The 160 Character Challenge: Copywriting for SMS Text Marketing
So, you got excited about SMS text marketing and have high hopes for what it can do for your business. Justly! Mobile marketing is now taking hold, and many businesses are using text message campaigns to extraordinary effect.
You’ve set up with a service provider and started building a list of people to send your messages to, but here you’re staring at a blank screen on your PC. How the heck do you communicate any kind of meaningful message when you only have 160 characters to play with?
First the good news
It may seem like an incredibly short space to say something meaningful, but it depends on your perspective. Here’s a thought: you get 20 more characters than a Twitter update! Twitter is being used today in very creative and effective ways by online marketers. So if they can pull it off with even fewer words, there must be great hope for SMS texting.
We need to challenge this idea that copy cannot be effective if it is brief. Radio advertising has long been recognized as one of the most consistently effective types of advertising. The most common radio ad is 30 seconds long. Would it surprise you to learn that these ads typically contain less than 70 words, and the best radio ad writers insist that repetition is a key ingredient? 70 words with repetition, and it is highly effective.
Some may argue that writing SMS text messages can hardly be called “composing” when you have so few words to play with. I would say that for this very reason the best, most disciplined and thoughtful writing is required to achieve consistent results and build an audience.
What about “serial” SMS text marketing?
One way around the challenge may be to consider splitting your copy over multiple text messages. However, there are several factors that warn that we only do this in moderation.
First of all, it can be a hassle for the receiver, and it can also burden them with additional cost, depending on their cell phone service plan.
Second, there may be delays between the receipt of multiple parts of your message. Sometimes the SMS service provider can be at fault, but it can be a reason as simple as the recipient going in and out of clear reception areas. It’s also possible that recipients receive message deliveries in the wrong order, which can lead to confusion. Therefore, this tactic should only be used sparingly or else it may lead to an increase in subscriber opt-outs.
So, How DO You do it?
In a way, writing effective SMS text messages is like writing JUST a headline. Good writers often say that if they have 8 hours to write a text, they will dedicate 7 of those hours to the title and the last one to the rest of the text. The headlines are THAT critical; they are an art form unto themselves. A headline can make or break your copy because readers will make their decision to read further based on whether the headline gets them. For this reason, great copywriters are experienced headline writers.
Writing great headlines is great training for writing SMS text messages.
1. Shoot an arrow.
A great text message is an arrow, not a shotgun. You are shooting a point at a set target, not shooting a stack of buckshot in a general direction. All the best copywriting, long or short, has a definite goal. The vast majority of text messages are acted upon (if at all) within 20 minutes. So your message needs to be attention-grabbing, clear, and immediately actionable.
2. Talk about the benefits, not the features.
The age-old principle of all sales writing is more imperative in this form than in any other. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. Don’t try to list all the things your widget does; just tell them how you can improve your life.
Great copywriting is not trying to “create demand.” Rather, it seeks to channel existing demand. In other words, find out what your customers already want and scratch that itch. That’s the best news for short writing, because if you had to build demand on every 160-character message before you could call to action, talk about an impossible task!
3. Write the call to action first and keep it brief.
“Call 800-555-5555 now.” That’s a clear call to action in 21 characters. That leaves you 139 characters to find a need and give your solution. “Can’t face cooking after work tonight? Our delicious lasagna will be hot and ready for you. 20% off with this text – $10! Call 800-555-5555 now”… 10 characters to spare.
4. Resist the temptation to abbreviate words.
Remember the “KIPS” principle… Keep it professional stupid! That doesn’t mean writing an office memo, but you don’t want to write like you’re a high school sophomore texting your best friend after school.
5. Proof! Proof! Proof!
Try different approaches. Once your list starts to grow, you should do this within campaigns. Have 2 versions of the same basic message and send each one to half of your list. Over time, you will begin to develop a sense of what works best.
Writing for SMS text marketing with only 160 characters? It can be done, and it can be done well.