How to Get Started With SMS Marketing
While email has been the longtime communication choice for ecommerce marketers who want to take advantage of their owned marketing channels and create strong relationships with their customers, there’s a new kid on the block—and its name is SMS marketing.
Today, SMS marketing is widely used across industries such as restaurants, travel, entertainment, services, and events. But increasingly, ecommerce marketers are also using SMS as a strategy to grow their brands and channel to communicate more personally with their customers.
So how do you get started with SMS marketing? It might feel daunting to think about adding a new messaging channel if you’re just getting comfortable with marketing automation. But if you’ve been personalizing your emails and segmenting your messaging, you probably already know more about how to effectively use SMS marketing than you might think.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of texting your audience, how it works, what you need to do to get your SMS marketing strategy up and running, and how you can use it to complement your email marketing strategy.
What is SMS marketing?
SMS stands for short message service, but what you really need to know is that SMS marketing is how a brand communicates campaigns, promotions, news, updates, and other messages through text.
In addition to SMS, you can also send MMS, which allows you to send pictures or GIFs (and other animated images) over text.
There are numerous benefits to SMS, but you can break them down into three major benefits:
SMS elicits exceptional engagement numbers—think 98 percent open rates. But while this number may seem exciting, you also have to dig a little deeper.
Many marketers choose to send text messages because they can outperform email on both click rates and conversion rates, but of course, this will depend on your brand and the content that you send. For example, brands like GhostBed are seeing click rates as high as 32 percent.
When it comes to SMS, it’s important to not just consider open rates (especially considering many people may open a text just to get rid of the notification), but place more importance on engagement metrics such as clicks and conversions.
Additionally, texts are often conversational (or at least, can be automated to be), which means brands can encourage responses from subscribers through text. One rule of thumb for SMS is if you wouldn’t send the text you created to a friend, consider not sending it all. If you use this as a bar for sending, you’ll create meaningful text conversations with all your customers.
People often read texts quickly within the time they’re received. In fact, 90 percent of texts are opened within three minutes.
If you wanted to let your customers know they can shop a sale an hour before the general public, for example, a text message is the best way to relay this information quickly. The subscriber will receive the text immediately, whereas if it’s sent to their email, they might not see it until after the hour passes, which means they’re more likely to take advantage of the offer.
More personal relationships
Texting is how people communicate with their friends and loved ones, which means their phones are often only an arm’s length away.
Brands often use SMS as a more exclusive channel, similar to a VIP program, since texting is so personal—those who sign up have the benefit of being among the first to know about new products and special sales.
Of course, this is also a double-edged sword. Because it’s a more intimate channel than email, you need to think critically and strategically about what messages you send your SMS subscribers and how often. This channel is a great way to build brand loyalty, but you can also lose your customer faster if you abuse it.
As you can see, the benefits of SMS can sometimes also create certain complexities that you need to consider. As you become more familiar with SMS and collect more data points on what subscribers are responding to, you’ll better understand how to navigate texting your customers.
stop treating SMS marketing like email or else it will become email
don’t destroy the opportunity by exploiting the channel until it’s no longer effective
talk to your customers like you would text your friends & family. we have a responsibility to not abuse this.
— dennis hegstad (@dennishegstad) February 4, 2020
Before you start, know the rules
In order to send a text, you need a phone number. But before you text all the numbers you’ve collected in your database, you need to take a step back to collect consent.
No one wants to receive unsolicited marketing messages from companies they never subscribed to—not to mention, this probably won’t do much for your conversion rates either.
That’s why SMS compliance is so important. Before you send even one text to someone, be certain that they want to hear from you this way. This means that at the point where they give you their phone number, you have to make it plain and clear what they’re signing up for and receive explicit consent from them to communicate with them through text messaging.
Create an SMS signup form
The best way to collect consent and phone numbers for SMS marketing is through an on-site form. Typically, you can use a pop-up form to ask for email addresses, phone numbers, preferences, and other information from your customers, similar to the one below from sneaker brand Greats:
If you already have a number of email subscribers, you can target your signup forms to only appear to that group. When you’re just getting started with SMS, this is a great way to collect SMS subscribers from your current customers. Once someone submits their number, you also need to follow up with a text that confirms their subscription, like the one below:
Also, always make it easy for people to unsubscribe. Let subscribers know in the initial opt-in text what they need to do to stop receiving text messages from your brand, such as replying STOP or unsubscribe.
When someone has both entered their phone number and confirmed their subscription, you can begin communicating with them through this channel.
Additionally, make it easy for subscribers to manage their preferences. Let them specify how and when they receive email and SMS messages if they sign up to hear from you across both channels. The more you know about how often people want to hear from you, what kind of content they’re looking for, and how they want to receive it, the better you can tailor your marketing to meet their expectations.
How to send SMS
With SMS messaging, you’ll typically send one of two types of communications: promotional or transactional.
Promotional texts are usually what comes to mind when you think about SMS marketing, but transactional texts are also an effective way to keep your customers updated on the status of their order.
Transactional texts are pretty simple, and unlike email, there’s not a lot of creative liberty you can take with your transactional texts in terms of marketing or design. But, customers also love to know the status of their order, so texting them delivery updates is a great way to build customer loyalty. Additionally, if someone signs up to receive transactional texts, you can’t market to them through this channel unless they explicitly give you their consent to do so.
Promotional SMS lets you get inventive with the content of the text, as well as who you send it to. Let’s take a deeper dive into how promotional campaigns and automations work.
Sending campaigns and automations
Like email, you can send promotional communications through two distinct methods: campaigns and automations.
