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SMS Short Codes for Marketing

The statistics around the ownership and usage of smartphones are staggering, even for tech-savvy folks. There are 3.8 billion people worldwide who now own a smartphone – more than half of the global population. It’s been shown that 60% of customers open text messages within 1-5 minutes, and as of 2021, 67 million Americans redeem coupons via their mobile phones.

With such a broad and active audience available, businesses leverage SMS short codes for marketing to extend offers to their customers, but there’s more to it than picking up your phone and typing a text to your friends. Suppose your business is interested in using text message marketing. In that case, you will want to understand the logistics of SMS and the difference between sending messages on a short code versus a long code.

What is a Short Code?

A short code is a 5-6 digit phone number that businesses use to send out marketing SMS messages. If you’ve ever received a text message from a company, you may have noticed that the sender’s number doesn’t look like a standard phone number. This is because they use short codes, which are ideal for sending non-personal messages and mass texting. These codes are for sending only and not for receiving text responses.

While organizations can use short codes to initiate communication with customers, they can also be used to receive requests. Have you ever been listening to the radio when a contest comes on? The host tells you, “text PAY ME to 12321, and you may win some money!” They’re asking you to message them on a short code.

Related: Short Codes – Dedicated vs. Shared

What Are Short Codes Used For?

Several kinds of tools are available to enable you to communicate with customers. SMS allows you to deliver time-sensitive alerts, offers, reminders and other information quickly and reliably. 

When you initiate communication from a business app (such as a web platform or software application) rather than an individual’s mobile phone, it can be called an A2P (Application-to-Person) SMS. This is the most common approach to SMS short codes for marketing.

Short codes are the preferred tool for sending marketing SMS messages. In fact, SMS traffic of messages from businesses to consumers reached 2.7 trillion in 2020, a 10% growth from the previous year, and it’s not projected to slow down. 

This growing adoption rate will allow individuals to interact with the brands, companies easily, and service providers they value via text message while providing a quick and trusted communication tool for the companies.

Why Use Short Codes for SMS Marketing?

It’s clear why SMS short code marketing is a valuable approach for businesses in 2022. But why opt for short codes to send those messages?

Short codes are succinct, making them easier to remember than seven or 10-digit senders (the length of a standard phone number). Your messages will be recognizable to recipients based on your personal short code. These short codes also set you apart from private text messages due to their shorter length – you’ll stand out in the recipients’ SMS inboxes.

Let’s cover a few more practical reasons to use short codes for SMS marketing:

SMS Regulation

Short codes are regulated by Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and the wireless trade association CTIA. These consumer protection regulations require companies to use short codes to ask permission (opt-in to subscribe) before contacting an individual. This provides a certain level of value in exchange, protecting the consumer and increasing the likelihood of successful campaigns. Businesses that add value through SMS short codes for marketing will increase customer retention and build brand loyalty.

Speed of Message Delivery

Using an SMS short code for marketing allows your business to send large volumes of text messages in a short period. Business SMS providers set up deals with mobile carriers, enabling many messages to go out to subscribers at a time. This is a vital element for businesses with a 5,000 or more contacts database. 

Some businesses even have millions of contacts in their SMS database – imagine sending those one by one! Timeliness is key to your campaign’s effectiveness with customers.

Flexibility for Innovation

Short codes allow for more development flexibility and innovation. Wireless carriers can easily change, update, or add new features to short codes for enterprises. When you are driving end users to take the same action to interact with your brand, it’s easier to make updates. 

Plus, application developers can leverage short codes to provide mobile solutions such as a one-to-one chat, triggered alerts, security authentication, and mobile coupons.

Related: Dedicated vs Shared Short Codes for SMS Marketing

Shared vs. Dedicated Short Codes: Some Background

Shared short codes have recently become a thing of the past, but we’d like to briefly cover them to be sure you’re caught up on the latest SMS short codes for marketing landscape.

