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Getting started on the right foot with your SMS marketing program can be the difference between sending effective text campaigns and finding your brand on the hook with angry customers or regulators. Check out how.

Modern marketing can move fast—but it also requires thoughtful planning on the part of today’s marketing, growth, and engagement teams. Brands have more marketing tools and more data at their disposal than ever before, but they’re also operating in a crowded, noisy customer engagement landscape shaped by ever-rising consumer expectations. To reach customers without alienating them (or running afoul of regulators), marketers have to strike a balance between moving swiftly and moving with intention.

That’s especially true when it comes to companies that are looking to start leveraging SMS as part of their marketing strategy. This channel is highly effective at grabbing customers’ attention—see its 98% open rate—but can be expensive on a per-message basis, making it essential to marketers to put in advance planning to see its full value.

Exhibit A? Short codes. Unlike SMS long codes, which are designed for person-to-person messaging, short codes allow brands to send up to 100 messages per second. This capability makes them a powerful tool for supporting urgent, high-importance outreach via application-to-person (A2P) messaging. At Braze, our onboarding team works with brands and our SMS send partner Twilio to put together a comprehensive application for review and approval from major carriers. But while that helps provide clarity for brands, it doesn’t change the fact that short code applications, which take 8-12 weeks from the time of submission, are generally the longest part of getting up and running with SMS.

So, in order to best prepare for your SMS onboarding and submitting your short code application, we’ve put together a list of five ways you as a brand can best prepare for your SMS onboarding here at Braze.

1. Sit Down With Your Legal/Compliance Team

SMS is powerful—but it’s also a highly regulated messaging channel. That means that brands need to be up to speed on the laws and guidance governing SMS marketing before they ever send their first message.

In the US, SMS falls under two main frameworks: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) guidelines. You’ll need to make sure that your brand’s compliance and/or legal teams understand and sign off on the messaging you’ll be sending to your users, and that they’re up to date with both frameworks, as the frameworks each apply different rules and guidelines based on the message type that you’ll need to follow in order to stay in compliance. For instance, when sending SMS with Braze, which leverages A2P messages, you’ll need to take different steps than if you were using the P2P message types that most of us use when texting friends and family.

It’s also important to make sure that your brand’s Terms of Service are up to date and compliant with relevant laws and guidelines when you launch your SMS program; otherwise, you risk significant penalties. Not sure what that looks like? Our send partner Twilio has some great advice on how to put together a compliant Terms of service.

2. Ensure You Have a Plan to Memorialize User Consent for SMS

Compliance doesn’t end with talking to your legal team. For most SMS senders, you’re also going to need to ensure that you have a process for memorializing all user SMS opt-ins and opt-outs.

For brands leveraging Braze, our platform will keep a record of when users opt-in and opt-out, but it’s important to ensure that your team has its own plan to track and maintain this information. In particular, you need to retain the date, time, SMS campaign type, consumer phone number, and consumer language associated with every user who opts-in or opts-out in order to demonstrate that you haven’t been messaging people who requested not to receive SMS messages.

In Braze, it’s possible to leverage Braze Currents, our high-volume data export feature, to support this effort, or to utilize webhooks to make API requests to your brand’s backend systems to track and store this data as it happens. But to leverage these features effectively to ensure compliance, it’s important to have a plan.

3. Identify Your Priority SMS Use Cases

When you’re preparing your brand’s SMS program, an essential step is understanding what kinds of SMS messages you’ll be leveraging. Will you be sending only promotional SMS (think sales announcements and time-sensitive discounts) to your customers, or will the channel also be used to cover transactional use cases like order confirmations?

This information is essential in large part because you’ll be asked to outline the most important use cases for your SMS program as part of your short code application. Because short codes and their associated use cases are vetted and approved before you can start sending your customers SMS campaigns, it is important to outline these use cases as explicitly as possible in order to ensure approval in a timely manner. In addition, it’s an SMS best practice to keep transactional and promotional messages separate—just like the way email marketers usually send promotional and transactional communications from separate addresses and IPs—so knowing what your use cases will look like will help you prefer if you need to have distinct SMS messaging streams.

4. Outline Your SMS User Opt-In Strategy

Before you can send SMS messages, you need to build an audience of customers who have agreed to be reached through this channel. But different brands have different strategies for making that happen. For some, it might mean prompting users to text “START” to your short code by promoting your SMS alerts on a billboard or a coaster; for others, the process might use other digital channels, like in-app messages or email, to nudge active users to add SMS to the list of channels they’re willing to be contacted on.

As with the use cases, it’s important to showcase your strategy for building a messageable audience as part of your application process, and for essentially the same reason: Telecom providers insist on seeing this information before agreeing to approve your shortcodes, so having your ducks in a row can do a lot to speed up approvals. You’ll also need to include the following in your application:

  • Advertising examples with a service description and program name (i.e. "Text START to 12345 to receive weekly product alerts from SandwichEmperor!")
  • Fee disclosures (i.e. "Message and data rates apply")
  • Recurring message disclosures (i.e "Message frequency varies” or "One message a week," etc.)
  • Customer assistance information (i.e "Text HELP for help")
  • Instructions to opt-out (i.e. "Text STOP to cancel")
  • A link to your Privacy Policy describing if and/or how end user opt-in information will be used and whether data sharing isa part of your program
  • A link to Terms and Conditions describing terms of your short code service

5. Ensure You’re Able to Programmatically Edit User Profiles

Up to date customer data is always important to your marketing efforts, but when it comes to SMS, it’s essential. For Braze customers, you’re likely already updating your user profiles via SDK, API, or CSV, but before you start sending SMS to users, you’re going to need to ensure that you have the resources you need to be able to edit user profiles in a programmatic way, if you aren’t already.

Why? Because sending SMS requires brands to pass additional information to the user profiles of customers who are receiving the messages, especially when it comes to tracking the data associated with custom keyword handling. Having the resources on hand to implement these changes is essential, as the additional fields associated with SMS can’t be populated using CSV, requiring marketers to ensure that they’re able to do so using APIs or the Braze SDK—no exceptions!

Final Thoughts

Getting started on the right foot with your SMS marketing program can be the difference between sending effective text campaigns and finding your brand on the hook with angry customers or regulators. While it’s never a good idea to cut corners when preparing your marketing efforts, it can be disastrous with SMS because of how bureaucratic and highly regulated the space is. So do yourself a favor and take the time to sit down and prepare your brand for launching SMS before you actually get started.

Already a Braze customer? If you’re thinking about adding SMS to your existing messaging mix, you can reach out to your Braze Onboarding Manager or Customer Success Manager for a deeper dive into how Braze can help your organization prepare effectively to leverage this powerful messaging channel.

Benjamin Kasman

Ben Kasman is a customer onboarding manager at Braze, dedicated to helping customers get started on the right foot. When he’s not managing customer integrations, you can find him planning his next Chipotle order—a bowl without guac isn’t a bowl at all!