Reading time: 42 minutes

SMS Marketing: The Ultimate Guide (with Tips & Use Cases)

Published: Dec 14, 2023

In a world where the average American glances at their phone 80 times daily, seizing attention is challenging. However, the solution lies in SMS marketing. 

SMS marketing is a potent tool for immediate, concise, and personal communication, with a 7.5X better response rate than email. Learn about the best practices, regulations, and use cases for incorporating marketing messages into your strategy.

In this article, we explore 

  • How to start SMS marketing
  • How to choose the right texting number
  • Building your list with SMS marketing
  • The right texting tool to use for one-way and two-way communication
  • Use cases for SMS marketing
  • Text message regulations you need to know
  • Best practices for using SMS, and
  • What to look for in an SMS marketing tool

How do I start SMS marketing?

Getting started with SMS marketing essentially comprises three parts:

  1. Choosing your number: You must choose between a short code and a 10-digit-long code (10DLC) that people will see as the Sender ID.
  2. Building your list: Managing opt-ins to your list and running your SMS marketing program.
  3. Texting your list: Different ways of using SMS at your organization.

Let’s start with the number you’re going to use.

Choosing the right texting number – short code vs. shared short code vs. long code

You might remember the buzz the Obama campaign generated in 2012 when Obama announced his Vice Presidential selection via text message. People who opted in via SMS to the campaign list by texting VP to 62262 were the first to receive the announcement for his VP pick, Joe Biden.

It was a great branding effort, and the campaign reached more than 2.9 million U.S. mobile subscribers who opted to receive text updates.

While the Obama campaign had a dedicated short code that costs around $1000 a month, you can start with SMS marketing with a much more affordable 10-digit long code or shared short code.

What is a short code?


Example of a short code

A short code is a 5 or 6-digit phone number used by businesses, nonprofits, and political campaigns to send text messages to their audience. A long code (10-digit number) short code can handle a high volume of text messages without being restricted by mobile carriers.

Advantages of using a short code include:

  • Brand recollection – Short codes can be as memorable as a website or social media account. Example: 62262, used by the Obama campaign, which spelled out OBAMA on the keypad.
  • Quick delivery – Short codes let you send a high volume of text messages, making it ideal for time-sensitive or high-volume campaigns.

Disadvantages include:

  • Longer time to implement – They take a couple of weeks to go through a review process.
  • Impersonal – Since short codes are meant for one-way communication and automated interactions, they don’t let you have personal conversations.

What is a dedicated short code?

A dedicated short code is an exclusive numeric sequence used in SMS marketing, exclusively assigned to one business. It grants complete control over associated keywords, enabling unique interactions with customers. Customer loyalty is crucial in SMS marketing, and a platform offering excellent support ensures you have assistance when needed.

With a dedicated short code, a business controls all the keywords they want to use with the short code. 

With a dedicated short code, you can generate unlimited keywords without paying extra to join your list, donate to your cause, sign up to volunteer or any other requirement.


Example of a dedicated short code

While a dedicated short code is expensive, it offers businesses the most control regarding branding and message delivery.

Advantages of using a dedicated short code include:

  • Unlimited keywords – A dedicated short code gives you control over the keywords you want to use.
  • Higher send limit – You can send texts in large volumes.

Disadvantages include:

  • They are expensive – A dedicated short code can cost anywhere from $500 to $1000 a month.

What is a shared short code?


Example of a shared short code

A shared short code allows businesses to rent keywords at a lower cost than a dedicated short code. With a shared short code, you can rent specific keywords from the text messaging service at a rate far less than the cost of a dedicated short code. In this case, you rent a keyword instead of the short code, so rates fall to around $25 per month.

While shared short codes are a great way to bring down costs if you are an up-and-coming organization, they also come with a few caveats:

  • It affects brand recognition as other businesses also share the same short code.
  • If someone mistypes your keyword, they might accidentally opt-in to the list of a different business.
  • If the carrier decides to penalize a short code because one business misused its keyword, it can affect all the other parties sharing the short code to send out texts.

Note: While there were reports of a ban on shared short codes, as of the writing of this blog, they remain in use.

