What They Don’t Want You to Know About Text Marketing (Part I)

If you were to reach into your pocket, chances are, if you’re not already reading this article on one, you’d find a phone with text messages. That’s important for marketers, who rely on engagement to make a return on investment. Text messaging delivers results, with an engagement rate that is often 8 times higher than email, according to a Forrester report.

Unfortunately, many marketers don’t utilize SMS marketing, thanks to reservations regarding the legality and consent issues plaguing the industry.

However, this is a mistake. Text marketing can be used legally, with high open rates, and high conversion rates, by many companies, with and without opt-in lists. High profile court cases like Papa Johns and Uber were the direct result of disregarding TCPA regulations, rather than working inside of them.

Text marketing is easy to use, and when you utilize human intervention rather than an automated system, you can legally text people who want to hear from your business. And, when you talk to your consumers rather than sending them one-way blasts, you can connect with them in a personal way to build trust, answer questions, and drive sales.

Is Opt In Really Necessary?

A quick search for text marketing will show you articles telling you how to build your opt-in SMS marketing list. Many vendors write about opt-in tactics to keep their customers, who typically pay high fees to maintain their opt-in text lists. However, if you actually look at TCPA regulations, they only refer to automatic dialing systems. This is important, because it means that you can send texts without opt-in if you use a human driven system.

Most of the media surrounding text marketing opt-ins stems from a 2009 ruling that changed how and when companies can use automated text marketing. During the Satterfield v. Simon & Schuster, Inc. court case, the Ninth Court ruled that text messages are included under the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) in the same category as automated phone calls, resulting in the TCPA Omnibus Ruling Order. This order states that texts fall under the limitation on using automatic dialing to reach consumers, making it illegal if you do not have prior consent. Essentially, it is possible to reach any target audience of your choice with text messaging, if you use human intervention.

What Is An Automatic Dialing System (ATDS)?

Automatic dialing is robotic calling, where a software system automatically calls or texts phone numbers. This type of calling is specifically used for cold calling and spam, and has been heavily abused in the past. For this reason, the TCPA limits who, where, and how businesses can use automatic dialing. In the case of SMS marketing, the TCPA requires that you get express written consent (web forms are fine), do not text before or after the hours of 8 A.M. and 9 P.M., and that you include TCPA regulated short code phone numbers (e.g. 324–12) to allow your contacts to remove themselves from the list.

However, this only really applies to automatic dialing. The TCPA does not regulate human sent messages. A study by Dynmark shows that SMS marketing has an astounding 98% open rate, compared to email, which tops out at a 20–30% open rate.

The same study shows that 29% of SMS recipients click on links in messages, and 47% of those make direct purchases or use coupons, for an average of a 14% conversion rate. Results are also immediate, as most consumers read messages within 15 minutes of receiving them.

So, why do some consumers file complaints? No one wants to open their phone to a constant barrage of text that reads like it came straight from a billboard. If you can connect with consumers to start a conversation, rather than sending them a sales pitch, they are much more likely to be responsive.

What Doesn’t Qualify as an ATDS?

The TCPA clearly states that messages sent using an automatic dialing system (ATDS) are prohibited unless they follow the guidelines and opt-in procedures required by the TCPA. An autodialer is defined as: “equipment which has the capacity (A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers,” with distinctions to be made on a case by case basis, regarding human intervention and practices.

Essentially, in order to use text marketing legally, without opt-in, you must A) use a system that does not generate numbers systematically, and B) use human intervention.

WHY They Don’t Want You To Know

Text marketing is controversial because it offers a very high open and conversion rate. It often comes with a preconceived image of spam, simply because many businesses abuse text with robo-messages that consumers often have no interest in.

Traditional marketing strategies need adjustment before it can work on millennials, so you will have to take a more sophisticated approach by targeting your demographics, messaging a smaller but more relevant user base, and talking to consumers not at them.

By making texts more human, and by ensuring that a human is behind them, you can circumvent both the spammy nature of traditional SMS marketing, as well as the legal issues imposed on ATDS marketing.

How do you apply this in practice? We will cover that in What They Don’t Want You To Know About Text Marketing (Part II).

Jessica Lee