A Guide to Promotional SMS [The Dos, Don’ts, and 5 Examples]

As of 2022, there are 6.6 billion smartphone network subscriptions worldwide.

Considering we all have cell phones and rely on them for any questions, needs, or whims we may have, SMS is a logical avenue for marketers to explore if they want to reach the widest range of people.

But wait – we can access email and social media on phones, too, so what’s different about promotional SMS?

The thing is that email and social media are already swamped with promotional content. It’s hard to grab a customer’s attention if they already expect junk mail and advertisements.

SMS isn’t nearly as saturated or overused. It’s an avenue that customers are conditioned to pay attention to.

Instead of being one of the hundreds of brands people automatically block out online, you become one from the handful they actually notice.

For comparison, SMS has a 98% open rate, whereas email sits at about 34% on average (as of April 2023).

As long as it’s targeted and well-suited to the recipient, promotions and tailored recommendations are actually among consumers’ favourite brand interactions, according to research:

Customer preference for this communication channel means that you already have a foot in the door for getting them on your side. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to squander the opportunity.

Play your cards wisely, and promotional SMS can be your key to business success and customer satisfaction.

What Is Promotional SMS?

Promotional short message service (SMS) is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you imagine SMS marketing: deals, coupons, loyalty offers, birthday vouchers, event promotions and the like.

It includes promotional messages sent through either regular text messaging or any other messaging app, such as WhatsApp or Messenger.

Promotional SMS is one of the most commonly used types of SMS campaigns.

They’re often confused with transactional SMS, but it’s important to know these two types are not the same.

Mixing them up could be a potential legal issue, especially because some countries don’t allow promotional content or only allow a certain type of SMS messages during specific times.

If you break the rules, you could get in trouble whether you did it intentionally or not, so it’s best to know and stay on the safe side.

The Difference Between Promotional SMS and Transactional SMS

Transactional messages are usually automated responses triggered by the customer’s action, and they’re directly relevant to that customer and the action they took.

They can be standalone messages like payment confirmations or sent in a sequence, like delivery updates.

These messages are there to update, remind, and basically reassure the customer everything is going according to plan. It’s important for the customer experience that they’re made aware of as many behind-the-scenes steps as possible.

Meanwhile, promotional SMS messages are created to elicit a response from the intended recipient or group of recipients and typically aren’t triggered by customer actions.

Here they are side-by-side:

Aspect Promotional SMS Transactional SMS
Initiating party
  • The company
  • The customer
  • Elicit a response like buy or subscribe
  • Gather customer feedback
  • Directly follow up with the customer and their triggered action
  • Help along the customer journey after the transaction
Intended recipient
  • An individual or audience segment
  • The customer who triggered the SMS response
Sending time
  • Determined and scheduled by the company based on the goal and target audience
  • Sometimes triggered by an event, like customer birthday
  • Scheduled based on the customer action
  • Often pre-determined, like appointment reminders day before the appointment
  • Often triggered by an event, like order leaving the warehouse

Both have their place in SMS marketing; they’re two sides of the same coin. For now, let’s continue focusing on SMS promotions.

The Benefits of SMS Promotional Messages

SMS doesn’t cannibalise from other channels you’re using.

It enhances your marketing strategy with unique perks – let’s run through them.

Building a Loyal Customer Base

Promotional SMS and other text campaigns enable you to stay in touch with customers without boring or overwhelming them.

You can easily reach them on their phones and give them something valuable in return, like special deals, exclusive offers, or helpful tips.

Over time, promotional SMS can be a powerful growth and retention asset.

Improving Communication

Social media posts get lost due to the algorithm. Emails are slow – who knows when they’ll be read and addressed.

Phone calls? Opinions are split, but so many people hate calling or being put on the spot. Besides, it takes more time and labour to have human agents sit around answering calls at a call centre than it does to respond to an SMS.

Texting is the superior platform when it comes to fast and convenient communication.

That’s why it’s becoming increasingly popular to have customer service SMS, too.

With promotional SMS, in particular, you can enable customer responses and talk about your offers in real-time, so their worries are gone and they’re more likely to buy.

(Re-)Engaging Customers

We’ll talk about this in the examples section, but promotional SMS is fantastic for re-capturing and engaging your customer base.

Here’s a good hack to use on your website:

  1. See when customers get disengaged and leave your site by using your analytics
  2. Time a pop-up 5 seconds before that moment that invites them to SMS with a special offer
  3. Enjoy your engagement boost

Time-Saving (Which Saves Money and Opportunity Costs)

Did we mention speed and convenience?

Compared to other channels that take more labour and time to read, SMS is one of the most cost-effective options you have.

So, let’s talk about integrating it into your strategy.

What To Do: 7 Best Practices For Promotional SMS

If you’re considering a promotional SMS service, huddle up here to get a decent SMS ROI.

