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Promotional SMS: Everything you need to know

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Keeping in touch with your customers on a regular basis is the most essential component of prolonging their relationship with your brand. But how do you do it? Since just about everyone has a phone, SMS marketing has proven itself to be the most effective and direct method of customer communication for short messages. 

There are two types of messages that your business can send to boost customer engagement, retention, lifetime value, and more: promotional SMS marketing messages, and transactional SMS messages. Both are important. Both tend to realize sky-high open rates – over 90% is very common. But they differ in significant ways, and you need to fully understand the distinctions if you want to communicate with your customers in the most effective manner. 

In this article, you’ll see how promotional text messaging differs from transactional, examples of each, and tips for how to use promotional SMS effectively.

What is promotional SMS?

Promotional SMS refers to text messages a business sends out for marketing or advertising purposes.

Promotional SMS marketing messages typically advertise products, services, deals, coupons, or events. You might send promotional SMS messages that announce a new product launch, tell customers about an upcoming sale or deadline, or give the opportunity to take a poll or quiz.

promotional SMS message example

Promotional SMS can be used to drive new or repeat business.

They can also encourage someone to make a purchase, click a link that takes them to a particular landing page, fill out a survey, write a review, browse products, or many other things!

What are the key differences between promotional and transactional SMS?

The differences between promotional and transactional SMS messages lie in how you use them. Broadly speaking, promotional SMS are messages that you send to advertise your business, while transactional SMS are for letting customers know about the status of their order or transaction.

In the U.S., the government’s definitions of promotional and transactional SMS messages are pretty clear. In fact, the rules in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) spell out different sets of laws and requirements associated with each.

Here are a few ways to understand promotional vs transactional SMS:


Marketing vs non-marketing goals

Promotional SMS messages sent for marketing purposes have a marketing goal. The business is attempting to achieve something such as new revenue, higher click through rates, higher conversion rates, more opt-ins, or various other forms of customer engagement. Transactional SMS messages don't typically have these same goals.

If you’re in need of inspiration for crafting promotional messages, especially for occasions like Black Friday, be sure to check out our Black Friday marketing guide for valuable insights and ideas.


Promotional SMS is sent with marketing intent

Typically, promotional SMS marketing is used to capture your audience’s attention and drive them to take a particular action that aligns with your marketing objectives. Companies send them as one-off text messages, or as part of entire promotional SMS campaigns – but in any case, they’re sent to people who’ve explicitly opted in to receive them.

Transactional SMS messages, on the other hand, generally focus on providing a customer with essential information specific to a transaction or account activity, like logging in from a new device. You’ll see more examples of this later.


Commercial messaging vs customer care

Promotional SMS typically involves sending text messages to market products, services, or special offers, and SMS can serve as a valuable channel for businesses to engage with customers and provide customer service. But transactional text messages are more about providing essential information or updates related to transactions or account activities. For example, a shipping update is transactional because it directly informs the recipient about the status of their order and ensures a satisfactory delivery service, enhancing customer satisfaction and trust.


Promotional SMS requires opt-in

In the U.S., the TCPA clearly states that businesses are required to get customer consent in order to send promotional SMS campaigns. You cannot send unsolicited text messages without permission. And the penalties can get pretty severe. To help, we’ve put together some best practices and tips for growing your promotional SMS opt-in list.

While not always required, we highly recommend that you also obtain explicit consent from a recipient before sending them transactional SMS. Again, consider the shipping update example. You can buy something from a business without ever opting in for SMS marketing, but they can still send you a text message updating you on the delivery status of your purchase. Many customers will expect this to be part of their transaction, and they appreciate the convenience these messages provide throughout their experience. However, seeking prior consent reaffirms your business’ commitment to respecting customer’s preferences and privacy.

promotional SMS and transactional SMS examples side-by-side

We highly recommend that both transactional and promotional SMS messages include the option to opt out.

Opt-in is important to comply business messaging legislation. We can also recommend some best practices for both promotional and transactional SMS to get you started. Learn more about SMS compliance.


Promotional SMS requires a decision

The term “call to action” basically means getting people to do something after they’ve been sent a promotional marketing message. It’s not just about making a purchase; it could be about leaving a review, filling out a customer satisfaction survey, or many other things. But there is a decision required, and the CTA specifies what that decision is.

On the other hand, transactional SMS doesn’t require a decision. These messages are more about giving you information, like a receipt or a confirmation. Sometimes, it’s just confirming that you’re the correct person to be logging into a device.

Now, different companies can use both promotional and transactional messages. Take an  ecommerce store, for example. They might send you promotional messages about a flash sale or a limited time offer, and if you buy something, you might get a transactional message confirming your purchase. A few days later, you might get another transactional message with a shipping update. And once your order arrives, you might receive a promotional message asking for a product review.

Promotional SMS examples

Here are some common examples of how you could use promotional text messaging to deepen your relationship with your customers.


Flash sales

Remember, text messages are short, under 160 characters for the text-only variety. However, they can be longer if you send MMS messages or Rich SMS, which can include images and graphics. Also, many people open text messages within minutes of receiving them. This is distinct from all other forms of marketing, including email

The shortness and the immediacy of SMS marketing make it great for flash sales. You can announce new sales just hours or days away from a deadline via SMS, and it works because most of your subscribers will see it in time to make a decision. This is particularly effective for retailers who send SMS.


