SMS Marketing

When it comes to marketing events, text marketing - or SMS marketing, as it’s often known - is just about as controversial as it gets. Some people have used it and absolutely love the high engagement rate and ROI SMS marketing campaigns provide, others don’t want anything to do with it and positively cringe at the idea of marketing their event over so personal a channel.

Well, over the next hour and a half we are going to be going deep into the technology, the arguments and the facts around SMS marketing with my two expert guests, Gerry Perez of RunGP and Endurance Marketing Founder Beth Salinger. We’re going to be looking at how SMS marketing campaigns work, the pros and cons of using SMS over, or alongside, other marketing channels like email and social media, and how SMS can be used to reactivate customer databases like your unproductive mailing list.

In this episode:

  • SMS marketing as another tool in your marketing stack
  • SMS marketing's spectacular open rates and how to compare them to email open rates
  • Examples of SMS campaigns: when to send them, how often, and what to include in them
  • Getting the most out of your SMS campaigns with limited-time offers 
  • Responding to customer replies, following up and nurturing people through conversations
  • SMS marketing conversion rates and how to interpret them
  • Integrating your SMS marketing with your registration platform, Zapier for better attribution, ROI-tracking
  • Reactivating customer databases through SMS
  • SMS copy best practices: identifying yourself as the sender, using clear calls-to-action, using emojis, personalizing your messages
  • Funnelling cold leads from Facebook ads into SMS nurturing campaigns
  • Building up your SMS marketing list: subscribing website visitors, obtaining user consent, drawing users from social media, using incentives, using QR codes
  • The cost of running SMS campaigns

Many thanks to our podcast sponsors, RunSignup and Racecheck, for supporting our efforts to provide great, free content to the race director community:

RunSignup are the leading all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events. More than 26,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. Find out more at https://runsignup.com/.

Racecheck can help you collect and showcase your participant reviews on your race website, helping you more easily convert website visitors into paying participants, with the help of their Racecheck Review Box. Download yours for free today at https://organisers.racecheck.com/.

Episode transcript

Panos  1:53  
Beth, Gerry, welcome to the podcast!

Beth  1:56  
Thanks for having us.

Gerry  1:57  
Thank you, Panos.

Panos  1:58  
Well, thank you very much both for coming on. May I ask where are you each joining from today?

Beth  2:04  
I am in Chicago.

Gerry  2:06  
I am in sunny Los Angeles, California. 

Panos  2:09  
Okay, excellent. Two ends of the country there. Would you like to tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves and what you do in the industry and your career that you've had so far in the industry? Beth, maybe, you go first?

Beth  2:24  
Sure. My name is Beth Salinger. I started my company, Endurance Marketing, in 2003. After working on the Washington DC marathon for a few years, I was told, "Hey, you're pretty good at what you do. So, you need to start this." Since then, I have been a race director of many races including the Chicago Distance Classic, Rock 'n' Roll Chicago, and the Hospital Hill Run. I own races, including the Fort2Base race, which is a military-inspired race in the Chicago suburbs. I also work on many events with my team. Mid-sized events that need help will hire us to come in and assist them in 1, 2, or 3 aspects of the event including the Epic Races in Detroit, the Cleveland Marathon, the ZOOMA race series, and GO! St. Louis, which is where I'm heading off to this weekend.

Panos  3:25  
Awesome! I had Andy Reilly actually talking to me in an episode and we were commenting on Hospital Hill Run. What a great event it would be to offer, like, a hill training plan and to, kind of, like, brainstorm freebies ideas for runners. Gerry, how about you?

Gerry  3:41  
Well, thanks. First of all, thanks for having us on the podcast, Panos. So, a little bit about me-- I've been - 20 years on the corporate side - basically, doing marketing, business development sales. Right after college, I started working for transnational companies such as Coca Cola. Then, after that, I transitioned into Frito-Lay. Then, my longest term was within the entertainment industry. I served the studio Warner Brothers for 13 years. in each of these companies, fortunately, I've had the opportunity to work on sports-related initiatives from Worldcup, to European soccer, to Champions League. Then, in 2015, after many years in corporate, I decided to start my own journey as an entrepreneur and agency owner. I started serving the entertainment and sports industry in a very broad way. Finally, in 2018, I decided to niche down and focus on the industry that I was really passionate about, which is running - that's when RunGP was born. RunGP started as a digital marketing agency for building social media campaigns and SMS campaigns. After a couple of years, right before the pandemic, we launched our own software, which is basically an SMS platform that I have built specifically for the endurance industry. So that's a little bit about me.

Panos  5:14  
Awesome. We'll be getting into that. So, we have two very seasoned and very experienced marketing people here, which is very relevant for today's episode. You both have had experience with SMS marketing. So today, we're gonna be, hopefully, talking about all the different aspects of text marketing. It's a bit of a niche, as Gerry alluded to there. It's definitely not a staple in terms of most people's marketing strategy. It's not something that everyone uses. It's something that - at least, judging by questions we've had in our race directors' Facebook group, Race Directors Hub - lots of people have lots of questions and, maybe, misconceptions that we want to, sort of, clarify for people a little bit. From my point of view, when I read the comments in the group, SMS marketing reminds me of this product that you guys probably wouldn't know about. It's a savory spread - we used to have in the UK - called Marmite. I don't know whether you've been in Britain and came across that. Marmite is, kind of, like, a yeast extract thing that, for many years, has marketed itself with the slogan, "Love it or hate it." I think SMS marketing is a little bit like a Marmite thing. Marmite is a byword for the kinds of things that polarize people quite a lot. From what I've read in the group, SMS marketing is one of those things. Lots of people come out and say, "Yes, we love it. It works. Amazing ROI." Other people are, "I don't want anything to do with it. I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. No, thanks." So, it'd be great to clarify some of these things today. To set the scene, let's start with SMS marketing itself - sort of, the scope and what it is. Gerry, do you want to tell us a little bit about what SMS marketing is about?

Gerry  7:10  
Absolutely. First, I would like to explain what SMS stands for. It stands for Short Message Services, which is basically the service of sending text messages. SMS marketing, within the industry, refers to how either event management companies or independent race directors communicate with the runners through text messaging about their products and services - very similar to email. SMS is an owned channel. This means that it's first-party data. You own the database that you have built over the years from your email list from registrations. That's one of the most compelling things about first-party data - you control who receives the message, what content, and when they receive that. Aside from SMS - this is a little bit of misconception and many people don't know about this - we can also send MMS, which stands by Multimedia Message Services. This capability allows you to send pictures, videos, gifts, and links through text messaging. So, in a nutshell, that's what SMS marketing is - it's just another way of engaging with your runners, quite honestly. 

Panos  8:37  
When we're talking about lists here - the same way you would have a mailing list of emails - we're talking about lists of phone numbers, correct? That's, sort of, like, the way you reach out to people?

Gerry  8:49  
100%. Every time that we talk about SMS marketing, we would assume that our customers - in this case, our race directors - already have an existing list of phone numbers. It is likely that most race directors have their phones as part of their registration. Check out whatever platform they're using on the marketplace. It is a very common thing to request phone numbers. A little bit later, we'll talk about how we can create these lists and what are the best-recommended methods to sell.

Panos  9:24  
Just taking a step back and, sort of, looking at the broader picture here, this is a question for both of you. How do SMS generally fit within the broader marketing strategy as a channel? What does it complement? How does it fit in alongside other channels? What is it good for? What is it bad for?

Gerry  9:46  
I would like to say, "First, acknowledge that SMS should not be a replacement for any other channel of engagement." I think SMS should be an additional tool as part of the tech stack that all of these companies already have. Chances are all of these companies already have an established email strategy. These companies also have a presence on social media - the low-hanging fruit of having a business. A Facebook page - most of the race directors and companies that we work with already have this. We're not trying to replace any of these tools, we're just trying to add a new channel of communication in which race directors can engage in a different way than they have been doing in the past.

