SMS marketing campaigns are reaching maturity. Here’s how to step it up with yours
SMS marketing campaigns aren’t new, but it’s taken brands years to get them right.
Texting is personal, and it comes with a ton of social etiquette. Conventions vary by generation, culture, and person—take a peek at any family group chat and you might find yourself cringing at a string of questionable news links, inappropriate gifs, or novel-length messages.
We still don’t use text messaging perfectly amongst ourselves, so it’s no wonder brands had to go through an awkward teen phase with SMS. But we can also thank many of these brave pioneers for their persistence with the channel—because of them, we now have a lot of examples to draw from to help us get it right earlier.
According to Klaviyo’s marketing mix report, 30.47% of all ecommerce brands and more than half of $20M+ businesses are already using SMS as a marketing channel.
30.47% of all ecommerce brands and more than half of $20M+ businesses are already using SMS as a marketing channel.
If you want to know what that looks like so you can fold in some best practices into your own SMS marketing strategy, you’re in the right place.
What is an SMS marketing campaign?
An SMS (short message service) marketing campaign is a single automated text message or series of text messages that either promotes products to subscribers or otherwise aims to deepen a brand’s relationship with its audience of prospects and existing customers.
SMS marketing is a type of owned channel that leverages the immediacy of texting to deliver concise, personalized messages directly to people’s smartphones, driving high engagement rates and conversions.
While you can take text marketing campaign open rates with a grain of salt—people are often just clearing their notifications—they do tend to earn higher click-through rates and conversion rates. When we compare email campaign benchmarks to SMS campaign benchmarks, we see SMS drives 462% more clicks and 40% more conversions.
SMS campaigns drive 462% more clicks and 40% more conversions than the average email campaign.
You’ll need to be specific with how you use SMS marketing to get these results. Start with an understanding of each type of SMS marketing channel:
A well-rounded SMS strategy incorporates all 3 types as part of a sound customer experience, but we’re going to focus on promotional SMS marketing campaigns here because they’re arguably the most challenging for brands to get right—as well as the most likely to drive sales.
Benefits of setting up an SMS marketing campaign
SMS marketing campaigns can spark some hesitation because texting people can feel invasive—not to mention the strict rules and regulations around SMS consent.
But according to Klaviyo’s SMS consumer sentiment report, people do want text messages from brands—when it makes sense, when it adds convenience, and when it comes with something they want. Before they become customers, 50% of people welcome coupons and promotional codes over text, 39% want birthday deals, and 30% want back-in-stock notifications.
People do want text messages from brands—when it makes sense, when it adds convenience, and when it comes with something they want.
With a proper opt-in mechanism (more on that later), you can rest assured you’re texting people who want to hear from you. That’s when you’ll start to see some of these major benefits from SMS marketing:
Higher engagement and response rates
As we mentioned earlier, SMS tends to drive higher engagement and conversion rates than email, likely because the people who opt in are more invested in your brand than those who only subscribe via email.
“Consumers are smart—they’ll opt in to the channels that make sense for them,” says Suze Dowling, co-founder and chief business officer at Pattern Brands. “SMS as a channel is very in the moment, so brands can expect a more dedicated consumer. We see SMS campaign click rates that are 6-8x higher than email.”
Consumers are smart—they’ll opt in to the channels that make sense for them.
A highly engaged audience segment for personalized content
You never want to treat SMS the same as email, but you can consider your SMS subscribers as an additional “highly engaged” segment of your audience. Crafting messages for this audience is a joy because you know they’ll be well received.
Similar to your VIP email segment, your SMS audience is a fun playground for the best you have to offer. If people like your brand enough to let you into their texts, you can expect a stellar response to:
- Birthday offers
- Pre-sale special access
- Limited-time offers
- Back-in-stock notifications
Immediate and direct communication
If you have a limited-time offer, SMS marketing is the best way to deliver it. It’s not uncommon for emails to go unnoticed for days, but a text? People see those as urgent and typically open them quickly.
“It’s diversification of channels,” says Elliot Scott, founder and CEO of London-based retention agency ElliotDigital. “You cut through that inbox saturation, especially during heavy promotional periods like Black Friday, when everyone is sending 10x the emails they normally send. SMS cuts through all the noise straightaway.”
SMS cuts through all the noise straightaway.
Access to another owned audience
Owned audiences—those who have consented to hear from you directly through email and text message—are valuable amidst the instability of social media algorithms.
Facebook and Instagram’s ad targeting parameters have degraded since Apple introduced new privacy features for the iPhone, and it takes more money to see the results of years past for paid ads.
While ecommerce brands will likely always leverage paid channels in some way, many are turning toward more cost-effective means of customer acquisition—like email and SMS.
5 SMS marketing campaign ideas with examples: where to start when you don’t know where to start
If you’re new to promotional SMS, walk away from this article knowing one thing: Your SMS marketing strategy should complement your email strategy, but it shouldn’t mirror it.
“Don’t treat your SMS like your email program,” says Morgan Mulloy, associate director of email marketing at Avex Designs. “Email is more of an ‘interact at your leisure’ channel, whereas SMS is intrusive. It’s literally at the palm of your customer’s hand. SMS is not the ‘blast every day’ channel. It’s the ‘quality over quantity’ channel.”
SMS is not the ‘blast every day’ channel. It’s the ‘quality over quantity’ channel.
In other words, your SMS marketing strategy should leverage selective urgency to maximize engagement.
Think of it this way: If you text a friend “SOS emergency” every day for a week, by the end of that week your friend will probably roll their eyes and stop responding. The same principle applies to SMS marketing campaigns: Be strategic about when and how you draw on the immediacy of text to see good results.
