Guide to Building an SMS List


Gathering a list of contacts for your marketing campaigns can be a daunting task. While an email list is easier to build, it’s quite difficult to get SMS contacts. Nonetheless, statistics prove that it’s worth the time and effort.

The South African Mobile Report 2017, gives insight on mobile usage in South Africa. Smartphones and tablets are now the norm, providing easy access to the internet. In light of this, mobile browsing continues to grow substantially year after year.

In regards to messages, Whatsapp leads the race as the most popular messaging service in South Africa at 81%. SMS comes in second at 51%. These tools of communication do not have advertising like apps and games do. This, coupled with their simplicity and ability to be informal, make them trustworthy methods of communication.

According to a report by Dynmark, SMSes have a 98% open rate of which 90% are read within three minutes. This proves that mobile devices, and specifically SMS marketing, should be high on the mind of digital marketers.

Building an SMS List

There is one major difference between building email and SMS lists; no one wants to give up their mobile number. It’s a challenge experienced by businesses in every industry. Yet the process for building a list follows the same steps.

First, you must build a database of interested contacts, always asking for permission from your prospective contacts. Second, send good, relevant content. Third, respect their privacy. Lastly, check message statistics to see what works, and employ personalisation to keep content personal.

Here are some ways to build your SMS list:

Subscription Forms

A subscription form is the easiest way to grow your lists. Link the form to a website or social media site. Some companies also use both paper and digital subscription forms at their point of sale desks, inviting visitors to sign up for their mailing list.

Email and SMS

The best way to get SMS contacts is to add an option for mobile numbers on an email subscription form. Never make mobile a requirement. Instead, provide reasons why it’s beneficial to be on both email and SMS lists.

If you already have an existing email database, encourage your contacts to join the SMS list. Once again, provide benefits to being part of both lists.

Always let them know what they can expect, and how often so they don’t feel like their being spammed.

Exclusive SMS Program

Another way to build an SMS list is to create an exclusive program for mobile subscribers. Offer deals and specials limited to your SMS list. Use words like “VIP community” to show subscribers they are unique to your usual sending list.

Online isn’t the only way to grow your SMS list. You can let customers in your store sign up for updates on future in-store promotions. The point of sale is also perfect for customers to join your newsletter, perhaps offering a discount on future products to seal the deal.

Landing Page

Landing pages are perfect for leading contacts to a specific webpage from a marketing mailer. Since they always lead to relevant content, they have high conversion rates.

With each campaign you run, you should be sending your subscribers to a landing page. The landing page may also offer something exclusive for SMS subscribers, encouraging SMS subscriptions. Use a ‘share the page’ option to promote the campaign and hopefully gain prospective subscribers.


Update My Profile

Every piece of information you collect about your subscriber allows you to specifically personalise marketing messages for each person. Advise subscribers to update their subscription profile with a mobile number to improve the services you offer. Inform them that the number will be used for feedback, delivery notifications, excusive offers, time sensitive specials, unique store discounts, etc.

Things To Keep In Mind

The main issue with SMS marketing is trust. Give subscribers a reason to trust you with their personal information, specifically their mobile numbers.

Have a Goal

With every campaign, you must have a clear goal in mind. This may be introducing new products or a service, growing your subscriber list, promoting an upcoming event or sale, or making an announcement affecting customers. These will define the type of campaign you run, and how to implement database building techniques.

Ensure They Opt-In

The Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act requires subscribers to give permission (consent) before you can send them content. Use a double opt-in process to be sure your contacts want to receive content from you. Also, never buy lists or use old contact lists. Many of these are loaded with spam-traps that are sure to make you as a spammer.


On that topic, receiving spam in an email is an annoyance many may ignore. This is not the case for SMSes. The reason is simple, no one wants to have their private number spammed. Also

Section 11 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) states that individuals may refuse to accept, request the discontinuation of (opt-out), or pre-emptively block direct marketing communications. In other words, give your subscribers the option to unsubscribe (opt-out) from your marketing lists.

Only Send Relevant Content

Once you have your SMS list, keep contacts engaged with valuable content. Ensure the messages relate to what subscribers originally agreed to receive. Should you wish to send different information, ensure you inform your subscribers beforehand.

Be Personal

Initially you will not know your new subscriber’s information. You should still use a term that will refer to their status. Use phrases such as “Subscriber” or “Exclusive Member”. Once you have their information, ensure your messages reflect it. It will make them feel important and not just a number.


SMS list building is a process that takes time and effort. Make use of your email marketing opportunities to build mobile contacts. The relationships you develop with customers increase their trust in you and your business. Eventually they will be comfortable enough to opt-in to your SMS list.

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