eCommerce Director looking at SMS marketing.


It’s not eMail yet, but SMS marketing is getting closer

What is the best way to engage with and promote your business to current and prospective customers? Your first thoughts might be direct mail, broadcast advertising and eMail. Each of these channels carry industry-accepted and expected conversion rates between .5 and 3%. There’s a reason for those low numbers: The targets of these vehicles know what to expect and their filter is on. By repeated exposure, we have all been trained to recognize (and often reject) promotional material on these channels. 

In search of lower noise tactics, many merchants have turned to SMS (simple message service or text messaging) and are seeing much higher engagement and conversion. For example, one of our  clients from the apparel space generates as much as 40% of their revenue via SMS marketing promotions. If you aren’t already using text messaging/SMS to communicate with your customers, you might be missing out. 

Why is SMS Different?

What are the active threads in your text app? Working out the details of life, meetings, events and meals with family or co-workers probably makes up the bulk of your texts. People engage with texting actively, briefly and more casually than with other communication channels. It’s a pattern of use and behavior that can only work for the most targeted, most relevant and least obnoxious promotions.

Because of how we like to use texting on our smartphones, it used to be almost taboo or below the belt to market to people via text. For a long time, SMS marketing was the domain of low quality, sometimes hilariously bad spam messages. Now, although a lot of merchants are promoting this way, it’s far from saturated, and best practices can help maintain SMS as fertile ground. 

What Should It Say?

What’s the best way to successfully run an SMS marketing campaign?

An email sometimes tells a story, promotes a brand image or is an entry point to some bigger task (like shopping, deciding and purchasing).

Text messaging your prospects or existing customers should be a lot like text messaging a person you know. You don’t (or shouldn’t) text paragraphs or lists, you text them very specific things you think they ought to know right now. A promotional SMS shouldn’t lead them into a funnel of activity, but to a very quick purchase or engagement.

Are you clearing out a limited number of a certain item that goes with another item they already bought? Let them know. Is there a deadline approaching? Remind them. This is not the medium for promoting every minor markdown or new news from your brand.  If you create too much noise (especially irrelevant noise) you’ll get canceled.

Getting around the “Promotions” Folder

The two poles of phone technology (Android and Apple) are both scurrying to make your phone’s SMS app work a lot more like your email app. Recognizing the inrush of promotional material, Apple was first to actively filter messages by default, using machine learning tech to filter texts from unknown senders into transaction and promotional folders. It remains to be seen how this will evolve, both in terms of the installed technology and on how phone users will accept or reject those settings and filters. There are still some advantages to SMS marketing if your goals and tactics are aligned.

The best way to ensure your message is seen is to get your subscribers to save your contact information. This is a crucial step and unlike with email, your recipients won’t know who is sending. Easier said than done, of course! We can’t add ourselves by default or passively; the receiver has to actively do something.

Sending a contact card makes it easier for your customer to add you, and it allows consistent brand reinforcement (you’ll spell your name correctly). The client still has to open/accept the contact card, so you’ll have to ask … but before you ask, make sure there is a simple, clear and undeniably good reason for them to do so. The messaging for this must flow from your purchase funnel, through the confirmation and follow-up emails. That’s why we always hesitate to put artificial barriers between transactional communication and promotional communication; especially with SMS marketing, they should be planned seamlessly.

A good approach won’t feel like a trap, or pointless. Weave subscription or enrollment into any other legitimate points where you could collect a customer’s or prospect’s phone number. Did they engage with your chat function? Ask them then. Did they add an item to the cart? Even before they check out, tell them you’d like to keep them informed about flash sales on other items like this one. Of course, if the customer completes a transaction, help them through the enrollment process so they can hear about new products, warranty info, offers or group buys. For B2B merchants, texting reminders, delivery updates, order alerts can make customers feel like insiders.

“Yes, send me updates.”

Once your customer has allowed you to text them, whatever you do, don’t make this a thinly-veiled proxy for “ok, spam me.” SMS calls for different tactics than other channels. If you approach your message development and CTA as if you’re broadcasting to your audience, you won’t benefit. Don’t think of this as an abbreviated email, or a billboard. This is not the vehicle for accumulating ad impressions. If your goal is a clicked link, you’re not employing the medium fully.

Personalization is more than populating their name into a field. Some SMS platforms (like Yotpo) allow merchants to develop very granular triggers and flows through the funnel, using simple prompts or even conversational automation. B2B clients especially can use these tools to great advantage, since customers generally will purchase on a predictable cycle. Further, they’ll often have complex specifications that lend themselves to guided filtering. With SMS, the interaction is the message.

All of these interactions are part of your segmentation data. The more you tailor your message, the more segments you’ll need so the tailoring fits the audience. The more tailored the message, the more relevant, actionable and effective your campaign will be. Monitor everything and react quickly. Isolate variables so you’ll know what elements led to which changes. Segmentation signals can also be collected from analytics, purchase data, demographics, geographic location and more. 

Same Phone, Different Message

You’re familiar with that button in your Meta for Business that allows you to share the same post on Facebook and Instagram. Convenient, huh? This is not the case with email (or any other vehicle) and SMS. A successful text campaign will not be a shorthand version of something else. Our advice would be don’t use it at all if your approach is not dedicated to the platform!

Approaching SMS with the amount of planning and care we’ve hinted at above might seem crazy. It’s a text, right?! The thing to remember is that SMS is a much more intimate and personal channel, so additional caution and care is needed to retain engagement. Call us when you’re ready to use that to your advantage.

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