Are You Making These 13 SMS Marketing Mistakes?

Are You Making These 13 SMS Marketing Mistakes?


In this article we’ll take a look at 13 SMS marketing mistakes that businesses and marketers make including:

  1. Not knowing Your Customer Avatar
  2. Failing To Build A Responsive List Of Eager Customers Plus The Homer Simpson Test
  3. Not Mapping A Customer Buying Path
  4. Not Creating Subscriber Buckets
  5. Locking Yourself Inside The 160 Character Prison
  6. Thinking SMS Is Email
  7. Making Subscribers Feel Trapped
  8. Creating A Disconnected Mobile Experience
  9. Not integrating SMS Into Your Marketing System
  10. Not Fencing Off Your SMS Subscribers
  11. Not Cutting The Fat From Your List
  12. Opening The Door To Lawsuits
  13. Ignoring The Truth & Missing Out On Massive Conversions


 1. Not Knowing Your Customer Avatar

Why is a customer avatar important?

In short: A customer avatar makes selling easier.

Let me quickly explain:

Think of your best friend or someone you know intimately well.

How easy is it for you to persuade them to do something?

Chances are you’re able to influence them because you know their what makes them tick.

  • You know how to make them laugh.
  • You know their fears, frustrations, challenges and their wants, aspirations and desires.
  • You know their existing beliefs.
  • You know their family and background.
  • You know what they do for a living.
  • You have a rough idea of how much they earn per year.

Knowing this much about a person allows you to connect.


What is a customer avatar?

A customer avatar is a fictional character that represents a section of your market.

Think of an avatar like a container that houses all of the information above (beliefs, fears, frustrations, aspirations, family, income etc.)

How much easier is it for you to influence and attract this type of person to your SMS list, provide targeted offers that get accepted and deliver valuable information?


Step 1: Interview your best customers by phone and/or survey them (doing a combination of both is ideal)

The biggest question you want to find the answer to is their single biggest challenge as it relates to {whatever it is they’re trying to achieve}.

For example: if they’re a sales manager then you want to find out from them what their single greatest challenge is as it relates to growing sales.

In addition to that you want to find out what their current reality looks like and the problems that exist inside of it and what their desired outcome is.

If you’re selling smaller items like chocolates then these questions are obviously a little too heavy so you’d want to find out why they chose you and get into a general conversation around what they like, don’t like etc.


Step 2: Give the customer avatar a name

Think of a name that would suite that particular persona.


Step 3: Get it down on paper

Now bring that avatar to life by printing out a piece of paper filled with that information along with a photo (can be a stock image or swiped from the internet this is only for your personal use).

Let’s imagine that my avatar’s name is Sandy, before I begin to brainstorm my SMS campaign I will ask questions like:

  • “What does Sandy need to get her one step closer to her desired goal?” (as it relates to your solution)
  • “What information does Sandy need from me to make better buying decisions?”
  • “What offer would make Sandy want to forward my SMS on to her friends or at least brag to her friends about?”

The idea is to build an SMS campaign that speaks to her world and offers value into it as opposed to making offers because you really need to sell some stuff today.

Think from your customer avatars perspective first and you give your SMS campaigns a huge advantage over your competitors!


 2. Failing To Build A Responsive List Of Eager Customers

Building a strong SMS list comes with obvious benefits the most important is generating action on demand whether that be:

  • Downloads
  • Opt-ins
  • Purchases
  • Attendance (to an event etc.)
  • Reviews & feedback


The success of an SMS campaign hinges on two main elements:

  1. Highly engaged and responsive subscribers (Avatar + Intelligent Segmentation)
  2. Big list (Aggressive Promotion)

In that order.

I’d rather have 100 highly engaged and responsive customers than 10,000 that ignore me.


Step 1: Customer Avatar

The first step to creating a strong subscriber list is to know your customer.

How well do you know your various customer segments?

Here’s a test to find out:


The Homer Simpson Test

Do you know more about Homer Simpson’s life than you do your customer?

Or think about one of your favourite TV shows – do you know more about that character’s life than your customer’s?

If you know more about Homer Simpson (or favourite TV character) than your customer then it’s a #Fail.

Since you read the first tip hopefully you understand the importance of knowing your customer.



Step 2: Highly Relevant Value Proposition

Once you have a good idea of your customer’s world then you need to create a compelling value proposition.

A compelling value proposition makes it a no-brainer to join your list eagerly waiting for your SMS promotions.

Come up with as many offers as you can that would be highly magnetic to your Customer Avatar.