What is a long code?


Example of a long code

The alternative to using a short code is a 10-digit long code that’s similar to your local cellphone number. Long codes are inexpensive, and you can rent one for around $2 monthly.

Businesses usually rent multiple long codes based on the area code of the contacts on their list when they’re sending out texts. That way, each contact sees a local sender ID on their phone when they receive the text. 

It also helps businesses navigate the stricter filtering process that mobile carriers apply to long codes.

Advantages include:

  • Quick implementation – Long codes can be rented and implemented in a texting campaign in a matter of seconds.
  • Personal – Organizations can establish a local presence.
  • People can call back – You can choose to transfer calls from a long code to your business line.
  • You can start conversations – Long codes let you have back-and-forth conversations with contacts.
  • Unlimited keywords – You can use unlimited keywords on a long code.

Disadvantages include:

  • Not memorable: People are less likely to opt into a 10-digit number compared to a 5-digit short code. While this isn’t an issue when long codes are used as a hotline to provide access to help or information (e.g., Text CRISIS to 202 555 0555 to receive help from a personal mentor.), Getting people to opt into your list for marketing will be tougher.
  • Limit on texts – Carriers put a stricter limit on the number of texts that can be sent per second from a long code compared to a short code. 
  • Chance of getting blocked – Sending similar or identical content from your long code to multiple numbers within a short period increases your chance of getting blocked.

What is a 10DLC?

Registering and vetting a long code transforms it into a 10DLC, a specialized type of long code sanctioned by telecom carriers for texting mobile numbers in the USA. This process, distinct from unregistered long codes, is mandatory [and it does offer improved deliverability and higher message throughput.] 


  • Improved deliverability: 10DLCs generally offer better deliverability compared to unregistered long codes due to carrier approval, controlled volume, reduced filtering, enhanced routing, and compliance assurance.
  • Higher throughput: With a 10DLC, organizations can achieve a higher message throughput.
  • Carrier trust: The registration process instills a level of trust with carriers, reducing the likelihood of messages being flagged as spam and improving overall message reliability.


  • Cost: Acquiring and maintaining a 10DLC involves additional costs compared to using a standard long code, making it potentially less economical for small-scale users.
  • Registration process: The registration and vetting process for a 10DLC can be more complex and time-consuming than simply obtaining a regular long code.
  • Limited international use: While suitable for sending messages within the USA, 10DLCs are not designed for international messaging, limiting their scope for businesses with global outreach.

So, what’s the verdict?


Long code vs. short code

If you want to broadcast promotional SMS to your audience, we recommend using a short code. Go for a shared short code if you are starting with SMS marketing. Once you build traction and see a definite impact around SMS marketing, move to a dedicated short code.

If you want to cut down on costs, send personalized messages, and even engage people in conversations, use a long code. If you are texting a large group, rent a group of numbers instead of using a single long code to improve your deliverability.

If you send over 3000 messages daily and use more than five long codes, transitioning to a 10DLC is crucial to prevent message filtering. Unlike unregistered long codes, 10DLCs offer a significantly higher throughput, allowing up to 180 messages per second with pre-verification of numbers. 

This is a substantial improvement compared to the limited throughput of one message per second with standard long codes.

Building your list with SMS marketing

Once you have a number in place, the next step is to decide on a keyword. Subscribers text the keyword to your number to sign up for your SMS marketing list.


Example of a keyword and a short code

Note: If you’re using a shared short code, you will rent a specific keyword. In this scenario, you must decide on the keyword before renting the number.

With the keyword and number ready, you can create your SMS campaign and set up automated text responses that will go out to people who join your list.

Let’s say you chose the keyword JOIN and the short code 52555.

Depending on your goals, you can choose to send a thank you message immediately after the opt-in or set up automatic interactions in your text messaging service to capture additional details.


Example of building your list with SMS marketing

If most of your communication will be over text messages, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to opt in. In that case, a simple thank you message does the trick.


Example of data collection with SMS marketing

However, if you intend to communicate with subscribers over other channels, go ahead and ask for more details.

