SMS Marketing Guide

A guide to SMS Marketing

SMS Marketing has been around since the mid 90s.

Despite being just 160 plain text characters, with almost no features compared  to other messaging apps, the simple  text is still the most responsive communication tool available to marketers.

It’s low cost, immediate and astonishingly effective.

This guide to SMS marketing takes you through all you need to know.

What is SMS Marketing?

SMS marketing is a term used to describe the sending of bulk, promotional, marketing texts to a target group.

The purpose of an SMS marketing campaign is to encourage customers to make some further action or complete a purchase.

Usually the customer or prospect is asked to do one of the following..

Click a link in the text
Example text

Save Now! Gabi’s Gifts is offering 30% off all items up to 7pm Tues. Discount applied at checkout. Don’t miss out.  Go to To optout text abcd to 89022

Reply to the text with a specific response
Example text

It’s car insurance time already. Reply YES to this test and we’ll call you within 15 minutes with a quote. To optout text abcd to 89022 

Call a number that is quoted in the text Itself
Example text

Of course there’s free delivery. And within 40 minutes of order or it’s free. Order your pizza from Pizza Pad now on 01234 56789. To optout text abcd to 89022

SMS marketing is permission based, so all recipients must have given their consent to receive texts. 

Under GDPR, companies that flout the rules and send spam texts, risk large fines from The Information Commissioner’’s Office. (ICO)

An SMS marketing strategy shouldn’t be developed in isolation. SMS is just one of many communication channels that you’ll be using as part of a broader content marketing plan.

Make sure that whatever you’re planning to use SMS for, works in harmony with your other activities. 

What is SMS marketing used for?

There are countless ways that companies use SMS marketing to generate a response from their customers and prospects.

Most companies use SMS alongside their existing outbound and inbound call centre strategy. 

Often the objective is not to make a sale directly from the text itself but to encourage further engagement that interaction with the brand.

Many marketing agencies offer SMS marketing services to deliver targeted messages for their clients, boosting client satisfaction as well as enhancing agency operations.

Here’s just a few of the most common ways that SMS marketing is used:

Sales offer. This might ask the customer to reply, click or call.
Survey. Use SMS to ask customers what they think of your product or service.
SMS Appointment Reminder. Inform customer about an upcoming date or event
Company news. Let customers know about your latest activities
Customer support. Invite customers to get further help by text.
SMS Voting. Encourage interaction by asking customers to cast their vote on a topic or issue.

SMS marketing examples and templates

We’ve put together a complete SMS marketing templates library to showcase some of the most successful and innovative texts that we’ve come across.

Some of these have been used by our customers and some we have tweaked, amended and made relevant to a different industry sector.

The key with any marketing text is to be concise about your offer and how the customer should respond.

If you try and cram in too much information, then your text will become confusing and you’ll be disappointed with your response rate.

Sometimes the most successful  SMS marketing messages are the simplest.

One of the best sms marketing messages that I’ve ever received was from Photobox. 

It was short, clear and with a very precise call to action.

In this article we provide a detailed analysis of what made this SMS marketing message so powerful and also look at ways in which it could have been improved.

Here’s a sample of the most popular SMS marketing templates.

WN Fashion – Flash sale starts now. 2 for 1 on all accessories. Sales ends Wed 7pm. Only 3 days left. To optout text abcd to 89022
144 characters

The Oak Pub, Taunton. Enjoy our roaring fire, real ale and home cooked food. £129 per double, inc b/fast. Book now! Call 0123456789 To optout text abcd to 89022
160 characters

Free cream tea time! Indulge in a cream tea for a winter’s day. Buy one get one free at Tetbury Tea Rooms. To optout text abcd to 89022
155 characters

Groan. Car insurance time again. Let’s get this over with fast. Call Fizz on 0123445678 for great service and affordable terms. To optout text abcd to 89022
156 characters

Spend less on insurance and more on fun stuff. Call Acorn and put more in your back pocket. 012345 6789 or reply SAVE to this text. To optout text abcd to 89022
160 characters

Fridge stuffed with goodies? Thought not. Come on, have a delicious pizza from Pizza Place. Second pizza free. 01234 56789. To optout text abcd to 89022
151 characters

Hello John. Just a reminder that your driving lesson with Mark is booked for 9 35 on Wed. I look forward to seeing you then. Please bring your driving licence.
159 characters

How do you send an SMS marketing message?

There are dozens and dozens of SMS marketing companies.

On the whole, the SMS marketing industry is reputable and there are very few companies that use low quality SMS grey routes for their traffic.
Most of them offer 2 ways to send SMS.

A web-based bulk SMS marketing platform.
Web-based  bulk SMS marketing software allows you to upload your list of contacts into your account.

You can then simply compose your message and set the date and time that you’d like your messages to be sent.

After your SMS marketing campaign has run, you’ll be able to download your delivery reports which will show the delivery outcome for each and every message that you sent.

