Never Use SMS Marketing the Way This Company Did

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sms marketing pitfalls

SMS marketing is pretty simple in the UK. There are some basic rules and best practices, but in general it’s easy and cost effective to get started. But before you go ahead and run an opt in campaign, there’s something you should know. It’s an example of how not to get started, from the largest cinema company in the world.

The Backstory

AMC Cinemas was founded in the US and opened its first multiplex in the UK in 1985. It shouldn’t be surprising that such a forward-looking company would be using SMS marketing. But in the US, it apparently got ahead of itself, and now is the subject of a class action lawsuit.

Before I get into the details, it’s worth mentioning that in the US, the laws regarding direct marketing are complex. And that’s probably an understatement. The regulations in the UK are simple and easy to understand if you read the ICO guidance. In the US, though, you practically need a team of attorneys to ensure compliance.

For a company as large as AMC, you wouldn’t think that was a problem. But it has become one, thanks to one American’s experience with their SMS marketing. Caleb Baldwin, is suing the company for not obtaining “express written consent” before sending the SMS messages to the list.

Here’s the thing though. He did give them permission to send him messages.

So why is he suing?

It’s because AMC sent him the first marketing messages two years after he’d signed up. It was so long that he claims he forgot he even signed up. After he started getting messages for full priced tickets to Rogue One, he replied with the keyword to have them stop. Though he received no more messages, his lawsuit claims he never received confirmation that he was taken off the list.

His lawyers are going to try and make the case that the consent he gave by replying “Y” to a shortcode, two years prior, didn’t meet the current law’s requirement for written consent.

It seems like a silly argument to me, but as I said US laws are different than the UK. Only time will tell how it plays out.

Lessons Learned

There’s no indication whether or not Baldwin’s experience is unique, or if the company really did wait two years before using its entire marketing list. The lessons learned are the same either way. Here are the three main ones I see:

Have a strategy – Before you run a single opt-in campaign, have a strategy in mind. Are you testing the waters or are you fully committed? Do you plan on providing regular offers or only periodic special ones? What is your vision for SMS marketing six months and a year from now? You don’t need to have a complete roadmap, but you do need to have some idea of your goals, resources, and overall strategy.

Don’t start until you’re ready to go – Running an opt-in campaign is always the first step to your SMS marketing (unless you already have a list and permission to send SMS messages). But don’t be like AMC apparently was. What follows the opt-in? Do you have your first offers defined? The messages written? A service provider that can handle the list creation and blacklist cleansing?

Always provide an opt-out confirmation – The UK rules do require that you provide your SMS list with a mechanism to opt-out. It’s usually done by the recipients texting a special keyword, like “STOP”. But while it isn’t required to send a confirmation of the opt-out, the ICO says, “it is good practice to acknowledge the request and confirm that the marketing will stop.” By providing the opt-out, and the confirmation, you can save yourself from complaints and unhappy customers.

These lessons aren’t hard to follow. But if they feel a bit overwhelming, you might benefit from our Mobile Marketing Guide. It walks you through the whole process of getting started from choosing an SMS provider to running your first campaign. You can download it here. We also have specific industry guides that you may find useful. And we’re always happy to answer questions via our live chat, email or phone.

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