Your text messaging service takes this information and builds out a profile for each subscriber. Most services come with integrations that sync this information instantly with your CRM, so you don’t have to worry about moving data back and forth using spreadsheets.


Syncing information from your text messaging platform to CRM

If you can’t find integration with your CRM, it’s easy to use a service like Zapier to send contacts from your text message service directly to your CRM.

Promote your keyword and number

The more people join your list, the higher the impact of your text message marketing campaigns. That’s why you must go all out with your SMS marketing program.

Promote your keyword and number across:

  • Social media
  • Direct mail
  • Email and email signature
  • Website
  • Blogs
  • Yard signs
  • Flyers
  • Business cards

and any other channels where people see your messaging.


Example of a website form collecting mobile numbers for SMS marketing

If you have forms on your website, add a field to collect mobile numbers with a checkbox explicitly mentioning that you will send text messages. Although nonprofits are exempt from TCPA regulations requiring explicit opt-in from mobile subscribers, it is an excellent practice to let people know why you’re asking for their phone number.

Communicating with an audience over text messages

You can use text messages to communicate with your audience in two ways. 

Use it:

  1. For one-sided communication.
  2. For two-sided communication.

I’ll expand on each.

Using text messages for one-sided communication, aka mass texting

One-sided communication involves

  • Promotional messages
  • Reminders & alerts
  • Event invitations
  • Announcements
  • Holiday greetings
  • Appreciation
  • Feedback requests

… and other updates you want to communicate to people.

All you need to do is choose the list you want to text, craft your message (including any links), and schedule a time you want the text to go out – a lot like an email service.


Link in text directing people to a mobile-optimized landing page.

Make sure your links are directing people to a mobile-optimized landing page.

Pro tip: Instead of keeping things one-sided, mix things up occasionally by sending surveys, conducting polls, and running quizzes – all of which play into the evolving trends.

Related read: 12 ideas for using text messages at your nonprofit

Using text messages for two-sided communication

On most occasions, your texts are part of an automated campaign that is scheduled to go out when:

  1. Someone opts into your list
  2. When you want to broadcast information to a group of people.

However, there are instances where you will want to engage your audience in a conversation. Especially if you are trying to get them to take action, like attending an event, donating to a cause, or casting their vote.

That’s where peer-to-peer texting comes in.

How does it work?


Examples of peer-to-peer texting conversations for event invites, fundraising, and Get Out The Vote

Peer-to-peer texting lets organizations have one-to-one conversations with people at scale with the help of agents. A single agent can have around 1000 conversations in the span of an hour. 

While a mass texting campaign is meant to get information in front of an audience, peer-to-peer texts are intended to get people to chat with you to take a specific action.

Take the case of a broadcast message that is sent out to the people on your list.

“Informational event next week on the 10th of February at 6 pm in Saint Mary’s Park. Reply YES to RSVP.”

Compare that to,

”Hey Jon, guess what? We’re having an informational event next week on the 10th of February at 6 pm in Saint Mary’s Park. Wanna come? There’s going to be free food and a fun crowd!”

“Sure, I’d love to. Wait, is it a free event, or do I need to buy a ticket?”

“Awesome. The event is going to be like our food—free! Can’t wait to see you!😀”

“Cool. And I’m bringing my friends too.”

“Perfect 🙌 See you there.”

Which person do you think is more likely to attend the event?

That’s right, the second one.

The same goes for getting a supporter to donate to your cause or getting a voter to go out to vote on election day.

A personal conversation is way more effective when you want to initiate an action from your audience.

Let’s look at some of the everyday use cases around text message/SMS marketing.

Use cases for SMS marketing (with practical examples)

These are SMS marketing examples of how text message is connecting organizations with the people they care about:

Nurturing prospects

With how easy it is to send a text message, it’s a formidable tool to help you stay in touch with your prospects. Whether you’re promoting a limited-time offer, announcing a flash sale, or simply aiming to boost sales with compelling promotional SMS messages, SMS marketing provides the ideal platform.


Offering an incentive on opt-in

Offer an incentive.

Encourage people to make a purchase by offering an incentive if they sign up to receive SMS updates.


