Marketing at Work: Texting Takes Hold

Barb Pellow

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

SMS has been around for less than 18 years. It is literally less than half as old as e-mail, but it is spreading like wildfire. 2002 marked the first time that the number of SMS users shot past the total number of e-mail users on a global basis. At that time, half of all mobile phone subscribers were using SMS. SMS remains the world’s most widely-used data application. According to the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), more than 6.1 trillion messages were sent during 2010. SMS currently has 2.6 times more users than e-mail, and its user base is equivalent to 53% of the planet’s total population. By 2013, the total base of SMS users is expected to exceed 10 trillion.

These days, people perform almost all of their daily activities with their cell phones within reach. While customers might miss an e-mail message, they won’t miss a text. SMS text messaging has emerged as an effective and measurable engagement tactic that businesses of all sizes can use to power a variety of programs targeting sales, loyalty, and brand awareness. The nearly universal reach of text messaging makes it a tremendous platform for reaching and engaging today’s on-the-go consumers. Text messaging is clearly not a fad, and it is too big for you to ignore as part of your overall marketing mix.

Mobile Marketing Means Getting Your Customers to Opt-In

The statistics are compelling—mobile marketing is here to stay. Now, businesses and advertisers of all sizes are catching on. Mobile makes all forms of advertising (e.g., magazines, packaging, retail signage, direct mailers) interactive. Keywords and short codes are becoming a regular part of most ads.

By definition, mobile marketing is opt-in marketing.You can’t just buy a list of cell phone numbers and start sending bulk text message blasts to the list.Texting is permission-based marketing, and marketers must have a legitimate opt-in to send text messages to a consumer’s cell phone.To tap the true power of mobile marketing, the most critical concept is building that powerful opt-in database.

Building Opt-In Relationships with Mobile Marketing Campaigns

Companies of all sizes have developed consumer advertisements and offers that can build tremendous opt-in relationships. One of the best ways to create an opt-in database of consumers who are interested in your product is to develop an interactive mobile marketing campaign.This will typically involve an advertisement that invites interested parties to text a keyword to a short code. When the consumer sends the keyword to the short code, he or she immediately receives a return text message.In addition to delivering the information requested, this message can also qualify the consumer as an opt-in member of the database for future mobile marketing.Developing a mobile database can generate information that is pure marketing gold for future campaigns.

Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Co. of Canada was a sponsor at the 2010 Canadian International Auto Show in six major centers across Canada. The carmaker wanted to develop a national campaign that would enable Ford to interact with attendees while also differentiating the company from competitors that were present at the event. The answer was blending print signage with SMS texting.

A mobile call-to-action was displayed on print banner ads at Ford’s Auto Show booth as well as on interactive kiosks and displays. Consumers were drawn in with a powerful message that read, “Take our survey and you could win $5,000 in gas. Text FORD to 123411 for a chance to win!”

Ford Kiosk

Figure 1: Ford’s Call-to-Action at the 2010 Canadian International Auto Show

A text message was then sent back to the users asking them to fill out a short survey through mobile Web or have it sent to their e-mail address. The text message served as a gateway to navigate users to the mobile Web or e-mail. A total of three mobile communication channels were supported, including SMS, mobile Web, and e-mail.

The benefits to Ford were tremendous.

  • 64% of participants chose to complete the survey
  • 45% of participants chose to complete the survey by e-mail
  • 19% of participants chose to complete the survey via mobile Web
  • 18% of participants opted in to receive future promotions from Ford

In addition to building a mobile database for future use, Ford was able to identify customers who preferred to interact with the brand via mobile Web as well as those who preferred e-mail communications.

Farmer’s Foods

Virginia-based Farmer’s Foods, a family-owned-and-operated grocery chain with nine locations in Virginia and North Carolina, leveraged in-store signage as part of an overall campaign to build out its loyalty program. In addition to carrying the message on its Website, Farmer’s Foods used print ads, banner ads, weekly flyers, and a limited amount of radio and TV. Customers were encouraged to text “Farmers” to 68247 to join the Family Discount Club for additional savings on everyday products.

