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Using SMS To Promote Event Attendance

Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:

I recently attended a digital retail conference and was reminded of something I just love about industry events: networking! Conferences are a great way to connect with industry experts and get plugged into what businesses are doing to support their marketing regime.
A vendor invited me to attend his company’s evening cocktail event, encouraging event registration via SMS.  I thought, why not?  All it involved was texting my email address to an SMS short code.

This is not yet a commonly used tactic, but it could be a useful one. Here are some tips for promoting  event attendance with SMS:

Ensure the registration confirmation contains helpful information in a text-friendly format. After texting my email address to the SMS short code, I immediately received a text back with a few key pieces of information: the event description, location, an add-to-calendar link and a (URL-shortened) link to the event landing page. These all should be a “must have” when using SMS to promote your events.  You can even consider a link to a maps function so registrants can get driving directions, but remember that context is important.  In my case, registrants were coming from a conference and thus were likely to take cabs.  Therefore, since we’re working with a limited amount of text space, it’s okay to save the maps link for the landing page.

Mobile-optimize the registration Web page. If you’re going to allow individuals to register via SMS, you had better make sure that any landing page is optimized for the mobile consumer. This is where my experience started to fall short.  The registration page had lots of good information, but the copy was too small to read.  Additionally, I could see that there were form fields requesting some type of information, but the wording was so small that I couldn’t decipher what they were requesting me to input. It turns out they were asking for basic details like name, title, company and contact information – the most important info for follow-up. Lesson learned: Be sure to look at the entire user experience (across email, social, SMS and Web) and make sure it enables users to take the actions you’re asking for in the easiest manner possible.

Have a plan to notify registrants in case of event changes. Unfortunately, in my case, it turned out that the texted registration confirmation contained incorrect information right from the get-go.  The event time was off by an hour, and believe it or not, the physical address of the event was incorrect as well!

These are mistakes that can be easily caught with a little campaign quality assurance before it goes live. However, this example brings up another common scenario in which the time, location or some other crucial piece of information about your event will change.  What’s your plan for informing your event registrants?  You’d better have one, or your attendees will be left feeling jilted.

When the event details change may play a part in how you respond. If the event is not for another few days, there are several options.  But let’s pretend the event is this evening and there’s a change in plans – what now?  Your text messages are being sent through an automated system.  Will you be able to have someone log into your SMS technology provider and make updates? This will resolve the situation for those who have not yet registered, but what about those who already have?  You still need a way to contact them with the updated event details.  Sending a text, email or link to the updated landing page are all possibilities.  Your options may be more limited if you are on the go or if it’s after business hours and your company’s office is closed.  Therefore, make sure to hash out the plan before you are in crisis mode to determine your course of action if event details change.

Remember to follow through. We’ve jumped over some hurdles, alerted our attendees to the updated event details, and we’re now sitting back sipping cocktails at the networking event.  What now?  After all the rush, don’t forget to find out who actually attended your event.  You will want to follow up with those who made it (and those who didn’t) when the event is over.  Contact them afterward with a review of the event highlights and additional information about your company.

Particularly for organizations exhibiting at a conference, using SMS registration can be very effective in situations when potential attendees are on the go and spontaneously deciding how to spend their evening. Just make sure your SMS programs are well-thought-out and tested, so you’re not alone at the event sipping cocktails by yourself.

Posted by: Amanda Hinkle at 9:08 AM
Categories: SMS, event, event attendance

SMS and Email: A Strategy to Capture Out-of-Home Subscribers

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

Email is the supreme nurturing tool in the marketer's toolbox, second perhaps only to face-to-face interactions. But making a user give you her email address when she's on the move is difficult - usually involving two or three steps with a mobile browser, in-store terminal, or (heaven forbid) paper.

By adopting a cross-channel mindset, however, you can leverage SMS (an intuitive, simple, and mature technology) to capture email addresses from on-the-go prospects with just one action: a text message.

This strategy is in line with the new cross-channel marketing mantras being chanted through the digital marketing world currently, and yet is a relatively old and proven technique. Your consumers know and use it several times a day.

(Note: I know there is severe resistance on the part of many consumers to marketing by SMS. That's not what I'm proposing here.)
Scotts Miracle-Gro ran an SMS to email campaign back in 2010 that was extremely successful. Scotts advertised lawn care products and informational guides at baseball games in partnership with MLB. The campaign advertised a lawn care guide that would be sent once you texted the short code with the keyword "baseball." Once you sent the text message, a follow-up message prompted for an email address to get a digital copy of the guide and more lawn care tips.

Scotts found that "about 40% of those people who text in to get the [lawn care] guide also requested to be part of the email service." Not a bad capture rate for the notoriously transactional medium of SMS.

Other companies have caught onto this successful cross-channel marketing strategy. Several airlines are offering the traveler a quick and easy way to receive special promotions and updates through email by sending an email address via SMS to a short code. Unlike the Scotts example, where a user had to text in once, and then text in their email address to be subscribed, these campaigns simply ask a user to text their email address to be instantly subscribed.

This may seem like a disjointed technological challenge (although new tools make the transition from SMS to email automatic), but, to the user, the experience is integrated and intuitive. Text to get an email. Receive an email with the promised benefit of confirming the subscription. Continue to receive emails. Easy.

In fact, given some of the statistics about how many people don't like to get marketing promotions through SMS, I believe the use of SMS as a capture tool, rather than a push marketing tool, is much more attractive to consumers.

