Mind your manners with SMS marketing etiquette

girl woking on her cell phone in a cafe

SMS (short message service, or text messages) has become a valuable marketing channel, helping many brands generate tremendous growth and profits. One mattress company, GhostBed, made $77,600 from a single welcome text message flow. That’s a 200X return on their investment. But navigating the world of SMS marketing can be tricky. And it’s easy to make mistakes that can drive customers away, or—even worse—potentially get you into serious legal trouble. 

To many people, text messages may feel like a more intimate form of communication— but without the proper SMS messaging etiquette, you might be annoying your customer instead of making a connection.The key to an effective SMS marketing plan is to capitalize on the intimacy of text messaging without abusing it. Here are 5 proven strategies to help you make that connection while staying on your customers’ good side.

Don’t send SMS messages to your customers without their consent

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to send a SMS message without getting an OK  from your customer. To comply with consumers’ rights laws regarding SMS marketing, you should only send text messages to customers who have granted you explicit permission. Otherwise, you will be in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).1 You must also abide by the consumer code for wireless service as outlined by CTIA2 to make sure that you are in compliance with digital messaging laws.

Jiffy Lube learned the hard way that it pays to be polite. In 2011, one of its largest franchises sent out an unsolicited coupon for an oil change to many of its customers.3 Apparently, the Jiffy Lube franchise had collected mobile phone numbers from invoices that customers had filled out from a previous sale.

Feeling that their privacy was violated, angry customers organized a class action lawsuit, with their attorneys alleging that the Jiffy Lube franchise had violated the terms of Telephone Consumer Protection Act.4 In 2012, the Jiffy Lube franchise settled for $47M—a big price to pay to send out a small coupon.

To avoid a Jiffy Lube-scale disaster, you should offer your customers a way to easily decline your text message marketing. Through an opt-out message, customers can voluntarily remove themselves from your SMS communications—and to avoid misunderstandings, make sure that your message is written in a way that’s straightforward and explicit. In the US, it’s a best practice to incorporate opt-out language in every text you send to your customers.

The right time and frequency to send your SMS messages 

Timing is everything. And when it comes to your text message marketing, determining the right time—and the appropriate frequency—to send your messages can make or break your campaign.

SMS marketing campaigns serve a different purpose from email campaigns. While people can open emails at their convenience, SMS messages are received in real-time. Because of this, SMS messages have an open rate of 98% compared with 20% for emails. This higher likelihood of customer engagement means that you need to be strategic in how frequently you send SMS messages. According to industry guidelines,5 you should ideally send customers between 2-6 texts a month.

Whole Foods follows this recommendation by only sending SMS messages to their customers about orders in progress. For example, when a customer’s first choice of a product is out of stock, a text will prompt them to select a substitution. By limiting their text messages to ones that are time-sensitive, Whole Foods minimizes frustration for their customers while building trust.



Whole Foods Market SMS messaging notifications

Deliver high-value content to your customers

If you’re limited to sending 2-6 SMS messages to your customers a month, you want to make sure those messages count. 

Carl’s Jr., the West Coast hamburger chain created a text message marketing campaign that offered a generous 50% discount on one of its meal combos—but only if customers agreed to receive the company’s SMS messages. That offer resulted in 20% of those new subscribers redeeming the mobile coupons.6 This targeted, high-value text message not only improved Carl Jr.’s customer database, it led to tangible financial gains for the company.

Create CTAs that are friendly and concise

Respect your customers’ time. Text messages are not the place for long-form information or complex prose. Keep the CTAs in your SMS messages brief, simple, and to the point.

Sakara, a company that sells packaged food and wellness products, created a concise text message that still made its customers feel valued and acknowledged. The text began with a warm greeting, using the nickname for Sakara’s frequent customers. After saying “Hi” to the Sakaralite, the text message used direct, actionable language—instructing the customer that they could receive a free product with purchase. 

This brief—yet friendly—style of text message can help make a stronger connection with your customers while encouraging higher engagement.

An example of Sakara’s SMS marketing

Meet customer expectations during the holidays

Customers are more receptive to text messages during the holiday season, so use that to your advantage. Acknowledge the holiday in your text message, and appeal to your customers in an emotional and personal way that will resonate. During November and December, you can send a text message like, “Happy Holidays! Hope you are enjoying this time with your family. Here is a gift card as a thank you from our family to yours.” These kinds of messages will make your customers feel valued while also delivering tangible value.

Tulsa-based motorcycle dealership Route 66 Harley-Davidson made the holidays merry by creating a SMS marketing campaign based on “The 12 Days of Christmas.” 7 They asked customers to text “RT66” to a 5-digit number in order to receive notifications of an exclusive holiday offer. Route 66 Harley-Davidson’s SMS message not only had a strong customer response rate, it contributed to a significant growth in foot traffic in their retail location. Sales of their clothing also surged, with shirt sales up by 250% and sales of motorcycle helmets growing by 20%.

Build trust and engagement with the right SMS marketing etiquette

SMS messages are an immediate and intimate form of communication, making it challenging to get the marketing etiquette right. But if you stay in compliance with SMS messaging laws and respect your customers’ boundaries with your text message marketing campaigns, you will not only strengthen the relationship with your customers—you’ll enjoy a significant return on your investment.

Now that you got SMS marketing etiquette down, find out strategies to amp up your text message marketing campaigns.



1“Robocalls & Telemarketing.” Consumeradvocates.org

2“​​Consumer Code for Wireless Service.” CTIA.org

3“Jiffy Lube Text Message Spam Lawsuit Settled for $47 Million.” PRweb.com

4“Robocalls & Telemarketing.” Consumeradvocates.org

5“Top 10 Text Marketing Best Practices Your Business Needs.” Blog.vagaro.com

6“12 Companies That Boosted Their Business With Mobile Marketing—and 2 That Bombed.” Ultrasmsscript.com 

7“12 Companies That Boosted Their Business With Mobile Marketing—and 2 That Bombed.” Ultrasmsscript.com

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