Think about their current frustrations, fears, worries, wants, desires and aspirations.

Here are a couple of ideas to get you thinking:


Are you a personal trainer or a consultant?

Think about the specific, tangible end goal of your client

If you could break up the journey into stages or steps, how many steps would it take for them to achieve their goal?

Perhaps you could give them the first step free?


Are you a beauty salon owner?

What end result does your avatar desire?

What services and products does your avatar need in order to achieve that result?

  • Build a package offer around that and give it name that mirrors that aspiration or…
  • Create a strong offer for the first service or product and then send out a sequence of SMS messages over the next few months promoting the other services.

The goal is to offer highly relevant value that either helps them move away from frustration or displeasure and towards their wants and desires.


Step 3: Select the top offer

Out of all the ideas you came up with pick one that you think is the strongest.


Step 4: Craft your offer

Write out a few different versions of your promotion.

This is not an SMS, this is an ad that you would place inside and email or on your website etc. to drive people onto your SMS list.

Here’s an example:

Text “GoddessAfter30” to 1234 and I’ll help you lose at least 5 kilos in 30 days with my Goddess After 30 Package which includes 4 PT sessions (valued at $320) 2x nutrition coaching calls (Value $100) and my step-by-step 30 day eating blueprint that my current goddesses have used to lose at least 5 kilos (value $47) all for only $97.

Ends March 30. I’m only accepting 20 clients for this package.

Text now to grab this offer!

Let’s break the offer down:

  1. The keyword and package name reflects the aspiration which is looking amazing after 30.
  2. The “5 kilos in 30 days” is a specific, tangible goal.
  3. The PT session is a tangible offer which carries high value by itself.
  4. The coaching calls and eating plan are a nice added bonus.
  5. The $97 price tag seems small in comparison to the total value
  6. Ends March 30 and a limit of 20 clients adds 2 levels of urgency and scarcity.
  7. Simple call to action at the end.

Obviously there is not a lot of money to be gained here on the offer but this is designed to help the personal trainer acquire new personal training clients.

You may test just the personal training sessions first and the diet plan or come up with a completely different promotion but the important thing is that you start testing which brings us to step 5…


Step 5: Promote

Now you have your offer it’s time to promote that offer everywhere you can.

  • Email list
  • Website
  • Sandwich board
  • Window
  • Chalk on the pavement

This needs to be an all-out campaign to get people on the list.

Now you should be building your list up with highly qualified customers, clients and leads.

Next it’s a good idea to start thinking about what products you need to be moving those customers into next.

Which leads us to our next tip…


 3. Not Mapping Ahead (Promotional Calendar)

Planning out your future promotions is incredibly helpful because it shows you visually how all of your marketing is working together.

They also help you to:


  1. Map out the buying path for your customers

This means if they purchased Product A then what should Product B be and then Product C etc.

Challenge yourself to line up products for your avatar that they would really benefit from.

You would also have your testing hypothesis locked into this calendar as well.


  1. They give you clarity

Promotional calendars are great because they help you map out the next 90, 180 or 365 days.

This relieves you from having to “come up with the next SMS campaign”.

This doesn’t mean that you have to stick rigidly to the plan because things do change but it allows you to tie all of your marketing together to achieve company goals.

If you’re a restaurant with a seasonal menu then you will most likely have at least a 90 day scope to create promotions and information leading up to the next season.

If you have an eCommerce store which is FMCG then you may not know what is happening even next month so it is definitely tougher to create a promotional calendar.

Either way, set aside a few days to really map out the products you’d like to send to your customers.

The time needed will depend on the complexity of your product or service and how far into the future you can plan.


 4. Not Creating Subscriber Buckets

Easily one of the major mistakes most businesses make with SMS.

This one is probably responsible for a lot of unsubscribes that happen.

In Tip 2 I said that the goal was to create a highly relevant value proposition.

Segmentation takes care of this for you.

Segmenting means that you’re grouping like-minded people together.

With online SMS platforms you can create countless contact groups.

If I’m a marketing agency I may have my different marketing segments set up like this:

  1. Bob The Builder
  2. Patty The Personal Trainer
  3. Lenny The Lawyer

Each of these segments have very unique needs and use very different language so I need to adjust my messaging to match that.

But there are other ways to segment for example by product:

Using our personal training example, we can groups for the following:

  • Female clients over 40
  • Goddess over 30 clients
  • Long distance running clients
  • Muscle building clients
  • CrossFit clients
  • Trial clients

To take it a step further you can drill down in to each of these groups for example:

  • CrossFit Women
  • CrossFit Men
  • CrossFit Mixed
  • CrossFit Beginner Mixed

You can also segment based on the stage of the journey the client is on since you wouldn’t want to be sending advanced concepts/offers to a beginner and vice versa.