Limited-time offers 

Likewise, offers with urgency are well-suited for SMS marketing. Your urgency may not be related to time. It could also be related to quantity – think, “we only have 38 left in stock!” – and requiring a quick decision from anyone considering making a purchase.  

For example, Vail Resorts sends special SMS offers on ski lift passes to targeted customers who opted in to receive reports in Colorado. They've seen an increase in purchase rates as a result of these text campaigns.

Promotional SMS example for Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts uses promotional SMS to build lasting, rewarding customer relationships.


Discount code

Using promotional SMS to deliver a coupon code is effective because of its concise nature. The character limit means that the message can be a straightforward, attention-grabbing way to announce a sale and immediately provide customers with a discount code they need for savings. 

This approach can be particularly powerful for holidays periods like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, where shoppers are actively seeking the best deals, making it an ideal time to leverage the immediacy of promotional SMS to drive sales.


Product promotions

Another strong use of promotional SMS or MMS marketing is to shine a light on a single product.

When you pick just one product, you can zoom in on one its key benefits, a cool way to use it, a positive review, or something else that really grabs your customers’ attention and drives them to make a purchase. It’s all about really focusing on one product to make it irresistible!

Parfym.se has been using highly-targeted SMS marketing to send product promotions relevant to each subscriber on their SMS list, with great success.

And using Rich SMS, they can integrate the SMS campaign with a landing page, conversational messaging, and other visually-engaging content that connects with their customers. The response has been very positive, with open rates over 90%!


VIP specials

If you have a loyalty program of some sort, SMS is great for sending rewards, perks, special deals, invitations, and other benefits to your VIP members. The key is to call out the fact that this text is being sent specifically to your most loyal customers.

Tips for using promotional SMS

You’ve already seen some of the best strategies to ensure your promotional SMS campaigns achieve success. Here’s a list to recap the best tips:


Get permission

You’re required by law to get permission to send promotional SMS messages. But some methods are much more effective than others. Use these SMS list growth strategies to increase your subscriber count, and keep them happy for longer.


Keep it short

If you’re using SMS, you’re limited to just 160 characters, and some of those characters must be used to allow the recipient to opt out with a short message like “reply stop to unsubscribe.” That’s already about 20 characters, leaving only 140 characters for your actual message.

Stick to the most critical information, and leave the rest for your landing page and your email marketing.

If you’re using MMS or Rich SMS, you have more flexibility, but most smartphone users looking in their text inboxes aren't accustomed to finding huge articles and long sales promotions. You’ll keep more subscribers happy by keeping your text message marketing brief and to-the-point.


Have a clear call to action

One piece of the most vital elements to your campaign is your call to action. It's essential to let your subscribers know the specific action you want them to take after receiving your message. 

Some examples of effective CTAs include: 

  • Use coupon code XYZ 

  • Start survey 

  • Leave review 

  • View products 

  • Buy now 

Your CTA should be concise, straightforward, and to the point, so that your audience knows what’s next.



As you saw in the Vail Resorts and Parfym.se examples, personalization in SMS marketing is as powerful as in any other channel.

By segmenting lists into people they know more about based on purchase history, why those subscribers opted in, and various other information, they’re able to send highly targeted promotional SMS messages. These segmented groups will appreciate this because the messages are relevant to their interests.

Anyone asking for snow information from a resort in Colorado is probably a snow sport enthusiast. So sending lift ticket offers to these people is a great way to personalize your offer.


Create a sense of urgency

Lastly, include a sense of urgency to motivate a quicker decision. Time and quantity are the two most common forms of urgency, and the easiest to understand. This matters especially in SMS, because you don’t have room to explain more complicated forms of urgency.

But don’t neglect this. The coupon code expires soon. The new product's special price is only good until Friday. Tickets are running out!

Transactional SMS examples

To make sure you’re clear about the differences, here are a few examples of transactional SMS messages: 

  • Shipping and delivery notifications: European shipping company Budbee lets customers select the day, time, and other specific details for all their purchases, and they can automate all of this with SMS. 

  • Order status updates: This is a post-purchase SMS that specifies when your order is confirmed, when it was shipped and delivered. 

  • Verification: These are most commonly used in situations where privacy and security are in play. Triodos Bank uses SMS to verify when customers are taking particular actions such as verifying a one-time password

  • Booking confirmations: This is a transactional SMS that assures people who sign up for an appointment that they’re in the system and on the schedule. These usually include the date, time, and video chat link if the appointment is virtual. 

  • Appointment reminders: As the date of the appointment gets closer, simple SMS reminders help everyone remember to set aside the time and not miss their appointment. 

Get started with promotional SMS

Now that you’ve seen several promotional SMS text examples, got a handle on how to kickstart your promotional SMS marketing strategy, and gotten and understanding about the differences between promotional and transactional text messaging, you’re all set to start putting together your SMS marketing campaign.

But where should you begin? Well, your first move should be picking the right SMS provider. This isn’t a decision you want to have to make every two months, so finding a long-term match is important.

To make it easier, we’ve got a handy, free guide with eight things to consider when choosing your SMS provider. No strings attached!

Or, schedule a time to chat with us. Our team is always around to talk about how to make the most out of your SMS campaigns.