Plan and Send International SMS Marketing Campaigns: A Guide
Is your company about to start an international short messaging service (SMS) campaign?
You probably know that you can’t just compile numbers from 15 different countries and bulk send international text messages without doing any due diligence.
There are differences in the laws and regulations as well as service costs between various regions. You need to be aware of them for three reasons:
- To stay compliant and avoid expensive lawsuits and broken customer trust
- To make the most profitable plan of action and get the best ROI
- To ensure a positive experience for both your business and your customers
You need a strategy.
We’ll help you figure it out.
The Advantages of Sending International SMS to Your Customers
People spend hours every day on their mobile phones, making SMS one of the most intimate communication channels, second only to door-to-door salesmanship itself. Anything that lands in a messaging app inbox is bound to get a person’s attention, which is more than can be said about the salespeople who get woefully ignored at the door.
SMS marketing has insane open rates of 98%, which is why an increasing number of companies are choosing to dabble in it.
That’s not all the international SMS marketing channel has to offer you and your customers:
- Customers read messages within minutes after receiving them: You can get your message across fast, perfect for flash sales and offers with time limits
- Two-way SMS gives you instant insights: Customers can interact with you and give you valuable feedback immediately, plus you get to have a more human interaction with them and break that corporate wall
- SMS has a much quicker pace than email: You only get 160 characters at your disposal and the message gets read quickly
- You can reach a wider audience in a more personal way: International SMS also enables you to easily customise your approach for better customer relationships
- Customers appreciate brands that make life more convenient: Timely SMS messages and campaigns do just that for your audience
If you’re still unsure, the fact that 90% of customers want to receive marketing texts from brands for things like exclusive deals, new releases, and transactional messages speaks for itself. Accessing customers outside of your home country is a tempting prospect.
That being said, on the flip side of the high opt-in and open rates are the high opt-out rates when messages miss the mark.
So, before you craft and send international SMS messages, you need to know how to approach people respectfully and never make them regret giving you access to such an intimate channel.
With great power comes great responsibility and all.
You also have various laws and regulations, regional SMS restrictions, and cultural considerations that can influence your campaign results.
Let’s break these factors down and ensure that you and your customers benefit from your international SMS marketing.
What To Consider When Planning an International SMS Campaign
The key is to guarantee deliverability and low costs – sending bulk SMS messages across national borders is a potential minefield for issues to arise.
With that in mind, here are all the factors that need to be carefully considered and built into your use case for international SMS messaging.
Summary of the Key Factors
Before you start plugging in your country codes and firing away, use this table as a checklist to make sure you’re skillfully engaging with global SMS:
|International SMS campaign consideration||Important elements|
|Countries you’ll target||
|Your mobile databases||
|The type of campaigns you’d like to run||
|Your desired sender ID||
|Your SMS provider||
Don’t worry if something doesn’t make sense yet; read on, and we’ll elaborate on each tech term in plain English.
Countries You’ll Target
Check specific national regulations and industry standards.
Some topics are banned in certain countries. For example, Yemen censors content related to politics, religion, and – most importantly for you – marketing, so sending promotional international SMS there isn’t the best use of your budget.
Other countries might allow promotional messages but only during certain times, usually avoiding the night.
So, before you send anything, you need to know your target country’s opt-in, opt-out, and anti-spam laws.
Below are some common laws to read up on, sorted by the region or country:
|Region||Relevant laws and regulations|
Besides these regulations, it’s worth checking if the country has a high number of ported numbers, numbers that have switched communication providers. This can happen when the network operators in a country are highly competitive or shuffled by regulation.
If so, a service like mobile number portability (MNP) can be vital to ensure you’re paying the correct rate for the mobile number you’re sending to.
Your Mobile Databases
Customers sometimes switch numbers or providers. Do you know what they definitely don’t do afterwards, in our experience?
Bother informing you about the change.
Unfortunately, keeping up with their brand promotions is usually the last thing on their minds when making a big switch – once they realise how much they miss those promotions, it becomes far too difficult to contact you.
That leaves it up to you to cleanse your database.
This step helps you avoid texting incorrect or out-of-use numbers.
It’s always a good practice, and international texts are often more expensive than local, making it all the more important not to skip database cleansing for international SMS.
You don’t want to throw valuable resources into the void and disappoint customers who are expecting to hear from you.
A good SMS service provider can handle database cleansing for you.
The Type of Campaigns You’d Like to Run
Looking at the rather short menu, your options are 1-WAY and 2-WAY Messaging campaigns.
Examples of 1-WAY messages are transaction confirmations, authentication, status reports, and notifications about suspicious activity on your account – it’s any message that doesn’t elicit a response from the customer.