Wherever it makes sense for you to segment do so.


To recap:

Segmentation helps you to:

  1. Keep your message super relevant
  2. Reduce your costs by not sending to people who would never respond
  3. Increase retention by sending targeted messaging that is valuable
  4. Increase ROI by reducing spend and increasing response


 5. Locking Yourself Inside The 160 Character Prison

A lot of SMS marketing sites tell you “use brevity”, “be concise” etc.

And that is true.

You never want to waste words for SMS or any other marketing channel.

But the reason they’re saying this is that they’re trying to tell you that you only have a precious 160 characters to work with.

This is not entirely the case.

It’s actually not a hard character limit like Twitter.

You can actually use long-form SMS messages which give you 400+ characters.

Keep in mind that these do cost more.

If you write a message that is 320 characters it would cost you 2 SMS messages because 160×2=320.

And so on.

Most of the time you will only need 160 characters.

But there are some occasions where it’s worth it to spend a little extra.

For example, if you’re putting together a customer win-back campaign you may want need to use more characters to find out why they left and make an offer including the call to action.

It adds up quick.

We have clients that routinely go over the 160 character limit because the promotion requires it.


 6. Thinking SMS Is Email

SMS is often compared to email because the mechanics are the same.

  1. Build a list
  2. Send content to that list

SMS is however more of a precision tool.

Its power comes from knowing with almost 100% certainty that your message will get seen and read – so it is best used for important, high value work.

Think of a surgeon using a scalpel.

Email is more of a blunt instrument that requires a high volume approach where you bludgeon your list to death.

Email subscribers are more tolerant of this type of communication because your message is going to a place that honestly isn’t that personal to them – their email inbox.

Your SMS message on the other hand is going to a very personal space – their mobile phone.

Keep the volume low when doing promotional campaigns most businesses will do roughly one per week 1 (at most 2) per week.


 7. Making Subscribers Feel Trapped

Just like with email it’s important to provide an opt-out option for your subscribers this is important for 3 good reasons:

Good reason 1: It is the law – people have to be able to unsubscribe from your messages.

Every country has different laws regarding SMS communications so it’s important to learn what they are first before you start sending out promotions.

Good reason 2: Gives the subscriber peace of mind.

People feel a lot more at ease when they know they can stop receiving messages from you so include this in all of your messages.

Good reason 3: You want remove anyone from your list that is no longer interested in what you have to offer.

Since each SMS costs money you don’t want to be spending money on people who would never buy from you.

People who remove themselves is good but you also want to see who hasn’t responded to your promotions in a while so you can remove them.


 8. Creating A Disconnected Mobile Experience

Are you linking to a landing page from your SMS?

It’s unlikely that the person will go to their PC and type in the url to see your landing page.

They will stay on their device which means that the site needs to be mobile-friendly.

What does this mean?

Here are just 4 areas to check:


Loads quickly (less than seconds preferably)

Studies show that mobile users will abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

That is pretty brutal but mobile is a fast channel.

Here’s a site that can tell you how fast your site loads.


Looks good on mobile.

Have you ever been on a website using your mobile and you constantly have to zoom out and scroll left to right to see all of the content?

This creates a tricky and frustrating experience for the user.


Don’t lose the scent

To follow on from the earlier personal training example, if you’re promoting the Goddess After 30 personal training program then make sure that the headline mirrors that.

This is called “keeping the scent”.

If they land on a page that is maybe just the home page where you talk about your credentials and no instant mention of the offer then the user has lost the scent and will most likely bounce from that page.


Call to action

Make sure there is a crystal clear action that you want the person to take.

  • Purchase a product
  • Sign up for an event or webinar
  • Download a report
  • Jump on a waiting list

Whatever it is, make sure that you state what you want the user to do next and have a form or order button right there.


 9. Not integrating SMS Into Your Marketing System

We often treat each marketing channel like it’s an island.

The truth is that your marketing is (or should be) one system that is interwoven.

When you send an SMS promotion that requires your subscriber to go to a specific landing page what happens to those that don’t follow through on that promotion?

You can’t send them another SMS.

But you can retarget them with ads.

Businesses typically have an email list and an SMS list which rarely ever work together.

If you just sent out an important newsletter or catalogue why not send an SMS out to let people know that you just released an important email that they need to open?

