Interview – SMS as a small business marketing tool


If your customers don’t have mobile phones then you can skip this one.

For everyone else this interview with Anne-Louise Underwood from SMSToolkit goes into detail about how you can add SMS to your marketing mix and the advantages it provides small business owners who are watching their marketing ROI.

With Google Chairman Eric Schmidt calling 2014 the year that “mobile has won” this interview comes at a great time.

If you have a question about SMS marketing or how to use it in your business then leave a comment below the post and I’ll get Anne-Louise to get back to you.

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Mick: G’Day folks, it’s Mick Cullen here from Redcliffe Marketing Labs. This morning I’m chatting with Anne-Louise Underwood from SMS toolkit. Anne-Louise we’re going to talk all about SMS today and what small business owners need to know. Please give us a bit of a background on SMS toolkit and how you got involved.

Anne-Louise: SMS toolkit is a software program that we developed for people to utilize SMS for appointment reminders and general sales and marketing. I became involved because my husband actually is a software developer. I come from a performance art background but about 7 or 8 years ago decided I had enough of that and interested in the sales and marketing and development side of that business and that’s really how I became involved. The SMS as a tool, we became involved in because of a long history with big medical administration software and the need for an SMS appointment reminder service within that software.

Mick: Okay, and for small business owner, so we’re talking restaurants, cafes, it could be a welding shop, mechanic…

Anne-Louise: Motorcycles, garage doors

Mick: All sorts of business, so why SMS? What value does it bring for them?

Anne-Louise: SMS is immediate and even though as we know there are millions, not millions but tens of other options out there for communicating with people but it is still the case and we can certainly say that our clients and their customers that SMS remains one of the most immediate forms. The statistics and they’re reasonably hard statistics are that around about 90% of phone users will open a text message in under 3 minutes. If you look at that compared to an email for example and even with Smartphones, we know that people get email on their Smartphone but their text message is still the one and if you look at it personally, it’s still the one you go “oh!” and have a quick look at it. In terms of immediacy and the knowledge that people will open and look at your message, SMS is still one of the top players.

Mick: It’s kind of like psychology of how effective SMS is. With all these campaigns for road safety is around “don’t text and drive type” things. There is a huge compulsion when people get an SMS, it’s like they need to try and check it straight away and answer it right away. If we step back a bit I guess, what does SMS actually stand for? Could I be right in saying its short message service?

Anne-Louise: Yes

Mick: So short message service, even before we got Smartphone or things with email that was like the data service that carries a way to send text message between mobile phones.
Anne-Louise: The key with SMS as you’ve just said, short. It’s about short. An email gives you the luxury of territory, physical territory in an email. SMS is about a short message. It’s about something that you wish to communicate with your clients and whoever else that really fits within 160 odd characters, which is the length of a standard text message, 160 alpha numeric characters. Of course you can go over that and how that works is that you will create several, one or more units of the 160 and before they’re delivered on to the recipients phone, they’re combined together to make one message. Sometimes you and those listening to us will know that they hear a message coming on their phone and then very quickly there’s another acknowledgement of a message coming in. that just means there’s two have come in and they’ve combined on your phone to make one message so that when you read it…

Mick: So when you read it, it’s just one message.

Anne-Louise: Yes, but ideally and most certainly to our clients we recommend that when they setup their templates, which then merge together with their client data, we recommend that they keep it, if they can, they keep it in the 160 because its attention span for people that’s a quick read. Get the information they need out there upfront.

Mick: Okay, best practices then, touch on one of these is try to keep it…

Anne-Louise: Keep it short

Mick: I guess you’re tailoring your message in that particular channel; in this case we’re dealing with 160 characters so keeping it short because it’s an immediate message. What are some of the other best practices around using SMS?

