Why Start An SMS Program?

Utilizing an SMS program, whether it’s in tandem with an email marketing program or app, or completely singular, is a reliable and direct way to communicate with your guests. As of 2020, 48% of consumers responded that SMS was their preferred channel for receiving brand updates. With an SMS program, your business can take advantage the unprecedented 90% industry wide open rate, compared to the average of 20% opens for email campaigns. Overall, introducing an SMS program can increase brand loyalty from your most valuable customers.

If you’re one of the many organizations that are seriously considering evaluating the potential benefits of using SMS, there’s no better method that rolling out a comprehensive pilot program. It is the best way to understand the various aspects of the medium and see firsthand the overall effectiveness that SMS campaigns can bring to your organization. If carried out properly, you’ll know without a doubt whether SMS is the right choice for your promotions.

To evaluate the true effectiveness of SMS and its potential contribution to your organizational goals, there’s no better method than conducting a well-planned SMS pilot program. An effective SMS pilot program requires a customized strategy, solid and accurate measurement, and constant optimization throughout the program, followed by an educated and strategic plan once the pilot is finished. Loosely defining either, or leaving any aspect to chance, is the biggest reason pilots fail to generate useful results.

Step one: Select an objective and strategize.

A detailed, well thought-out strategy based on problem solving for your pilot program is the key to achieving positive results. The most important aspect to a successful program is to clearly define your objective. you’ll need a clear-cut strategy in terms of what you want to accomplish to ensure you’re able to come out of the pilot ready to hit the gas pedal.

Things like loyalty programs, ongoing alerts that people may come to depend upon, and other programs where the value lies with ongoing communications are much less appropriate for a pilot since it may hurt your brand if you stop sending and your audience isn’t ready to stop receiving. For example, you wouldn’t want to start a newsletter program and stop after one issue. In 2018, it was documented that adding an SMS program can drive subscribers to react to offers with as much as 50% response rates and those that opt-in to receive text messages tend to be very reactive and loyal.  Here are three campaigns that can help you achieve your objective:

  1. Incentives. Here, the value is in the incentive you’re providing. This can include sending coupons, special deal notifications, secret sale dates, and more. Consider having this incentive available exclusively via mobile as well, which provides the added value in distributing your message using this very unique and powerful medium.
  1. Informational alerts. Here, the value is in the information you’re providing. An alert about an upcoming event is a good example or providing an account or loyalty balance is another. The target audience will see value in receiving this type of information and will be appreciative as a result.
  1. Interactive Communication. Here, the value is in the interaction you’re providing. Examining your target audience, will a poll, trivia contest, or a text-to-screen promotion work to keep people engaged? This SMS-based interactivity may work well in venues like restaurants, bars, or other places where offering active entertainment will keep people on site longer. It’s important to measure sales with and without the promotion when choosing this path.

Once you’ve defined your objective and selected the type of campaign you would like to send, it’s also important to allocate appropriate time and resources to your pilot; otherwise, your results will be skewed by the resulting unrealistic environment.

  • Time– expect multiple collaborative planning and strategizing meetings. This will help to brainstorm the best ideas and successes/failures to reach your audience in the past.
  • Resources– consider the amount of autonomy vs. guidance expected. if you’re considering autonomy, it’s recommended to have a dedicated expert or team on hand. Resources also include incentives for the guest.

Use case: slow midweek at a restaurant

At our restaurant, we have identified a problem we are hopeful an SMS program could solve. Tuesday and Wednesday’s are our slowest days, and we would like to increase traffic. The goal for our pilot program will be to increase clientele on these days by offering an SMS only promotion for a free appetizer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Step two: Identify success metrics

It’s important to choose programs that can be easily measured inside the pilot time and resource restrictions that don’t have to extend past the pilot end date. Only choose to evaluate the criteria that you can measure, if you can’t measure it, you can’t prove the viability of the pilot program.  A great way to measure the effectiveness of your program is to use benchmarks from other campaigns in similar industries or campaigns that targeted similar audiences. This will give you a sense of resource planning and allow you to accurately evaluate your potential ROI if the program is scaled up to the organizational level.

 Our goal is to increase midweek traffic by 50 customers each day by offering a promotion via SMS for a free appetizer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Before the pilot program, the restaurant had an average of 155 customers every Tuesday and 140 customers on Wednesday. We will be using our historical information, POS system, and Huddie’s coupon feature to measure the success or failure of the pilot program. The SMS pilot program will be advertised on our website.

Step three: Review and adjust, if needed.

Address initial success/failure

Once you’ve thoroughly planned your strategy and launched your SMS pilot program, it’s vital to set a regular schedule to review results with stakeholders on the project. This should include the project manager(s), partners or vendors included in the pilot and those who will benefit from the end results. When reviewing statistics and data coming from the pilot, it’s a good idea to consolidate the various measurements into a single dashboard for easy viewing and analysis. Address the average amount earned nightly. If the increase in 50 customers goal was achieved, the pilot campaign was successful, in this example and the use case ends. If not, it is time to address/adjust the strategy.

Once relevant data starts rolling in, it’s important to continually optimize all aspects to ensure an effective outcome. Here are some main points you should be optimizing throughout the trial:

  • When you’re sending SMS, or when the promotion is active
  • When you’re promoting a text-in or any other “joining” activity
  • How you’re asking users to join the promotion
  • To whom you’re directing your promotion

During this stage, plan for success and for what you’ll do when the pilot is complete. Do you need to add resources? Was there something you missed that is now obvious to you? Do you need another measurement to be sure of what’s happening? Asking yourself these questions during the pilot gives you plenty of time to fix anything that requires modification.

Optimizing your messaging throughout the trial also gives you an opportunity to see what will happen to your results without large variables that could end up having a huge consequence in the end.

 After the initial implementation of the pilot program, there is the possibility of 2 different outcomes:

  1. Success: Restaurant visits increased at an average of 50 customers a day
    • Next Steps:
      • Branch out into different promotions and types of message categories to better identify your audience’s needs
      • Address other potential issues that can be solved with SMS marketing
      • Calculate ROI and determine the potential value of SMS
  1. Failure: The average number of customers either did not improve, or did not improve enough
    • Next Steps:
      • Reach out to a professional
      • Revisit the planning stage of your pilot campaign
      • Calculate ROI and determine if SMS is right for the business

In our example, we saw an increase in SMS opt-in’s and promotion redemptions, but not enough to meet our goal. We decided to advertise this SMS pilot promotion on social media and on site. By expanding the advertising, midweek visitors exceeded our goal.

The Pilot is complete, what happens next?

Expand and customize! After you’ve completed the pilot, your business should be more aware of the types, what works with your target audience and what doesn’t. The next step would be to advertise the SMS club to all guests, not just the existing database. Display signage and distribute a dedicated email campaign to the promotional giveaway and how to enter via SMS.

If it makes sense to continue with the promotions you’ve trialed, it’s important to continue directly into the adoption period. Otherwise, you risk losing momentum in your campaign, progress within your audience, and the results you have worked so hard for. The continuous challenge of implementing meaningful and successful SMS programs is based on this educated trial and error. The positive aspect of this method is the continued opportunity to understand your subscriber base and how their preferences may change over time.