Beth  10:34  
I believe that somebody needs to see or hear your name six to seven times before it makes an impact. Most race directors will go online and place a Facebook ad that says, "Register now!" But, the problem is the people that they're reaching to have no idea who they are. They haven't introduced themselves and they haven't built a relationship. So, I look at text messaging as one avenue. Panos and Gerry, I do email marketing and I have separate email lists, whether they've participated or haven't participated before. I have a Facebook page. I have Instagram. My ads on Facebook are not "Register now!" but, like, "Sign up to learn more about who we are." Then, that leads straight into our text messaging and how we offer a special deal. The thing I love most about the text messaging is when you send an email - even if you customize it, which we do, and have very specific groups of people who have registered before but haven't registered this year, or haven't run in two years, or whatever - most people don't respond to an email and they just don't communicate. With text messaging, it's much more personal. People respond and you would have conversations, and that's my favorite.

Panos  12:06  
Yes. I guess this aspect of SMS being a little bit more personal and direct - we'll get into later on - is something that people feel cut both ways, which I guess is natural, right? I mean, when you're more personal and more direct, you're getting more risks. In some people's minds, you may be intruding a little bit into what other people are doing. But we'll get into that in a second. Beth, you have been using SMS marketing. In terms of the results, I think you've been quite satisfied with it. What initially sparked your interest in trying it out?

Beth  12:41  
Here's a funny story. I was the race director of Hospital Hill Run. We had Hospital Hill Runs in Kansas City on the first weekend in June, which is often the time for thunderstorms and severe storms. We had a really, really, really bad storm on race morning, as people are lining up. Luckily, we have a ton of parking garages that are tornado-safe. So, we moved everybody out of the start line area into the parking garages to be safe. The problem was that people were in six or seven different locations. My staff and board members were all in these different locations and texting each other. I was on the phone with the meteorologists saying, "What's going on? When are we going to be clear? Do we do, like, 'Oh, we'll have another 15-minute delay'?" Literally, we had board and staff members screaming in parking garages to communicate to our participants. When I was looking for a new registration company, they said, "We offer text messaging." So I said "I'm in!" because I don't want to be standing in parking lots and yelling. What about the people that went back to their cars? I had no way to communicate with them. So, I wanted it for those emergency situations. Ironically, we never had thunderstorms after that. But then, once I figured that I can have this, I used it next year to say "Registration's open!" The problem was it wasn't as sophisticated as Gerry's platform is. I couldn't customize it to, "Here are the 5K people versus the half marathon." People would have the same messaging - it was an all or nothing. My response was huge. When I get 300 emails in my inbox every day, depending on my mood, sometimes, I would read them and, often, I don't. I would just delete, delete, delete, delete. I don't get that many text messages. So, when that little light goes off, I'm like, "Ooh, somebody wants to tell me something important." And I found a huge response. I met Gerry a few years ago. He told me about his product. We sat down and I really did a lot of due diligence. I don't just, like, jump on just because it's fancy, shiny, and bright. He really showed me and I was like, "This is impressive." I already had a really strong list. Even before your podcast request, I had already communicated with Gerry. We're doing it again for 2022, but I want to make some tweaks to make it better. I, sort of, like that it's hidden because not everybody uses it. So, as a race director, I feel like I stand out from other race directors. When everybody starts to use it, then it becomes 'Delete, delete, delete'. But I absolutely love it.

Panos  15:52  
Well, it's interesting that you mentioned using it for reminders, emergency communications, and stuff like that because one of the comments that came up in the group when people were discussing this is, "Yes, I would absolutely use it for race reminders, for results, for emergency type of stuff - for, like, transactional and informational type of thing - but I wouldn't use it for selling things." Actually, you moved from using it as the former and, then, using it as a marketing tool. Did you have any concerns or second thoughts before actually adopting it as a marketing tool and taking that step to use it for marketing?

Beth  16:37  
Not at all, truly. We put on races. We want people to register. What's the difference between me sending a text message than a Facebook ad and, then, an email? Like, if I don't ask people to register, they're not going to register. So, people who are afraid to ask for that commitment of 'Register now', I'm not quite sure what they're doing. I'm not rude, like, "REGISTER NOW OR I'M NEVER GOING TO SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN!" I mean, it's still a conversation, whether it's via text messaging or email. That's the goal. I'm not going to put on a race for 10 people because that's not going to make sense - I can't afford to do that. So, the way I do it is by asking, and I don't have any problem with that. To me, my initial purpose was, "Yes, there are storms and this is scary. I need a way to communicate." Then, I was immediately, like, "Why am I not using this for other things?" When I opened - the race was in June - the race in October, immediately, the first thing I did was send out that text message, "Registration is now open." Like I said, I had a great response - probably our biggest, strongest opening ever. If somebody doesn't want to get an email, they can hit the unsubscribe and I'll not be offended. They've made that decision, right? I don't email them and say, "Why don't you want to hear from me anymore? That's so mean." That's life. It's the same thing with a text message. If somebody says "Please remove us", I would remove them. I didn't say, "You're mean. You're awful. I have the best race ever." I said, "Okay." I get emails from Old Navy every single day telling me to buy something. I'm not offended by it. I've made the choice that, some days I'm going to open, some days I'm going to not.

Panos  18:40  
Yeah. That's actually a couple of very interesting points there. Sometimes, I also feel that some people look at email marketing the same way. Some people feel that selling through emails also feels a little bit aggressive or abrasive to people. At the end of the day, as you said, we're here to market races. Although you do it politely and with consideration, you're still going to lose some people. But, then, again, you don't want the fact that some people may unsubscribe stop you from sending emails out - right? At the end of the day, you're happy with the people who unsubscribe because--

Beth  19:20  
--it cleans up your list. 

Panos  19:21  
Exactly! 

Gerry  19:21  
You're just cleaning your list. 

Beth  19:22  
Exactly. Here's the thing, if Old Navy - who sends me an email, seriously, every single day - stopped sending emails or stopped asking "Here's a cute way to wear a jean jacket. I saw that you bought it last week", they would be out of business. The whole point is they're asking for you to make a purchase. That's why we're in business. I think a lot of race directors are afraid to have that call to action, right? I'm also a StoryBrand Certified Guide, so marketing is, like, my jam. You need to have the call to action. If you're afraid to ask for whatever it is - "Register now", "Sign up", "Join our club", or whatever - then you're in the wrong business.

Panos  20:15  
I think that's spot on. Some people are just afraid for some reason - maybe it's the culture of the industry that we're in and the fact that a lot races or even some runners expect that we do it for free kind of thing. If you're in this as a business, you're going to ask for that sale, again, politely and considerately - you cannot be not asking people or not marketing your event. I mean, you should have the upfrontness to just be able to do that.

Beth  20:46  
This is what I would say. If you don't ask for the sale, then it makes people think that you don't believe in your product - plain and simple. I believe in my product. Otherwise, I wouldn't work on the event, I wouldn't own the event, I wouldn't sell the event. If I'm not willing to ask you to participate and sign up, then I don't believe in it. That's the impression that is being given by people who are afraid to ask.

