May 12, 2011, 10:02 AM

How to secure a short code for text message marketing

Acquiring the truncated text message number costs between $500 and $1,000 a month.

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A short code—a truncated phone number used in automated text messaging—can be a highly effective means to connect with consumers and communicate a short-and-sweet message, says Jeff Simmons, director of technology programs at CTIA-The Wireless Association. The American Red Cross is the best-known short code success story—it has raised millions of dollars for disaster relief simply by asking citizens to text a keyword to its short code, 90999.

Some retailers using text messaging for marketing purposes eschew short codes in favor of opt-in lists, similar to e-mail marketing lists, where they collect mobile phone numbers of existing customers in stores and contact centers and on e-commerce and m-commerce sites. But other merchants favor the short code, which does not require a consumer to give out his mobile number and enables marketers to offer text messaging programs via any promotional materials simply by including the short code and some brief language describing what to do and what a consumer will receive. Short code marketing also builds a path to consumers who may never have shopped with a retailer before as they are responding, for example, to a short code in an ad in a magazine as opposed to giving their mobile phone number to a clerk at a store counter.

The Common Short Code Administration, operated by CTIA-The Wireless Association aims to make it easy for marketers to get into short code text marketing.

To obtain a short code, a retailer can visit, the administration’s web site that contains a vast amount of information on text messaging. There the retailer can set up an account that includes the company name and address, and how it will pay the short code fees. The retailer must choose between a random number, which costs $500 a month, or a vanity number, $1,000 a month. A vanity number could, for example, spell out the name of the retailer, such as 827438, the numbers that correspond on a telephone keypad to the letters “Target,” or be a group of numbers that are easy to remember, such as 90999 for the Red Cross.

Once a retailer obtains a short code and pays the fee, it has to register the campaign with the administration. That entails entering a variety of information about the campaign, such as what is being offered, where precisely campaign materials are located (for example, on a mobile web site), and what kind of response is expected. The administration then monitor search campaign to ensure it complies with the text message marketing best practices created by the Mobile Marketing Association’s best practices committee. The committee includes about three dozen member organizations, including the CTIA, wireless carriers, text message marketing application providers and wireless aggregators who connect the various players involved.

On an ongoing basis, a retailer must ensure its bill is paid on a three-, six- or 12-month basis, and change m-commerce campaign details information in its account as it changes text message campaigns.

Today there are more than 4,200 registered short codes—40% are vanity numbers, 60% are randomly generated. CTIA says at any given time businesses typically operate three or four campaigns on one short code, for a total of 12,000 to 16,000 campaigns occurring at any time in the U.S.

A short code text message campaign can be an effective way to reach customers, particularly when integrated with other forms of marketing, such as print, radio and TV, says Simmons.

“A short code is an incredible way for a brand to extend its utility to a consumer,” he says. “Everyone has a mobile phone, and if you want to reach someone, mobile is the best way.”

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