Most SMS marketing software is very easy to use and you won’t need any specific technical know how. If you consider a work-from-home text chat job, this simplicity makes it ideal for various tasks.

SMS marketing API
Most providers also off an SMS API.

An SMS API allows you to integrate the sending of SMS into an existing app, software or website.

Using an SMS API allows you to automate your SMS marketing campaigns. 

For example, customers might receive a discount voucher 2 weeks after a purchase. Or a lapsed customer who hasn’t bought anything for over 6 months might receive a discount by text.

An SMS API allows you to target your customer much more precisely. Rather than sending everyone the same generic sms marketing message, you can send personalised messages that talk to the customers as an individual.

Zaper Logo

You do need some technical knowledge to integrate using an SMS API.

The task is made easier by services like Zapier which allow you to integrate SMS into 1000s of software applications without needing detailed coding skills.

How much does it cost to send an SMS marketing campaign?

Almost all SMS providers have no setup fee, contract minimum term. You typically just buy a block of text credits in advance. 

So the only cost you have is for the text credits themselves.

The cost per text credit varies very dramatically between suppliers. The most expensive we’ve found is 10 pence + VAT per text, and the lowest is 2.99 pence + VAT per text.

There is rarely much difference in the reliability of these services, so it’s really worth shopping around to find the best price.

The reason for the wide price range is historic. Back in the early 2000s most providers charged between about 8 and 10 pence per text.

Since then, prices have dropped very dramatically but some SMS marketing websites haven’t followed the rest of the market. These companies are relying on inertia to keep hold of their existing customers.

Price of SMS marketing since 2001

The cost to send a business text has dropped an astonishing 71% since 2001.

The number of UK based SMS providers has risen from around 8 in 2001 to well over 100 in 2020.

Competition and reduced costs by mobile networks means that there’s never been a most cost effective time to start SMS marketing.

Chart showion
Year Cost in pence per text
2001 9.80
2002 9.70
2003 9.40
2004 8.90
2005 8.60
2006 8.40
2007 8.20
2008 7.50
2009 7.20
2010 4.90
2011 4.90
2012 4.30
2013 4.10
2014 4.10
2015 4.00
2016 3.80
2017 3.80
2018 3.60
2019 3.20
2020 2.90

Compare SMS marketing pricing

So that you can get a quick snapshot of what different providers charge, we’ve compiled an SMS marketing price comparison chart.

Prices quoted were taken from the companies websites and were correct in April 2020

The price per text is quoted as if you were purchasing a block of 1000 text credits.

The list of companies does not include every SMS marketing service.

Company Cost per text
Esendex 7.0p
Text Local 4.9p
Clockwork 4.0p
Dragon Fly 3.9p
Bulk SMS 4.5p
Kapow 6.25p
Intellisms 4.4p
Fast SMS 3.5p
Click SMS 3.7p
SendMode 3.4p
FireText 4.9p
Text Anywhere 6.4p
Text Marketer 3.3p
Text Factore 4.9p
Red SMS 4.5p
Text Tank 3.5p
Green Text 3.6p
2sms 10p
Think Message 3.9p
Text Magic 4.0p
Media Burst 4.5p
Compare SMS Marketing costs

SMS marketing price comparison calculator

With so many SMS marketing providers, directly comparing all the costs and quotes that you’ve received can be cumbersome.

The SMS marketing price comparison calculator allows you to directly compare quotes from up to 10 providers, showing you the monthly and annual costs for each.

The lowest provider is highlighted in green for easy identification.

Pricing comparison results can be downloaded and stored for later use and wider circulation.

SMS Marketing rules and regulations

ICO logo

SMS marketing has a bit of a reputation for being a bit spammy.

It’s an unfortunate hangover from a few years ago when most of us received dozens of SMS marketing spam campaigns from a range of unscrupulous companies

The SMS spam was mainly from accident claims companies, PPI insurance and payday loan companies.

The wave of unwanted texts was relentless and is responsible for its somewhat low-brow reputation.

Due to the new regulations under GDPR those dark days are now behind us.

The rules governing SMS marketing have become much stricter and it means that SMS spam has almost entirely stopped.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the government body responsible for policing SMS marketing laws.

They have the power to hand out massive fines for companies that break the rules. They can fine companies up to 20 million Euros or 4% of global turnover.

Fines for SMS marketing offences make up 16% of all fines handed out by The ICO.

ICO fines for SMS Marketing

They have fined companies a total of nearly £3 million for SMS offences.

The rules for SMS marketing are very clearly laid out by the ICO on their website.

Any company wanting to send texts to its customers need to understand and follow these very carefully.

The consequences for failing to comply are very serious indeed.

The threat of large fines should put any company off SMS marketing. The rules are fairly straightforward and very reasonable.

The main SMS marketing principles are very simple.

You can only send SMS marketing messages to people that have opted in to receiving them.

Organisations must not send marketing texts or emails to individuals without their specific prior consent. There is a limited exception for previous customers, known as the soft opt-in.