Gerry  21:13  
Let me share with you why I think the SMS channel is a very relevant channel. I'm going to share with you some stats that may give peace of mind to your listeners. First of all, we have almost 300 million smartphones in the US, right? All of this data that I'm gonna share with you is US-based. That means that almost 90% of the population has a smartphone. Secondly, SMS is the most used-- I'm not gonna call it an app, but it's a native app that comes with every single phone that you purchase on the marketplace. You don't need to download any app. You don't need to sign up or do anything. You can send a text right away. That's the number one used app among these users. The other very impressive thing that, maybe, you guys know is people check their phones an average of 300 times per day. That means that, every four minutes, people are just checking on their phones. The following stats are specific to SMS - open rates of SMS are between 95% and 98%. That means that nearly 100% of text messages that you're sending - assuming that you have the correct number - they're going to be delivered, and they're going to be read within the first three minutes. Stats have shown that text messages is not slowing down anytime soon. Text messaging - believe me - is a force that is here to stay. It's not going to slow down. It's just going up. So, in my opinion, I do believe that SMS is a must-have tool for companies that want to evolve and disrupt their market from traditional channels. If you analyze over the past decades, we've seen major shifts in channels that we have used. Decades ago, race directors were using direct mail and print advertising. They would go to other races, put flyers in their cars, and put fliers in their packet pickup. Then, there was a huge transition to email marketing, right? Email marketing is here to stay as well. Again, as I said at the beginning of the podcast, it's not to be replaced. Then, the social media boom came with your Facebook page and your paid advertising. Now, in my opinion, we are transitioning to the SMS era. Again, this is not specific to our industry. If you look across every single industry, if you go to the food industry or other small businesses, your dentist is going to be sending you a text message to confirm your appointment, a restaurant is going to be sending you coupons on your birthday to go redeem something. So, as Beth was saying, if these people are not going after you and asking you for engagement with their business, of course, they're not going to have any traction. The other thing about SMS is that Beth also just talked about is it's a beautiful channel to have a conversation. Traditional email and traditional social media have been one-way communication. You send a blast email and you hope for the best. You can see the stats, open rates, click-through rates, and all that good stuff, but there's a small chance that people are going to be replying to that email. With paid advertising, you have the likes, you have the shares, but there's no conversation going on. SMS gives you that opportunity to have a conversation, right? We call it conversational marketing. Of course, we love automation and we love artificial intelligence. If people respond with a "Yes", then we have automated messages. If people respond with an 'X' or 'Y', we have other avenues and workflows. But as Beth said, she can go into the platform and respond directly to the runners about whatever questions they might have about the race. So, I do think that SMS is a channel that is here to stay. I believe it's not the future - I think it's the present. Hopefully, many race directors start adopting this channel. With that said, there are only a handful of rate directors right now using them. This is something to be used in a more meaningful way.

Panos  25:56  
So let me actually pick up on something you mentioned there. Again, in discussions that people had in the group about SMS marketing, Meg Treat, who was a guest of mine here in the podcast - a really smart lady and PR professional - she was saying about open rates specifically, that, "Yes, open rates for SMS are very high but, to a large extent, that's due to the fact that you have to open a text message in order to, like, remove the notification." That, sort of, rang true for me. What's your answer to that point?

Gerry  26:30  
Well, first of all, the good thing about SMS is that you cannot send SMS to people that have not given you previous consent to do so. So, we will talk about how to get that consent from the runners. In my opinion, when you have this permission to text people, it becomes a less intrusive channel than any other channel. If we compare this to a Facebook ad, you're not asked - they just push that into your feed. Same thing with email as well. If you don't have that consent to send them SMS, then we don't send text messages to these people. Now, keep in mind that, "Yes, she's right. Of course, SMS is gonna vibrate your phone and you'll say, 'Damn, I have something that I have to pay attention'." But if you're receiving a text message from an established brand or an established company that you already had previous experience with and, on top of that, they're adding value to what you're telling them either in the form of a reserved entry, in the form of a discount, or in the form of just information about your race, chances are the engagement is gonna be really high. The other thing is about SMS, when compared to email - this has happened to me as a user - when people reply 'Stop', it stops. Either AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon - all of the carriers protect their users. So, if they reply 'Stop', that carrier would not let that phone number receive messages anymore. So, what I'm trying to say here is that opt-out is honored, whereas an 'Unsubscribe' is not always honored, because I have unsubscribed to many newsletters but I kept getting emails and emails and emails - that becomes really frustrating. With SMS, you have so many layers of protection from the carriers and our platform. Once they reply 'Stop' or 'Unsubscribe' or whatever, they won't get bothered anymore, which is fine. Our unsubscribe rates are low, quite honestly. It depends on the health of the database of our users. When I say 'health of the database', it means which percentage of these numbers are not landlines and which percentage of these people have not participated in the race for many years? So, it depends, obviously, on the health of the database. I would say that, with healthy databases, the engagement and the return of investment would be extremely high.

Panos  29:13  
But it is a fair comment, though, that when one compares open rates for email to open rates for text messages, you're not quite comparing it like for like, right? When you're saying that SMS has, like, 95% - 97% open rate and emails have, like, 20% - 30%, it's not exactly the same thing that you're comparing there because, with a text message, people have to open it or they do open it simply to just clear out the notification whereas, with email, when they open it, it means that something grabbed their attention on the header, the subject, or something, and they would, more likely, engage with that email content than any of the 97% of people that open a text message.

Gerry  29:56  
I think that's a fair statement. You do get SMS on your feed. I have to say that you do have the option of seeing who's the sender and which number. Sometimes, within the SMS industry, you can send messages from shortcode numbers, which is a five or six digit number, or we can send numbers from a regular 10-digit number, which is a specific area code from the business of that specific state or location. So, that's another point. If you receive a message from a 10-digit number and it's from your own area code, perhaps, I would have to read it. But, sometimes, you receive short messages and you can have the option to delete them right away. But yes, you're right. That's the first step - that's the first thing.

Panos  30:48  
So, we're going to go into some of these objections that people bring up in a sec after, I think, we spent a little bit of time understanding what those SMS campaigns look like. From the user's point of view, maybe, Beth can tell us a little bit about the campaigns that you have put together, what you try to do with your SMS campaigns and, roughly, the structure of the story behind those as you use them.

Beth  31:16  
Sure. Last year, we offered a coupon, and it was a pretty aggressive coupon. We went back nine years into our database. It's a military event, so we have a really high return. Most of the people that don't return are actually because they have moved out to a new base - PCS. So, Gerry and I worked together on how we were going to send and how many we were going to send. So, I went out every morning at 10 AM. Like, at 10.02 AM, I was in the system because I couldn't wait to see who would respond. It was really fun because some people who had been on our email list for years, were now in San Diego, Afghanistan, or Iraq, like all over the world. They said, "I never took myself off the email list. I'm now in a different state, a different country. It is so cool to hear from you." What I was able to tell them - because they don't really read my emails, which was incredibly obvious for many of the responses - is, "Hey, you can still participate virtually. We had virtual long before COVID because of the military aspect." I probably got 20 registrations just because of those conversations with people that I never ever would have via email. They didn't even care about the discount, so that was super cool. I reengaged people who had not been there. There were a couple of people who did say "Is this really Beth?" because they thought it was just some third-party system that was not associated, but then I would respond and we would, literally, be having conversations, and they would try to, like, scoop me with a 'real Beth' question. So, that was very exciting to me, honestly.

Panos  33:20  

Ok, so if you’re serious about your race marketing, you know how important it is to be able to track your conversions and marketing results. If you can’t do that, you can’t know what part of your marketing spend and resources is bringing in the goods, and which is a total waste of time and money. 

And when we talk about conversions in our line of business, that means registrations - being able to track what marketing channel each of your participants is being acquired from and at what cost. 

So how do you achieve all that? 

Well, obviously your registration platform needs at a minimum to be able to track the various sources of incoming traffic - which quite a few platforms can do these days - but also, very importantly, be able to support the ever growing zoo of tracking pixels required to track the effectiveness of ads you run on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.

And guess who does all that? 

Yup, RunSignup! RunSignup’s custom registration websites have tracking pixel integrations with all major social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Adwords and - more recently - even TikTok. That’s right. You may not be on TikTok yet, but when you decide to make the jump and start advertising on 18-25 years olds, your RunSignup registration page will be ready to track the conversions. 

So, get your race on a tech platform that has it all, and works tirelessly every day to bring you the tools you need to make your event a success. Go check out RunSignup on runsignup.com today and see all the amazing things you could achieve by getting your event on the market-leading race tech platform. 26,000 races can’t be wrong! 

Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode. So, that first text that you sent out - do you remember, roughly, what the copy was, what you had on it, and what the call to action was, just for people to get an idea of what you were actually asking from the people that you sent this out to?

