Expert Interview Series: Chip Bell of on Customer-Centric SMS Marketing

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker, consultant and author of several national best-selling books.  His newest book is the best-selling Kaleidoscope:  Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles released in early 2017. You can follow his work at

First off, can you introduce yourself a bit, and tell us about how you got started in marketing? What drew you to the industry, initially?

I am Chip Bell and I work with organizations all over the world helping them craft go-to-market strategies that focus on innovative service.  My work is about creating value-unique customer experiences, not just value-added ones.  It includes helping leaders build sustainable cultures that support long-term customer advocacy.  

What drew me to the industry was the words of Peter Drucker:  “The purpose of an organization is to create and retain a customer.”  I believed that with my passion for the customer, the world of customer experience was a realm in which I could make a difference in the health of an enterprise, the well-being of their employees, and the value to their customers.

How long have you been involved with marketing? How much has changed, in that time? What's stayed the same? 

I started my company in 1980 and much has changed.  Obviously, social media has altered how companies influence customers and vice versa.  The customers’ definition of value has shifted from a preeminent focus on product/outcome and price to a focus on the experience.  What has remained the same is the customer’s desire for fair dealings, transparency, integrity and quality from all the enterprises with which they interact.

Your services are often described as 'customer-centric'. Can you give an example or two of what 'customer-centric marketing' looks like, and why it matters? 

It matters because customers embrace and advocate organizations with a clear and present focus on the primary source of their revenue—the customer.  It matters because customer-centric organizations attract the best talent who in turn attract the best customers.  Customer-centric means putting the voice (needs, expectations, hopes and aspirations) of the customer in the middle of all decisions that ultimately impact customers.   When eBay wanted to create a new mobile app, they turned to the voice of the customer to assist.  When the R&D unit at Medtronic is stumped on the development of a new medical device, they bring in prior customers to talk about their experiences with other devices.  

Sometimes, there's kind of a heavy or pessimistic tone regarding digital marketing, in the wake of the dotcom gold rush, with cynical companies and marketers trying to grab as much cash as possible - even without having anything of value to contribute. Digital marketing also offers more opportunities for customer-centric marketing than any other time in history. What is your feeling, regarding the possibilities of online marketing, in its many manifestations?  

Gold rush reactions to every new trend always create hucksters looking for a quick buck to cash in on the hysteria. Failures create lessons learned, however, leading to more realistic opportunities and more mature responses.  The possibilities of online marketing are at an exciting time with its intersection with new technologies that give customers more control and companies a new medium for enriched connections.  The advent of bots and virtual reality design can make marketing a portal that connects the offerings of an enterprise with the right customer with the right need at the right time.

According to a statistic published by HubSpot in 2016, only 17% of marketers feel that outbound marketing provides the best leads for sales. Why is that number so low? What are some of the issues with outbound marketing, in 2017?

Too many outbound marketers are using antiquated messaging with limited customer intelligence yielding a spam-like experience for prospects.  For marketing to be effective it must have influence—it must sing a song the prospect enjoys hearing.  But more than that it must fit the prospect’s zone of interest.  For example, telling me about a new car just three months after I purchased one is likely to be of little interest.  My auto dealer knows I am not interested in a new car until my current one gets close to 100K miles.  Sending me an outbound marketing piece too early not only lacks influence, it wastes my time and energy.  Also, sending me a new truck marketing piece when I am only interested in an SUV tells me the dealership cares only about making a sale, not serving my unique needs.

There's been a lot of criticism regarding social media marketing, as well, these last few years, following a couple of years where it was trending as the next big thing. What is your take on social media marketing? How much time, energy, or resources should a marketing team be spending on their social media promotion?  

The customer pays a lot of attention to social media, especially from those closest to them. They trust word of mouth (actually, word of mouse) information from family and friends far more than the word of the marketer.  The advantage of social media is its speed and reach.  Armed with smart tools, social media marketing can be very effective if it is highly targeted and emotionally compelling.  When I complain about ads I see on TV my wife reminds me the ad is not intended for me.  Social media marketing is the same.  Again, we must marry deep customer intelligence with social media marketing.

Mobile marketing is obviously not going anywhere, as smartphones are here to stay. What are a few reasons why marketers should integrate SMS marketing into their marketing strategies, if they haven't already? 

If you are not including mobile marketing in your outreach, you are way behind the times.  Adults spend an average of three hours a day on the mobile device.  And, their mobile device goes with them everywhere.  Having a way to reach customers on-the-go is crucial to influencing buying behavior when customers are in a buying mood.

One of the reasons SMS marketing is so effective is that customers must opt-in to receive SMS promotions. Can you share any thoughts or tips on how to get customers to sign up to receive SMS marketing messages? Also, what are some of the benefits of the fact that customers voluntarily sign up to receive promotions?  

We are a country founded on the virtue of freedom.  Forcing a message on a customer sets you up to not only be ignored, but to be loathed.  The word “spam” comes for a cheap meat people were forced to eat during the depression because they could not afford anything else.  It is sometimes called “fake meat.”  Opt-in can be another path to personalization—meaning, I don’t mind junk mail if it is about products in which I have an interest.  If customers are willing to opt-in, they are telegraphing an interest and a willingness to be influenced.

Likewise, what are a few ways that marketers might use SMS marketing to keep customers loyal, once they've already signed up?  

Always give them an easy way to opt out.  Seek their feedback often. Get them involved in a way that is engaging—like a contest, a puzzle, etc.  Make them feel like insiders (much like a fan club).  Provide them values others might not be able to access.  Grow your customer insight base from the behavior of those that opted-in.

Finally, can you share a few thoughts on how best to optimize marketing messages to fit into such a small space? And also, what are a few useful times of day to send SMS marketing, and why is that important? 

Space is not so small if it is “3D” or pops elsewhere or turns into something gloriously delightful and unexpected.  Think about SMS marketing messaging like a virtual Jack-in-the-box, not like a column in a newspaper!

Want to learn more about how SMS marketing can earn your customer's loyalty? Try ClubTexting for free today! 

Get started for free!

Sign up now