Short Message Service (SMS)

Short message service (SMS) supports messages of about 160 characters in length, though it is possible to string several messages together to send longer messages. Messages can be sent from one phone to another, or from a PC to a phone and vice versa.

SMS also supports a service known as Common Short Codes (CSCs). CSCs are phone numbers (short ones, as the name implies) to which users can send a text message from a mobile phone, usually to get something in return. CSCs can be used to sign up for services, to enter competitions, or to indicate permission (or to end permission) to receive marketing messages. Messages sent to CSCs can also be used to make a payment or a donation, with a set amount being deducted from a user’s prepaid airtime or monthly airtime bill.

SMS and Marketing

With twice as many SMS users worldwide as e-mail, SMS should be a no-brainer for marketers. However, mobile phone users have proved reluctant to hand over their phone number for marketing messages, perhaps fearing a similar deluge of spam for which e-mail has such a poor reputation.

This is changing to some extent, with the prevalence of CSCs being used in marketing and advertising campaigns. As consumers are so comfortable with using text messages for their communication, no extensive education process is required to have consumers access marketing campaigns based on CSCs.

CSCs can be used to receive messages from consumers and to send messages to consumers. CSCs can be either dedicated (used by one company and presumably for one campaign) or shared. When CSCs are shared, keywords in the text message are used to separate the messages. There are two standard keywords that should always elicit a standard response:

• STOP. Unsubscribe the sender’s number from the service.
• HELP. A support request from the sender’s number.

Sending Messages

Once prospects have given you permission to communicate with them and their mobile number, timely messages can be sent to their mobile phone. These can be promotional or sales messages, such as special offers in stores or information about upcoming events. On many phones, prospects need to at least open an SMS message in order to delete it. As well as this, mobile phones are generally kept with a prospect at all times, meaning that messages are more likely to be read very soon after they have been broadcast. 

There are several ways that SMS messages can be utilized to complement an existing marketing strategy.

Customer Relationship Management

SMS updates can be an exceptionally useful tool for customer relationship management (CRM). In the travel industry, hotel and airplane reservations can be sent by mobile phone, with updates being sent close to the time of travel. These short messages can include directions or details of a flight’s status.

When it comes to insurance claims or order processing, SMS updates as to the progress of a claim or order can reduce call center volume and go a long way to ensuring that a client feels valued and cared for.


SMS messages present a way to send timely sales promotion information to a large database for a relatively low cost. These can be targeted to a particular time of day when prospects are most likely to be out shopping. SMS messages can also be used when promoting events. 

Despite their pithy nature—these messages have a limit of 160 characters—they can carry a strong call to action. 

Receiving Messages

CSCs are often used to receive messages from prospects or customers. They provide a fast, instant, and trackable means for the public to enter competitions, voice opinions, or make requests. Even better for a company, the costs can often be passed on to the consumer, meaning that it can be a cost-effective way to receive marketing messages. 

As CSCs can be shared, keywords can be used to separate communications and campaigns. For example, a user might be asked to text the word “LUXURY” to a number in order to enter a competition. 

Entering Competitions

Requiring less data-entry time than entries by postcard, SMS messages to a CSC are a hassle-free way to run competitions. Entries can be almost immediately entered into a database, with fast automatic responses to ensure that the consumer knows her entry has been received. In addition, costs can be passed on to the consumer by charging entry SMS messages at premium rates. 

Texting to Donate

A concept that is being taken up by the fund-raising community, text messages can be sent by donors to donate a fixed amount to a campaign. The fixed amount is deducted from the user’s airtime or added to their monthly bill. 

Texting to Participate

Text messages provide an almost instantaneous way to elicit response from an audience, whether it be to a radio program, television show, newspaper or magazine advertising, or billboard. Some newspapers allow readers to send SMS messages instead of lengthy letters to the editor. 

Combining Sending and Receiving SMS

Once users have indicated their interest by sending a text message, a company can then send messages back to them. In the United Kingdom, the mobile phone network Orange ran a successful campaign around movies. All Orange customers could go the movies for half price on a Wednesday. All they had to do was text the word “MOVIE” to a particular number, and in return they would receive a unique code with which to claim their discounted tickets. 

In return, Orange then sent the list of prospects who requested discounts information about the movies being shown at their local cinema. How did Orange know which was the local cinema? Simple: all it had to do was match the unique code to the number it was sent to and the cinema where it was used.


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