Text broadcast announcing a sale

Promote a sale.

Send out a quick broadcast text to inform people about an upcoming sale or share exciting news through engaging promotional messages and boost your SMS marketing efforts.


Selling a ticket to an event through SMS marketing

Encourage a ticket purchase.

Have a live agent walk prospects through the process of booking a ticket at a show.

Getting people to your events

Getting people to attend an event through impersonal broadcasts rarely works. On the other hand, the right mix of personal communication and automated messages can work wonders for your event.


Nudging contacts to attend an event through SMS marketing

Invite people to your event.

Inform people about your event and nudge them to attend over a personal conversation.


SMS reminder for an event

Send an automated reminder.

Send an SMS reminder on the day of your event, just in case!


Thank attendees and ask for feedback.

Thank your attendees for coming and take the opportunity to insert a link to a quick survey, asking for feedback on the event.

Check out our extensive guide on using texting for events.

Volunteer engagement

Volunteers are the lifeblood of your organization. Recruiting and keeping them up to speed on your organization or event is critical for smooth operation.


Recruiting volunteers via SMS

Recruit volunteers.

Let interested supporters sign up to volunteer.


Communicating volunteer opportunities via SMS

Discuss responsibilities.

Inform sign-ups about upcoming volunteer opportunities.


Thanking volunteers via SMS

Thank volunteers and keep them updated.

Let your volunteers know your event’s success, and motivate them to join your next one.


Text messaging lets you have personal conversations with each of your donors, keeping your cause at the top of their minds and encouraging them to lend a hand.


Example of text-to-donate

Let people text to donate.

Let potential donors opt into your text campaigns to receive a donation link.


Asking for a donation over an SMS

Ask for donations over a personal conversation.

Inform people about your latest campaign and encourage them to donate over a personal conversation.


Broadcasting campaign updates via SMS

Broadcast campaign updates.

Send your donors an update whenever you make significant progress in reaching your fundraising goals.

Take a look at our in-depth article on how you can use text messages for political campaigns

Get Out The Vote

Elections are becoming more competitive, and margins razor-thin. This is why Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaigns are so important. Text messaging helps you reach and mobilize your voters quickly.


Voter registration reminder text

Voter registration reminder.

Remind your base to register to vote before election day.


Sending polling details via SMS

Help people make a plan to vote.

Inform people about poll timings, and polling location and help them create a plan to vote.


Text reminder to vote

Election day text.

Send a reminder to your base the day before the election to cast their vote.

We’ve covered the use cases in more detail in our guides on using peer to peer texting and our blog where we cover:

SMS marketing regulations you need to follow

Text message regulations vary by country and region, and they often fall under broader telecommunications or data protection laws. 

Here are some regulatory frameworks designed to control and govern various aspects of electronic communications, including telemarketing, unsolicited messages, and data privacy, in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, respectively. 


The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in the United States regulates various forms of communication, including text messages (SMS) sent for marketing purposes.  

Here’s how the TCPA relates to text message rules:

Prior express written consent: Organizations must obtain prior express written consent from individuals before sending them marketing text messages. This consent should be clear, unambiguous, and specific to the type of messages being sent.

Opt-out mechanism: Text messages must include a clear and easy-to-use opt-out mechanism. Recipients should be able to reply with a designated keyword (such as “STOP”) to stop receiving messages. The opt-out process should be immediate and free of charge.

Time restrictions: Marketing messages should not be sent before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. in the recipient’s local time.

Identification of sender: The text message must clearly identify the sender and provide contact information. 

Auto-dialing systems: The TCPA regulates using auto-dialing systems for sending text messages. 

Note: Organizations must be cautious when sending text messages to phone numbers that have been reassigned to new subscribers. The TCPA allows a one-time message to the new subscriber, but subsequent messages require consent.

Spam Act (Australia)

In Australia, the Spam Act regulates the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages, including text messages (SMS). 

Here are key aspects of the Spam Act as they relate to text message regulations:

Consent: Senders must obtain the recipient’s consent before sending commercial electronic messages, including text messages for promotional purposes. Consent can be express or inferred, but it must be clear and documented.

