Public relations

Ann Marie van den Hurk: More businesses understand appeal of text-message marketing

More businesses use low-cost tool

CONTRIBUTING COLUMNISTNovember 29, 2010 

Ann Marie van den Hurk

Reaching customers in an effective and cost-efficient way is the goal of all businesses. And after that sentence, there would still be 72 characters left in a marketing message by Mike Monson, who operates a franchised Sub Station II sandwich shop in Fort Wright in Northern Kentucky.

Monson is one of a growing number of business owners who have turned to text-message marketing to help grow their customer base and lower their marketing costs.

Monson has been sending text messages with coupons or specials, and he has seen a redemption rate of 50 percent on those texted coupons compared with just 0.5 percent on traditional direct-mail coupons.

"I often send it out before lunch or dinner when customers are thinking about what they are going to eat," he said, adding the text messaging service prices out 75 percent lower than direct mail.

He said he found his customers look forward to receiving their text messages, and he's finding more and more of those customers interested in signing up for his service as texting has become the norm.

According to a recent Pew Internet survey, 85 percent of U.S. adults and 75 percent of teens carry a cell phone, and 28 percent of those are smart phones, which offer handy features like navigating customers right to your business's front door.

At an average of just four minutes, text messages are prone to be opened more quickly than e-mails. They're also less likely to be deleted off phones as quickly as e-mails are trashed.

Other advantages of text-message marketing over traditional channels include:

■ Relatively low costs to create and maintain a campaign.

■ Allows customers to sign up for the campaign anywhere, anytime via just a text message.

■ Reaches many recipients in a very short period of time.

■ Can use GPS to target people only in a certain area.

■ Shorter time needed to prepare a campaign.

Conrad Carney, CEO of the Lexington-based but internationally focused CMSText, said his clients, which include large corporations, small businesses, medical providers and trade associations, have seen the same results as Monson. A client may send out a message to a thousand subscribers for about $120 monthly, he said. For every dollar they spend, their return is $37 to $72.

And as Carney's client base proves, text-message marketing isn't just for restaurants or other bricks-and-mortar retailers.

Charities are using text messaging to solicit donations. A solid example is the response to the earthquake in Haiti in January in which the Red Cross raised more than $10 million in the week afterward.

Locally, Keeneland Thoroughbred Racing and Sales is using text messages to provide patrons with links to betting sheets and alert them when dining room tables are available, said Bill Powell of Inbox Orange, which offers text-message marketing services.

In addition to broadening the scope of businesses using the services, Carney said, he also sees some trends growing:

■ Location-based marketing in which a company could let you know if a nearby restaurant has gotten in a favored specialty food.

■ More bar codes within messaging to allow you to make purchases or have them scanned as coupons. Starbucks has been testing just such an approach with its Starbucks Mobile Card app on the iPhone.

■ Protection of mobile phone privacy will become a larger concern. He said businesses should build their permission-based lists now before more regulations are potentially put in place.

"Businesses will eventually have to use this so they have to pick if they want to be an early adapter or follower of their competition," Carney said.

Which will your business be?

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an accredited public relations professional and is the ethics officer and accreditation chair of the Lexington-based Thoroughbred chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She can be reached at ann@vandenhurkpr.com, or follow her on Twitter at @amvandenhurk.

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