You must also give people the opportunity to opt out of receiving further SMS marketing messages 

Organisations must stop sending marketing messages to any person who objects or opts out of receiving them.

You need to be able to prove how they and when they opted in. Although under certain circumstances you can send texts without specific permission, The ICO warns that it is unlikely to be the case.

Indirect consent is highly unlikely to be valid for calls, texts or emails. “

While the document laying out the rules on SMS marketing runs to some 57 pages, companies shouldn’t be intimidated.

A couple of hours spent studying the document will give you the confidence to run your SMS marketing campaigns, knowing that you’re not breaking any of the rules.

How should I choose an SMS marketing company?

Apart from the wide range of pricing, there are a number of other key considerations for anyone choosing an SMS marketing provider.

Do you have to pay for non-delivered texts?
Almost all companies charge for failed texts. Even though no SMS company has ever been charged for non-delivered texts. 
Try and find a company that refunds all non-delivered SMS.

Also check that it only costs one text credit to send a message to a UK mobile number and that there’s no high minimum order value.

Do SMS credits expire?
52% of UK SMS marketing companies remove SMS credits if they haven’t been used for a certain period. 

Make sure that you select  a company that doesn’t unfairly remove credits that you’ve already purchased.

How easy is the SMS marketing software to use?
It’s likely that you’ll be spending quite a bit of time logged in to your chosen SMS marketing system, so it makes sense to find a company that matches your requirements.

Some platforms are incredibly involved and have a range of tools that you may never need like mobile ticketing or mobile surveys. Choose  an SMS company that has a set of tools that match your requirements and has an easy and intuitive user interface.

Check that the instruction documentation is comprehensive and transparent.

What level of support can you expect?
No one likes to be kept waiting hours for a response to a simple question. You should reasonably expect to get an answer in under an hour or so.

Ask your SMS marketing company how long they take to respond to support requests.

Is the service reliable?
Almost all SMS marketing companies now use tier 1 routes for all their SMS traffic. This means that all texts are delivered straight to the networks and don’t get routed via low quality international or grey routes.

Make sure this is the case with whichever company you choose.

SMS Marketing facts

These SMS marketing statistics and facts might come in useful if you ever need to convince people in your organisation to get involved in SMS marketing.

9 out of 10 consumers globally want to use SMS messaging to talk to businesses

Only 48% of businesses are equipped to connect with customers through a text message.

SMS has an opt in rate of 86% in US, 82% in Europe and 77% in Asia, respectively

The number of business SMS being sent via SMS gateways is increasing. Business SMS volumes are set to rise to 2.8 trillion by 2022, that’s a 68% rise over a four year period.

49% of consumers would prefer to receive marketing material via text than any other channel.

76% of consumers have received communications from businesses such as banks, healthcare and retailers via an SMS gateway.
The Mobile Ecosystem Forum

Fraudulent SMS traffic, sent via SMS grey routes, costs the international wholesale Carrier industry US$17 billion annually.
The Global Leaders’ Forum

More than 90 percent of people read a text message within the first three minutes.
Mobile Squared

SMS has a 98% open rate vs 22% for email
Frost & Sullivan

SMS Marketing Quotes

If you need a little more evidence to back up your push for SMS marketing, then these quotes may be just the thing.

“Our ongoing research into the global A2P SMS market has cemented our belief that SMS is by far the most powerful channel a business has to connect with its customer.”

Nick Lane Mobile Squared

If you’re not using mobile marketing to attract new customers to your business, don’t worry — your competitors are already using it and are getting those customers instead.

Jamie Turner,

“The mobile phone is a bit like God – it’s omnipresent.”

Joana Picq, Jampp
“Mobile is not the future, it is the now. Meet your customers in the environment of their choice, not where it’s convenient for you.”

Cyndie Shaffstall, Spider Trainers

“The magic of mobile marketing lies in the fact that people are seldom separated from their mobile phones. Like Gollum and the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, people are loath to be away from their precious technology, which keeps them connected to the world and provides them with timely information.”

Rich Barber, former marketing manager at Blackstone Media,

“With our phones acting as supercomputers in our pockets, we can find, learn, do, and buy whenever the need arises—or the whim strikes.”

Lisa Gevelber, VP of Marketing for the Americas at Google

“The mobile phone is reshaping our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine even a few years ago.”

Foti Panagiotakopoulos, Founder GrowthMentor.

SMS marketing still a dominant force

Despite being so clunky and outdated, nothing has yet come close to challenging the dominance of SMS.

Nothing can beat the responsiveness and immediacy of text.

It’s the reason that so many companies still use it when there would appear to be better alternatives like RCS messaging Whatsapp or an number of other OTT messaging apps

If you like to use an SMS API for your SMS marketing campaigns, then please help yourself to a free account.

It comes with 50 free test credits for testing and as much support as you need.

author avatar
Henry Cazalet Managing Director
Co-founder and Director of The SMS Works, a low cost and powerful SMS API for developers. About Henry