Carrier changes for SMS / 10DLC, what it really means for cannabis, and how we are protecting your voice!

UPDATE: September 29, 2021

Censorship change notification:
T-Mobile recently announced that they will be making changes to un-registered text message traffic starting October 1st 2021. “Registration” previously was not required by T-Mobile in order to send messages. Going forward all traffic will need to be registered in order to avoid massive fines levied by the carrier. Federally scheduling of cannabis has prevented you from registering for their new program, which includes cannabis even within legal markets.

What happens if you are caught sending un-registered messages across the T-Mobile network?

  • T-Mobile will fine you $10,000 PER occurrence
  • T-Mobile will charge an additional $0.004 per SMS segment sent and $0.013 per MMS segment sent (This fee is postponed until further notice)

What options were on the table:

  • Registering through shell companies
  • Pretending to not be a cannabis brand and then hiding behind pin codes or mass falsified registrations/ toll free numbers.

Obviously these are not options that we feel comfortable providing clients with although some of our competitors have decided to put their clients at risk by taking those paths. If you are caught doing either of those, you will be fined extremely aggressively. We do not want to risk passing down $10,000 fines when one of your competitors could simply sign up for your text program and report it to T-Mobile. As we all know, competition in cannabis is aggressive and being reported by competitors on social media networks is rampant.

Alpine IQ has aggressively fought the T-Mobile stance related to cannabis and awaited feedback from T-Mobile before choosing alternative routes for our clients. We have obtained feedback from many of you and have decided that effective October 1st, all T-Mobile text messaging will be suspended until further notice.

We have made this temporary decision for the following reasons:

  • T-Mobile is roughly 15% of US carrier traffic
  • T-Mobile fees are so aggressive since their updates in March that it is 40% on avg. of all carrier fees passed through to clients. Meaning your VOIP monthly invoices will be far lower without T-Mobile in comparison to the 15% loss that can be diversified

With AIQ innovations such as waterfall and new channels to diversify your messaging across (App push notifications, browser push notifications, email, etc.) it is far more ROI positive to avoid T-Mobile’s changes and seek communications via our other risk adverse tactics. Waterfall will automatically send your T-Mobile traffic to other campaign channels

If you have a Native App, it is possible for us to drop your text message into your native apps messenger and direct the consumer to download or open their app via the text (avoiding cannabis entirely through the T-Mobile network).

This update is temporary and will likely be reverted as soon as cannabis is federally de-scheduled in the US. In the event that the risk level goes down over the next 60 days, we will re-assess and notify you if alternative paths present themselves.


April 2, 2021

In this article we hope to identify, explain, and address the most common questions related to 10DLC updates and carrier filtration in cannabis. This is extremely important to the success of your business as it relates to text messaging as a marketing channel. At the end of the article we will tell you how we are moving forward to protect you, why we chose the path we did, and how it affects your return on investment for these campaigns.

Definitions/ terminology used in this article:
– A2P = Application-to-Person. Meaning a technology-driven message vs a person-to-person message.
– 10DLC 10-digit long code = A normal phone number, not tollfree and not a shortcode.
– AIQ = Alpine IQ

Carriers are updating their systems to provide better delivery quality and lower filtering risk for certain companies/ purposes. The reality is that this is most likely to pick and choose who is allowed to send messages over their networks. These updates will launch both for AT&T and T-Mobile in 2021 and AT&T requires a business or technology service register and pass a manual audit process to get approved. Smaller networks and aggregators such as Google Fi/ MVNO‘s are also affected if they are running on AT&T infrastructure.

So why does this matter?
Simply put, Cannabis companies are strictly forbidden from registering for approval and risk higher filtration rates or complete shutdown of SMS/ MMS messaging services starting June 1st. The reality is that the carriers have not voiced which of the two is likely to occur but slower delivery times is likely. As crazy as it is… they are letting payday loans and liquor register but not legal cannabis. Unfortunately, they are on the wrong side of history and it won’t change until federal legalization (Telus in Canada continues to be an issue even post-legalization).

Last week, Twilio banned over 100 cannabis vendors/ brand accounts with less than 24 hours notice! Luckily Alpine IQ was not leveraging Twilio for messages at this time. Many of the largest SMS users/ tech platforms in the space were on this list and experienced rapid engineering sprints to recover.

Verizon launched its own 10DLC filtration system in 2019. Although its changes have not had much of an effect on cannabis, they do tend to be one of the harder carriers to deliver cannabis messages on and their filtration tactics have escalated in 2021. Telus in Canada has also leaned towards an anti-cannabis/ anti promotional approach regardless of the upcoming 10DLC changes.