For in-store signage, Farmer’s Foods used a life-size cutout ofits Farmer character from the store’s branding to attract more attention and carry the message.

Farmers Market

Figure 2: In-Store Signage for Farmer’s Foods

To date, Farmer’s Foods has acquired more than 1,900 mobile members. Its coupon redemption rate ranges between 8% and 15%, depending on the product offered. Additionally, its mobile base is growing all the time.

Clinique: Direct Mail Meets Text

Cosmetic giant Clinique used mobile to activate its print campaign within Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. The initiative, which was launched by Vertis Communications, enabled Clinique to build a sizeable mobile database for future marketing efforts.

As part of its Free Seven-Piece Gift Set giveaway, Clinique added a mobile call-to-action that asked consumers to text the keyword GIFT to short code 266866 to sign up to receive exclusive text alerts for upcoming gift offers. Clinique leveraged traditional media to build a database of consumers that wanted to engage with the brand.

Clinique call to action

Figure 3: Clinique’s Mobile Call-to-Action

The addition of an SMS component to traditional marketing is directly correlated with the channel’s prominent role in consumers’ lives today. Within the retail space, there is an immediacy of consumer engagement. Brands can leverage their existing print assets (e.g., store signage, POS materials, and circulars) and add a new dimension by exposing a call-to-action for mobile.

New Balance: Engaging with Packaging

For as long as there have been brands, there have been promotional tie-ins on food packaging — coupons on the label or box, mail-in offers, or instant-winner sweepstakes. Now, with the growing significance of electronic media, packaging is being integrated with mobile technology to drive sales.

Instead of letting its shoes sit passively in the shoe store, New Balance started proactively tagging its boxes with a call-to-action keyword. Consumers were invited to send SMS text messages to form a one-to-one relationship with a sales expert.

Consumers are able to text the code on the package to understand the shoe design. For example, the information might read, “Runners with normal to high arches appreciate the comfort and support of Ortholite foam and Stability Web. Try them on and reply NEXT.”

In addition to being a more effective in-store sales process for New Balance, this strategy enables the brand to engage the consumer in a post-store mobile survey that guides a dialogue with the consumer about whether or not they bought the product (e.g., “Why did you purchase New Balance?” [Multiple choice: Fit/Comfort, Style, Price, Other]).

New Balance

Text Code

Figure 4: Promotional Codes on New Balance Shoeboxes


Coca-Cola has taken this in-store strategy to the next level. In Canada, Coca-Cola has successfully turned its classic Coke bottle into an interactive marketing tool with its TWIST TXT SAVE campaign and direct-to-consumer affinity programs. Coke prints a unique PIN under the bottle cap, which acts as a proof of purchase. Rogers Wireless subscribers who text the under-the-cap PIN number to the short code 42653 get $0.75 off their mobile phone bill or 1,000 iCoke points. Coca-Cola single-serve bottles in stores across Canada carry the following mobile call-to-action: “This bottle gets you $0.75 off your Rogers Wireless bill. Get PIN under cap and text to 42653 to redeem or get 1,000 iCoke Points @ Max 10 discounts/customer/week.”

Coke Ad

Figure 5: Screen Shot of Coke’s Call-to-Action

The Bottom Line

Traditional marketing mediums (e.g., coupons, print, inserts, direct mail) lack a sense of immediacy and historically have not had an interactive element. Blending mobile technology with print has changed all that. QR codes, SMS, and other mobile tools are enhancing the traditional media experience by making all forms of media an interactive experience. This enables marketers to reach on-the-go consumers and leverage print for an immediate response. You need to look at how you are leveraging your package, signage, direct mail, sales brochures, and static advertisements to enable your brand to communicate with consumers in ways that online channels cannot. With a mobile call-to-action, marketers can leverage a successful communication mechanism to establish a digital opt-in relationship with existing customers and prospects.

About Barb Pellow

Barbara Pellow helps companies develop multi-media strategies that ride the information wave. She has assisted companies in areas such as creating strategies to launch new products, building strategic marketing plans, and educating their sales force on how to deliver an effective value proposition. Pellow brings the knowledge and skills to help companies expand and grow their business opportunities.