SMS Marketing Shortcodes and Keywords –Much More Than OMG, LOL

Originally published in collaboration with Teradata on the Teradata blog.

During my presentation at the Aprimo Marketing Summit, and earlier this week on the blog, I talked about five great use cases for SMS marketing. Hopefully those got you thinking, but if you’re still hesitant about launching an SMS marketing campaign, consider these eye-opening stats:

91 percent of Americansown a mobile phone. 82 percent never leave home without their phone.

65 percent of all adults age 18 and older send and receive text messages.

98 percent of text messages are opened, and the average “open” time upon receiving a text message is four minutes.
Still, you may ask; “But, aren’t SMS campaigns technically complicated? What do I need to know before I get started?

Let me help. If you want to get started on an SMS campaign, one of the first steps is to understand that at its most fundamental level, SMS marketing boils down to the effective use and understanding of two key elements: shortcodes and keywords.

Shortcodes

Shortcodes are short telephone numbers (usually only five to six digits) that function as SMS addresses.

Optimally, shortcodes are designed to be easy to remember and difficult to forget, and they can be promoted on everything from television shows to product labels. Shortcodes can help consumers engage with your brand via a wide spectrum of activities, ranging from survey polling and charitable giving to news alert subscriptions and mobile services (like ordering ringtones or checking account balances).

In addition, shortcodes can be one of two types: shared or dedicated.  Simply put, shared shortcodes are shared between companies, while dedicated shortcodes are numbers leased exclusively by only one. Here are some of the details involved:

As I mentioned, dedicated short codes are exclusive to the brand using them –and that’s a definite plus. On the minus side, however, dedicated short codes also can be expensive to lease (to the tune of $15 – 30K a year), and they can take months to implement.  Even so, for high-visibility brands, dedicated short codes can be extremely beneficial, and they may be well worth the time and expense.

For example, exclusive ownership of a shortcode allows marketers to utilize the unique branding opportunity afforded by the vanity shortcode. Examples of companies and organizations using these include: Coke (2653), Fox (20369 – 20FOX), ABC (22288 – ABCTV) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (27727 – ASPCA). However, vanity comes with a price — $1000 a month to lease. A non-vanity dedicated short code (aka a random shortcode) can run $500 a month to lease.  (Remember: In all cases, your total expense will include setup costs, automation solutions, etc., as well.)

Also, when exploring options with mobile marketing, it’s critical to keep something else top-of-mind: mobile marketing is not like the open frontier of the internet. Service providers can shut you down if they don’t like what you’re doing. If you opt for the more cost-effective shared short code, this consideration takes on a whole new spin.  Worst case scenario, your campaign could be shut down because of shady practices from another company using the same shortcode. What’s more, subscribers could become confused by mixed messages from competing organizations.

A well-known example of shared shortcode conflict happened during the 2008 Democratic primary. Barack Obama used a dedicated shortcode to mobilize and reach his supporters (62262, spelling Obama), while Hillary Clinton opted for a shared short code. In a moment that lays bare the contrast between shared and dedicated shortcodes, a Clinton supporter texted his zip code to Clinton’s shared short code. Moments later, he received a communication from a local community hospital, not the Clinton campaign.

Keywords

To stave off confusion among subscribers to companies with shared shortcodes, keywordsare a must. A keyword is the word or phrase consumers send to your shortcode to subscribe to your mobile marketing.

For example, you may ask consumers to text the words “SignMeUp” to “(insert shortcode here)” to subscribe to a breaking news alert. The Ed Show on MSNBC uses a dedicated short shortcode and two keywords for polling. In this case, the keywords are “A” or “B.” Host Ed Schultz then reveals the results of that night’s poll at the conclusion of the 8PM hour. Another example is American Idol.  The show invites viewers to text “VOTE” to the (dedicated) short code of the contestant of choice.

A few tips for choosing keywords:

1.) Keep them short. Maximum of ten characters. (Easy to remember; difficult to forget.)

2.) Make them organic to your brand. Coke wouldn’t say “send JUICE to 2653,” would it?

3.) Make sure you use separate keywords for separate actions. In other words, don’t instruct customers to text “SUBSCRIBE” for both subscriptions and donations. When each action has its own keyword, you’ll avoid confusing your customers –and you’ll be better able to target your messaging, as well.

Of course, understanding shortcodes and keyword –two fundamental elements of mobile marketing campaigns–is only the beginning. Next comes the creative part: improving the customer experience with a compelling and innovative SMS campaign.