Bearded marketer wearing a blue sweater leans back in his office chair, having just pressed a red button hooked up to his computer. On the monitor, there are dozens of notifications all displaying "Sent." In the background, a Black customer wearing a purple t-shirt and glasses is staring at their buzzing phone in exasperation.


You just got a text! 

How quickly are you picking up the phone to read it? 

Well, I don’t know about you, but unless my phone is set to Silent mode and left in the other room (standard workday procedure for me, highly recommend)… I lunge for it only slightly slower than an attacking King Cobra. 

And it doesn’t even matter what the message is. 

It could be a brunch invitation from a friend I haven’t seen in 2 years; an outage alert from my utility company (yes, I know you’ll cut my water at 8pm, it’s 7:55 and I already can’t take my evening shower); or a barely intelligible machine translated ad for a suspiciously low-cost leg extension surgery being conducted somewhere in Turkey. 

I don’t care, I’ll still check my phone! 

And I’m not alone. According to a 2022 survey by SimpleTexting, 1 in 3 consumers check their new texts within 1 minute of receiving them.

This obsessive consistency in checking texts is so universal that SMS open rates can reach as high as 98%. For context, 25% is considered an above-average open rate for email! 

So if text messages blow emails out of the water when it comes to performance… 

…why do we still bother with email at all? 

Shouldn’t all businesses switch to an SMS-first model? 

I’ll do my best to give you answers to these questions, and more, in today’s article. 

You will learn: 

  • Why SMS marketing often fails despite the 98% open rate (short version — because marketers ruin everything)
  • The #1 disastrous mistake almost every business makes with their marketing texts
  • 3 key principles to make SMS marketing work for you, no matter what industry you’re in

And more. By the end, you’ll know everything you need to create compelling text message campaigns that your customers actually look forward to getting… 

…instead of deleting the text and blocking your number on sight. 

OK, let’s start at the beginning: 

If SMS marketing is so powerful as to command 98% open rates… how come it isn’t the gold standard already? 

Well, if you’ve ever received a single promotional text that made you want to chuck your phone into the ocean, I suspect you know the answer already…


Marketers ruin everything — including SMS marketing

There used to be three precise, powerful channels that used to give you a direct line of communication with potential buyers.

Direct mail.

Phone calls.


And *all* three have been ruined, or are being ruined, by pushy marketers.

Mailboxes everywhere are bulging under the strain of bright, shouty brochures advertising everything from dog grooming services to off-brand drones resold from Aliexpress.

Robocalls have become so incessant that one man became lost on Mt Elbert, Colorado, for 24 entire hours — while rescue services were frantically trying frantically to reach him — because he wouldn’t return calls from an unknown number. 

And email… *gestures at 20,317 unreads in her personal inbox* …I don’t need to tell you how we’re all drowning in it. I still love it, I do — but let’s not pretend that the current state of email marketing is flawless. 

By the way: I know that all three channels I’ve mentioned are still being used by marketers today, and people are still generating awesome results with them. BUT my point is, it’s become way harder to cut through the noise and stand out. 

…And the same thing is about to happen with SMS marketing. 

Text messages are still a relatively fresh-faced form of communication. Most people still see them primarily as a way to talk to their loved ones. Starting a text chain to organize a big ol’ cookout, raving to your best friend about an awesome date you’ve been on, texting grandma to wish her a speedy recovery after hip replacement surgery…

There’s a ton about SMS that still remains human and alive and personal.

That’s why most people still rush over to check their phone whenever they hear that ding!


What happens when marketers strut in and start treating their customers phone numbers like another email inbox with higher open rates?

That’s right: they flood it with meaningless noise and they ruin it for everybody else. Here’s how…


How brands betray customer trust with SMS marketing

Do you have your phone on hand? Do me a favor and look at your recent text messages.

Count how many salesy, impersonal, and straight-up unsolicited texts you’ve got just chilling in there being obnoxious.

I’ve just done this, and I’m counting 11 messages from just the past week. Here are some highlights:

  • My cell carrier giving me a Memorial Day deal to buy more traffic… except I have an unlimited data plan
  • An online pet store offering a whopping 5% off my next order — careful, I might just go on a shopping spree
  • My gym asking me to fill out a survey in exchange for a free unspecified gift
  • A random grocery store I have stopped by exactly once in my life for a bottle of water (fun fact: I never gave them my number)

And many more texts along the same lines. To give you a high-level overview…

Total marketing SMS: 11 (more like 12, but from 11 senders)

Actually welcome messages: 1, potentially (the one from the gym)

Bald-faced spam texts: 4 (the one from the grocery store and others)

Are you noticing the big, hairy problem yet?

