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7 Rules You Need to Know Before Launching Your First SMS Campaign

2008 will mark the five year anniversary of the short code in Canada.

With over 9 billion SMS or text messages expected to be delivered in Canada alone in 2007, it’s truly become a mass medium for marketers.

Here are 7 rules you need to understand before you pilot your first SMS campaign:

  1. Opt-in rules. You can’t buy a mobile list of customers like you can in email.  The mobile operators demand a double opt in from the consumer and the ability for the consumer to opt out of the service at   any time by sending the word STOP (or equivalent) via SMS. These guidelines are established in the MMA Consumer Best Practices Guidelines which are followed by all mobile marketers in the United States.
  2. Short codes are like URLs for SMS. You need to register your own short code before you can text your customers anything. It’s possible to use a generic short code from your mobile agency as long as your purpose / campaign fits within the definition of that short code. Choose a 5 or 6 digit generic code that is easy to remember (12345) or a vanity word that spells something out (bacon). I always recommend going with a generic code as a best practice. Unlike URLs, it’s expensive to register one – about $6,000 per year which doesn’t include campaign or application specific tactics.
  3. Short codes are only good for one year at a time and individual carriers can reject or ignore your requests. This happened to us last year where one carrier decided not to activate our campaign on their network.
  4. Short code applications are lengthy and require that you detail in advance exactly how you will use the short code for all possible applications. Once you submit your application, allow a minimum of 6 weeks to 3 months for it to be processed. Last minute doesn’t work – no matter how many awards your agency has won or how large your client is.
  5. Consumers can get annoyed when they receive SMS messages that aren’t exactly relevant, specific or personal to them.  Best practice is to allow them to opt-in to very specific alerts, news, or promotions. If you deviate from what they believe they opt-ed in to, they can report you as spam which can result in your short code being deactivated.
  6. Unlike the interweb where everybody wants everything for free, consumers are used to paying for SMS – it’s not a barrier to engagement.
  7. Choose an agency or partner that understands mobile and marketing. Mobile works best as an extension to what you are already doing online, in print, at event, or out of home. Working with an agency that understands this means you’ll have the best chance of success.

Do you have any other questions around what it takes to integrate Mobile into your next customer acquisition, retention, or growth campaign? Leave them in the comments or send me an SMS. I’ve also posted some recently released Mobile stats on my own blog here.


  1. miro slodki
    miro slodki January 8, 2008

    Interesting post – however in October 2007 Kate issued this post
    “consumers don’t want mobile advertising”
    referencing Maritz and Neilsen studies showing strong pushback to mobile advertising – which you allude to lightly in point 5 above.
    This is a new domain – with that in mind – I think everyone should also heed Kate’s advice,
    “If you are planning on mobile, why not start a consumer advocacy panel or other customer centric initiative to see how you and your product can support your customer’s lifestyle rather than impinging upon it?”
    and proceed with discretion. Blasting away – just because its now possible runs the risk of ruining it for everyone else.

  2. Phil Barrett
    Phil Barrett January 8, 2008

    Miro – thanks for the comment!
    You are right in that most consumers don’t want mobile advertisting…but that is different from what i highlighted above where consumers are asking to be contacted for very specific purposes.
    You are bang on with your comment on proceeding with caution – work with an agency that has experience in this area who can educate you on how to best integrate mobile with your other channels.
    Keep in mind the following two stats – 94% of all SMS messages are opened and response rates are as high as 15%.
    Try getting that from print, email, or online media!
    With over 9 billion text messages sent in Canada last year, it’s already a mass medium.

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