Anne-Louise: I think that in an ideal world, you use SMS messaging when the recipient wants something from you. I think there’s a lot of random marketing that you can do with text messaging and like all things, you’ll have a hit and miss rate and it’s humungously tractable. You know if you send 200 messages out to somebody, to a database whether that’s your client database or whether that’s a random database, you will know exactly who has responded to that offer. It’s tremendously tractable in that way. Spam is most important in this day and age and I’m sure that everybody who’s listening will be aware but just in case anyone’s not, you can’t just send random marketing stuff to people. If you’re reported for spam, it’s an on the spot fine for around $25,000 Australian Spam Laws provides for that. It’s unsubscribe, most people know about unsubscribe in email. With a text message, it’s as simple as at the end of a message to a marketing database site. the end of the message should include something along the lines of “to unsubscribe, reply stop” and our system in particular will pick up any version of stop and drop those people into a list so that when you’re going back to the list you can look and go “A, B and C have decided they don’t want to receive anything from us.” You can receive replies from people to whom you send a text message. That can be very effective from an appointment reminder perspective obviously about letting you know that they can or can’t make an appointment. From a marketing perspective, there are all sorts of opportunities for people to come back to you to show their interest in something that you sent out. we have an arts client who their first use of the system was they were sending out to their clients, if they brought the text message that have been sent into the box office, they could access a premier price.

Mick: So that was a show-this-message or show-your-phone.

Anne-Louise: A discount, yeah show-your-phone, bring-your-phone in with the message on it and they actually put aside a couple of hundred tickets and they were so bombarded they didn’t have enough seats in the end, which was really interesting. A great place to be, if you’re in the arts you’ll know what I mean. The business of a special, of some description and people being able to access that either by bringing a phone in, as was the case there, alternatively obviously who now have Smartphone, you can include in a message a URL which puts them directly onto any space that you want to direct them to. It’s very effective in that respect and that’s a great way to use SMS.

Mick: The value you see there is you got such a small space in that message that if you then do get them back to a webpage or to a video, you then got that extra room and space in real estate and time to actually get across the rest of the message if it’s a more complex type of message.
Anne-Louise: One of the other things is always to ensure that you identify yourself when that text message goes out. The right order of things isn’t to go “special offer” because very often people will just delete that if they don’t know what it is. The first thing is to say who you are. if they’re actually interested in you and that’s the other thing I think I frequently find myself saying to people, if it’s going to work for you, it will work for you and if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. It’s the same thing if you put yourself up there as the person sending the message, they’re either interested in you or they’re not and any amount of coaxing isn’t going to change that.

Mick: Like most things I guess, if they want to hear from it, they’ll keep hearing from you whereas the unsubscribe function or not, you’ll actually do damage to your brain if you’re using it the wrong way.

Anne-Louise: Absolutely indeed and it isn’t just damage with that person, its damage with all of the 10 people that they tell and that’s the other thing, is it? I think one of the other things too these days, it’s very seductive to send things out digitally. It’s so easy compared to the old days when you’re doing marketing and pretty much, well not the only but one of the only tools that we had was direct mail. It was a big deal. If you’re going to do a mailing to 10,000 people, it took 2 days and it was a big deal.

Mick: And expensive.

Anne-Louise: and expensive, yes. Nowadays you can do 10,000, 100,000, trillion people with a click of a button and this is one of the other things about SMS that even now, after all of these years of working in it, just really impresses me. If I’m doing a send to my entire database of 27,000 or whatever it happens to be, or I’m doing an offer to just 10 of those people because they’re particular to me, it’s the same amount of time. Once you have designed the template, merge the information and hit the send button, it’s gone and it’s on people’s phones within seconds and it is within seconds, it’s not days.

Mick: There’s two things there, let’s come back to the different ways people can actually do this because I’m sure you can do this manually or many different systems but before that let’s talk about the roles inside a business where we can use it. One we identified earlier was with marketing and then I guess in the actual sales delivery like an appointment setting and follow up and things like that. Can you sort of break out a couple of use cases there?

