Text messages are some of the most immediate and effective ways to reach customers. Here, Jeff Winaker, founder and chief executive officer, NorthText—which offers SMS text message marketing for businesses in the U.S. and Canada—shares how to make the most of your text-messaging marketing plans.

1. What are the read rates of SMS, and how does it compare to email?

Email read rates are about 15%, while SMS read rates are almost 98%. Not only are read rates six times higher with SMS, but 90% of messages are read within three minutes. Seventy-five percent of Americans rarely have their phone more than 3 feet from them, and this makes SMS the first choice for marketing—even ahead of social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook—when a business is trying to get a call to action to its clients or customers.

2. What are some features one should look for when shopping for an SMS service?

Remember when Twitter increased its maximum message length from 140 characters to 280? Having more space to convey your message is important. When comparing SMS services, make sure to check what the maximum character length of an allowed message is. Many services will allow you to create a message longer than 160 characters—which is standard SMS length—but will charge you for another message segment after 160 characters. Some innovative services give you longer messages—up to 240 characters, in fact. The user interface should be simple to use, but also allow for two-way communication, attaching images and the ability to forward responses from customers to another phone number or email address. Also, SMS software should make it easy to export text conversations to your POS or CRM system.

3. What else can one do with SMS, other than send plain text?

The fastest-growing marketing tool in cannabis is the use of images within a text message (referred to as multimedia message segment, or MMS). Recipients are 3x more likely to engage with a retailer who uses images in their marketing, instead of just plain text. QR codes, bar codes and links can be sent in a message, along with a branding image, to enhance response rates further for a specific call to action.

4. What are best practices for managing an SMS program?

First, always, always, always include your business’ name, address—and website, where applicable—hours of operation, and phone number. It is essential for consistent branding and clear and effective communication with your customers. Spacing within a message is also very important. The less cluttered the message, the more effective and impactful it will be. Second, monitor your text inbox. People will text you, and you need to text them back to get their business.

5. What sort of technical support should one expect from an SMS software provider?

Ask for live support as part of any agreement for SMS services. Some SMS vendors offer it as part of their included service, some won’t offer it at all without a minimum volume commitment, and for some, it will require negotiation. While SMS marketing software should not be complicated, at some point you will need assistance. The urgency of texting as a method of communicating also leads us to expect immediate customer support.

For more information, visit northtext.com