Beth  35:17  
I really leaned on Gerry's expertise to help me frame it. One of the things he said was, "You need to have a call to action to use the coupon in 48 hours." That was huge because if the coupons open for like a month, then there's no, like, urgency to use it. If you clicked on it but didn't actually redeem the coupon, then the system would follow back up with you in 24 hours and say, "Hey, Jamie. I noticed that you logged in, but haven't-- we'll extend the coupon for another 24 hours." So, his system is built up so that I didn't have to go in and do those things. But if people had questions every day at 10.02 AM, I would be, like, "I get to answer people and have those conversations." Some people would say "Oh, can you resend me the link?" and I absolutely would because we had set up a special link for people to register. That still went into our system, but it was just easier for me to track that these were from text messaging instead of any other campaign. So, it was very powerful. As we got closer to the more recent databases, that's where we saw, like, huge engagement. Like I said, I got a 500% return on my investment. So, if somebody told me that for the stock market, I'd be like, "Take all my money!" Then, this year with Gerry, we're going to do two different campaigns. One campaign is going to be for people who have registered before - very similar in concept to what we did last year. I had a Facebook campaign last year that was just getting people to sign up for our email list. This year, we're going to change it and make them sign up for our text messaging list. Then, immediately, I'll put them into the communication that will be nurtured. It's not going to be, "Okay. Now you have to register." We're going to connect Facebook and text messaging immediately. So, it was very powerful and it was fun. Honestly, I sort of got a kick out of having these conversations with people and very few people asked us to take them off, which we did immediately. Then, for this year, when we move forward, they're already removed. So, it's not even a possibility to accidentally send to them again. The thing with email is people change jobs and people, maybe, like, get married. So, now, they have two different-- but your cell phone is your cell phone. So, I might have removed your job's email, but your Gmail is still on, and they would think that I'm, like, just sending them emails and being rude, but I'm really not because I didn't realize that you had four different email addresses. You only have one cell phone. Using Gerry's expertise - because he understands that - and my understanding of my participants, I think putting the two together is very powerful.

Panos  38:40  
So, first year-round, just to summarize, you went through all of the numbers that you had from past participants and sent them just a simple text, basically, with a time-limited offer on it that said, "Here's an X percent off to register for the race. You have 48 hours to do it." You had some, kind of, cart abandonment style thing where someone click-through, but they don't register, so you go back to them and send a follow-up message, "Hey, I saw you checked it out, but you didn't register." You mentioned that more recent participants had an even bigger engagement, which I think makes total sense. Did you do any audience segmenting or any AB testing with the copy of the text that you sent out, or did you just send one text to all of those thousands of people?

Beth  39:33  
We sent one text. Where it got a little bit more personal was from their responses and their engagement. These were all people who had participated at one point, so they all knew the product that I was offering. But, this year, there will be two separate campaigns because we're going after a new bunch of people, in addition to reengaging our existing database.

Panos  40:07  
So Gerry, is what Beth described, basically, roughly, as simple as an SMS marketing campaign can be? Does it get more complex? Do you, sort of, like, do complex drip campaigns like you would do with email? How do people generally use SMS marketing?

Gerry  40:28  
Yeah. What Beth just mentioned is pretty spot on about the basic structure of our SMS campaigns. SMS campaigns, like any other marketing channel, as you may know, are a set of organized efforts to promote your race, or for a specific goal that you might have. Our bread and butter here at RunGP is our DR Campaigns. DR stands for Database Reactivation Campaigns, which is exactly what the name suggests - reactivate databases. That being said, in my opinion, the success of any marketing campaign, regardless of the channel - and again, this is me personally - depends on two factors. The first one is the story or the offer that you have. When I say story, it's, "Our course is the Boston qualifier course" or "We have a race that's supporting the military, like Beth's", or "We have a course that will qualify you for one of the majors". So, that's the story that you have. The other thing is the offer. If you have an offer, what's the offer? Is it an early bird pricing? Is it a reserve entry? Is it a discounted entry? Or do you have a cross-promotion with a running retail, for example? Or are you offering a training plan? I think, Beth and I are going to discuss that this time around about offering training plans for her specific race and for her very specific course. The second one, which I believe is really powerful, is the follow-up and the nurturing process. Believe me, it doesn't matter how cool is your copy, how cool is your video, or how cool is your design. If you don't have the proper follow-up and nurturing system in place, chances are that these potential leads will fall through the cracks. We pride ourselves to have one of the best nurturing systems in the market right now. We literally don't let any lead fall through the cracks through our follow-up. So, we have, like, four or five steps of what a campaign looks like. The first one, as Beth mentioned, is the initial message. In every initial message that we send, there are two things that we add. The first one is a clear call to action. We always ask the consumer to respond to what we're asking. Basically, if you're interested in this, please reply "Yes". So, that's the call to action. The other thing that we have been adding is a link. Our system has triggered links, which we can talk about later. We can track these links - same as email. Some of the runners are not very good at reading. So, they would reply with "When is the race? Where is the race? What's the cost of the race?" So, adding this link to a specific landing page that has all of that race information removes a lot of friction and back and forth, so that they can know absolutely everything about the race. So, that initial message is "Please reply 'Yes' if you're interested. Here's the link to learn more details about the race." In some cases, for those people that do not engage, we would have a second message after three or four days. This second message would say, "Hey, we just want to make sure that you know about this. We don't want you to miss out. We really want you in our race. For this, here's an incentive." That incentive can be as low as $5. That being said, for the people that engage, we immediately acknowledge those people with our automation. So, when the people reply 'Yes', the automation kicks in and says 'Perfect. Great. Here's the link where you need to go to register. Here's your timeline. Here are the instructions.' All of these people that have taken these steps of engaging - either by replying 'Yes' or by clicking on our links - would be considered hot leads because they have expressed interest in the race and they have expressed interest in the brand. We put all of these people into a nurturing campaign in which - depending on what the objective or the timeline of the campaign is - we would have automated messages go out to every now and then, depending on that lead. We have a very cool thing. We have pipelines to see the journey of all of these leads going through 'When they opted in', 'When their incentive was sent', and 'When they're clicking and going to the registration page to check out'. When you put products into your cart and get that notification about abandoned cart, we can track that as well. We have that visibility for all of this. So, this is really cool. In terms of results, we have seen up to 60% conversion rate, which is absolutely mind-blowing - we haven't seen this in any other channel. That said, our average campaign, I would say, has around 20% conversion. When I say conversion - I just want to clarify - this is conversion from the people that engage. Engagement means that people reply 'Yes' to your call to action or people are clicking on the trigger links that we set. If you send a message to 100 people and 30 of them engage, out of those 30, we feel very confident that we're going to convert at least 20% of them into a registration because of the nurturing process that we have. So, that's typically what the structure of a campaign looks like.

Panos  46:27  
So, what's the end-to-end conversion, basically? So, if you send it out to a thousand people, roughly, how many of those thousand people that you send it out to will convert for the offer that you send them?

Gerry  46:39  
Let's do it by a hundred people. So, again, it depends on the health of the database of these consumers. Every time we get into a campaign, we don't promise results, we just promise that the campaign is going to work and the technology is going to work. With that being said, for most of the campaigns that we have launched, we have pretty decent databases. So, let's say, if we send a message to a hundred people, our average engagement is, maybe, between 15% and 20%. From that 20%, that's the conversion that we will get. So, out of those 20 people, we're going to convert at least 20% or 30% of those 20 people. So it's pretty powerful. 

Panos  47:23  
Yeah. So, if you send it out to a healthy database, 5% of those people that you send a text to will convert and sign up for an offer which, I agree, is a pretty impressive number. Actually, Beth touched on that as well. You send out the offer and people would click through to a registration page. So, technically, how close is the integration? How important is it to use this channel between your registration platform and your SMS campaign? I guess you'll need to know when you do these campaigns and when someone actually registers to be able to give them the coupon, the link, and stuff. Beth has had experience. Beth, I think you mentioned that you've used a couple of platforms for that. How has it worked for you?

Beth  48:16  
Well, I'm not a tech person. So, truthfully, I put Gerry in touch with the registration company and let the two of them figure it out. That's probably the easiest because I knew what is the end result, Gerry and my registration company knew the language, and they made it happen. I was very easily able to just download and see these people from text messaging. So, when Gerry was talking about re-engaging past participants that, maybe, have lost-- prior to last year, my average return participant was around 61%, which is huge, in general. Last year, we were at 74% which was, like, insane. I truly believe it's because of the text messaging that reengages people who are, sort of, like, "I get your emails, but I just delete them. I don't read them." Now, we were able to have that conversation.