Identifiable sender: Commercial electronic messages, including SMS, must contain accurate information about the sender’s identity. This includes the name and contact information of the entity initiating the communication. 

Unsubscribe mechanism: Messages must include a functional and clear opt-out mechanism, allowing recipients to easily and at no cost opt out of receiving further messages. The sender must honor opt-out requests promptly.

Time restrictions: While the Spam Act does not specify explicit time restrictions for sending messages, it emphasizes that messages should be sent during normal business hours, and the timing should be reasonable.

Educational material: The Spam Act provides some exemptions for certain types of messages, such as educational, factual, or informational material, as well as messages from registered charities.

Note: The Spam Act applies to electronic messages sent to, from, or within Australia, regardless of where the sender is located.


The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) in the United Kingdom govern the use of electronic communications, including text messages (SMS).

Here are key aspects of PECR as they relate to text message regulations:

Consent for marketing communications: PECR requires that individuals give their consent before receiving direct marketing communications via electronic means, including text messages. This consent should be clear, informed, and freely given.

Opt-out mechanism: Similar to other electronic communications, text messages must include a clear and simple opt-out mechanism. This allows recipients to easily opt out of receiving further messages, and the process should be free of charge.

Identification of sender: Text messages must clearly identify the sender and provide contact information. 

Time restrictions: While PECR does not specify explicit time restrictions for sending text messages, it does emphasize that messages should not be sent at unreasonable hours. Organizations should avoid sending messages very early in the morning or late at night.

Exemptions for existing customers: PECR allows businesses to send electronic marketing messages to existing customers without explicit consent, but the messages must relate to similar products or services, and customers should have been given the option to opt out at the time of data collection.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list, and the regulatory landscape is subject to change. Always consult legal professionals or regulatory authorities to ensure that you are in compliance with the latest regulations in your specific context.

Best practices for SMS marketing

“With great power…”

Well, you know the rest.

With a powerful tool like text message marketing at your disposal, you can push a message to thousands of people with a click.

That means you need to be extra mindful of how you reach out to your contacts. Let’s look at some best practices to follow in your SMS marketing efforts:

Get permission first

It’s polite to only send text messages to people who have permitted you to do so. There are two good reasons to get SMS opt-ins.

  • You want to ensure you comply with regulations for your region, which in most cases involves getting an opt-in from consumers.
  • You don’t want to annoy your prospects by sending them an unsolicited SMS message.

Ask your users to opt into your texts by showing them how your texts can provide value. Entice them with new updates, offers, or other useful information.


Don’t leave your conversations hanging

Text messaging offers you the opportunity to make a personal connection with the people at the other end. A big part of that is having a conversation with them.

If you have agents sending texts to people, remember that they may not always respond to every conversation. Keep track of pending conversations and reassign them to active agents. 

Most SMS marketing tools, especially reputable SMS marketing platforms, have this feature built in to make the process easier.

Don’t leave them hanging if people have a question they need you to answer or want to tell you how much they love your brand or organization.


Be concise and conversational

A rambling text will quickly lose a reader’s attention, while one that is too short will not get your message across.

You’re good to go as long as your texts let the receiver identify you and get your point across.

At the same time, avoid using SMS shorthand or corporate jargon unless you are talking to a specific audience that is likely to understand what you’re saying.

“R u inrstd in r offr 2 buy condos @ 5% disc? Rply YES.”

“Luxurious condos by the lake set amidst lush greenery. Gym, spa, swimming pool and all the latest amenities at your disposal. We’re offering an early bird discount of 5% for pre-booking. Reply YES to be the first in line for this hot deal.”

“Hi Jan, this is Bill from Haven Homes. Heard you’re on the lookout for a new place. Can we get on a quick call to discuss your requirements?”
“Yeah, of course. Can you call me at 3?”
“Yup, 3 works great. Talk to you soon.”
“Ok, thanks.”

Don’t abuse the privilege

It takes a certain amount of trust for someone to give out their contact details to your organization and opt-in to your text communications. Maintain and respect that trust and comply with regulations by ensuring they get only what they have agreed to, i.e., the content and frequency of your texts.