Campaigns are a one-off send to a list or segment of subscribers, whereas automations are based on behaviors, triggers, and filters. Unlike the list that you send campaigns to, customers will only receive an automated text once they meet certain conditions or take a certain action.
Common text campaigns may include letting customers know about new products, sales and promotions, announcements, local events, and even tips on how to best utilize the products you’re selling.
But while the nature of an SMS campaign is similar to an email campaign, you shouldn’t send them as frequently. Be selective when it comes to what you send your customers over text and how often you do it. Remember, it’s a more personal channel than email so use it appropriately.
Automations, on the other hand, might include a welcome series, an abandoned cart or browse abandonment text, or a post-purchase upsell. Customer actions, such as adding an item to their online cart, trigger these automations.
Something to be cautious about with SMS automations is always filtering out people who have recently received a text.
An abandoned cart SMS automation, for example, can be a really effective way to get a potential customer to complete their purchase. But if they receive a text message after they just received another promotional text from you two days ago, this could be a very annoying experience for them.
If this happens too much, they might unsubscribe as the best-case scenario. Worst case scenario, you could lose them as a customer.
Remember your text subscribers may also be receiving your emails. It’s best to build every automation with email and text together, then you can decide exactly what type of message is sent and when to send it. This way you can ensure you’re not over sending on either channel by using SMS and email messages together strategically.
What you need to know about segmenting with SMS
Just because you have one SMS subscriber list doesn’t mean you should send all of your text campaigns to that entire list of people.
Just like email, the more you personalize the experience for different customers, the more positive your engagement will be. This is where smart segmentation comes into play and, similar to email marketing, you can also use segmentation with SMS.
While for email you should use filters in your automations to segment your audience and make sure that you’re not sending to the same person too often during a certain time period, the same goes for SMS—but it should be much stricter.
Customers might not mind hearing from their favorite brand more than once a week in their inbox, but receiving text marketing is a lot more intrusive. For this reason, save your very best offers for text and consider only contacting subscribers through this channel once or twice a month. Start slow and build an engaged audience rather than overdoing it from the start.
You can further segment within your SMS subscriber list, as well. For example, you might send content about new arrivals to SMS subscribers who have purchased from your brand before, whereas, for new prospects who haven’t purchased yet, you might want to let them know about a flash sale you’re having. You can achieve this differentiation through segmentation.
Additionally, as you collect preferences from your customers, you can use them in SMS as well—just as you might target certain collections to men instead of women in email, you can do the same with SMS.
Think about other preferences you might collect in your pop-up form too, such as dog owner vs. cat owner, skier vs. snowboarder, or silver vs. gold jewelry to further personalize all of your marketing communications.
How to use SMS and email together
So how do you add SMS to your existing email strategy? The keyword there is add—it shouldn’t replace what you’re currently doing with email marketing.
As mentioned, you can usually treat SMS subscribers similarly to VIP customers by sending them the most exclusive news and updates from your brand.
Instead of sending your best offers over email and text at the same, send them over text first, then follow up with the offer over email. Alternatively, use text to offer the sale to SMS subscribers first then send it over email but exclude the SMS segment.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t always want to send the same communications over text and email—if customers are described to hear from you both by email and SMS, decide which channel will be more effective before each send.
While text messages are better for short, simple messages that can be communicated in under 160 characters and a single call-to-action (CTA), email can be used to communicate more thoroughly, relay more creative media and branded design, and potentially cover more than one topic of interest, such as including product recommendations along with new arrivals.
Take a look at the differences between an email and text from women’s activewear brand Alala:
As you can see, the email includes a lot more information, including more copy, images, and even products. On the other hand, the text is short, simple, and to-the-point. SMS is an extremely effective way to communicate that there’s a sale happening now while providing a direct link to shop the collection.
While you can use images or GIFs with MMS, you’re much more limited with what you can include in your SMS message, which means you have to think strategically about what content will best communicate the message you’re trying to get across. In this case, Alala uses MMS to showcase some of its brand photography while also showing the terms of the promotion. The brand chose one image to represent the sale, compared to the email which has several images.
Another way to think about how you should use SMS compared to email is to consider some basic marketing automations and how they might differ on each channel. For example, take the welcome series.
Your typical welcome series over email might have anywhere from three to five or more communications that you send to customers over the time frame of one to two weeks.
The content might include best-selling products in one email, a mission statement in another, and maybe some social proof, customer reviews, and other user-generated content (UGC) in the last automation.
On the other hand, your SMS welcome series will look a lot different. You’ll probably want to stick to one welcome text, which might include a coupon code or some other incentive that encourages the subscriber to shop and buy immediately. Maybe the coupon code is only good for 24 hours to create even more urgency.
For a second message, ask your subscribers if they have any questions about your brand or ask customers if they’re enjoying their purchase, similar to how you might check in on a friend.
The more you experiment with these different channels and see what kinds of content resonates over email compared to SMS, the better you’ll be able to craft a truly effective text message marketing strategy.
Integrate SMS into your owned marketing strategy
The world of ecommerce has only scratched the surface of SMS marketing. Once you have the basics down when it comes to collecting numbers, segmenting subscribers, and developing a strategy that complements your email marketing, it’s all about fine-tuning your experience for your brand and your customers.
As consumers look to brands to serve them more personalized communications and ecommerce marketers focus on facilitating stronger relationships, SMS will be essential for brands who want to stand out, facilitate engagement, and create exceptional customer experiences.
Interested in learning more about building an SMS marketing strategy? Check out these tips.Back to Blog Home