out, then you no longer have their consent to contact them.
Organisations are required to stop when they are told to stop. And they are required to keep records of consent and opt-out requests to ensure their marketing lists comply with these regulations.
Putting It All Together
It does seem like it’s a little more complicated than just “only with consent”, doesn’t it? The ICO guide does a great job of using examples and thorough descriptions that help make it all clear – and simple. If you take the time to read through it, I think you’ll agree. But sometimes it’s nice to have it all explained a different way.
Our Mobile Marketing Guide goes a little deeper into using SMS marketing. You’ll find definitions of basic terms, best practices, and the steps to take for your first marketing campaign. We go over the basic legal requirements too, so you can get another perspective. You can download our guide at this link, or you can contact us with any questions via live chat, email or phone. We promise to keep it simple.