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The impact of mobile marketing can’t be overstated. According to IDC, more people in the U.S. will access the Internet through a mobile device than through their PC by 2015. In this new series, Elite Email takes a look at highly successful campaigns to uncover their mobile marketing lessons. This week’s case study: How text messages helped the Red Cross collect millions of dollars in aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the greater New York City metropolitan area, hammering the coastline of New Jersey and Long Island and shutting down the Big Apple and much of the surrounding area. A lot of news stories have covered the aftermath of what has been named Superstorm Sandy, and stories of the recovery still continue into 2014. One unique story which followed the Superstorm, however, is of particular interest to marketers and relief organizations alike. That story is about how the Red Cross used social media and text messages to collect millions of dollars of funds for disaster relief.

Text Donations Come Into Their Own

The ability to send donations of money by text is not exactly new. In fact, the first such initiative was created in 2005 in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster as a partnership between the Red Cross and the Wireless Foundation. Texting was a familiar form of communications at that stage; though far fewer people had smartphones then than today (consider that the very first of the modern touch-screen smartphones, the iPhone, was released in 2007). While sending a fast text to a friend, family member, or work colleague was something common, the idea of sending money by text to a charitable organization was revolutionary.

Fast-forward to 2012. Numbers from StatisticsBrain.com show that roughly 423 billion text messages were sent in June 2012, compared to 7 billion in June 2005. The average mobile phone subscriber was sending hundreds of texts per month. The idea of using texts to send donations had been around long enough to gain some familiarity. The world of social media had also exploded in the intervening years, with millions of people joining Facebook and Twitter, as well as newer social sites. The stage was set for text donations to become a huge part of the response to Superstorm Sandy.

As described in a report from the mGive Foundation, both individuals and organizations helped to spread the word about text donations to help victims. Celebrities used their personal Twitter accounts to call for action, as well as thousands of other citizens. Some small businesses offered their own incentives to drive donations, such as a Denver restaurant and bar who offered a free drink to anyone with a text donation confirmation message. The mobile campaign was so successful that 20 percent of the funds donated in the wake of the disaster came in via text.

Mobile Marketing Lessons

What can we learn from the success of the Red Cross’s text-to-donate campaign? It demonstrates the power of a simple, well-crafted call to action combined with the power of social media to spread news quickly.

Both the call to action for making donations and the process of making them are beautifully simple. The call to action following Superstorm Sandy could be summed up in a very brief sentence:  “Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 for Sandy relief.”  Made up of 10 words and 54 characters, this message fits very easily inside a tweet, Facebook status, email subject line or a text message to friends. The message and instructions are fast and clear; it takes less than a minute to both send a donation, and to forward the same message on via text or social network.

Not only are the instructions in this call to action very clear, it also simplifies the decision process for the recipient. Notice that the donation amount is specified right in the message, set to a number which feels big enough to make a difference, but which is small enough for most people to spend quickly without much thought. By setting the donation amount up front, the message streamlines the decision-making process for the recipient, who essentially only needs to decide “yes” or “no.” People receiving this call to action can decide very quickly whether or not to give and then follow through immediately by sending a fast text message. This reduces the number of people who hesitate, put it off until later, and then forget about it.

Text messages form a large part of mobile communications for people today. Sending a fast text message on a device that you have in hand anyway is not perceived as an imposition, which makes contributions by text one of the quickest ways people can respond to a request for help. Billing is simply combined in a person’s phone bill, so no financial information needs to be entered.

By making the process of donating so simple, and by crafting a clear call to action with a built-in amount designed to get the maximum possible response, the Red Cross was able to take advantage of social media and news reporting on the tragedy to spread the word and get fast responses from the public. These two ideas, a clear, well-crafted call to action combined with giving people the simplest possible way to respond, can be used to make any mobile marketing campaign more effective, no matter whether it uses email marketing, SMS messages, social media or a combination of all three.

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