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Is Wireless Text Messaging the Right Marketing Solution for Your Business?

By Jaimy Ford for America's Backbone Weekly
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If you aren't using mobile marketing, you are missing a huge opportunity to stay connected with your customers. Research shows that 79 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 44 have their phones with them 22 hours out of the day. That same statistic just doesn't apply to most TV watchers, Internet surfers or printed advertisement readers. As a small business owner, you stand a much better chance of engaging customers through their phones than through other, more traditional means of advertising.

Furthermore, customers are open to receiving their marketing messages via text. In a Direct Marketing Association survey, 70 percent of respondents said that they had reacted to a marketing text message, compared to 30 percent who respond to marketing emails.

The trend is growing, and experts predict that text messaging marketing isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But is it right for your small business? Consider the following before making any decisions:

Research the laws

Text messaging marketing is highly regulated to prevent businesses from spamming consumers. Know what you can and can't do before you start your campaign. If you don't see a way to adhere to the laws, don't start promotional texting or you risk being blacklisted.

Evaluate your resources

Options -- and prices -- vary from DIY online options like Ruxter to working with high-dollar consultants and marketing agencies. First, consider your budget and outline what you can afford. Next, consider your manpower. Running a successful text messaging campaign goes beyond just blasting out a text. You will need to analyze your results to determine the success of a text, tweak messages as necessary and continuously come up with new ways to capture recipients' interest. Do you have the time to invest right now? If not, can an employee take on the role?

Consider data plans

If you want to create a fancy app, your customers will need to own a smartphone. However, most phones can receive SMS (Short Message Service) messages, so it's smart to start there and ensure you can reach all your customers. If your basic SMS messages yield favorable results, you can create an app later.

Establish a relationship first

Texting should not be used to contact cold or even lukewarm leads. Doing so can quickly tarnish your reputation as a spammer. Use text messaging to connect with people who have already done business with you, and who are familiar with your brand. If you don't yet have that kind of customer loyalty, delay your text messaging marketing plans until you do.

Be ready to revamp your whole system

You need a mobile-ready site. Customers will want to be able to click on a link from your text message and go straight to your site to redeem an offer -- preferably one they don't have to print off. If your site isn't mobile-ready, many customers won't take the extra step (i.e., going to your website from a computer) to redeem an offer.

In addition, make it easy for customers to sign up for your offers by providing social log-in options. That provides you with information that will allow you to tailor your messages and makes it easier for customers to sign up.

Get permission to contact customers

This is one of the biggest hurdles business owners face. Some consumers will worry that they will accrue data usage charges if they receive your text messages. Others just don't want to clutter their inbox with promotional messages. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires you to obtain permission before you text anyone, so it's a step you can't overlook.

When you market your texting option, explain exactly how customers will benefit, how often you will text them, what they can expect and so on. This will set their minds at ease and help them to realize the true value of your texted offers.

Deserve to be in the customer's inner circle

People tend to reserve texting for their closest friends and family members. If customers are willing to accept your text, that means that they are likely very loyal to your brand. Don't turn them off with meaningless texts. Offer something of extreme value that they can't get anywhere else, like steep discounts, free upgrades or exclusive events.

Adopt a laser focus

Come across as too promotional with exaggerated marketing lingo -- "exceptional," "amazing," "once-in-a-lifetime"-- and people will delete your message before they even see what your offer is. Instead, stick to clear, succinct language that tells customers exactly what the offer is and how they can redeem it, such as, "50 percent off all iced coffees July 8 through July 10. Just show this text at the counter when you place your order!"

Nail the timing

Sometimes it comes down to basic common sense. If you send messages too early or too late, you could wake up -- and annoy -- sleeping customers. Experts suggest sending messages between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. for the best results. However, think about your average customer and the flow of his or her day. If you send out a blast during busy work mornings or during family dinners, customers may ignore your message.

When consumers opt in to receive your text messages, ask for their time zone or even a preferred time for you to reach them, and plan your messages accordingly.

In addition, if yousend a "today only" discount two hours before your store closes,customers may not have time to take advantage of the offer. Time-sensitive promotionsfor your small businessare most likely to lead to a purchase; just make sure you are providingcustomers with enough time to act on your offer.

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Jaimy Ford is a professional business writer withnearly a decade's worth of experience developing newsletters, blogs, e-letters,training tools and webinars for business professionals. She contributes to bothThe Intuit Small Business Blog and Docstoc.com. She also serves as editor-in-chief of SalesMastery, a digital magazine writtenspecifically for sales professionals.
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