What do I need to do IF I want to keep attempting to send cannabis content? (See further down in this article for how to send whatever you want without losing your messages to filtration)

  • Do not include cannabis terms in your AIQ account brand name. I.E: “GreenAlpine Cannabis” etc. This will prevent blocked terms from appearing on consumer-facing pages that can be audited by carriers when sending messages.
  • Personalize your message with Alpine IQ macros as much as possible. This helps prevent spam flags because carriers can’t catch on to duplicate mass messages as easily.
  • Do not send cannabis terms within your SMS messages. Carriers are also much smarter with filtration and can easily find tricky alternatives such as (“S.AT..IVA” or weights “2(g)”). Avoid all mentions of weights, products, brands, categories, or word such as “reward”, “promotion”, “BOGO”, etc. When you create new campaigns in Alpine IQ, our system automatically will recognize and notify you that you are violating cannabis promotional guidelines. This blacklist is updated often but it is important that you understand that you should avoid any terminology that a physical auditor at a carrier could consider cannabis-related will get flagged.

    Every time you send a message and you violate keyword/ content restrictions, carriers will flag the phone number, root domain for links shortened, server address of landing pages, etc. From this point onward, most of those assets will be useless/ blocked by carriers from further sends until replaced.

    NOTE: For Telus in Canada, please refrain from content restrictions common elsewhere in the world. They do not treat Canada differently due to it’s federal cannabis status.

    To combat this, AIQ automatically rotates and isolates those resources within a private pool assigned to each client. This is why some users report delivery issues while other users can send millions of messages without issue. If you abuse content guidelines, your entire network of assets for sending will need to be replaced. Again, this auto-rotation happens by default within AIQ but charges are incurred for repeated abuse. Heavy violators can run through these assets as much as 3 times per day.

Why is it that e-commerce companies can deliver order confirmation messages, receipts, delivery/ pickup notifications but I can’t?

Notification messages are one-off sends that do not have any cannabis-related content in them:

  • “Your order has been placed, click here to check the status so you can pick it up at the store: LINK”
  • “Your order is ready for pickup”
    etc…

    These also have been known to be difficult to send in cannabis and every major vendor has experienced filtration. However, these DO NOT have anywhere near the same carrier filtration patterns as they have variant time delays between sends, no cannabis content within the message itself (sometimes only behind landing page URLs), and they also fall under separate TCPA restrictions related to optin consent. Again, carriers are trying to get rid of promotional messaging containing cannabis terms and media files.

Cannabis is an ever-changing landscape and Alpine IQ is dedicated to helping you achieve your most important work. We understand that changes to your SMS infrastructure can affect in-store revenue heavily and it’s important that our systems consistently deliver messages on your behalf. There are many ways to combat carrier filtration and we have tested every combination of them you could possibly imagine.

Here are just a few examples and the pros/cons to each:

  • Send SMS without removing cannabis terms and references
    Highest chance of filtration. Avoid this at all costs.
  • Send nothing that violates guidelines in the text but instead send an MMS media file (PDF or IMG commonly) containing terms/ promos
    Carriers have been known to use image recognition software to detect text/ keywords and cannabis products within images
  • Send links through systems like Bitly that redirect to landing pages
    If you use a standard link shortening tool such as Bitly/ Rebrandly/ TinyURL, you run a severe risk of messages being undelivered. These are highly abused systems even outside of cannabis and should be avoided at all costs. AIQ maintains your own link shortener private to your brands account that has cannabis specific avoidance protections built into it.
  • Send links to landing pages with cannabis domains (Meta information, text on page, resources easily picked up with programmatic scanning of source code)
    Carriers will audit your page and easily can scan the meta information and text of your website to determine if you are a cannabis brand. This same technology is commonly used by search engines and payment processing onboarding audit software packages.
  • Auto rotate link shortening domains, servers, dedicated IP addresses.
    This works well but can prove to be expensive and failure rates increase if this pool is not dedicated to each individual brand. If someone else on the platform you use violates content guidelines, your messages could be affected at the same time. This is why AIQ doesn’t share your assets with other clients on the system. Even with all of this, you must still have a “captcha”, “Are you a robot”, “age gate”, “pin code” request in order to access the landing page on the other side of a link.

    Note: Alpine IQ will enforce a one click redirect “Are you a robot” until we see any reason to escalate this walled garden to something more severe.
  • Send links that lead to a landing page where the customer inserts a pin code that they previously setup. If they forget the code, they need to remember a keyword they can text to obtain it or they need to go online to reset it. After entering in their pin they are redirected to a landing page. This prevents the carrier from manually auditing a message and getting to the final landing page where cannabis terminology is present
    This is not a terrible solution but it does decrease conversion rates due to customers having to remember pin codes vs simply clicking a button.

After extensive testing, Alpine IQ has decided to move forward with a new strategy to protect you from the massive resource burden it takes to create, submit, audit, revise and send messages all while following carrier guidelines. This cycle is extremely cumbersome and at the end of the day you just want to communicate with your customers without losing ROI.