Anne-Louise: And probably giving a couple of case studies is an easy way to put that forward. A cleaning home services, a large master franchise owner who was very resistant in fact, very careful with the dollars and how they spend it, as we all are, but most of his doing any marketing campaigns to his broad database, which was from memory about just over 7,000. That was all of his clients over all of the years of his business versus people who are current clients, as in today with an appointment. He was quite resistant to the idea of text messaging because he was using email which of course is free and I said to him “just do a sample, just do a sample”. In the end I said “I’ll pay for it. Come over and we’ll do thing.” What we did, we took out of that database of 7,000, 100 people who had provided both an email address and a mobile number. Right there they’d given him permission to make contact through the mobile phone option. He already sent an email to them and had a very modest response. We took those 100, the longest period of time was designing the message and getting that right so that it fitted in the short message that it really made sense and was quick and easy for people to digest. He brought the data on an excel document, we merged it with the template we’ve created, hit the send button and it was gone. It probably took us altogether maybe 10 minutes from where to go to get those out. This was at lunch time. He rang me the next morning and said that they have had an immediate response, which have generated $250 worth of business. That’s not very much but if he had paid for the text messaging, it would have cost him $10. Right there the morning after, $240. By the end of 2 weeks, it had generated nearly $3,000 in additional business and it was business they wouldn’t have gotten. The deal that they sent out was “buy an internal pest cleaning and you can get an external pest cleaning for 20% discount” but the interesting thing was people not only took up the deal that he’d offered, it sparked people to go “actually what we really need is the house cleaned before Christmas” so that $3,000 wasn’t just special offers even, that was a lot of other business that was generated.

Mick: In that case, I guess really a customer reactivation campaign, that case where past customers have gone cold or out of touch.

Anne-Louise: Yes, very much so, bought them back to the door. Yes indeed and it was really going to be a good productive tool for them, also the business of reminders of course, which is the obvious one. We all get reminders for the dentist or what have you but for them it’s an easy thing to shoot a quick reminder out to people as well. Another case, part of the SMS toolkit is a component called SMS response manager which very simply means people can text potential customers, can text in and receive information immediately and automatically back to their phones. Long client has used that recently in a competition; they used Avant cards which some people may not be aware of. It’s a promotional post card style delivery of information about business. Very often if you’re going to arts venues or museums or the city council kind of offices, there’s a great big stand with all sorts of colorful card, they’re Avant cards. In this particular instance, Music of People which is a national arts organization used it to gather qualified leads. It was a competition where people texted into a mobile number that we provided for them and what they got back was a name, an email address and of course a mobile phone number which then went into their database for future reference but also it was a competition. It was very successful for them. The same thing, it cost them $10 and generated thousands of dollars.

Mick: The system is just passing the information cards back and pulling out an address, a name and plugging that, extracting that from the SMS into data fields.

Anne-Louise: Yeah and it’s all automatic. That’s the other thing. This system is designed to be very intuitive and user friendly. Its very database focused so it drops into it; excel style so it’s very straightforward for clients.

Mick: Because you have seen at expos as well, where the people have a big sign up and again similar sort of stuff to get more information or to enter the competition SMS the number. We skipped over that a little bit there, Anne-Louise about the appointments but I recognize it’s a really big part of the actual SMS servicing if people are going to pick up a client because if you’re looking at especially high-priced appointments, whether it’s a high rate or a high service fee, if people don’t turn up and you don’t have a business model where you can still work that cost, then that’s effectively a loss revenue and a waste of capacity and resources for that day. You obviously have to pay for your staff to be there with no customers coming through. What’s the return on investment sort of argument there for the SMS service that you use?

Anne-Louise: I think it’s outstanding really. If you look at for example a business where maybe the rough cost of an appointment or an appearance or whatever let’s say is $100. Our text message is a 10 cent each. If you have just one client who either doesn’t turn up who cancels close to the mark, you’ve got to send a thousand text messages at 10 cents to cover the cost of one appointment. In terms of return of investment, it’s worth every dollar that you spend on it but the other side of it I think a lot of businesses miss is it isn’t just the cost of text message going out or the phone call going out; it’s also the amount of time that your staff is spending. If for example you’re doing a manual version of appointment reminder, i.e. a phone call. You’ve got staff tied up with the time that it takes to do the phone call, the cost of the call and quite often you’ve got cheap or 0 phone calls in different plans and things but the time and frustration that goes along with reminding people that appointments is really quite significant and I do think that a lot of business owners, unless they’re doing that job themselves versus their secretary or the receptionists or whoever doing it don’t necessarily understand that it isn’t just the actual cost in a dollar sense, it’s all of the other emotional cost that goes along with the frustrations that go and the other thing too I think with appointments which are either cancelled or missed at last notice, it isn’t just the dollars that are missed in the actual appointment, it’s also the chaos that gets caused around it of trying to regroup.
The appointment reminder can go out at any point. It can go out the day before. It can go out the morning of. With our service, you can schedule it for delayed send so let’s say it’s appointments that are on Tuesday, you’ve got some free time on Friday afternoon, they can all be scheduled and ready to go, loaded on to our server which is all automated, loaded on to the server ready to be delivered with your instruction for 4pm on Monday afternoon. Not only it takes out the frustration and the cost of any kind of people-oriented version of an appointment reminder but also once it’s done, it’s actually done and finished. There’s no more to be done and you can of course organize in that appointment reminder for a reply. If they need to cancel they ring you or text back no or yes or whatever version. That reply option makes it clean as well.

