Indie musicians’ guide to SMS text marketing
SMS, or Short Message Service (aka texting), can be an effective tool for marketing just like any form of communication and, in fact, more consumers prefer a text to an email or – God forbid – and actual phone call. Here, we dig into how you, as an indie artist can harness the power of SMS text marketing.
By Greg Majewski of CD Baby’s DIY Musician Blog
SMS (a fancy term for text messaging) can be a really effective channel to market your music. If done well, marketing your music through SMS can help you communicate with more fans, more quickly, and more effectively. We’ll get into all that below, but first, a little history…
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and mobile phones were bricks with physical buttons and monochrome screens, text messaging was viewed as an informal, occasional form of communication. Or, at the very least, the sort of thing used for short one-off messages, as opposed to entire conversations. In fact, it might shock readers born after the new millennium to learn that at one point, texting — instead of calling — was actually considered rude.
Oh, how times have changed! If you’re anything like me, you prefer text unless it’s your best friends or close family calling. Like the sorts of people you’d put as an emergency contact. Anyone else? Let’s stick to text please.
That principle applies to marketing too. If a business is trying to send me an alert or actively trying to market a product to me, I’d prefer they just send a text as opposed to getting an annoying call from an unknown number. And I’m not alone. Over 80% of people prefer receiving marketing communication via text than either phone or email.
In other articles, we’ve covered how indie artists can market their music via email and social media. But how do you market your music with SMS text? Let’s find out!
What is SMS messaging?
SMS stands for “Short Message Service.”
While many texts only contain alphanumeric characters (letters and numbers form the keypad), SMS texting also enables something called MMS, which is “Multimedia Messaging Service.”
To return to our prehistoric intro, MMS used to be a cumbersome and data hungry form of texting, to the point where sending an image via text was a rare occurrence. With the evolution of smartphones, increased data limits and the proliferation of WiFi across the globe, many modern friendships consist almost entirely of sending Internet memes back and forth. That’s a boon for both comedy connoisseurs and those of us looking to market our music via text.
How is SMS marketing different from email?
Email and SMS texting are the two forms of direct marketing you have with your audience. That’s different from marketing through social media, where you create posts for all your followers to see and are forced to conform to their guidelines with no guarantee your marketing efforts will actually reach your intended audience. When marketing with email or SMS, you’re sending messages right to your audience’s inbox.
That direct communication makes email and especially SMS texting more personal than social media. But how are the two different?
SMS marketing is different from email marketing in a few ways:
- Higher open rates: An open rate is the percentage of subscribers who open your message. SMS text open rates are as high as 98%, making it the highest of any marketing channel. In comparison, email open rates are usually around 20%.
- Faster open rates: Texts are generally opened within 90 seconds after they’re delivered. Emails can take about 90 minutes.
- Better deliverability: SMS messages are much easier to get through to recipients, mostly thanks to one thing: the email spam filter. About half of all emails go to spam, especially marketing emails. While there are downloadable spam filters for SMS, they’re not a default feature like they are for email and most people don’t use them.
- Shorter length: SMS text allows only 160 characters per message. This limitation might seem like a hinderance, but it can actually be a benefit because it forces you to be concise with your message. No one wants to receive a rambling marketing message. Just get to the point.
- Higher click-through rates: A click-through rate is the percentage of subscribers who click the link in your message. SMS’ shorter length means its average click-through rate is six times higher than that of email, to the tune of 19% for SMS and a little over 3% for email.
- Shorter read times: SMS’ short message length means a quicker deliverability, which in turn means texts are read in about three minutes.
- No advanced tech needed: You can send a text message from your cell phone network instead of an Internet connection. Not only that, but your recipients don’t need a smartphone to open an SMS. If any of your fans still have one of those old brick phones, or a 15-year-old Motorola Razor, they can receive your texts just fine.
- Cost: Running an SMS text marketing campaign generally costs a bit more than running a campaign through email.
What do I need to start marketing with SMS?
The obvious thing you’ll need to start texting fans is a cell phone. And just because your fans can receive your texts on their ancient flip phones doesn’t mean you should be sending them out on one.
You’ll need a smartphone to run an SMS campaign, because the next requirement to marketing with text is an SMS marketing tool.
What is an SMS marketing tool?
An SMS marketing tool is software that allows businesses (and you, the artist, are a small business) to plan and execute marketing campaigns through SMS text. This is done through your marketing tool of choice, which is a smartphone app that lets you compose and send texts to the subscribers to your contact list.
When searching for an SMS marketing tool, make sure you can use it to:
- reach your fans by SMS messaging (kind of obvious, but you never know)
- give fans an opt-in (and opt-out) opportunity
- track data and analytics like open rates and click-through rates for each campaign (knowledge is power!)
What SMS marketing tool should I use?
Google “SMS marketing tools” and you’ll quickly find yourself swimming in link recommendations from dozens of SMS programs touting their product.
Software megasite G2 has compiled a handy list of the top SMS marketing tools as rated by their experts, who are real users.
Here are the top five SMS marketing tools according to G2:
How do I grow my SMS marketing audience?
Now that you’ve researched and picked out an SMS marketing tool, it’s time to create a campaign. But wait! You need some phone numbers to text. How do you get fans’ phone numbers?
Luckily building your phone number contact is just about the same as building your mailing list for email. Use these tips to gather fan phone numbers:
- Collect numbers at live gigs (they’re coming back!) by soliciting them from attendees.