Shared short codes were as you may imagine: codes shared amongst multiple businesses, saving costs for business SMS marketing. With multiple companies sharing the cost, no single business needs to cover the entire bill themselves. There were times when hundreds of companies may be sharing the same code, bringing the cost down significantly for each business. That may sound appealing, right?

While virtually everyone can agree that it’s great to save money, there were some inherent risks to sharing short codes. With other businesses using your same code, you relied upon them to stay compliant. If another, unrelated company uses the code improperly, mobile carriers would simply blacklist the number. This would block any other well-intentioned and otherwise cautious company from using their SMS short code for marketing.

Related: How to Transition Off of a Shared Short Code (and Why Do It Now)

With shared short codes, companies had no control over (or view of) what – or how many – communications their customers received. If they began to receive messages from another company they didn’t wish to hear from, recipients would unintentionally opt out of others as well.

Ultimately, phone carriers have blocked the use of shared short codes. These shared addresses proved impossible to block phishing or spam attempts from less reputable companies. Consider this ban a good thing: you wouldn’t want to unknowingly find yourself associated with that type of company.

Dedicated short code registration with carriers allows for a trusted gateway of delivery via their networks. They are not subject to the filtering that long code and toll free lines are subject to, making their delivery much more reliable.

Unlike shared short codes, dedicated short codes give you an opportunity to have a unique identifier when messaging your customers. You can even set up a “vanity number,” where you can deliberately choose the numbers of your short code to represent your business.

SMS Short Code Marketing Best Practices

Hopefully, we’ve demystified the concept of short codes and the current state of this approach in the marketing space. If we’ve piqued your interest and you’re looking to get started with SMS short code marketing – great! Consider a few best practices, to ensure you start off on the right foot (and stay there):

Stay Compliant

Before you get started with any proactive outreach strategy, it’s crucial to understand and adhere to compliance laws. After going through the effort to secure your short code and develop your strategy, the last thing you want is to irritate your customers or, worse yet, have your number blocked by the carriers.

To start, you are legally bound to obtain an opt-in from your recipients before you can start texting them. You should also make it easy to opt-out should they decide to (though hopefully, your messages will be valuable enough that they won’t want to!).

Consider a Vanity Short Code

A great way to make it easy for customers to remember your short code is to opt for a vanity number. Similar to the license plates on your car, vanity codes are chosen rather than simply assigned at random. If you own a cafe, for example, having a short code that spells COFFEE on the keypad is both recognizable and unforgettable. Vanity SMS short codes for marketing cost more to lease, but may help you get better traction with your audience.

Use Your Brand Name

Chances are, your recipients aren’t going to save your number in their phone. In order to build brand recognition and trust, make sure you include your brand name in your messages. Texts from unrecognized numbers can be confusing or irritating, so try to make it apparent who you are.

Leverage Keywords

“Text RADIO to 12345 and you can be in to win!” Have you heard this sort of prompt? That’s an example of using keywords in an SMS short code marketing strategy, and it’s effective.

Try using keywords on your social media or email marketing channels to encourage participation via SMS. It’s a great way to build your subscriber list while offering something in return. It also helps you tie marketing results to a particular campaign, as you can choose a different keyword for each campaign.

Stick to Short and Actionable Messages

Text messages are not emails. That sounds obvious, right? If you’re new to SMS short codes for marketing, it will take a little practice to craft a short and sweet message that gets your point across. Trust us: it’s entirely possible!

Try including a link to a landing page or an HTML copy of a recent newsletter where your recipient can see more information. MMS – that is, messages containing images – are also possible. Include a flyer or image to accompany your text. Just remember, some people are charged per text or for multimedia messages, so keep that in mind when designing your strategy.

If Reliability Matters… 

An SMS short code for marketing is the most reliable way to send bulk messages to customers, and ensure they’re received. With SMS short codes for marketing, your messages will be sent and delivered swiftly, and will stand out in your recipient’s inbox.

As a communication-as-a-service company, TrueDialog knows SMS text marketing. We can help you create, send, and track personalized messages to your clients.

Disclaimer: Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team.


Best Practices, long codes, Mobile Marketing, short code, SMS Marketing