It all started with a client request - what is the optimal SMS send frequency? To answer, I summarized 14 retail SMS programs from January through July, 2016. Most are in the apparel & accessories and department store categories, but there are a few outliers - sporting goods, home improvement and crafts. Here is the answer to the original query as well as observations about the content ideas, noteworthy practices and failures (because who doesn't like a bit of schadenfreude?).

What is the optimal frequency and volume for SMS marketing messages?
The average number of texts sent over this 7-month period was 36, an average of 1.3 per week. The highest volume sender sent 54 messages, an average of 1.8 per week, and the lowest sent 26, or .9 per week.

What day of the week is best to send SMS messages?
Messages were sent throughout the week, with no routine cadence for any retailer. Highest send days were Thursday and Friday, which feel like the typical "get ready for the weekend" approach that retailers favor for email. Lowest send days were Saturday and Sunday. Is this because customers aren't shopping on the weekend (she said sarcastically), or because marketers don't want to launch a campaign on the weekend?

The best approach is to send is a 7-way split test, holding offer and all other factors constant. Until you do that a few times, you won't be able to gauge the best day for your audience and content.

Two retailers from a previous analysis that employed a specific cadence and content, i.e., coupon on day X, reminder on day Y, have now shut down their SMS programs. While we don't know the specifics, it seems to indicate that texts must deliver more than regular offers. They are, however, the mainstay of retail programs.

How are retailers using SMS to promote other channels?
Smart retailers are using SMS to promote other channels. App promos are common, as well as app-specific offers. Discounts on in-app purchases, notices regarding app upgrades and traffic drivers like "show your app to get this deal in-store" help generate app download and use. SMS can take the place of a Push notification if you do not have a Push program or if the customer didn't opt-in.

Remember that more phones and iPads are sold during the holidays than any other time of year, and a new device set-up often triggers a purge of unused apps. Encouraging download and use prior to and immediately after the holidays is a very good idea.

Also present were messages that encouraged customers to participate in hashtag campaigns or follow a company on a social platform like Instagram. Gap employs social proof from a popular blogger and return the love with an @mention. Several messages highlight a charitable program, a win-win-win for retailers, charities and customers alike, particularly millennials.

How can retailers best use MMS?
Retailers are taking advantage of the visual impact and longer format of MMS, but they are more the exception than the rule. There are message eco system challenges for MMS that will need to be ironed out, but it's true what they say about pictures and 1,000 words. For new product launches, animations and video, there is no substitute. Another big advantage is the longer format allows marketers to turn their MMS into a mini circular with multiple offers and links. A low MMS to SMS ratio can help avoid the overt commercial feel of a retail program.

How can retailers work within 160 character limits?
As retailers work to fit an SMS message into a mere 160 characters, the majority forget that they can use white space, i.e., blank lines between portions of the message. A little breathing room makes messages significantly easier to read.

Master mobile messaging. It's growing and changing, along with your career.

Interested in learning more mobile marketing tips and tricks? Download Cross Channel Checklist for Mobile Marketing to discover how companies like First Midwest Bank, Snagajob, Beyond the Rack, and Xerox leverage mobile to build stronger relationships with mobile marketing such as SMS and push messages.