Marketing & Advertising

How to Write Better SMS Marketing Messages

SMS messages are powerful for transactional communication. The messages are easy to write when the content contains only a shipping notice or an access code. But composing marketing SMS messages can be much more challenging.

For example, to avoid an ellipses (…) or ensure that a message is not split in two, limit the message to just 160 characters in the United States (the limit varies by country).

The context of SMS messaging (also known as text messaging) is unique.

Consider the experience of an omnichannel retailer in Boise, Idaho, that wanted to connect with customers during the Covid-19 shutdown. The aim was to let these folks know about available services and products. Many of the customers, however, had not received a text message from the retailer in more than two years. When the message went out, some of those customers were annoyed.

An email message to those same customers may not have raised any ire. But text messaging is more immediate and intimate, requiring marketers to be careful.

Here are four tips for writing better text messages for marketing.

1. Grab Attention

If you were writing advertising copy or even a blog post, the suggestion to “grab attention” would be “write a strong headline.” An SMS message has no headline, but the first phrase or sentence should still grab attention, to entice the recipient to read the entire communication.

There is a compelling example of grabbing attention in the first section of “Copywriting 101: How to Craft Compelling Copy,” an ebook from Copyblogger.

It starts with a headline: “Don’t Read This, or the Kitty Gets It.” The implied threat to a kitten almost guarantees that folks will read the next sentence.

The headline "Don’t Read This, or the Kitty Gets It" almost guarantees that folks will read the next sentence.

The headline “Don’t Read This, or the Kitty Gets It” almost guarantees that folks will read the next sentence. Photo: Tran Mau Tri Tam.

Of course, everyone reads on.

The author, Copyblogger founder Brian Clark, writes, “Poor Fluffy. I asked you not to do this, and you’ve gone and broken the rules. Things don’t look good for this cute little kitten I’ve taken hostage in case my demands were not met. She is awfully sweet, though.”

Clark goes on to argue that the primary purpose of any written marketing copy is to get the audience to read the next sentence. The headline convinces someone to read the first sentence. The first sentence entices him to read the second, and so on — right down to the offer and the call to action.

2. Keep It Simple

Imagine a copywriter and a business owner sitting across a desk from each other. They are there to write the marketing copy for an SMS campaign to help boost sales of a new product.

The copywriter’s first draft was a pithy 100 characters.

New COVID-19 mask won’t fog glasses or chafe.
It’s just $1.99 for five. Visit short.url to purchase.

But the owner wanted to squeeze in a bit more text since the limit is 160 characters.

“Can we mention that they get free shipping on orders over $35? I think we should also say that it has more than 32 reviews on Amazon. And that we’ve been in business since 2019. Also, it is available in many colors.”

By the time they finished, the message read:

New COVID-19 mask. Many colors. 5 for $1.99.
Free shipping over $35. >32 Amazon reviews.
From a trusted company founded in 2019.
Visit [short.url] to purchase.

The message is now close to 160 characters. But is it better for the complexity? Probably not. Adding too much information just dilutes the copy and the communication.

Try to keep your message as simple as possible.

3. Ask for Something

Your SMS marketing message needs a call to action. For example, one merchant started to use a text message to ask shoppers a net-promoter-score style question — “would you recommend us to a friend?”

The message read:

Thank you for your order. We love you for it. But we have to ask, would you recommend us to a friend? Send 👍 or 👎.

The call to action here is a question, “would you recommend us to a friend?” The message also spells out with emojis the choices for the response. In the context of an SMS message, this works well.

4. Test Your Copy

Testing and re-testing SMS marketing messages are among the best ways to learn what resonates with your audience.

I’m aware of a recent campaign from a brick-and-click retailer with more than 7,000 contacts on its text list. The retailer ran several rounds of tests using samples of about 100 recipients. In the end, the campaign not only enjoyed the 98-percent open rate common with text messages but also earned a 40-percent conversion rate.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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