- Use a keyword campaign. All good SMS marketing tools have the ability to use keywords. This is where your fans can text a specific word to a short numerical code that will add them to your contact list. Entice them with an exclusive video or song. This can be especially useful at your gig: “Text “FREE SONG” to 55555 and we’ll send you an exclusive download link!”
- Give away your merch, including your CD. Yes, people still listen to CDs! You can add a ton of people to your contact list by offering to send them a free CD if they just cover shipping and handling.
- Create a squeeze page. So called because it “squeezes” information from visitors, a squeeze page is a page on a website that is specifically designed to acquire information — like a phone number — for something in return. They do this by focusing on the desired action you want the person to take and removing all distractions and other options. You can add a squeeze page to your website soliciting subscriptions to your contact list so they’re the first to hear of new music, merch, tours, etc. This is also where you can entice visitors with something free in exchange for their email address, like an unreleased song or exclusive video.
- Just ask. Put a call-to-action (CTA) on your website that compels fans to subscribe to your mailing list. Make the incentive that they’ll be the first to hear about any news going on, like new merch, show/tour announcements and of course new music!
What should I write in my music marketing texts?
Here’s where SMS really differs from email. Whereas you can write lengthy, personal email to your fans, the character limitations of SMS demand brevity. So no newsletters, novels or anecdotes.
You’re using SMS for essential communication only, such as:
- Tour/show announcements or cancellations: A whole bunch of tours were cancelled in 2020 and into this year, and I’d wager quite a few of the artists who had scheduled those tours texted their fans to let them know. But! Shows are absolutely coming back this summer, so now’s the time to book a gig or full tour and send your fanbase a text telling them how excited you are to get back on the road, or just onstage at your local bar. Most SMS marketing tools allow geo-targeting, so you can reach your fans located in specific areas about your shows near them.
- New music: Got a new song due out? Text your fans a pre-save link on Spotify and Apple Music so they can hear it the day it’s released.
- Exclusive music: If you’re really feeling generous, you can send a link to a private, exclusive download only available to subscribers to your SMS list. It can make your fans feel like they’re part of a club only the coolest fans are hip to.
- Merch: If you have a new shirt, hat, tote bag, soccer scarf or autographed skate deck for sale, tell your fans about it via text first. Especially if it’s something limited like a short run of vinyl. Early birds get the cool color variants!
- Coupons: Run a sale on your merch store with an exclusive coupon only for SMS subscribers. Again, that feeling of being valued for subscribing to your text list is a powerful thing.
What are the rules of SMS marketing?
As with any marketing tool — especially one with which you contact fans directly — there’s a set of guidelines to follow with SMS marketing:
- Get permission: The easiest way to do this is by asking your fans to subscribe to your SMS contact list. By subscribing they are giving you their consent to receive texts from you. The aforementioned keyword campaign is another way for fans to consent to receiving texts.
- Identify yourself: Whether it’s your first text or tenth, always say who you are. You never know who’s added your number to their contact list or not, or who has saved your previous messages to reference.
- Keep it brief: Remember, SMS messages are limited to 160 characters. That’s not much. So get to the point of what you’re texting about, leave a clear CTA and add a link to that new song, merch or list of tour dates.
- Don’t text too much: Since most people have alerts set for text messages and not for email, they receive a notification for every text they receive. Texting is a much more personal form of marketing and communication in general since we carry our phone everywhere. So only schedule texts when you have something to offer.
- Be aware of the time: Remember when you were a kid and a telemarketer would call right in the middle of dinner and your parents would get annoyed? That also applies to text. The best time to schedule your texts is during normal business hours, 9-5 your time. Don’t text your fans at midnight. It’s weird.
- Try to limit abbreviations: No “ur” instead of your/you’re or “2” instead of “to/too.” This can appear unprofessional, and it also makes your message seem like a spam robotext instead of one written by a real person. Also try to limit marketing abbreviations. “Msg” might obviously be “message” to some, but not all. Write in full sentences so your fans feel like a friend is texting them, not some bot.
- Include a call-to-action: As with all marketing campaigns, you should end your text with a clear CTA for your fans to take the next step. “Hear the new single!” “Get your exclusive download code!”
- Give a clear unsubscribe option: If a fan wants to unsubscribe from your SMS list for whatever reason, it should be easy and clear on how to do so. Provide an unsubscribe link or a simple “Reply with STOP to stop texts.”
As you can see, SMS is for far more than just sending funny memes to your buds. In the right hands and with the proper judicious use, it’s a powerful way to market your music to your fans and grow your audience. When used in tandem with email, SMS texting can take your music career even further.
Greg, excellent article and I’m glad to see more focus on text as an engagement tool for Artists. Two comments to help your readers and improve the value of your article: First, there are text platforms that are more specifically targeted to the needs of musicians than the text marketing service providers you mentioned. My company Adva Mobile, Ryan Leslie’s Superphone, and (although pricey) Community are all oriented to the more precise needs of musicians who want to engage their Fans with text. The more generic text marketing platforms mentioned in your article are more appropriate for appointment reminders, two factor authentication, coupons, and other more transactional applications. The musician focused providers, for example, promote one to one conversational text with Fans in addition to text blasts to many fans. Second, keywords are useful however your example “Text “FREE SONG” to 55555” is not appropriate for most independent musicians. 55555 is a “Short Code” in the SMS world and, while they are optimized for keywords (like FREE SONG) short codes are incredibly expensive – $1500 per month or more plus usage charges so only the biggest brands use short codes. I encourage you and any readers of this comment to your post to check out Adva Mobile http://www.advamobile.com or the other musician oriented text platforms, and/or contact me for a review of our platform to help determine if it’s the right service for you.
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