The vast majority of these messages are worthless to me. They are not relevant, not valuable, and not at all respectful of my personal data.

And that’s why SMS marketing doesn’t work for so many businesses…


They’re just winging it. They just spray-and-pray, expecting the magical 98% open rate to deliver outrageous conversions.

But it doesn’t. 

Because even if 98 out of 100 leads see your text… they still won’t take action if the offer is irrelevant —- or just plain bad.

Honestly, considering the sorry state of your average marketing texts, it’s a wonder that more than half of consumers are willing to hand over their phone numbers at all (source: 99firms)!

I imagine that will stop soon. Unless we as business owners collectively get our dookie together and clean up our SMS marketing act.

I have a pretty good idea of where to start…


3 principles of highly effective SMS marketing

Now that you know what not to do, it becomes pretty clear what it takes to craft compelling promotional texts that generate big ROI. Targeted, valuable, well-written campaigns are key, and they will help you keep a loyal fan base of SMS subscribers — even if you don’t text them very often.

(Which, by the way, you shouldn’t do anyway — more on that later.)

So, let’s investigate the 3 keys to amazingly effective text message marketing…


1. First impressions are EVERYTHING. Make ’em count

When you text a lead for the first time, this simple interaction sets the tone for your entire SMS marketing strategy.

Your first message will answer that unspoken question:

“Can I expect to get anything good from this brand? Or did I make a horrible mistake and now they’ll spam me for life?”

Here’s how you can make your prospects feel good about their decision:

  • Officially welcome people as your subscribers — BEFORE you start texting them anything promotional or sales-focused. That way, you’ll stand out from all other companies who start texting out of the blue, and your leads will remember you better.
  • Align your welcome text with your brand voice. You want to do this for each SMS you send, not just the first one. But the welcome message is what sets the tone, so make sure it highlights your brand personality!
  • Give them a small but meaningful welcome gift. An exclusive download, free shipping code, free bonus with any purchase — anything that doesn’t cost you a lot of money, but lets your customers experience the benefits of their SMS subscriber status IMMEDIATELY.

And what do you do after you’ve made a killer first impression? You maintain it like so…


2. Balance meeting expectations with creating delight

Here’s a good recipe for maintaining a long, lucrative relationship with your audience via SMS:

80% of the time, deliver them exactly what they signed up for. E.g. if they subscribed to get notified about special deals, give them special deals. If they joined a waitlist to sign up for your SaaS product, text them exactly once when it goes live. And so on.

But the OTHER 20% of the time…

Surprise them with unexpected value. Because that’s what delight is: value + surprise. There are tons of ways to deliver delight depending on what you sell. For example, you could… 

  • Text them a little gift card redeemable towards any purchase in your store.
  • Give them a 7-day extension on their 14-day free trial.
  • Send them a hefty discount code — just because it’s been a while since they bought from you.

Finally, I’ve saved the most important principle for last…


3. Promotion QUALITY beats promotion FREQUENCY

When you know that 90+ percent of your leads will see whatever you text them… it can be hard to resist that kind of power.

And yet, resist it you must. 

Don’t give in to the temptation of SMS marketing and start treating your audience’s digits for granted. Prioritize hyper-relevant, high-value promotions over everything else.

Whenever you want to text something to your leads, ask yourself two questions:

  1. “Does this align with their expectations as my SMS subscribers?”
  2. “Is this valuable enough to justify texting them?”

If the answer to both is a resounding YES, go ahead and do it. But if you’re not sure, explore the options to make the offer more relevant, more valuable (or both!) — or simply deliver it through a different channel, like email.

In marketing, less is very often more; and nowhere else can this be seen more clearly than with SMS!


Remember: marketing “silver bullets” do not exist

SMS is just another marketing channel like any other. Yes, it comes with clear upsides, like the already often mentioned 98% open rates. But in no universe can that become a viable replacement for a smart marketing strategy that aligns with your audience’s needs.

So the next time you want to [slide in their DMs] become a presence in their SMS inbox, ask yourself: 

Are you doing this to create a stronger connection with your target audience and deliver more value to them…

…or are you just afraid of being ignored?

If it’s the latter, then defaulting to SMS marketing won’t help you. You’ll have to actually prioritize making truly compelling content, and serving it to your prospects wherever THEY are happy to receive it.

Everything else is just the by-product of your strategic choices.

Choose wisely.


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