Panos  49:24  
Yeah. That's a big thing with the reengagement actually. Gerry, do you want to comment on, like, the whole integration with the registration side of things? 

Gerry  49:31  
Sure. Our platform, thankfully, has full API capabilities. In fact, we are in the midst of integrating into RunSignup. RunSignup has an open API and we have an open API. So, we're working to have an open API on that. That being said, there are other registration platforms - not as robust as RunSignup - that might have webhook capabilities. Webhooks are fantastic. Every time, when a registration is done, they send us that information, we catch it, we bring it back to the platform. The other thing for registration platforms that don't have these capabilities-- we have been using Zapier. Zapier is a third-party software that is, basically, a software that connects two platforms together. So, we do have a specific app within Zapier. So, with this, basically, I have capabilities of connecting to whatever registration platform, either by API, by webhooks, or by mail parsing, which we do as well. That means that when a registration is done, they normally shoot an email confirmation to the registrant. We have methods to catch some information of that email and, then, we bring it back to the platform. The reason why it's so important to have that integration is, first of all, for attribution. I want to make sure that all of the race directors that are using the platform are using SMS. They know which people are being registered based on the SMS efforts. Second of all, return of investment. It's really important for business owners to know how much money they're putting in on the platform, how much money they're paying for SMS, and how much they're getting back in terms of registration form. The third one - same as important - is that we always want to have a confirmation text once that registration is done because, sometimes, when you offer benefits if they register, you have to deliver that benefit when that registration happens. So, all of this happens in real-time. You finished your registration, you put your credit card on whatever platform it is and, seconds after, you get a confirmation text saying, "Hey, congratulations for completing your registration to XYZ race. Here's your benefit. Here's the link." The very cool thing that we're doing now is that-- this is outside campaigns that you can do year long. Every time a registration is done, we have users that send in dynamic and personalized images. So, imagine the medal that you're going to give them with their name engraved, or a T-shirt, or a bib number with their name-- it's really refreshing that, when you register, you get a confirmation & congratulations via text. With a personalized image that says "Hey, Panos. You're in! Congratulation! Let's do this!", we've been getting a lot of compliments on that and people replying, "Oh, that this is awesome!" They gave the thumbs up. So, that's really cool. 

Panos  52:58  
Yeah, that sounds really awesome. Before we move on to talk a little bit about how this back and forth communication works, let's quickly touch a little bit on this database reactivation, which I think is a super important benefit of all of this SMS. As Beth was saying, people receive email all the time, they get into a little bit of fatigue, they don't open it anymore, they delete it, they unsubscribe, or whatever. Then, there's a refreshing thing from getting a text message which, at least, the first time around, is a really novel thing that's difficult for you not to engage with. What percentage of people that were previously idle are you able to basically reach into and reactivate when you move on to an SMS campaign?

Gerry  53:48  
Well, I would have Beth talk a little bit about that because - I'm gonna have a tough time - we don't do the email for our clients, they do their own email, even though our platform has email capabilities. Based on my experience with some races here in California, race directors have been sharing with me that SMS has woken up people who were normally not engaging with them. The reason being is-- I can tell you this, as a user, I have six different email accounts - I have my business, family, personal, and other accounts which literally receive hundreds of emails on a daily basis that I don't check. So, it's hard to say which emails are getting to these users. As Beth alluded, you only have one phone number. So, if you provide that phone number, chances are that you only have that number and that we're going to reach you. So, I have seen some race directors come back to me and say, "Gerry, we have a great response through SMS from people that have never responded or engaged through email." In terms of numbers, I don't know what the numbers could be.

Beth  54:58  
I don't know specific numbers, but I can tell you that my email database is larger than my text messaging database. We went through it and, sort of, cleaned it up a little bit before we started sending. We also started a little later than when we're gonna start this year - we started about two months before the event. This year, we're gonna start probably four months before the event. Tons of people responded that they were so glad to hear from us and it was very refreshing and warm. We had canceled, like, many races in 2020 and sent out emails since January of 2021, saying, "We're having a race. Here it is. We're so excited." and people were excited. But, it wasn't until the text messaging that people were like, "Okay, now I'm ready to sign up. Now, I'm engaged." It's just much more immediate and much more personal.

Panos  56:05  
It should be exciting for people - I mean, we're going to talk about building out, like, an SMS marketing list, which is important for this-- I think it should be exciting for people to think that they're sitting in a large database of people who are idle that they can reactivate rather than, like, adding a few more thousands of people which, they can also do, is a little bit harder because you already have the information and the brand awareness on other channels. And, the fact that you can reactivate parts of that or even a good percentage of that can potentially yield significant results. Now, just to wrap up the whole technical side of things - of how the campaigns work and stuff - what happens with the replies and what numbers do those go to? I guess that it's not my personal phone number that starts bleeping with replies - that all happens, sort of, somewhere else - right?

Gerry  57:05  
Yeah, absolutely. Each of the users that go into the platform gets assigned a 10-digit number. For local races that only host races within their own community, we always suggest that they have a number with their same area code so that people are familiar with that area code. However, we also work with race management companies that have races across the country. For those races, we always suggest to have a '800' number like '800-887-7855', which is a more generic name that can speak to many locations. There are a couple of things that a message should have, that we'd recommend to do. The first thing is you need to identify who's sending that message because you're going to receive a message from a phone number that, most likely, you won't have as a contact. So, the first thing you have to say is - you can identify yourself as a business - "Hey, this is Fort2Base" or "Hey, this is Beth from Four2Base". You have to identify yourself. The second thing is you have to have a call to action. The language that you use has to be very personable as if you are texting a friend - use that type of language, be very approachable, be very personable so that these people can feel comfortable in responding and engaging. For example, if Beth uses her own name - which is fantastic - people would reply, "Hey, Beth! Thanks for the offer! We hope to see you out there!" You read all of these text messages that people are sharing - that they're injured, that they did a PR, that they're traveling - and it gets really, really, really personal. So it's really cool.

Beth  59:01  
And you can use emojis, which is key. 

Gerry  59:04  
Absolutely. 

Beth  59:05  
We all speak in emojis. Like I said, I did have a couple of people who asked if it was really me. It was just a fun conversation. I will say that, as a race director, people email me, people text or call my cell phone because I do have my cell phone number on our website, I get Facebook messages, I get Instagram messages. So, this is just one more way that people can communicate, and it is a lot of fun. But these were people who knew me and the event. So, it was less about telling them, "Hey, we have this great event. Register now. We're going to make it really worth your while if you register today." So, I think it will be interesting this year when we're doing two separate campaigns. One of them is to reengage because we did have a lot of people who said, "It's COVID. I'm not comfortable running in public yet. We are a point to point, so you have to get on a bus. We were in August when Delta hit." Now that I feel that things are, sort of, calming down and life has been a little bit more open in Illinois, that will get even better engagement. Then, we're also going to start another campaign, like I mentioned, through Facebook and connect from a Facebook ad to a text messaging drip campaign to just engage new people because we want to grow the race, we don't just want to keep the race. So, last year was, sort of, an experiment across the board. I was thrilled. I've told a ton of people. So, now, this year, we're gonna do even better and do more.

Panos  1:00:58  
So let's talk a little bit about that. So last year, in a way, you were marketing out to a warm or lukewarm, kind of, audience. I mean, people knew you. Now, the Facebook channel is, sort of, like, top-of-funnel codes to reach out to people who don't know about you. How is that integration going to work between the people who engage with Facebook and, then, funneling them into the SMS marketing portion?