FINALLY! Is SMS still a viable channel? What is Alpine IQ implementing to keep me competitive?

Absolutely SMS is a viable channel. We will continue to be as transparent as possible as carriers roll out and enforce content restrictions using new technologies. At this time, SMS is one of the most effective ways to get the attention of customers and direct it into sales both online and in-store. We are playing a short-term game to protect the voices of cannabis operators from being silenced while awaiting an imminent federal legalization ruling in the USA.

We must all band together to achieve what we know to be right for cannabis. As June 1st approaches, we will have you more than prepared to achieve the same ROI out of the AIQ platform as you do today. We wish we could share some of the amazing technology innovations we have in the works, but for now, we must put our heads down and prepare together.

Alpine IQ will automatically be switching all messages to use the highest performing strategy. You do not need to do anything for this flow to be in full effect.

As of April 6th, 2021 we will be switching all Alpine IQ customers to the following user flow/ strategy for text messaging:

If you wish to utilize texting as it was before this change, you can simply request that your account rep revert your account and you can proceed at your own risk.

  1. You will create an SMS/ MMS message as you normally would
  2. You will notice when creating messages that the preview will always show something along the lines of “You have a new {{Your Brand Name}} notification: {{Link to landing page}}”
Messages are automatically converted into dynamic URL’s (Localhost is replaced with a custom link shortener for only your brand) “Test Brand” is replaced with your brand name.

3. When clicking on the URL you are directed to a landing page that regenerates your message in a formatted exactly for the device it’s being shown on. The example below is short but you may create longer more customized messages with multiple line breaks, emojies, macros, etc.

Drag the slider to view a simple SMS vs MMS campaign. Your message is re-configured on a branded page perfectly designed device compatibility across the board.

There are a ton of amazing benefits with this strategy and after a deep financial/ performance analysis found that it actually works heavily in your favor:

  • You will only ever send 1 SMS segment at a time… saving you a ton! Being that your message body is on a landing page hosted in your own private ecosystem, Alpine IQ only needs to send the message notification + link. No (“2 credits” or the higher rates MMS costs)
  • You can say and post practically anything you deem reasonable without worrying about keywords or ridiculous content variations. Alpine IQ personalization macros still operate the same. So does our click tracking, identity resolution, and conversion analytics!
  • Being that your message is now on a landing page, the length of your message can be extremely long, contain emojis, MMS media, and more without paying for extra message “credits/ segments” or 2x spend on MMR. Alpine IQ is not an SMS-only company/ product. Therefore, our motivation is purely to help you succeed. We do not need to shove bulk SMS down your throat in pitches or skate around the truth to keep our ship afloat. We are a data company at heart and texting is one channel we became experts on.

How much are these SMS changes going to cost me from an ROI perspective?

At the end of the day we believe this is actually a positive shift for the cannabis industry. Although it seems like you won’t get as many people engaged because messages will be behind a link, this is not the truth and our data proves it. As the only true CRM/ data lake/ data analytics company in cannabis that also touches SMS, you can sleep easy knowing we did our math.

  • From an optics perspective you will be functioning similar to non-cannabis businesses. SMS notifications with attached links to read secure messages are actually very common… i.e (Uber, Amazon, Redirects into native apps, etc.)
  • Click through rate will drop by only 2-3 contacts avg per 100 that normally would have engaged. Those that don’t engage generally wouldn’t have converted regardless when performing exposed vs control tests. Meaning those that were too busy to engage with your text anyways, will simply be less annoyed that they have to hide a cannabis related message that pops up on their phone to be read aloud by google home or siri driving in the car with family. You are actually being less intrusive.
  • Revenue for in-store traffic essentially stays the same with an avg 11% CVR and avg. revenue generated per send of $6-$8!
  • This strategy also saves you capital by alleviating the workforce burden required to write/prep/ send text campaigns the old way

Should I also implement strategies using my Alpine IQ account to get a leg up on possible future filtration until federal legalization?

Yes! We have many messaging channels and partners within the Alpine IQ marketplace. Over 60% of our clients don’t even leverage blast SMS campaigns. Top tips:

  • Collect email both within your POS systems and in your loyalty/ member club signup forms/ website forms etc.
    If you didn’t know, Alpine IQ automatically will send an email to a persona on file if they request a link to their wallet app or for post-order messages that notify them with wallet links/ points updates. This is to ensure that the customer has no interruption in their customer experience due to a carrier.

    Alpine IQ will also be releasing our own native mass email system along with our already standing integrations with Klaviyo, SendGrid, Constant Contact, and Mailchimp.
  • Continue to use the Alpine IQ default SMS flow for delivery. This includes private network rotation for IP, server, link shorteners, captcha walled garden, and our automated message landing page generator.
  • Communicate with your AIQ rep if you experience heavy filtration issues and they can assist in helping you uncover solutions.