How To (Not) Be Annoying with Text Message Marketing

Text messaging is the largest mobile marketing channel by revenue. These SMS tips will go a long way toward keeping your text recipients happy and un-annoyed.

Photo: Holly Cordner, Marketing and User Experience Guru; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Holly Cordner, Marketing and User Experience Guru; Source: Courtesy Photo

It’s 3 a.m. One minute you’re sleeping peacefully. The next minute, you hear your phone’s text message alert. Being curious, and a little anxious, you rollover and check your text messages.

Instead of a text message from a family member or friend, however, you find a marketing message from a local business telling you about their holiday promotions.

I think many of us have experienced a situation similar to the one described above – where a SMS marketing message comes at exactly the wrong time. Or worse … one that doesn’t take our interests into account at all.

For customers, text messages like this are annoying. For business owners, incorrect SMS marketing practices (like the one’s noted above) are probably doing your business more harm than good.


Sending the Wrong Message Is Costly

Text messaging, known as SMS marketing, is one of the fastest and most reliable ways to reach an audience. Consider that text messages have a whopping 98% read rate and the vast majority of those messages are opened within 3 minutes of receipt. Text messaging is still the largest mobile marketing channel by revenue, according to eMarketer.


Did you know? Text messaging is still the largest mobile marketing channel by revenue, according to eMarketer.


It’s precisely these advantages that makes mobile marketing (i.e., text messaging in particular) so dangerous when done incorrectly. Because SMS marketing is opened so quickly, it’s easy to bother customers with the frequency, content, or timing of your messaging. They may unsubscribe (thereby depriving you of the chance to make valuable contact with them in the future), and, if they’re sufficiently annoyed, may stop frequenting your business altogether

Not only can the wrong messaging cost you customers, it can actually get you on the wrong side of the law. If you aren’t careful, you may rack up hefty fines.

Laws governing text message marketing vary by country. In the United States, customers must explicitly opt-in to receive messages (e.g., you can’t use an existing phone list without getting permission). Additionally, you must be very clear about how many messages you plan to send and what those messages will consist of (i.e., sales, coupons, announcements, etc.). You must also give customers a way to stop getting messages, if they so desire.

If you need a refresher on how to do text messaging the legal way, I recommend reading up on it.


Steps For (Not) Annoying Customers

Take the following steps to make sure you get SMS marketing right, the first time.

  • Get the message frequency right.

    You may be excited about your business, but your customers may be less so when they hear from you every day or multiple times a day. If they get too many messages from you, they may choose to opt-out from receiving them altogether.To see how you’re doing in this area, check your opt-out rate. If it’s above 2%, try cutting back on the number of messages you send.

  • Keep things fresh.

    Don’t send the same old discount announcement every time you text. Get creative and send a variety of messages: store event announcements, reminders to set up an appointment, invitations to invite friends, etc. This can serve to get more types of people interested in your texts and can help create a sense of urgency for customers to come in and use coupons when they do come.

  • Customize what you can.

    The more information you can gather from your customers, the better. Keep track of their purchasing habits, and ask them about their interests. Then use that information to send messages to targeted segments.

Examples of what not to do:

  • Don’t send a kids clothing discount to someone who has indicated that she doesn’t have children.

  • Don’t send a haircut coupon to someone who got his hair cut yesterday.

  • Don’t send announcement texts to someone who says that she only wants to receive money-off offers.


Examples of what you should do:

  • Send an offer for an oil change three months after a customer’s last one.

  • Send a coupon for a necklace that goes well with the sweater a customer purchased a few days ago.

  • Send a reminder about a bowling night to a customer who’s attended one in the past.

  • Send special discounts or buy-one, get-one offers for dates that are special to the customer like birthdays, anniversaries, and more.

  • Send bounce-back offers.


  • Invite customers to take action.

    This is a great way to incorporate your text campaign with other marketing efforts. Invite customers to take action when they get a text from you. For example, by following you on social media or writing a review of a product. You may want to kick in an extra bonus for customers who follow through (e.g., an entry into a monthly drawing). Customers who take action are more engaged and less likely to be annoyed by your marketing messages.

  • Work on timing.

    It should be obvious, but don’t send messages during the middle of the night or at other times when customers may get mad (e.g., holidays and weekends, depending on your business). You should also work on timing so you can get a better response. If you are a restaurant owner you may want to send out reminders an hour or two before lunch or dinner, for instance. Retail stores may want to send coupons on the day of a big sale event.

Using these SMS marketing ideas will go a long way toward keeping your text recipients happy and un-annoyed. What about you? Are there any ideas that I haven’t listed? Share in the comments.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Holly Cordner is a marketing and user experience guru living in Salt Lake City. She works for CityGro, a leader in text and email marketing. Her first love is technology, with tofu coming in a close second. Connect with @citygro on Twitter.



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