2-WAY refers to standard, back-and-forth communication over texts. It’s great for customer service and direct communication with customers because it:
- Is very secure
- Elicits a quick response
- Is effectively ‘free’ as most individuals have an SMS package built into their plan with their chosen network
Although this last point isn’t a given rule for international SMS.
When choosing the type of campaign for your international SMS, it’s worth checking your target country’s policies because some countries only support certain types of message content.
For example, in the case of the United Arab Emirates, promotional content is not allowed without appending ‘AD-’ to the start of the sender ID; and Sender IDs have to be registered by submitting a letter of authorisation from the brand to the network.
Failure to comply with this regulation will have your campaign blocked, and your campaign budget wasted.
Being aware of such rules and limitations ahead of time helps you see which options you really have so you can choose the most profitable one.
More tech terms incoming, but bear with us. You need to consider:
- Your choice of encoding (GSM-7 vs UCS-2)
- Concatenated SMS availability
- URL Shortening
Your choice of encoding determines the message length, segments, and costs.
The standard message length for the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard is 160 characters, including certain accents and normal characters.
If you were to use emojis or unsupported accents, that would bump you over into the Universal Coded Character Set (UCS, also known as Unicode) category, which has a maximum limit of 70 characters per segment.
In practice, the difference means that for a message of 150 characters, you’d pay for one segment with GSM encoding and three segments with UCS encoding.
This brings us to the need for concatenated SMS.
Concatenated SMS is a fancy term for sending messages that exceed the character limit by breaking them into smaller messages and re-attaching them at reception. That’s how you send 150-character messages with UCS encoding and why you would be charged for three segments.
Concatenated SMS isn’t available everywhere, so mind your message length depending on which region you’re texting.
You may also want to consider the length of your URLs for this reason. Using a URL shortener can be a great way of saving a few precious characters.
An URL shortener takes the full-length URL that eats up most of your message space and turns it into a pocked-sized alternative. The shortened URL often includes your company name for extra brand awareness points.
Some suppliers, like Mr Messaging, have their own URL shortener built into their service offering.
But it all comes down to your needs and budget – more on that soon.
Your Desired Sender ID
The next factor that can make or break your international SMS is your sender ID, a.k.a. how your customer will identify your brand on their SMS messages:
- Numeric ID: Composed entirely of numbers and with two subtypes:
- Long code with 7-15 digits, good for low-throughput 2-WAY communication
- Short code with 3-6 digits, good for high-throughput, urgent 2-WAY messaging, and billboard campaigns, but it takes longer to provision and costs more
- Alphanumeric sender ID: 11 characters including letters, usually your brand name, great for building brand awareness
Some countries, like Belgium, don’t allow alphanumeric IDs. Others prefer it.
Furthermore, different carriers within the same country can have different restrictions.
To ensure you’re able to get through, check the local sender ID and specific carrier regulations – the GSMA is an international industry organisation that represents mobile network operators’ interests and a good place to start.
You may need a local virtual mobile number and a messaging partner that can provide it for you to guarantee you reach your customers.
Can your international SMS marketing budget fit all your requirements? How much does it cost to send an international SMS anyway?
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as free international SMS.
First, let’s round up the main contributing factors:
- Message service and segment cost: If you send one message, but it goes over the character limit, you’ll pay for more than one segment
- Sender ID: Short code is more expensive than long code
- SMS routes: Domestic and international, where one of the options potentially gives you a much better rate if you can use it
In India, registered local businesses can send SMS at 0.0017EUR (providing it adheres to all the rules to enable you to send over local routes), whereas international routes to India are around 0.04EUR.
It’s definitely worth considering this because you might be able to leverage local connections or subsidiaries to register as a local business and go down that route.
If not, at least you won’t be confused by the pricing difference and make incorrect budgeting decisions.
Your SMS Provider
Not all providers support international SMS marketing, and you need an SMS communication service provider to send and receive international SMS efficiently and cost-effectively.
There are two main features your provider must have to qualify:
- Mobile number portability (MNP) for ported numbers: So you don’t overpay
- Database cleansing: So you don’t waste money on the wrong numbers and fail to reach your customers
But apart from these capabilities, you definitely want a provider that offers personalised service.
As you can tell by now, there’s a full stack of variables to account for, and you’re bound to have some questions based on your specific needs and target audience.
A good international SMS service has to come with top-notch support. That way, you don’t need to worry about all these rules and exceptions – there’s somebody out there whose job is to ensure you have all your bases covered.
7 Tips for Your Next International SMS Marketing Campaign
Right. Time to put those considerations in context and create an international SMS campaign that brings you the best ROI.