1. Personalise the Message and the Recipient

Customers want you to know and cater to their tastes with SMS customisation.

That said, you need to know the limits. We’ve seen “personalisation” go wrong too many times.

  • Exhibit A: overpersonalisation, AKA being the creep with binoculars who sees blinds and curtains as obstacles to overcome

“Hey Brian, we heard you were having a bit of trouble with that rash of yours. Check out these discounts on our premium ointments!” 😬

What went wrong: The sender went way too far with personalisation to the point it feels distasteful, like an invasion of privacy.

  • Exhibit B: fake personalisation, AKA being the LinkedIn chatbot who thinks mentioning one post you made = making a relationship

“Hey Paul, interesting post about inclusivity in the workplace. Have you ever thought about making a passive income with cryptocurrency?”

What went wrong: The personalisation part had nothing to do with the offer, yet they were sent virtually in the same breath. This is a cheap, quick sales tactic that turns people off.

What you want is to come across as an attentive, active listener ready to lend a helping hand.

The recent Klaviyo report sheds some light on good SMS personalisation:

Using your in-depth insights about customer information relevant to your offers is a big common theme among positive experiences and one of the key differentiators between attentive helpers and creepy creeps.

2. Be Professional

Be appropriate both in terms of content and tone.

You never want to accidentally insult your customers by sending an insensitive message or being crass about a personal topic.

Keep an industry-appropriate tone, especially if you’re in finance, legal, or healthcare, where things you say are taken literally and seriously.

3. Keep It Succinct and Include One Call-To-Action Only

SMS is a short format, and that’s the whole point.

Want people to buy before the end of the holiday? Make a reservation? Come to your event?

Spell it out.

Go one thing at a time because the alternative is none.

4. Ensure You Follow Compliance and Get User Consent

You need to comply with the rules for the region you’re texting, not just your local regulations.

In translation, if you’re texting from the UK to the US, you need to comply with American regulations like the TCPA, not just the GDPR.

Wanna skip over the homework?

You need explicit consent from your audience before you can message them.

The main point of difference between these regulations is that pre-checked boxes don’t count as consent everywhere.

To ensure international compliance, you need:

  • Privacy policy and terms of service
  • Unchecked boxes for people to consciously check as a required field

Alternatively to boxes, you can have your audience opt-in by sending a word like “TEXT” to your number – this is great if you’re using a billboard or print to get leads.


You also need to include an opt-out option with every message you send.

5. Keep Timing In Mind

When it comes to timing, there are a few key points of consideration.

First, there’s the legal side. In many countries, promotional SMS isn’t allowed during night hours.

That’s fine because you want to hit your target audience when they’re in the mood to buy or engage anyway.

Then, you must think about your consistency when building a normal SMS cadence.

You don’t want to send too many messages or at the same time down to the minute – switching it up by a few minutes or hours makes the flow more human.

So, when is the best time to send promotional SMS?

According to a global report from 2023, one of the most likely times for consumers to buy something is when they get a promotional SMS (65%). Following that logic, anytime could work.

But the other two most popular listed times are more helpful for narrowing it down:

Regardless, you know your audience best.

To find the best time to send promotional SMS to your audience segments, consider their time zones, country regulations, working hours, brand history, and preferences.

If you don’t have that data, there’s your starting point.

As a general rule, no more than once per day – most people want to receive SMS a few times per week.

6. Create a Sense of Urgency

Promotional SMS messages are there to inspire action.

Given how many distractions we fight through each day and how many decisions we have to make, humouring an SMS can easily plummet down the list of what to prioritise.

Unless you give it a boost.

Send time-limited offers, so customers have to act fast if they wish to partake before they forget about the SMS altogether.

7. Make Your Messages Human But Genuine

Be conversational. No need to be robotic just because you’re a business – in fact, that could alienate your audience.

But also: don’t fool your customers into thinking they’re talking to another person if they aren’t.

That will just annoy them and feel like a time waste.

What Not To Do: 7 Things To Avoid With Promotional SMS

You need to know both where the ceiling and the floor are to really see what space you’re working with.

Now that you’ve got the promotional SMS best practices, here are some mistakes you should avoid, like the floor is lava.

1. Don’t Be Too Salesy

People appreciate brands that focus on building a relationship and being genuinely helpful to them.

While one SMS isn’t much of a measuring stick, the messages you send over time (not just via SMS) create an overall impression of your brand and can condition your recipients’ responses to you.

It’s psychology.

We all have that one brand that sends “buy now!” newsletters into our inboxes every day.

Or that app that tries to “start a conversation,” except the conversation gets immediately interrupted by a pop-up to sign up for a premium subscription to continue.

It gets old and tacky really fast. Even if it was a good deal, no one’s going to take it after that.

