Guide to SMS Marketing for Car Dealerships

The automotive retailing industry is very well suited to using SMS as a way of communicating with its customer and prospect base. Dealers tend to hold a high proportion of mobile numbers on their databases but the potential of the mobile phone as a channel for communication is often overlooked.

Some of the areas that car dealers can benefit by use SMS are:

Achieve higher response rates – text messaging is 5 times more responsive than direct mail.

Dramatically reduce phone bills – sending a text to a customer is up 95% cheaper than a call to a mobile

Save time – time to phone 15 customers, 45 minutes approx. – time to text 15 customers, 1 minute

Create massive impact, builds customer loyalty -23% of people will show or forward an SMS marketing message to a friend. (Source – Mobile Marketing Association)

Zero entry costs for SMS Service – accounts are free to set up and come with 10 free text credits

Easy to set up – no software downloads, the only requirement is an Internet connection

Can I use my customers’ mobile numbers for SMS campaigns?
There’s a huge amount of confusion in this area. Dealers are concerned that they might be breaking data protection or privacy legislation if they send SMS campaigns to their existing customers. The regulations on this however are simple and make a lot of common sense.

If your customer or prospect has given you their mobile number during the course of your discussions and have opted in to your messages, then you are permitted to send them an SMS message or text alert. You do however need to make sure of the following…

1. Quote your company name in the message, so people know who the text is from!
2. Quote your business contact telephone number.
3. Include an SMS opt out in your text (e.g to stop further messages, reply STOP to this text) There is more information on Text Marketer’s opt out system later in this guide.
4. You are only allowed to send SMS messages on the same broad subject as your original communications. In other words, if someone rang for a new vehicle test drive, you can’t then send them a promotional text about a free pizza offer!

More information on this subject is available on the Information Commissioner’s Office website.

Using an SMS Service – It’s not just about selling!
It’s easy to think about the potential for bulk SMS just in terms of selling services, MOTs and new/used vehicles. The mobile phone is in fact just another communication tool that you can use to communicate with your customers and prospects on a range of subjects.

You might consider setting up a customer text club where customers receive regular driving safety tips, reminders to check tyre pressure, oil level etc.
The most effective mobile strategies combine service messages, which have a tangible value to the customer, with specifically targeted promotional text campaigns.

How can I use an SMS service in my dealership?
There are almost endless ways that dealers can use text messaging, some examples are:
Car ready for collection‘Your car is now ready for collection, please call in at Service Reception where your keys are waiting for you’

MOT/Service reminders‘Your car is now due its service, please contact our Service Department and we will be delighted to book it in at a convenient time’

Courtesy/thank you messages‘Thank you for servicing your car at Ricardo’s Motors, we look forward to seeing you in the Spring’

Questionnaire follow-up‘Don’t forget to complete and return our customer questionnaire in time for the prize draw on Saturday’

Sales lead generation‘The all new xxxx has arrived! Call our showroom today and we’ll deliver a brand new car to your home for you to test drive’

Part now in stock‘The parts that you ordered have now arrived, please call in at the Parts Department’

Deferred Sale‘Your tyres are probably due to be changed now. Please call Service Reception on 01234 56789 and we will arrange a convenient time to change them’

Increase open rates to e-mail campaigns with SMS campaigns
Text campaigns are particularly effective at increasing the open rates of e-mail campaigns. Open rates have been dropping steadily for years now as we’re all buried under piles of virtual junk. In contrast to this, the open rate for SMS is over 98%. Using an SMS service can be a very powerful way to alert customers about an e-mail that will be arriving in their in box.

E.g – ‘News! Look out for an e-mail this afternoon containing exciting information about new service offers for your vehicle ABC Ltd, 012345 56789′

Targeting your message to the right audience
The more relevant that you make your offer to the customer, the higher the response you can expect. By segmenting your customer database into different types of customer, you can send tailored text messages to the different categories.

Within your account, uploading groups is quick and simple and you can upload as many different databases as you wish.

What type of SMS messages work best for car dealers?
Each dealer will want to tailor their text campaign for their own customer base. There are a few golden rules that can help you get the best possible response from your SMS campaign.

Don’t Be Tempted to Use Text Speak – Some of your target audience won’t mind ‘text speak’ but you can be sure that some of them will be incensed by it! Text speak can be confusing and projects an unprofessional image.

Don’t Cram In Too Many Points? – A standard text message is only 160 characters, so don’t be tempted to crowbar in multiple offers. Keep it simple, concise and clear.

Tell Your Audience Who You Are – This may be obvious but don’t assume your customers will immediately know who the text is from. Within your account, you can change the sender ID so that the customer knows who the message is from before the text is even opened.

Have A Strong ‘Call To Action’ – Ensure you make it clear what you want the customer to do. Don’t just quote your phone number but ask the customer to dial it. E.g Call us now on 080012345678

Use An ‘Attention Grabber’ – Start your text with an attention grabber that will arouse curiosity and induce the customer to read on. This is normally a single or couple of words, often in capitals. The word ‘news’ is particularly effective.

Can my customers reply to the texts that I send them?
Yes. Your account has a 2-way element that allows you to receive reply messages from your text campaigns.

To receive responses you require a unique keyword that is applied to your account. The customer then replies with the keyword as the first word of their reply text.

Replies are stored in your SMS account and can be viewed live. You can also choose to have the responses e-mailed to you or sent to a web address if you wish.

Text Marketer will provide you with a text response number that you need to set as the sender name so that people can reply.

160 characters isn’t very much to get our message across. Can we send a longer text?
Yes. You can send a text of up to 614 characters or 4 standard text messages. If your message contains over 160 characters it will use more than 1 text credit. Longer SMS messages arrive on the mobile phone as 1 message.

Is there a best time of day to send out my SMS campaign?
To answer this question you need to think like a customer. For most working people the only opportunity during the day to sort out personal issues is during the lunch break. Aim to have your SMS campaign arriving between 12pm and 2pm. If possible, avoid Mondays as this has been proven to be the least responsive day of the week.

How can I tell if my messages have been received?
For each text campaign that you dispatch, a delivery report is automatically created. This lists all the mobile numbers that you sent to and provides an outcome against each one. (Delivered, undelivered or pending.) Messages that are ‘undelivered’ indicate that the number you have attempted to send to is incorrect or is no longer active. You can remove the ‘undelivered’ numbers from your database so that you don’t send a text to inactive numbers again; this is a great way of cleaning your data and saving money on future campaigns.

How can my customers opt out from receiving further SMS promotions?
Allowing people to opt out from your bulk text campaigns is crucial. There is nothing that will irritate your customers more than making it difficult for them to unsubscribe from your SMS alerts.

Text Marketer have built a text opt out service into the standard SMS marketing account which comes free for every customer. There is no set-up or monthly fee for either the account or for the opt-out system. The system works using a keyword that the customer texts in to a 5 digit short code. An outbound text with an opt-out might end with the following…’to stop texts, reply STOP’.

When the customer sends their reply, their mobile number is then stored in a database in the customer account. Every time an SMS campaign is sent, the system checks the opt-out list and deletes any numbers that appear in the opt-out database. So, if someone has opted out from receiving texts, your account will not permit any further messages to be sent to that number.

Can I put a text response option on my marketing and advertising campaigns?
Yes. If you give people the option, around half of them will choose to respond to your advertising and marketing by SMS.

Boost your green credentials
Using text as part of your communication strategy can project a strong environmental message. The automotive industry pushes billions of pieces of mail through the Royal Mail every year. The figures are really quite sobering and by using SMS where possible to replace mailed items, the saving could be very significant.