Beth  1:01:27  
I mentioned earlier that most people put Facebook ads up that says "Register now", but nobody knows about you. So, last year, our Facebook ad was, "Are you interested in running a half marathon? Give us your email. We'll give you a free half marathon training program." So, it had nothing to do with registration. There was no cost. Then, we had a second ad that said "Are you interested in running your first 5K? If so, give us your email and we'll give five different levels of 5K training program." and it was very successful. Then, we dropped them into a nurture campaign to tell a little bit about who we were. In the end, after five emails, we said, "Okay, now that you've trained and learned a little bit about us, now, you need to register." Instead of doing that through email, we're going to do that through SMS. So, it's the same concept - we're still going to nurture, we're going to tell them how much of a rockstar we are, how much they need to be a part of it, and all of that - but we're just going to do it through text messaging. What's nice, again, is the conversation. Because we offer five different training programs for both the half and the 5K, they say, "Well, I'm not sure which one I should download." Great! I can now text back to you and ask some questions. We can have a conversation, which makes it even more personal, like, "Well, I'm going to do my first 5K. I'm going to join Fort2Base because they gave me a free training program. They helped me choose the right training program. They checked in and asked 'how's the training going'? Then, they gave me a coupon that said, 'Hey, register now and you can save X amount of money'." So it's a similar concept, but just in text.

Panos  1:03:28  

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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode. Let's change pace a little bit here. Let's talk about building out SMS marketing lists, which basically means, like, getting phone numbers. Let's start with opt-in. Over here in Europe, we're a little bit stricter with GDPR in terms of what permissions you need to extract from people to be able to market to them generally regardless of the formal framework around it. In your country - it's generally good to only market to people who expect to hear from you - how does this all work with SMS? Like, how does the consent work, basically?

Gerry  1:05:16  
Yeah. That's a great question. I have several strategies on how to properly build your SMS marketing list. I encourage every single race director or event listening to this podcast to start implementing, regardless if they're ready to use SMS or not now. This is something that they should start doing. We have five or six different methods. The first one is through your website. The website should be the foundation of the acquisition strategy of any business, I would say. If you go to a race website, a good percentage of them don't have an opt-in strategy built-in. So, the first thing that you should have is an opt-in, either through a subscription form or a pop-up that says, "Join our email list." Whoever building their email list, it doesn't hurt to add, "Please provide your phone number." You can have mandatory fields - name, last name, email - and, as an option, you can always have SMS. "Give me your phone number." You can also have a call to action, "If you give us your phone number, you can join our VIP club." I'm encouraging race directors to start building their SMS or 'VIP' channel for people that opted in for SMS so that they would, sort of, get red carpet treatment. We also encourage race directors to have a chat widget on their website. You see a lot of chat widgets on the website but, normally, they don't get back to you as soon as you engage with them, and that's where you lose. First of all, it's a bad experience, if you have a chat widget that is not responding immediately. Second, you lose that lead. So, on the website, on either the popup or the form, we have language that says something along the lines of, "By submitting this form, you are agreeing for this race to contact you via email and SMS for offers, promotions, or information about a race." With that, you have the language already that they need to read before hitting 'Submit' and agreeing to that. It's always a best practice to put a checkbox so that they have to take that action. So, that's a very good thing for a website to do - to have that language already there when you're acquiring phone numbers. The second one - which is low-hanging fruit and I also encourage every race director to do so - whatever race registration platform you're using, if they have the capability to add language as part of the registration process, as part of the registration checkout, and have a checkbox that says "Sign up for our SMS list so that you can receive updates, offers, and communication from our race", that's something that everyone should have. That's low-hanging fruit because, with all of these registrations that you're having on a daily basis, you're automatically increasing your list of people that you can communicate with through SMS. The other channel that is really good is email. I have race directors that have - I'm just going to throw numbers - a 20,000 people email list, but we can only text to 8,000. So, how would we convert the balance of those 12,000 people that we don't have consent? Well, you send an email campaign to encourage people to sign up for SMS updates in exchange for a benefit such as a training plan or VIP club membership in which they're going to have special treatment. The other thing that we have is what we call "Text To Join." We have to take advantage of all of the print media that a race might have on race day and, also, your social channels. I'm just going to use the LA Marathon, for example, because I'm here. "Text LAM to this number to join our SMS." So, people are going to text that specific word to that number and our system will automatically acknowledge that text and say, "Hey, welcome to our SMS channel." That's where we put language and add a link about our privacy policy. That's when we tell them that if they need to stat, they need to reply 'Yes'  and if they need help, they need to reply 'Help'. So, that's where we put the language and acknowledge those people. Social channel is also a great cross-promotion to promote your SMS channel. Every race director should have a Facebook page or an Instagram page, in which you encourage people to either 'text to join' or 'click on this link and it will take you to our signup page'. The other final thing that we are encouraging race directors to do is to print QR codes. You can have them on your packet pickups, flyers, bags, and T-shirts. It's really cool that you can just take your phone out, scan a QR code that will open your text app and automatically pre-populate the language that we tell them to do. When they reply, that's when we acknowledge that and send them all of the privacy policies and what to expect as an SMS subscriber.

Panos  1:11:06  
Beth, in your case, specifically, when you started out, obviously, you had a long list of emails. Did you actually have, at that stage, phone numbers that you can leverage directly or did you have to go back and convert those emails somehow into phone numbers?

Beth  1:11:25  
No. In my registration, I asked for your cell number and your service provider - AT&T, Verizon, or whatever. There was a box that said, "By providing your details, you're authorizing us to send." That was 10 years ago when we started for the storm, and I've just continued ever since. So, we've always had it for 10 years.

Panos  1:11:53  
Yeah, that seems extremely prescient, I should say. I think most people wouldn't have done that. Basically, are you saying that you were collecting those numbers, primarily, for reasons of, kind of, emergency communications?

Beth  1:12:08  
In the first year, when we started, we wanted their phone numbers, but we told people, "We are not going to sell them - the same way, we don't sell our email list - and it's not going to be given to other people. It's for our internal. We are going to give special offers, race communication, anything of that." So, we use the same language that we use in our email and text messaging. Because our registration system is ahead of the game - we had it since 12 years ago - we've always just left it in. So, I will say that there are two places for people to provide phone numbers when they register. One is just a phone number. 12 years ago, a lot of people would put in a landline. Then, we ask specifically for their cell number. Now, we just ask for a phone number because most people use their cell as their primary, but we do put in there that, "By giving us your number, we can send text messages, offers, and such. We will not sell your data and give it away. Other people will not be allowed to use it. That's the same with their email and cell phones."

Panos  1:13:32  
As Gerry was saying, this is, sort of, an active opt-in. Basically, people have to check it to opt-in. It's not like you need to uncheck it to opt-out or something. 

Beth  1:13:43  
Yeah. In the beginning, like I said, it was an option. The first year we did it, only about a third of the people gave us their cell numbers, but I figured that if only a third of them gave and there was a bad storm, one in three people would have a cell phone that would say "We're delayed for 15 minutes, so it was still worthwhile." When I sent the message 'Registration is now open', even though it was only a third of the people that had opted in, I still had a crazy busy opening day. Then, more people started realizing that they're getting special offers. I do think that people felt that text messaging was something that you just do among friends - like, it's not something for businesses. It's just a way to meet to communicate, "Hey, honey. Bring milk on your way home." But it has changed now. Anytime I go to any retail, it would immediately ask me to join their email and cell list, and I'll get a special 15% off coupon if I give them my cell number today. Boom! Two seconds later, it's there. Then, you would go, "Oh, well, maybe I should buy that because, now, I get a bonus of 15% off." The only thing I would add to what Gerry said about using your website for signups is people are not going to sign up just because you have a nice website. You need to give them something in exchange for their email and cell number, whether it's a special coupon, a training program, access to race day VIP, special packet pickup, or something that they want. A lot of race websites that I see just have a little thing that says, "Give us your email." I'm like, "Why? I already have enough emails that come through. I don't need more. But if you're gonna give me a coupon - I'm already at your website, so I'm already interested - that may be what I need to push me over the edge to register.

Panos  1:16:07  
Awesome. That's been very helpful. I think growing the phone list side of things may have been a bit of a hurdle for most people, but all these tips of getting new phone numbers, extracting some of that from existing participants, and converting them into the SMS channel have been very useful. Let's, sort of, wrap up by going through some objections that I've seen towards SMS marketing. This is stuff that I just searched on our Race Directors Hub group on Facebook from people talking about SMS marketing. As I said in the beginning, it's a bit of a Marmite topic. Some people really feel really uncomfortable around it, so it'd be great to try and answer some of those objections. If we haven't already, I think we've covered quite a lot of ground already. Let's go through them one by one. One of the objections that comes up-- whoever can take it first. First objection is it's too invasive. Basically, when I send it to people, it alienates them and pisses them off. What do we have to say to that?