Moreover, respecting the preferences of the receiver will lead to better results for your organization.


Make opting out simple

Let’s face it, some people don’t want your texts.

When you receive an opt-out request  (“STOP”, “UNSUBSCRIBE”, “remove me from your list”, etc.), it’s important to honor the request promptly. Make sure your subscribers know they can opt-out of your communications any time they like, and tell them how.


Opt-out option in a text

Use clear language

Depending on your goals, the type of text you send and the language you use should change.

If your goal is to:

  • Convey information
  • Initiate an action on your website
  • Get a specific keyword response (Eg. Reply with YES to RSVP for the event.), phrase your texts as statements, not conversations.

For example, “Reminder for Clean Energy rally tomorrow at 221B Baker St, Marylebone from 3 pm to 6 pm. See you there!” is a statement.

While “Hey Jon, Melinda from Hope Society here. We’re having an informational event on Feb 10th at 6 pm in Saint Mary’s Park. Wanna come? There’s going to be free food 🍕and a fun crowd💃🕺!” is meant to initiate a conversation.

While appearing friendly is essential, don’t risk frustrating people by framing your mass texts as conversations if you’re not going to be around to send out replies.

What to look for in an SMS marketing tool

There are plenty of SMS marketing tools out there, but the best ones all have a few things in common. They provide an array of features you can use to make your organizations text messaging easier and better.

Displaying an alphanumeric sender ID

Alphanumeric Sender IDs lets you set your company name or brand as the Sender ID when you send a one-way SMS message to prospects.


Displaying alphanumeric sender ID

Choose an SMS marketing platform that makes it quick and easy for you to activate your custom sender ID and start using it in your text messaging campaigns.

Note: Some countries require that you register your alphanumeric Sender ID beforehand. Others don’t support the feature.

Short codes and long codes for your campaigns

Your SMS marketing platform should make it simple for you to lease and start using short codes and long codes for your SMS campaign and help you stay compliant while using them. 

Read next: Dedicated vs shared shortcode texting – Which is more suitable for your texting campaigns?

In-depth reporting

Keeping an eye on how your text message marketing campaigns are doing is important so you can adjust your strategies when needed.

Ensure you can pull up statistics on sent texts, response rates, and up-to-date contact counts. You should also be able to keep track of your opt-ins and opt-outs, letting you see when and how new contacts are joining or leaving your text message marketing campaigns.

Read next: SMS Campaigns Analytics and Reporting: How to Measure the Performance of Campaigns on CallHub

Sending automatic replies

Setting up a single ‘Thank you’ response to an opt-in is pretty basic. Your tool should let you go above and beyond that by automatically collecting more information from opt-ins when needed (name, email, etc.). 

You should also be able to set up automatic responses to your mass texts (For example, when someone texts “RSVP”, you can send them a “Thank you”.)

Read next: Out of Office, In Control: Your Complete Guide to Auto-Reply Messages

Ability to assign conversations to agents

For big campaigns where you want to engage people in conversations, it is not feasible for one person to manage every single conversation. If your campaigns will involve many back-and-forth conversations, your SMS tool should have peer-to-peer texting functionality. 

This means that it allows you to assign batches of contacts to agents who then carry out conversations with the assigned batch. 

Integrations that connect your tools

Integrations come in all forms and sizes. Most often, integration means you can pull lists from your CRM into the SMS tool at the click of a button. 

Beyond that, some tools let you send new mobile subscribers directly to your CRM, update event registrations, sync surveys, start an email nurturing campaign, and more. Integrations save you a ton of time and let you set up multiple workflows (e.g., start email nurturing if the email is collected from a new mobile subscriber).

If you can’t find a custom integration, ensure your SMS tool integrates with Zapier. Zapier lets you combine multiple tools to get things done – very much like a custom integration, but with one additional step.

That’s almost everything you need to get started with SMS marketing. 

If you’d instead try any or all of this out, take CallHub for a test run by creating a free account.


Who should win the 2024 elections – Trump or Biden?

"I'm rooting for Trump. Biden's last term showed how he can send America..."

Join the discussion