Vanity Short Codes Soon To Be Irrelevant In SMS Marketing

Vanity Short Code Example - Text MyLexus to 90210

The following is the weekly guest series by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of SMS marketing software Tatango.

There are two types of short codes in SMS marketing: “random” short codes and “vanity” short codes. Random short codes are exactly what they sound like, a combination of 5-6 numbers picked at random, outside of the clients control (i.e. 95632, 20924, 425031) and vanity short codes are 5-6 numbers that are picked specifically within the clients control, i.e. 12345 (sequential order), 90210 (Beverly Hills zip code) and 411247 (411 – directory / 247 – all day every day).

The Common Short Code Administration leases vanity short codes for SMS campaigns at $1,000 per month, compared to $500 for a random short code. From a client’s perspective, there is usually one of two reasons why they see the value in paying twice as much for a vanity short code than a random short code.

  1. Client wants a “phoneword” – the alphanumeric equivalent of a specific number (i.g. the short code 466453 spells ‘GOOGLE’ on a mobile phone keypad).
  2. Client wants a specific number series – making it easier for consumers to remember.

I believe number one to be useless due to the fact that it increases consumer confusion when opting into a campaign. It’s more difficult to understand texting a WORD into another WORD (i.e. “Text PLACES to GOOGLE”) as the order of the two words (which one is the keyword) can be confused. Some examples of this failed tactic include Paris Hilton’s SMS campaign and Great Clips’ SMS campaign.

The second reason I can understand, in that it’s easier to remember 12345 when opting in than it is some random 5 or 6 digits. Although if this is true, why doesn’t our SMS service offer vanity short codes to clients? The answer is simple — soon I believe it won’t matter what the short code is, as consumers won’t actually type the short code into their phone when joining an SMS campaign. You heard me right, no typing.

So how the heck does a consumer join an SMS campaign in the future? By simply scanning a QR Code. If you have a QR code scanner on your mobile phone, try joining this SMS campaign I setup by scanning the QR code below. As you join this SMS campaign, you will realize how minimal of a role the short code plays in this new opt-in process.

QR Code to Join SMS Marketing Campaign

SMS campaign using a QR Code

The real drawback right now to QR codes is that most phones don’t have the required software to be able to scan a QR code. This is drastically changing however, as mobile phone providers start to release phones with the QR code scanning software built in. Just recently AT&T released their own mobile barcode scanner, which is already pre-loaded onto many AT&T devices.

It’s just a matter of time until all mobile phones will have the ability to scan a QR code, which at that point the vanity short code will have become irrelevant in SMS marketing.

Update 6/30/11: I’ve received a few emails asking how I created the QR code to trigger an SMS message in the example above. For details instructions see the post I wrote on SMS Marketing with QR Codes, which takes you step-by-step through the process. Any questions, feel free to email me at derek(at) or give me a ring (206) 334-4012.