With its high open rate, SMS is an even riskier channel for such tactics, so choose wisely what kind of brand you want to be.

Push for a quick sale, and you’ll lose them even quicker.

2. Don’t Be Fluffy or Spammy

Two big reasons why SMS is such a great platform to be on these days:

  1. It’s short, sweet, and fast – not like email, which you often can’t get through without sipping on a cup of something
  2. It’s more intimate – SMS is still not as overused as other marketing platforms, so you don’t have as much competition there

Two great ways to mess up your promotional SMS campaign would be to fill it with fluffy, essay-like paragraphs or clog up your customers’ inboxes with spam.

It’s a promotional SMS, not their favourite song chorus, so get to the point.

Even in a drip campaign, each message needs to have a clear purpose.

You can’t expect your recipients to be piecing your campaign together like you’re giving them clues to a scavenger hunt unless that’s exactly what they signed up for.

In a similar vein, avoid spamming with similar messages too close together (like multiple times a day), or you’ll fast-track recipients to the opt-out.

Victoria’s Secret was sued for allegedly sending over 97 messages to a contact in a single day.

You can imagine how having their inbox torpedoed puts a person in the opposite of a buying mood.


3. Don’t Be Confusing or Have a Complicated, Unclear Call-To-Action

The recipient needs to understand what they’re supposed to do immediately.

Being mysterious isn’t a good idea.

If you complicate things, that’s making it less convenient for the recipient to do, buy, or click, and they’ll only get less likely to do it the longer it takes them to figure it out.

Your promotional SMS needs a clear CTA to allow customers to shop before the moment’s gone.

4. Don’t Overuse Caps Lock, Buzzwords, or Emojis

Readability needs to be front of mind.

Don’t get us wrong – you can use all of these elements in your promotional SMS. But there’s a time, place, and sensible measure to everything.

Most importantly, ensure your tone is consistent with the rest of your brand messaging.

If you’re normally not using lots of slang, excessive abbreviations, or emojis, reading them in your SMS could be jarring, particularly in more serious and formal industries like legal services.

5. Don’t Buy Lists of Contacts – Only Text Your Customers

Buying a list of contacts could be a legal issue because once you buy it, you’re taking full responsibility for it.

Remember what we said about consent a bit earlier? A list isn’t a workaround.

If you do buy a list of contacts, make sure you have consent to message each contact as you’re the responsible party as the instigator – yes, even if you’re using an SMS provider to send your SMS.

6. Don’t Keep Messaging Someone Who Doesn’t Want Your Messages

This is a short and simple one.

You could be blocked, face lawsuits, and pay expensive fines for overstaying your welcome.

Just don’t.

Have an opt-out button in every message you send, and respect your recipients’ wishes.

7. Don’t Forget To Tell Customers That Message Rates Apply

One of the best things about SMS is that customers can text you back and interact with you without having to call.

Millennials famously hate calling with a passion.

That said, if they’re going to engage in your 2-way SMS campaign, customers should know upfront it won’t be for free.

Otherwise, you could easily anger people and turn them away.

5 Promotional SMS Examples

To help you get started, we’ve listed the five most common promotional bulk SMS use cases and examples you should consider for your next SMS campaign.

Summary Table

Here are the promotional SMS examples in a nutshell:

Example Key points
New merchandise or restock notifications
  • Generate buzz and keep customers engaged
Event alerts (including sales and holidays)
  • Use time-limited offers to capture that initial excitement and increase conversion rate
Conversational, helpful tips
  • Build a relationship with customers by helping them
Birthday messages and special birthday offers
  • Make people feel special and valued by sending personalised offers
Discounts, re-capturing and engaging messages
  • Inspire repeat purchases with discount codes and keep customers on their toes with frequent new deals

Read the full examples for more details and images.

1. New Merchandise or Restock Notifications

What’s new with the company? Tell your customers!

That’s one of the most common promotional SMS examples. It can be…

  • A teaser message with some hints
  • A lunch announcement that says when a new collection or service is going live
  • A countdown series of promotional SMS with reminders to generate buzz
  • A quick update about the item the customer wanted that’s now restocked

You can also encourage customers to respond with questions via two way SMS and answer them on the spot so you increase their buying confidence and trust in the brand.

2. Event Alerts (Including Sales and Holidays)

Event promotional SMS is a perfect opportunity for a limited-time deal that gets customers all hyped up.

This is the strategy TAO Nightclub used to generate $6,170 from a single promotion, and they’re keeping up with the good work with weekly exclusive deals.

They have parties and popular DJs each week. On the same day of the event, TAO Nightclub sends a promotional bulk SMS to 2000+ people with an exclusive deal.

They do it earlier in the day so that people can plan out their nights, but it’s late enough that they bank on that initial wave of excitement from their engaged audience.

You could try the same with holiday and sales offers!