Gerry  1:17:13  
SMS can be invasive if you don't follow SMS best practices that we have just described before. However, if you have the proper tools to implement SMS, we believe, as I said at the beginning of the podcast, that it can be less invasive of a channel just because of the simple fact that people have given you permission to send them a message. So, that's the first layer. The second layer is if you happen to change your mind-- if you go to a retailer and they give you a 50% discount, you will just opt-in at that moment and get your benefit, right? Sometimes, the user has the power of just replying 'Stop' and it will stop forever, regardless if I want to keep sending them texts. Their carrier has a filter that won't let me send them more text. So, I think that if you follow the proper recommendations that we just provided on how to build your SMS list, I don't believe it's going to be invasive. You will be surprised to know how many people are opting into SMS and how many people are providing their phone numbers, especially if it comes from a race that you already had a great experience, especially if you know the race director, especially if you're a runner. If you're an unknown, I'll give you an example-- a year and a half ago, I was receiving text messages from politicians. I didn't know these people, so I just replied 'Yes', and it was not well received. So I just replied 'Stop' and it was the end of the game. The reason I didn't engage is because I never gave them my permission and I didn't know who they were. I just replied 'Stop' and that was the end of the game. As I said, if you are receiving a text message from an established business and the race that you have already had experience with, I think it's less invasive.

Beth  1:19:13  
I would jump on that. I would think that the people who think that is super invasive are also the people that are afraid to ask people to register. Again, you're having a conversation. If you're afraid to ask people to register for your race or join your club or whatever it is, then there's a whole other layer. There was no single person - and we sent over 9,000 text messages to my database - that said, "You're an awful human being. How dare you send me a text message." Some people said, "Stop" - less than 1%. If you're afraid to ask people to register, then maybe you would think that it's invasive.

Panos  1:20:05  
Yeah, I agree. So basically, we're saying, if you have proper opt-in consent and honor it as you absolutely should, and respect people's unsubscribe requests, then there's really little risk in pissing people off because they ticked that box. It's not, like, something covert, so they would expect something from you. Let's say, if that's not what they actually like to receive from you, after the first message, they can opt-out and that would be the end of that engagement with those guys. 

Beth  1:20:40  
The only other thing I would add that Gerry has mentioned is - as the person who's running the campaign, the race director, or whomever - the key is to be communicative, whether it's email, Facebook message, or text message. You need to respond because people are assuming that text messaging is instant. So, you need to be on his interface, which I did and I found it to be fun, but I understand that some people don't and that's a problem because text messaging is really, like, that instant gratification. So, if I'm responding, I'm expecting that you're gonna give me a response. Now, Gerry has a lot of auto-populate that has that conversation, but there's a lot of people that are asking questions, like, "Well, what time does the race start?" and totally obscure things. So, if you're not willing to do that, then you're not going to be successful also.

Gerry  1:21:44  
Just one more thing I want to add regarding this SMS. I have a few races right now that are implementing SMS as a customer service channel. I believe this is going to be a game-changer for runners to have on their phones to reach that race and acquire the information that they're looking for. That's going to be a game-changer, in my opinion. Normally, email responses take 24 to 48 hours, if fast. With SMS, we didn't have automation to Frequently Asked Questions and point them to the right thing. At the same time, we can trigger notify the race director by saying, "Hey, you have six messages that need to be addressed within the next 48 hours."

Panos  1:22:36  
Sure. So, just to wrap up the whole thing on invasiveness and how these messages are perceived by people, does any of you feel that, perhaps, there may be, like, a generational gap at play here that, maybe, younger audiences and younger runners may view text messaging a little bit more favorably than some people in their late 40s or 50s who may perceive that a little bit less favorably?

Gerry  1:23:10  
Not at all. Not at all. I think this is not a generational thing. You will see Generation X, millennials, and baby boomers. I text my parents every single day. They are very comfortable with text messaging. Some of them are also comfortable with social media and other apps. So, I don't believe text messaging has something to do with age - I think it goes across the board.

Beth  1:23:37  
I agree. I think everybody uses it. I think the only difference is the amount of emojis used. The younger people use a lot more emojis than the older.

Panos  1:23:47  
Okay. There are other two objections that I had on my list to discuss - I think we have, sort of, went over them, but feel free to add anything you have on that as well. So, one person was saying that, generally, text messaging has a very low opt-in rate, which basically means that people won't give up their phone numbers very easily. Number two, it doesn't convert. Again, back to that point that we were talking about on open rates, yes, it has spectacular open rates because people have to, sort of, clear the notification, but it's not a very good channel for converting. So, does any of you want to pick up on any of those two points?

Gerry  1:24:30  
One of the main reasons I'm on business is because this is a channel that converts much better than other channels. I have all the case studies. I have all the backup. I have all of the campaigns. We have run campaigns at a similar time - same message, same offer - on different channels. Every time, we would outperform through SMS. So, this is 100% a misconception. This is a high-converting channel.

Beth  1:25:02  
Regarding the signups and people not wanting to sign up, I would say that people - race directors or running clubs - expect to just put out a form that said "Give me your email address. Give me your cell number" and people will do that. But, people are looking for an offer or value in order to give up. So, if you're not making it worth my while to give you my email address, if you're not going to give me something - whether it's a coupon, a training program, a training video, a free yoga class or something - I'm not just going to give you my email address or my cell number. So, I think that people need to think a little bit more and put some energy into how are you collecting and what are you offering.

Gerry  1:25:50  
Something helpful for these local races-- you have sponsors, you have local running stores, you have local shops. If these shops can offer you a small gift card of $5 or $10, or a discount code for a pair of shoes, or a discount code for a hat or whatever, that's something of value that you're exchanging for their phone number or their email.

Panos  1:26:14  
Yeah. I think that people, who are a little bit hesitant around SMS, may be thinking, "Oh, I've given up my phone number. Or someone has taken my phone number. I've given it for a reason. Now, I'm being marketed to without my consent." They're probably thinking of, like, 10 messages in the middle of the night - like 'Register for the race', 'Early bird', 'Price increase', and all of that stuff - but we're actually, sort of, approaching these messages with some kind of offer or value. So, basically, the relationship is a lot more favorable towards the people receiving these texts.

Gerry  1:26:59  
100%. I will say that, regarding the cadence, and how many times you can text. Certainly, most of my users use SMS channel for conversion purposes and to get more registrations, but I always encouraged to also use this channel as an engagement channel to send updates of your race such as, "Our medals are in. This is how they look. This is how the T-shirt will look. Here's a little tip of training." So, if you use it for engagement purposes, it's very healthy to send, maybe, two to three messages per month. When it comes to sales, my recommendation is to reactivate your entire database once per quarter, which is basically every three months. That's a very healthy period of time in which you let the people rest and, then, you go after, from a conversion standpoint.

Panos  1:27:52  
Okay. Let's move on then to the last objection that Terry Majamaki - I've had him on the podcast before, actually one of the directors in California - from New Global Adventures. He mentioned in the group that, yes, he would use SMS marketing for, like, communicating essentials, emergencies, results, and all of that stuff, but not for marketing on account of it being too expensive. I guess he's thinking that, "I'm spending X amount of money and I'm not getting a good enough return on the other end." I know Beth mentioned that she got, like, a 500% ROI, which is very impressive. But speaking of absolute numbers, how much does it cost to run something like this? Let's forget about what I get on the other end. What am I paying for something like this?

