SMS marketing at Christmas: have you been doing it all wrong?

Marketing SMS text messages are delivered to both smartphones and not-so-smart basic feature phones capturing twice as much of the target audience as any other mobile marketing tool

The advantages offered by SMS marketing are well known and have been for quite a while: an open rate of at least 82.1%, 90% of messages opened within three minutes of delivery, and a 19% click-through rate. SMS API-enabled access means that text messages can be integrated with CRM, leveraging accumulated client data to create targeted, data-driven, and highly effective campaigns. However, even experienced marketers make the odd mistakes. Here on Christmas Eve we collected data from recent polls and studies to see how people have been making their Christmas purchases this year and what you need to avoid when planning your SMS campaign during such a critical time for sales.

Some segments make up to half their sales around Christmas. Even going beyond retail as the most obvious beneficiary, services, restaurants, logistics providers, vacation planners, and other business types see a peak in sales when Christmas rolls around. It’s the best time of year for spontaneous buys, so marketers do everything they can to cash in on the general shopping fever and race to find holiday sales.

Studies show that 47% of consumers in the US as well as 45% in the UK aim to make their Christmas purchases online. Taking that a step further, in 2014 almost 30% of all Christmas expenditures were made using mobile technology. That makes it less than surprising that business is moving toward a “mobile first” paradigm featuring communication channels that prioritize mobile devices. Text messaging has its place at the forefront of modern mobile marketing, and here’s why.

Some impressive statistics

  • Only 3,4 billion mobile subscriptions (out of total 7,2 billion) are smartphone ones, while another 3,6 billion are GSM/Edge only, meaning that text messages capture more than twice as much of the market as any other mobile marketing tool (Ericsson Mobility Report, 2015)
  • 87% of millennials have their smartphone within reach 24/7 (Zogby Analitycs Millenial Study, 2014)
  • Texting is the most popular use of cellphones, with 97% of Americans sending at least one a day (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • The open rate for text messages is 82% (Shift Communications Survey, 2015) (there are lots of numbers reaching past even 90% out there, but they were taken from a study run in 2010; more recent surveys show this lower number, though it still ranks at the top of mobile marketing tools)
  • 70% of users think texting is a good way for companies to grab their attention (SAP, 2015)
  • 75% of users would like to receive text messages with special offers (Digital Marketing Magazine, 2014)

If you still haven’t integrated text messaging into your marketing communications, these facts should make you reconsider that omission. If, on the other hand, text messaging is an element of your Christmas marketing mix, make sure you’re using it to the fullest extent possible.

The first mistake: a late start

When do you get started with your Christmas marketing? A study published in the Daily Mail claims that 24% of buyers plan to wrap up their holiday shopping by the end of November, so you’re missing out on a huge chunk of the market if you wait to launch your campaign in December. A full 64% of retailers surveyed in this study thought the start date for Christmas advertising campaigns has been moved back about two weeks over the past five years.

That opinion is borne out by a study published by Nathan Cunningham, a data analyst. He looked at Google searches related to Christmas and found that while in 2007 the first searches were made at the beginning of November, in 2012 and 2013 people were beginning to think about Christmas all the way back in August.

Interestingly, a person’s level of income and when they begin their Christmas shopping are related. Those with income in excess of $75,000 per year put off their purchases until the end of December, while those making $30,000 per year or less finish their shopping in October. The lower a person’s income, the earlier they get started, in other words, which is something important to keep in mind. If you work with high-end clients, don’t worry about starting your campaign until December rolls around. If the opposite is true, you’ll need a much earlier start.

Takeaway: Christmas comes earlier every year.

The second mistake: generic messages

Only 45% of those surveyed found the advertisements sent to them as text messages useful. The other 55% complained that the messages they receive feel “intrusive or spammy” (52%), do not account for their interests (46%), or just don’t offer any value (33%).

That is one of the most common mistakes made by SMS marketers. And the cost of making it is high: nine out of ten users who are dissatisfied with the content of the messages tend to develop a less favorable attitude to that particular brand or even unsubscribe. This post shows how each 1% of subscribers lost may easily cost businesses $10,000.

Marketers need to remember that cellphones are the user’s most personal devices (just think back to that 24/7 statistic). This channel is therefore one that needs to be handled carefully and with respect in order to avoid a counterproductive result. Dig into the data you have stored in your CRM; understanding who your clients are—their demographic, location, interests, purchase history, and past interaction with your brand—is critical to building effective SMS campaigns. Integrating your SMS platform with your CRM (using SMS API) is the best way to utilize it, sending messages to individual users or groups on schedule or as triggered by particular events. Personal, contextual, targeted messages are key to successful SMS communications.

You are more than welcome to contact us for a consultation on how to integrate SMS campaigns into your CRM.

The third mistake: forgetting to build your database of SMS subscribers during the Christmas season

SMS as a communication channel is effective precisely because it is the one least infested by junk messages. Only 1% of text messages are spam due to the fact that they are strictly regulated by mobile operators. In contrast with other mobile advertising channels, SMS is permission-based: you need a user’s express consent in order to send them A2P marketing messages. That makes SMS both a highly effective channel and the biggest challenge for marketers—building an SMS database and attracting new subscribers is not for the faint of heart.

Christmas is the perfect time to grow your SMS database. The holiday has everyone on the hunt for savings, and snagging new subscribers is both less challenging and cheaper. Set up a special offer for text subscribers only. Offer prizes using a short code and key word. After all, studies show that people are happy to join loyalty programs if participating yields bonuses like discounts and special offers. Pulling your Christmas discounts under that umbrella kills three birds with one stone: sales go up, new subscribers roll in, and current subscribers are even more happy to be part of your SMS program.

Just make sure that your offer is exclusive to text subscribers and not available to other groups of clients. That will ensure that opting into your SMS program is actually as enticing as you think it is.

These are the opportunities you just can’t miss.

The fourth mistake: you don’t utilize “limited time only” offers

People are much more prone to spontaneous purchases around Christmas. Text messages are probably the best way to let potential buyers know about Christmas flash sales and special offers good for a limited time only. Remember that 90% of text messages are read within five minutes of being received, so they are perfect for time-sensitive offers and pushing your clients to make more purchases. According to an Ipsos Observer survey, time-sensitive offers spur 52% of users to make purchases, just a bit short of the number driven by lower prices.

The fifth mistake: you do it too often

83% of users would rather not get more than two messages from a given brand per month. The problem is that around Christmas customers are inundated with advertising and marketing messages. Don’t go overboard. One or two texts sent during the holidays is plenty to get your marketing message across so long as they include a clear benefit for the customer. Figuring out how often to send marketing messages is a tricky question, especially around Christmas—don’t be too heavy-handed!


Let’s wrap up by talking about the main paradox inherent to SMS marketing. Even though it comes with huge advantages as a marketing channel, only 61% of marketers report utilizing mobile technology to interact with users. Of those, only 53% use text messaging. At the same time, 64% of consumers agree that businesses need to communicate with them more often using those same text messages. As paradoxical as it may seem, in the words of Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover, “SMS is one of the most underutilized, under-appreciated mediums today.” The only fatal mistake you can make when it comes to SMS marketing around Christmas is to not do it at all.

Click here to learn more on how SMS API-powered marketing can supercharge your business.

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