Mick: What examples have you got of industries? Medical practices, dentist…

Anne-Louise: Most people would know and have significant experience with the medical side of it, with allied health or medical, hair dressers, dentists, those sorts of things but also we’ve got a very large range of clients that use it for notifications. Not just appointment reminders but notifications that a motorcycle is ready for pick up, that a delivery is coming. We’ve got a range of industries. We’ve got motorcycles, we’ve got optometry clients, we’ve got garage door manufacturers, we’ve got a reasonable and vast organizations that use it for quite often for add on value, that sell tickets for people all ready for a show. They’re getting close to the show time and they’ve got some empty seats. It’s not actually devaluing those seats. They look and going “it’s 5 o’clock and the show is in 3 hours. We’re not going to sell them at this point. Let’s shoot an extra offer up to the people who have bought seats.” Similarly with the motorcycle side of things, with the repair shop, he can add value with a text message when it’s coming on to the time of might be doing a full service, throw in a couple of tires if you get it done at the same time for a discount. There are all sorts of opportunities for using it as an appointment reminder service and/or a notification service but adding a bit of extra sales to it as well.

Mick: As far as someone listening this morning, include it in their business to get some of these benefits and get it a shot, obviously here comes a scale thing. You can do this manually. You can have someone sit there with a phone and have your list of contact and just actually send SMS that way if you’re not already planning some kind of reminder system or an offer system, what’s the next step up from there? How do you do this little automated or scale up?

Anne-Louise: This little package SMS toolkit is a very simple and user friendly little package. You can create groups, lists of people that is or different groups of people or just one group of people and you can input that information manually and it will sit in the program which sits on your desktop. It’s not in the cloud. Your data lives with you in your office. You can load them into SMS toolkit and leave them in there or whatever lists you have yourself, you might have your clients on an excel spreadsheet or a CSV. You might also be using another piece of administration software, like MYOB for example. Our products link directly to MYOB. As long as you can get the data out of your administration software or whatever customer service software you’re running, if you can bring that data out in an excel spreadsheet, you can drop it into our SMS toolkit product and it will just automatically gather up whatever pieces of information you want to use and then they’re in there ready to formulate campaigns and send them out.

Mick: Okay and the next best place, if folks listening at home gone through this and interested in finding out more, you’ve got a free demo they can access?

Anne-Louise: We do. Actually SMS toolkit is a piece of free software. Sometimes people are surprised that at this day and age, anyone who looks on the internet will see trillions of products that are free to download. The software is free to download. We don’t run with subscriptions and annual fees and all of those things, it’s a use-as-you-pay system just like your mobile phone. It’s prepaid. You can pop some credit on. Use it. If it’s working for you, we can have automatic top-up arrangements or it can just be you add credit when you need it. Not only that, if you decide it’s not working for you and I have great belief in that if the product is good for you it will work for you and you will use it and if it’s not then you won’t. We refund any credit that’s left there if you’ve decided that it’s not actually working for you as a tool but I can assure people who are listening, if it’s something that’s of relevance in your business and I really do feel that in any business, there’s a prudent place for text messaging. It’s a great, quick, easy option for all sorts of things. Download SMS tools, it’s a free download. There are three test messages in there. The help files are really substantial and easy to access but we are very happy to talk to clients at any time and our phone number is 07-3117-5118 and when you go to our website which is the contact information is all there. Feel free to shoot an email off to us. Feel free to give us a call and we’ll give you a callback, very happy to help you to see whether it might work for you.

Mick: Thanks Anne-Louise, that’s a pretty good wrap up of SMS and hope everyone, will get something out of that. Thanks very much and I’m sure we’ll get in touch soon, cheers.

Anne-Louise: Thanks, Mick.