3. Conversational, Helpful Tips

You don’t have to sell right away.

Promotional SMS can be about helping customers understand all the ways your service or product can meet their needs or helping them get the most out of a purchase they have already made, potentially leading to repeat purchases or upsells.

Maybe you can text them financial tips if they’ve just opened an account in your bank and talk about potentially useful complementary services.

Tide offered it after customers buy a washing machine:

Over 44,000 people joined the Tide Text Club.

4. Birthday Messages and Special Birthday Offers

Make customers feel special and remind them about your company when they’re likely looking for a nice treat idea.

Other gift ideas:

  • Free or discounted consultation
  • Flying miles
  • Free delivery

Just don’t forget to personalise their name and details, otherwise your message could be a big fail, like this:

5. Discounts, Re-Capturing and Engaging Messages

Use promotional SMS to entice old customers to purchase again, maybe with a special offer or limited-time deal.

“If you subscribe/buy in the next 48 hours, you get it at half price!”

Or a 10% off forever offer.

You can also keep a discount campaign running with one daily deal, like Gary Vaynerchuk with his WineText since 2019:

It’s a great way to make shopping super convenient (and, by extension, more likely to happen) while keeping your customers engaged.

How to Build a Promotional SMS Campaign

Okay. Time to build your SMS marketing campaign with everything you’ve learned so far.

It only takes five simple steps, and we’ll guide you through them.

1. Choose Your Promotional SMS Service

If you’ve never done SMS marketing before, the logistics might be a bit intimidating.

Where do you start? How do you set it up? Which promotional SMS service provider to choose?

The third question actually covers the first two as well. So, here are some criteria to help you pick right from the start:

  1. They have use cases in your industry
  2. They have the features to support your needs
  3. They have international SMS functionality, so you’re not limited
  4. Their customer service team is available when you need them

So, use cases and features often go hand in hand.

Say you’re in e-Commerce. You need integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce and similar platforms, or your service isn’t going to be the right fit.

Your SMS should mesh well with your existing platforms and channels.

You’ll need the right integrations, as well as some key features like 2-way SMS to let your audience respond, and mobile number portability lookups to cut budget losses.

Last but not least, customer support can be essential, and it’s one of our focus areas at Mr Messaging.

It’s easy to overlook this when it seems like things are going great. But with technology, problems can happen.

You want a support team you can turn to with questions beyond the onboarding process without having to stop business and wait for days.

Our team is exceptional at solving problems quickly and being there in a pinch. For our clients, that’s proven to make a big difference.

2. Activate One or More Phone Numbers For Texting

Now that you’ve chosen your provider, the rest of the steps will be easier as they can advise you!

Time for some more decisions. First, you need to figure out how many numbers you need.

If you’re sending a high volume of promotional bulk SMS to a lot of contacts at once, have an international audience, or want to keep your campaigns separate, you’ll need multiple numbers.

Then, based on all that, figure out the sender IDs. Your options:

  1. Alphanumeric ID – typically uses your brand name instead of a number, great for brand awareness, and some countries require it
  2. Shortcode – a short number like “55700” that’s convenient for print, billboards, and high throughput campaigns, although it’s more expensive
  3. Longcode – standard-looking phone number that allows customer responses via 2-way messaging, can receive calls and is usually the cheapest option

3. Upload Your Database and Cleanse the Numbers Before Sending

This step is about ensuring you get the most out of the money you spend.

You need to cleanse your numbers first.

This service, along with mobile number portability, weeds out numbers that are incorrectly formatted or out of use and allows you to reach your customers on the correct number, in the right network.

For you, this means you’re not wasting money on dead ends, you’re avoiding excess fees and billing discrepancies, and you’re getting through to all the customers who want to hear from you.

4. Create Your First Campaign

Use our examples section for ideas to get you going and rely on what you know about your audience.

For example, if they’ve used your services before, find the logical moment to offer it again – maybe a year later for accounting or in six months for a regular health checkup.

But don’t get stuck here and put all the pressure on a single campaign.

Marketing is about the long game.

If you have to pick, choose to build a genuine and mutually beneficial customer relationship over quick sales tactics and let your audience naturally convert instead of turning them off.

5. Track Your Campaign and Monitor Metrics

Once you start your promotional SMS, don’t stop there.

You want to find out the optimal time, cadence, language, and other specifications for texting your audience so every next campaign hits the bullseye more efficiently than the previous one.

These metrics help you monitor the health of your campaigns:

  • Interaction rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Delivery rate
  • Conversion rate
  • Customer acquisition costs
  • Growth rate

Keep Customers On Their Toes With Promotional SMS:

Promotional SMS is becoming increasingly more popular for a good reason.

Get on board before everyone’s at it!

All you need is:

Nothing can stand in your way.

Feel free to contact us to find out more about customised promotional SMS and get your business started.

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