We have seven tips to guide you on your way:
- Always get permission regardless of country
- Always connect your sender ID to your purpose
- Make it easy to opt out
- Set communication expectations with your customers
- Keep messages short and straightforward
- Don’t forget about the impact of time zones on your messages
- Tie your international SMS campaign with other marketing channels
1. Always Get Permission Regardless of Country
Express consent might not be a legal requirement everywhere, but it’s best practice, and customers appreciate it.
For instance, in Canada, implied consent – when a person gives you their contact information, even if it’s not specifically for SMS – still counts as consent.
But that doesn’t mean those customers are happy to read your unsolicited texts.
If you’re messaging multiple countries, it’s easier (and safer) to follow the most strict practices across the board than to have a specific procedure for each country.
Keep in mind that you need to comply with the rules of the region your leads and customers reside in, not only your local rules, according to the EU GDPR.
You can have customers sign up and ask them to:
- Confirm their subscription by replying with a code word like “YES,” or
- Check an unchecked opt-in box
Both options count as explicit consent.
Remember to make sure you have permissions for any contact list you acquired, even if you’re not doing the marketing yourself – you, as the instigator, are still responsible.
2. Always Connect Your Sender ID to Your Purpose
An alphanumeric sender ID is great for building brand awareness, and many European countries prefer it.
On the other hand, a long-form number is perfect for mimicking a traditional phone number and making the interaction feel more personal, but this runs the risk of having customers feeling misled into believing they were being texted by a real person.
Again, tailor your approach to the region.
Sometimes you don’t even have all the options you think you do, as some regions don’t support one type of sender ID.
3. Make It Easy To Opt Out
Not providing an opt-out option breaks compliance in many countries. If you’re not careful, you could end up losing customers and paying fines.
But you don’t want to waste precious marketing budget on messaging customers that don’t want to receive your messages anyway.
Give them the option to amicably break up with you.
If you don’t, they can just block you or mark your content as spam – and that’s if they’re feeling calm that day. If you’re blocked, you’re still being charged for sending messages to that number. As painful as it is, sometimes splitting amicably is the best option.
4. Set Communication Expectations With Your Customers
The best thing you can do is make a promise and stick to it.
Avoid customers becoming disillusioned with too many (or too few) messages and opting out.
To start off on the right foot, consider local expectations about SMS. They might differ wildly between countries in your international campaign, so you have to manage the differences.
For instance, most countries expect texts in their local language. It’s not just a preference – in many cases, there could be a language barrier you need to overcome.
And before you say anything, no, Google Translate isn’t an option. Hiring a translator gives you much more than just translating word-for-word.
They can ensure the message retains its original tone and form, so the door is wide open to your international customers who don’t speak your native language.
5. Keep Messages Short and Straightforward
Two reasons why this is a best practice:
- It saves you money on message segments
- It makes messages’ CTA immediately clear to customers
No one wants to receive an email’s worth of content via SMS anyway – being short, succinct, and fast is the whole point of texts.
6. Don’t Forget About the Impact of Time Zones on Your Messages
Time zone differences need to be programmed in to avoid sending SMS at the wrong time.
That’s another reason why you can’t bulk send international SMS:
There’s no single best moment to message the entirety of your audience – you need to aim for their best times which differ from region to region.
It’s not just the time zones, either. Some cultures have different work hours and break times.
Take the famous Spanish siesta, for example.
Because it’s so hot in the afternoon, people in Spain traditionally take a three-hour break in the middle of each workday to lounge, nap, take walks, or do other non-work-related activities.
This means they’re not out of work until later in the evening, so texting them when most countries would be ending their workday isn’t ideal.
But if you have an entertainment or promotional message to hit them with during the siesta, that could be a bullseye.
It goes to show there’s no universal best time to text your customers.
7. Tie Your International SMS Campaign With Other Marketing Channels
How about a promotion on social media advertising your shortcode to make your SMS promotion more effective?
What about a call to action for SMS marketing in your weekly newsletter? If you already have an established audience on other platforms and channels, there’s no reason to build a whole separate audience for your SMS campaigns from scratch.
It makes good sense to create a marketing flow to maintain consistency and get the most use out of the work you put in.
Don’t have a team for each channel doing their own work in isolation.
Otherwise, you’ll waste so much time, money, and potential – collaborate!
Send International SMS the Right Way at the Right Time
Getting your SMS campaign right across several countries and time zones isn’t as simple as selecting all contacts and pressing send.
But now that you know what you’re up against, you can start experimenting and figuring out the process that yields the best results for your company.
Tapping into an international market is worth the effort.
That said, there’s no reason why you’d have to go it alone.
Reach out to Mr Messaging if you want more help with planning, building, and executing perfect international SMS campaigns.