Hi Mike, we’ve just sent out an important newsletter that I think would help you improve sales. Let me know if you haven’t received it. Jeff.

Find ways to integrate SMS into the overarching marketing strategy and you’ll bolster your results!


 10. Not Fencing Off Your SMS Subscribers

This one almost seems opposite to the last tip where the go was to integrate.

The goal here is to segregate.

“Fencing off” means that you’re sending exclusive offers only to your SMS list.

The goal here is to reduce unsubscription rates.

When people know that they can only receive special information or offers on the SMS channel they’ll be a lot less likely to unsubscribe from that list.


 11. Not Cutting The Fat From Your List

Over time our lists can get quite bloated.

What I mean is that we are holding on to subscribers that are no longer responding to our messages.

It’s a good idea to prune off people who haven’t purchased in a while.

List pruning helps to reduce costs?

For example if you’re a hair salon males will get their hair cut every 2-4 weeks females every 4-6 weeks so if someone hasn’t rebooked or purchased product in 3 months it could be a good time to remove them.

When is a good time to prune a subscriber?

It depends on your product.

You can place a time limit on it perhaps 6 month blocks.

Another indicator is ROI.

If you have 5,000 subscribers which costs 6 cents per SMS that equals $300 per campaign.

If you’re making $300 in return with a profit of $120 then this list needs to be reviewed.

If you’re campaigns aren’t bringing in a lot more return than they should then chances are also that you’re not doing Tip 1 & Tip 2 & Tip 7.

But they may buy from me at some point?

In this case you could be proactive and ask them if they would like to be removed from your list.

Hi Sandy, I noticed you haven’t purchased from us in a while. Would you like me to keep sending you offers? Reply “YES” to stay or “NO” to unsubscribe. Kim.

Or something similar.

If they don’t respond or reply “no” then you can safely remove them from your list and replace them with actual buyers.


 12. Opening The Door To Lawsuits

No SMS mistakes list would be complete without this one.

I want to share with you something that most people won’t tell you about permission as it relates to SMS.

Here’s how most businesses get permission from people.

Text ‘keyword’ to ‘number’ and get 30% off X.

In this example you don’t actually have permission to text these people beyond giving them the special.

If you want to continue to send them offers the subscriber has to agree to that otherwise you can get into trouble depending on the laws surrounding SMS in your country.

In the promotional offer you are going to have to mention that in addition to getting this special offer you will occasionally send them more great offers and that they can opt-out at any point.

You could also mention it in the confirmation SMS after they have sent the special keyword to you.

Hi Kim, thanks for redeeming your voucher! Just show this SMS to our team code #12095. Text “morespecials” to receive offers like this in the future.

Nice and easy and keeps you clear of legal issues.


 13. Ignoring The Truth & Missing Out On Massive Conversions

What is the truth?

The truth is not what we think it is, it is what the market believes it is.

We often think our customers are more sophisticated than what they really are.

We say things like “no one would buy that, it’s too expensive!” or “my customers wouldn’t go for that!”

If you don’t intimately know your customers and haven’t tested these theories out then you are just sharing an uneducated opinion.

This is not grounded in reality.

In order to uncover the truth you need to test your assumptions in the only place that matters…

The marketplace.

Testing always begins with “what if…”

“What if we split our list up and sent the same offer but at different times 12pm to one list and 6pm to the other list?”

“What if we tested percentages vs. hard numbers for example: 50% off vs. $30 off?”

“What if we used an excited tone of voice vs. a more natural tone?”

Testing is just a game of data and the list is your laboratory.

Through many tests you slowly begin to see what works and potentially carry that across other marketing channels.

Anything can be tested but offers would be the main element.

Other areas of testing could be:

  • Time of day
  • Salutation vs. no salutation
  • Long form SMS vs. short
  • Tone of voice
  • Offers
  • Hooks and angles

The reason why testing is no important is that it reveals the truth about what works and what doesn’t

It rescues us from our assumptions.

The truth is we are not our customers so we need to use testing to find out what they respond to and what they don’t.



The secret to successful SMS marketing is to create good habits and set a strong foundation.

Even though we covered a lot of mistakes if you spend most of your time:

  1. Knowing who you’re talking to (Avatar)
  2. Build a big list (Promotion + Strong Value Proposition)
  3. Stay relevant (Segmentation)
  4. Finding the truth (Testing)

You’re well ahead of the competition and will be creating a powerful business asset.

If you want to learn more about SMS marketing check out our SMS Marketing Guide and our 16 Pro SMS Marketing Tips article!