Gerry  1:28:49  
First thing, let me address your concern about expensive. It depends on what expensive means. I always encourage my race directors to look at marketing. When I say marketing, it's not only SMS, it's email, Facebook advertising, and whatever type of marketing you're doing. Business owners would see marketing not as an expense but as an investment. When I say investment, how much am I putting into this channel? How much am I getting back? So, when we look at this investment and return, we believe that SMS is one of the most cost-effective channels. Yes, SMS has a hard cost associated with it. Every single message that you send has a cost, which I'll tell you. When you see the performance between SMS and other channels, now comes a discussion about which one's more cost-effective - that's where you have to analyze which channel to use. Now, how much does it cost to send an SMS? That depends on which platform you're using. There are a handful of platforms that we might discuss right now, but on our platform, each SMS costs $0.015 per segment. When I say segment, it's a 160-character segment. When you go to 161, now it's considered as two segments. I just want to be clear with the audience. When I say segment, that doesn't mean that your message is going to be sent in different messages. You can send 500 characters in one single text, but the system and technology we use-- by the way, our platform is powered by Twilio. Twilio is arguably one of the most established cloud-based SMS companies here and potentially worldwide. Anyway, the cost that it has is $0.015. So, just to give you a context, for every $10, you can send up to, maybe, 600 to 700 text messages. So you can do the math. Campaigns that are reactivating, maybe, 10,000 to 15,000 people on their database, depending on the length of their messages, could be spending between $300 to $500 on SMS costs. That's only the cost of SMS. Of course, the platform has a subscription base that we will talk about at the end, but that's the cost of sending messages. If you add an image or a link and all that, obviously, images are a little bit more expensive. I will provide the link to my website where we describe the cost of SMS, MMS, and subscription. Yes, it does have a cost. If people are wondering "Is this more expensive than email?", yes, it is more expensive than email. Many people think that email is free, but it's not free. You have the MailChimp and the Constant Contact of the world that you pay for those services. SMS has a hard cost for every single message that you send. In my opinion, it's nothing that's going to break your bank. 

Beth  1:32:03  
Well, I spent less on my campaign than I do on my annual fee with Constant Contact. I know that a lot of people, myself included, will often work with like-- there's a local running magazine here in Chicago, and I'll have them send out email blasts on my behalf, and it's usually, like, $400-$500. I do not get the return that I got with Gerry, which is why I'm now doing even a larger campaign in 2022 than I did in 2021 because I'm reallocating money from other places that had worked in the past, but are not showing me that return.

Gerry  1:32:52  
I want to be very straightforward with your audience. We are not suggesting to put all your marbles on SMS. We said at the beginning of the conversation that SMS should be an additional channel of engagement. If you have a marketing budget, it is very healthy to distribute that budget between paid advertising and email, but you have to consider something for SMS as well. Depending on the type of campaign you want to put up, different channels might give you a better return. We are not suggesting here that SMS is a replacement for any other channel. It's just another channel of engagement, which happens to be the high-return channel. 

Panos  1:33:34  
Okay. On top of those SMS texting costs, let's move on to talk a little bit about RunGP, specifically, which is the platform that Gerry has developed, that Beth and others have been using. So, what is the total cost for using something on RunsGP? Plus - which is the important thing - what am I paying for? Why wouldn't I use, like, Twilio or - I mean, I'm just mentioning names now that people mentioned in the group - simple texting? There was a user there that was very complimentary about a tool called Attentive - apparently, it has great tracking or whatever. There are several, kind of, like, SMS marketing tools out there. As you said, you're using Twilio anyway. So, what am I paying on top of these messaging costs for RunGP? And why would I use that instead of any other of those marketing tools out there?

Gerry  1:34:33  
First of all, I would like to acknowledge that, yes, there are many platforms in the market - for example, Attentive is a very robust platform - but each of these platforms is best suited for different niches or different purposes. I can tell you that Attentive is an awesome platform for E-commerce, for example. If you have a Shopify or WooCommerce and all that, SMS on e-Commerce has been huge, and Attentive has been leading on that. Again, I know most of them because I'm in the business and I'm on the market. What I can tell you about RunGP is, first of all, the cost. We have three different tiers of subscription like any other software in the market. This is a subscription-based cost, and we have three tiers. Our entry tier is called SMS - it's $197 per month. Again, I'll provide the link to our website where they can exactly see what that includes. Then, we have our Pro, which is the most popular, which is $297. The difference between the SMS and the Pro is basically the automation and the artificial intelligence that we have for race directors that want to put robust campaigns with workflows, with sequences, with follow-up, and with pipelines. We highly recommend  having the Pro account, which will also include the automation for your customer service and all that stuff. Then, we have our highest tier, which is our Premium, which is $497. We have a handful of users on that one. That includes a full stack of website capabilities. We have an awesome membership extra section where race directors can upload their training programs with videos and all of this - it's a membership thing. We have funnels and landing pages. This is great for race directors that are doing paid social media advertising. Every time that we see Facebook ads out there, chances are that they are driving traffic to their website. We always like to encourage people to drive traffic to a specific landing page with specific language for whatever purpose - lead generation, traffic, or whatever. So, we have capabilities of building websites on our platform as well. So, those are the three tiers. Just know that we don't profit out of the SMS cost. It's just the cost of the technology that we pass to the end-user which is, at the end of the day, Twilio. So, it's $187, $297, and $497. The most popular one is the Pro at $297 per month. There are no contracts like any other software. You can use it for one month, you can use it for three years, and you can cancel at any time. That's the cost of the platform. In terms of why RunGP versus other ones, this has been a channel or a platform built by a runner for race directors. We do not work with any other niche or any other industry outside the running industry. When I say running industry, quite honestly, it's the endurance industry. Whatever requires online registration, that's what we work for. We have case studies. All of our users are race directors within the industry. We know how to talk to runners. We know what they want. On top of that, we have integration with every single registration platform out there. The other thing that I would say is that every single user gets a one-on-one onboarding with us on a zoom call. We get them set up, we build their campaign, and they're off to the races.

Panos  1:38:19  
Do you offer any free trials or anything like that for people who want to, maybe, try the tool out before they commit?

Gerry  1:38:27  
No, there are no free trials. However, we might offer a free database reactivation campaign, depending on the race, and depending on what the objective or the commitment of the race director we might have. We normally don't do this, but this is an option that we, sometimes, offer to get them started with a free database reactivation - a basic campaign that has the sequences, the pipelines, and all of that. If it's a more comprehensive campaign that requires some specific coding and some specific software, then that's something that we can call aside.

Panos  1:39:09  
Okay. And Beth sounds quite happy about using that product, right?

Beth  1:39:13  
I am. Yeah, like I said, we're in conversations of how to not only use it for reactivating and engaging our current database, but also connecting it to our social media ads to bring in new people. 

Panos  1:39:30  
One question for you, Gerry. Is there anywhere that people can maybe get a demo or something because I've seen the platform a little bit - you've shown it to me over zoom calls and stuff - and it looks pretty impressive. Can people just get an idea of how it works, how this looks, different stages of the funnel, and stuff before they actually commit to this?

Gerry  1:39:51  
100%. Here's one thing that I would like to offer to all of your listeners. If you agree, we will be happy to send this to all of them. We have put together what I call the SMS Marketing Guide. This is a very comprehensive document with 30 plus pages that talks about best practices of SMS, that compares SMS to email and social media. I'll be happy to make this available to all of your listeners. If so, I'll give you the link so that you can put it in the show notes, they can download it there, and I'll send them an email. In that email, they have the option to book a demo call with me. I'll be more than happy to give any potential user that is interested in SMS a deep dive into this platform and show them the results that we have provided to other race directors, how it works, and all of the onboarding stuff. So, sure.

Panos  1:40:51  
Okay, cool. So yeah, we should definitely add the link to that guide. I've read through that. There's some interesting information there. Okay, guys. Super! I think we're coming up to almost two hours. It's been super helpful to have both of you on the call. I want to thank you both again for your time. It's been really informative. And I want to thank all of our listeners, and we'll see you all on our next episode.

Beth  1:41:16  
Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. It was a lot of fun.

Gerry  1:41:19  
Thank you, Panos, for having us. For everyone listening, don't be afraid to try SMS. This is not a long-term commitment. You'll be surprised by the results. If it doesn't work, then it didn't work, but at least give it a try.

Panos  1:41:37  

I hope you enjoyed this episode on SMS marketing with my guests, RunGP’s Gerry Perez and Endurance Marketing’s Beth Salinger. 

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about race marketing or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsors RunSignup and Racecheck for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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