Is it time to start texting your customers?

Maintaining your own in-house email list is a no-brainer. But what about your own mobile list?

I’ll bet you’re overlooking it. Most companies are obsessed with email. But read this very long and detailed blog post by Tomi Ahonen and you might rethink your position.

Trusting his math for now, here are a few highlights:

  • Mobile phone-based messaging is 2.6 times as big, by users, as email. There are 1.4 billion email users; 3.6 billion texters.
  • The user base is 53% of the total population on the planet.
  • Text messaging passed $100 billion in annual revenues two years ago and $113 billion in annual revenues for 2009. For context, the global music industry is worth about $20 billion.
  • How urgently do you respond to emails? We respond to SMS in 5 minutes.
  • SMS is the most discrete form of communication and it is the fastest form of communication.
  • In Britain 87% of all subscribers send SMS. Over 67% in the United States.

A Simple Example of Where SMS Kills Email

Texting Your Customers
Photo of girl obviously using phone for texting. She's smiling. Maybe that's a sign that SMS is right for your business.

Imagine for a moment that you own a restaurant. People come and go in your location regularly. Maybe your emailing them, now — offers, new menu items, special events. But who knows when they finally read those emails.

Yes, you can tell who’s getting them if you use an even halfway intelligent email service to manage your list. And you can tell when. But what are the chances they’re reading them very shortly after you send them?

And what if you’d like to reach out to customers to get them to come TONIGHT? Will email get it done? For example, do you trust that if you sent your mother an email right now that she’d respond within 8 hours? Exactly.

SMS is the answer. It’s a nice little secret weapon you can use to get noticed instantly. As Len Schneyder and Jared Reitzen agreed in a recent podcast episode of eMail Radio, mobile phones are ubiquitous.

But Hold On, There’s A Contrary Thought on This

The problem with these stats and declaring SMS to be “the answer,” however, is this: In the US, we’re not yet conditioned to receive business offers via text messages, constantly interrupting our day.

That’s the argument Michael Bloch made a couple years ago, and two years prior to THAT, Ewan MacLeod declared something similar at his own Mobile Industry Review website.

Ewan suggests that with smartphones taking over, people increasingly have access to their email just as easily as they do text messages. Nielsen says that 28% of the US wireless market is now wrapped up in smartphones.

Forget that these articles are two and four years old.

Talking anecdotally here, nearly every person I know who uses SMS does so only with personal conversations. For business purposes, even the most texting-crazy people I know don’t text others they’ve just met right off the bat. They ask if the other person texts first, then they ask for permission, and only then do they kick it into gear.

So, Should You Do This or Not?

Despite the fact that we’re not as business-oriented with our texting in the US, my suggestion? Yes. You should be asking for customers’ mobile numbers. Get them to opt-in. Assure them the texts will be rare, yet meaningful when you do send them.

You can’t send nearly as many SMS messages as you do emails. You’re working against how most people use their mobile phones — so, abuse it, and they’ll quickly opt-out. But it’s only a matter of time before people start accepting commercial text messages more often.

I say get ahead of the curve.

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