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SMS Marketing for the Running Industry

April 23, 20238 min read

INTRO

With 6.6 billion smartphone users across the planet and near 300 million in the US, and 98% of texts being opened within 3 min, it’s easy to see why SMS marketing should be part communication and engagement strategy.

Up until now, Endurance Events marketing has been in the form of on-way communication. Over the past several decades, we’ve seen major shifts in channels used by endurance events: from direct mail, to email, to social media and now it’s time for SMS.

Although the channels have changed, the style of communication has not. Marketing is still reliant on the one-way, non-engaging communication.

Today, this changes. RUNGP conversational texting is the first and only two-way marketing platform in the endurance industry, built to maximize participation to races and increase loyalty through engagement. Conversations build trust with athletes unfamiliar with your brand to break through the noise and convert at exponentially higher rate than all other marketing channels.

WHAT IS SMS MARKETING

First we need to understand what is “SMS,” it stands for “Short Message Service” which is basically the service of sending text messages.

SMS marketing within our industry refers to how endurance event company or independent Race Director communicates with their runners through text messages about their products and services.

SMS is an owned channel. This means it’s first-party-data and you have complete control over who receives message, what content you share, and when you decide to send it.

You can also send your runners MMS (Multimedia Message Service). These messages allow you to send pictures or GIFs (and other animated images) over text.

WHY SMS MARKETING

In today’s complex marketing world, email marketing alone isn’t enough. Endurance Events need to develop a rich athlete engagement strategy to get a leg up on their competition and improve relations and one of the best ways to do this is to marry SMS and email marketing.

The question is not which is better but how you should use each and when to use them together. Similar to how weights and cardio serve different aspects of health and fitness, both email and SMS marketing can have a huge impact on marketing efforts but serve different purposes.

Like email campaigning, SMS marketing uses a list of contacts you have created, is trackable, and provides valuable insights into customer behavior.

Some of the things that make SMS marketing so important include its high open rates, timeliness, and delivery to generally-receptive audiences. It’s a very powerful strategy — so much so that it’s expected to grow into a $12.6 billion industry by the year 2025. 

SMS marketing is very effective if you want immediate connection with your runners and works best for time-based offers, special promotions, alerts, and reminders. For example, for price increase campaigns race directors use text messages for reminders, it also works great to distribute limited-time coupon codes or simply to have a registration complete confirmation with a personalized image/message.

Email marketing, on the other hand, is great for long-form content with complex messages. Thorough announcements about your race or detailed packet pickup instructions and newsletters are usually best sent through email.

When you combine SMS and email marketing, you walk away with a simple, yet robust, marketing strategy.

TWO BIGGEST SMS MARKETING MISCONCEPTIONS

1.    It’s too invasive and it alienates my audience

It could be invasive if you don’t follow SMS best practices, however if you have the proper tools in place to implement SMS marketing it’s less intrusive than other marketing channels, just because runners have to opt-in first before they receive any message.

Furthermore, users always have the option to opt-out of receiving text messages at any time by replying STOP. Different from email opt-out are 100% honored.

2.    It’s too expensive

It all depends on what “expensive” means. Race Directors should not look at marketing as an “expense” and rather look at marketing as an “investment”. We believe that SMS is one of the most cost-effective channels.

That said, SMS has technology (and mobile carrier) hard costs associated with each message so this makes this channel more “expensive” than email, however if you analyse the performance stats of each marketing channel we’d say that SMS is more cost-effective than email and social media paid ads

SMS MARKETING CAMPAIGNS

SMS campaigns are no different than other marketing campaigns in terms of structure. SMS campaigns are a set of organized and strategized efforts to promote a specific company goal.

RUNGP’s bread and butter are what we call DR (database reactivation) Campaigns which are exactly meant to reactivate Race Directors database through SMS.

The success of any marketing campaign depends heavily in these two factors:

  1. A compelling story or offer

    • Story: Boston qualifier course, it supports a cause, experiences such as Beers and Tacos at the finish line, etc..

    • Offer: Early bird pricing, reserved entries, discounted entries, cross-promotion with running retailers, training plans, etc..

  2. Follow-up and Nurturing

At RUNGP we pride ourselves to have one of the best nurturing systems when it comes to marketing campaigns, we do not let a single runner or new lead fall through the cracks.

So, this is how a typical DR campaign looks like:

  1. We send the initial message with our offer. All our initial messages include:

    1. A clear CTA which is basically asking for a respond to our text.

    2. A trigger link with access to the event’s main information

  2. In some campaigns we send a second message to those people that have not engaged with our initial message and in some cases, we throw an incentive (this depends on the Race Director)

  3. For those people who engage we immediately acknowledge them and provide instructions on how to claim or access what we promised (coupon code, a special link, etc..). In most of our campaigns we create sense of urgency and provide specific deadline for them to claim their benefit.

  4. At this point these people that have engaged to our initial message are considered “hot leads” so here’s where the magic begins on our platform. We put all these leads into nurturing campaigns for a specific period of time until we make sure they take the desire action (register to a race).

  5. For most of our campaigns we develop pipelines so we can have visibility of the entire customer journey, each step of the pipeline has specific campaigns to make sure each lead receives the right message at the right time.

With our campaigns we have seen up to 60% conversion rate, which is absolutely mind blowing. Our average campaigns deliver around 20%-30% conversion which is extremely high compared to other mediums.

The beauty of these campaigns is that our platform has automation built-in so in most cases our race directors just sit back and see registrations coming in.

HOW DO I BUILD MY SMS MARKETING LIST?

Endurance Events know that a healthy subscriber base is key to the success of their text messaging program so our focus is on increasing subscribers.

From converting website traffic into subscriber growth, to optimizing how people join your SMS subscriber list (whether online of offline), so that's why RUNGP.io offers a robust suite of list growth tools and take the manual work out of opting in subscribers. Not taking this approach can drastically limit your SMS list growth and performance. Here are some great tools that will help you grow your SMS subscriber list: 

  1. Your website should be the foundation of your acquisition strategy

    1. Opt-in subscription forms, Popup of embedded. Exchange value in return

    2. Website Chat Widget, great customer service tool that help with new customer acquisition.

  2. Your registration platform, you must add SMS opt-in language as part of your registration process, this is low hanging fruit.

  3. Email, send email campaigns promoting your SMS club with a clear CTA to subscribe. Also add SMS opt-in language on your email signature in all your emails.

  4. Text to Join (TTJ), take advantage of every opportunity to capture subscribers across social channels, email and all physical signage such as race collaterals. Create a short, memorable keyword for your brand (i.e. text RUN to 888-888-8888)

  5. Social Media, cross-promotion is the name of the game when launching new channels and promoting multiple touch points with customers.

  6. QR Codes, print QR codes in all your make channels

CONCLUSION

RUNGP is built to continue growing with your endurance events. We’ve come a long way since the first text messages was sent (“Merry Christmas”, sent on December 2, 1992, for all of you trivia heads). We’ve swapped T9 for GIF keyboards and spending five cents per text for unlimited data plans. Text messaging is a part of our daily lives –and it’s now used for more than keeping up with friends and family.

SMS marketing is quickly becoming ubiquitous as consumers look for ways to quickly and directly engage with brands they love. This powerful marketing solution sits at the intersection of major trends –the rapid growing need of endurance events for new ways to get runners attention, the widespread adoption of a mobile-first mindset, and the need for endurance events to build 1:1 relationship with their athletes.

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Gerry Perez

Chief Endurance Officer at RUNGP

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