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How brands should mine an SMS database

Although SMS is the mobile channel with the greatest reach, it can be a challenge for brands and marketers to find ways to personalize and tailor programs.

Mobile experts agree that although it is important to increase the number of SMS subscribers, it is equally important to take data from an SMS program to target small groups of users. Although many brands are promoting their text programs to consumers, more should be looking for ways to segment their programs with personalized deals and offers.

?As consumers, we subscribe to loyalty programs providing our email address or other personal information because we want to receive information that is relevant to our personal desires,? said Lisa Peterson, director of solutions marketing at Neustar, Sterling, VA.

?Many brands are beginning to embrace the mobile channel and those who have already done so are realizing the differences in engagement methods to reach these uses,? she said.

?SMS-based mobile marketing gives consumers the opportunity to receive relevant offers through their mobile phone.?

Opted-in users
As mobile marketing has become more sophisticated, a greater number of brands are looking to SMS to target both smartphones and feature phones.

One of the biggest challenges for brands and retailers has been finding ways to reward users for opting-in to a SMS program.

However, the real challenge is finding ways to make SMS messages relevant to a brand?s pool of mobile users.

When consumers choose to give their phone number away to a brand or company, they expect to not only get the incentive they were promised for opting-in but are also looking for other relevant offers they are interested in.

SMS marketing should not be seen as a one-off digital tool to simply build a database. Instead, the goal of a text message program is to create a two-way dialogue between a company and a mobile user.

Since consumers have opted-in to a program, it is fair to assume that they want to interact with a particular brand and are open to be communicated with. Therefore, it is critical that companies take advantage of their databases to create meaningful messages that could also lead to more subscribers.

For example, Subway recently began an SMS message that served offers to consumers when they were near a location. After consumers entered a specific area, they were sent a MMS message (see story).

By sending a SMS message to users based on their location that is tied with a reward, it provides an incentive to consumers. Based on a user?s location, an SMS message could be relevant to users who are out searching for deals.

However, privacy remains a concern for tailoring SMS campaigns, and it is important for brands and retailers to let users know exactly what they are signing up for and who has access to their information.

?Providing transparency and enabling the mobile users to choose what they want to receive and when is key,? Ms. Peterson said.

?Mobile users should understand that they can always opt-out of programs too, even once they have opted in,? she said.

Double duty
Although it is important for companies to make their SMS programs relevant, there is a fine line when SMS turns into spam, according to a mobile executive.

?Despite the rules and regulations in place to protect consumers, there are still organizations that mine mobile phone numbers to send spam-like SMS to consumers,? said Doug Stovall, senior vice president of sales and client services at Hipcricket, Kirkland, WA.

?On the other hand, the right way to build mobile loyalty programs is through a double opt-in process,? he said.

?Once consumers have opted-in, it is crucial that marketers only send relevant, timely and useful information. This will not only ensure that regulations are followed, but also helps to engage customers and build loyalty.?

In order to build loyalty, Mr. Stovall suggests that companies send messages to consumers every so often that mirror the brand?s message.

For example, Macy?s sends SMS messages that correlate to both in-store and online promotions.

A recent text message from Macy?s encouraged users to shop a VIP sale with an offer attached. Users could then tap on a link in the SMS message to be taken to the retailer?s mobile site to learn more about the sale.

In order to sign-up for SMS programs, some companies use forms that users must provide their email on as well. This gives brands another way to target users, but it is important to remember that email and mobile are two separate channels and need to be treated differently.

When the same message is sent to users via email and SMS, they are likely to feel bombarded with content. Instead, email and mobile marketing initiatives should give users different offers and deals.

If incorporated correctly, digital channels such as social media can be a great way for a company to bolster Facebook ?likes? and Twitter followers.

For example, Land?s End recently sent out a SMS message to remind subscribers to shop the company?s Easter collection for kids. The message connected with Land?s End Facebook page and let users browse pictures of the clothing and ?like? Land?s End on Facebook.

Loyal users
Being able to connect a loyalty program with an SMS initiative is a smart way for brands to tap into their SMS databases to serve up relevant content.

To first get a brand?s loyalty members opted-in to a SMS campaign, it is a good idea to use multiple channels to promote the program, per an executive from Red Fish Media.

SMS messages can also be effective for brands to increase downloads of their mobile applications, which are traditionally tied to a higher level of loyal users.

In order to get a better grasp on opted-in consumers, brands can also send short surveys and questions via SMS that ask consumers about their demographics and shopping behavior. This information can then be used to segment users with relevant messages.

?Use the channel as a piece to create a conversation with a customer,? said Matt McKenna, founder and president of Red Fish Media, Miami.

?Mobile sits in the middle between social, email and direct mail and can be a great tool for cross promotion,? he said.

?It is the one technology that can push everyone into all these different channels.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York