Rather than sending consumers information they don't need or want through a very personal channel, you're allowing them to use SMS as the transactional communication medium that it is to let you know in a quick way that they are interested in learning more. Then you can let your more efficient nurturing channel (email) take over and talk to that consumer how she wants to be talked to.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 9:26 AM
Categories: SMS, email, strategy, subscribers

Text Messaging Can Be More Than Cool

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

Call me an optimist - I believe that direct marketing enriches our lives when executed properly. When done right, direct marketing brings brand information directly to me at just the right time. Email marketing has become such a successful way to reach me and when complemented with an appropriate direct mail piece I appreciate the continuity across channels. I also like brands that give me a choice on the way to reach me: email, mail…or text message.

The focus today is on my phone and text messaging. As marketers we know the great (and nearly unbelievable) text messaging statistic: 98 percent of all text messages are opened. I think you'll be hard-pressed to find another channel with that kind of open rate. Add that to the fact that there are 234 million mobile devices in use in the United States today.

However, we also know that text messaging is interruptive, limited to 160 characters, and doesn't offer the rich branding experience of other channels. Most importantly, only 14 percent of Americans prefer to receive promotions through text messages. But if you think about it, 14 percent of 234 million is still plenty large to implement a text messaging strategy. If that 14 percent stat still scares you, how about using SMS to provide valued alerts or reminders. You may not drive revenue, but you can go a long way to building brand affinity and loyalty.

When contemplating your text messaging approach, you need to consider your audience. Does your audience "get" text messaging? I don't mean do they have the device to receive it. I mean do they understand it and value it as a communication vehicle? Your demographic may provide a clue. Under 40, it's highly likely. Over 40, maybe less so. But if you don't know, you can always ask them in a standalone survey or as part of another communication. In addition to knowing if they get text messaging, you also need to understand the "mobility" of your customers. How do they consume information on mobile devices? What activities are they willing to engage in via their mobile device?

Once you've figured out how your customers interact with their mobile devices, you can then determine whether you have relevant information that can be shared via SMS to enhance your relationships with your customers. And you should think beyond simple "Text CHEAP to 123456 to receive crazy discounts" promotions. Try adding some value as well. Can you remind someone about an upcoming birthday of a friend or family member (which you can tie to an offer)? Can you alert someone to the start of an event or the expiration of a service?

Also, look at your programs holistically. When is it important to use text messaging in conjunction with email - whether promoting an email program via SMS or an SMS program via email? More to the point, is there an opportunity to use SMS to sign up subscribers to your email list?

Ultimately, a successful SMS program comes down to whether you're able to offer real value to your participants. By respecting your customers and engaging them in a two-way dialogue, you will have a new, successful channel for interacting with your best customers.

Posted by: Tal Nathan at 9:46 AM
Categories: email, SMS, mobile

The best way to capture email subscribers with SMS

Here's an article I wrote for iMediaConnection:

Ever since internet, email, and mobile access became the standard rather than the exception, the digital marketer has had a number of channels through which to reach consumers. Up until recently, a marketer could get by using a few channels well -- without considering the connections between channels.

Times have changed.

Consumers now expect you to intelligently use the channels available. They want the right information through the right channel at the right time. They want continuity throughout the channels -- continuity of brand on the abstract level and of promotion more specifically.

To meet this expectation, we as marketers must use cross-channel strategies. These strategies will do away with channel as a separation, and use channel instead as a preference. For example, we will no longer have SMS campaigns that are separate from social campaigns. We will simply have the "Christmas campaign," and some of our targets will receive some of the messaging within that campaign as a text message, some as an email, etc.

This article, and others to come, will address a few strategies for cross-channel marketing, starting with a strategy to capture email subscribers in remote situations (i.e., away from a computer).

Boosting email performance with SMS
Do you do business in more places than your website? Even if you're an e-tailer, the answer is probably yes. It's also likely that a portion of your target audience might only ever interact with you in these remote locations.

If your email campaigns are your primary loyalty-building tool, how do you capture those people who only touch your brand in remote locations? If you don't have an easy way for them to flow into your email list, you've lost the opportunity to build a relationship.

One way to bridge this gap is with an SMS-to-email campaign. You simply tell the consumer to text a short code (e.g., 606060) with a certain keyword and an email address (e.g., SUBSCRIBE rita@metermaid.com). You can then parse that email address and begin sending the person emails. It's that simple...sort of.

If you want to be successful, you'll need to create a good reason for someone to subscribe to your email updates. This could just be whatever you normally offer -- deals, updates, or however else you normally promote your emails.

A more strategic offer would be related to your consumer's location. For example, at the point of sale, you can have a text message offer that gives the consumer an instant 5-percent-off coupon when he or she signs up for your email alerts. (This coupon could be a text message sent once the user confirms the subscription.)

Scotts, the gardening and lawn care products company, offered to email a lawn-care guide to anyone who signed up for its emails via text. This promotion ran at baseball parks and other remote locations. The user received the guide in the email inbox after successfully opting in with a text message, and Scotts continued to build that relationship with email to continue promoting the product.

Of course, another method of capturing these people is a mobile app or a QR code. Both of these work, but they unnecessarily restrict the number of consumers who are capable of participating. An SMS-to-email campaign, however, allows you to capture a broader group, as it does not exclude those who do not have a smartphone. Also, sending an SMS is easier and requires less commitment than downloading an app or opening a specific app to scan a QR code.

Think about what consumers who see your brand in remote locations want, and try to capture them into your relationship-building channel by using the mobile-efficient SMS channel.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 3:00 PM
Categories: email, SMS, subscribers, mobile