As your SMS marketing strategy matures, you’ll be able to introduce more creative elements to your campaigns—but if you’re looking for some sure bets, here’s where you can start.
Leverage the power of Klaviyo with best-in-class tools that pass all data into Klaviyo (as your CDP) so you can create segments that feed into your SMS personalization strategy––at scale.
1. Exclusive offers and promotions
Your SMS subscribers are some of your most engaged. Whether they’re customers or not, they’ll likely respond well if you treat them with some degree of prestige.
If you’re hesitant to drive too many of your sales through discounts via email, SMS could be a better place to push special offers with a smaller audience. Remember, according to Klaviyo’s SMS consumer sentiment report, 50% of people who aren’t customers welcome coupons and promotional codes over text.
SMS offers and promotions may come in the form of:
- Pre-sale exclusive access
- Limited-time offers
- Gift with purchase
- Buy one, get one free (BOGO)
- Free shipping
Check out this example from Each & Every, which offers a free Coconut & Lime deodorant with any purchase. The text is complemented by an on-brand GIF that shows the product in action, and the offer is simple and straightforward—all you have to do is click the link and start shopping.
2. Reminders and notifications
Similar to how your partner might appreciate a friendly reminder to pick up some items from the grocery store on the way home, your SMS subscribers may appreciate reminders from your brand…when they really, really need to know something.
Promotional reminders and notifications shouldn’t be confused with transactional SMS necessities like shipment and delivery notices. This distinction is important because you need to get explicit opt-in permission from the recipient for promotional SMS, and transactional SMS opt-in doesn’t cover you (more on that below).
That said, when you have permission, you can send promotional reminders in the form of:
- Sale and discount reminders
- Product refill reminders
- Holiday shipment date reminders
- Last chance to order or sign up
- New product announcements
This text from The Peach Truck is simple and straightforward, reminding subscribers it’s their last chance to order a summer subscription to the brand’s juicy peach boxes. The emoji is the cherry—or peach—on top of an effective text campaign.
3. Surveys and feedback requests
Survey and feedback requests are where promotional SMS and conversational SMS can meet and fall in love. As a general rule, feedback is important so you can make customer-driven improvements to your products, and text campaigns are a perfect medium to collect that feedback.
You may be tempted to text loyal customers a survey link and be done with it, but Ali Bonar, founder of Oat Haus granola butter, uses a more organic approach: She has real text conversations with her customers. Recipients just need to respond with their honest thoughts, and they get a personal response validating their feedback.
While this may seem like a lot of work, it doesn’t have to be if you execute the campaign in small batches throughout the year.
You may be able to automate certain aspects of the conversation, but there are a lot of benefits to having real conversations with humans: getting high-quality feedback, having meaningful conversations with customers, and making VIPs feel valued.
If there’s a downside to this use case for conversational SMS, we simply don’t see it.
4. Back-in-stock notifications
Back-in-stock notifications are where behavioral data earns its stripes in SMS.
You may have products that are particularly in high demand—it seems like you just can’t keep them in stock. It’s a good problem to have, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t investigate a way to keep customers informed when those items become available. .
This is your cue to send a back-in-stock notification.
Yon-Ka Paris combines social proof with urgency in this back-in-stock SMS campaign, which highlights their award-winning SPF and encourages subscribers to order “today before it sells out again.”
5. Fun content and seasonal celebrations
Text message marketing doesn’t have to be all about driving sales—you can also use SMS to engage with your subscribers, share fun content, celebrate different events, or create your own digital marketing moments that surprise and delight.
Take this example from the brand Doré, which uses the first unofficial weekend of summer as a reason to share a playlist of “feel good songs” with the brand’s subscribers. This text doesn’t try to sell anyone on anything except a good time, and it’s a welcome message amid all the promotions people receive on a day-to-day basis.
SMS marketing best practices for running a successful campaign
Now that you’re ✨feeling inspired✨, it’s time to come back down to Earth—because amidst all the fun and creativity you can tap into with your SMS marketing efforts, there are also some key elements you need to include.
Whether because of regulations or consumer behavior, your SMS marketing campaigns should all contain these fundamentals:
Permission-based keyword opt-ins
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) requires explicit consent for promotional text messages. That means recipients need to understand they’re signing up for marketing messages specifically, not transactional ones that relate to a purchase.
To confirm this understanding, you’ll need to send a message upon sign-up that asks the person to confirm what they’ve signed up for (this is called “double opt-in”). While emails use clicks on a CTA to seal the deal for a double opt-in, SMS messages use keywords.
Your opt-in series will be set up as two messages, something like:
Message 1: [BRAND NAME]: Thanks for subscribing! Reply Y to confirm your subscription to recurring automated marketing messages from us. Msg & data rates may apply.
If the customer replies with “Y”, you add them to your list and send a follow up:
Message 2: [BRAND NAME]: Welcome! Just a reminder that msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help, STOP to unsubscribe.
Personalization is a layer cake. Near the top, the first thing you see is the use of a subscriber’s first name, but further down are the base layers: things like the products your subscribers have shown interest in, how many times they’ve interacted with your brand, whether they’ve taken advantage of any offers in the past. These elements are what form the basis of relevance for your SMS marketing messages.
Blair Peterson, VP of strategy at ethical jewelry brand Dana Rebecca Designs, says personalization is about “meeting the customer where they want to be met, vs. giving them broad information. I always say, our job is to message to the customer what they want based on what we know, before they fully know that it’s what they want.”
I always say, our job is to message to the customer what they want based on what we know, before they fully know that it’s what they want.
But you can also have fun asking people what they want, too. If you’re using conversational SMS, you may want to take a page out of Briogeo’s playbook and allow recipients to customize what they see from you. The ask goes above and beyond with proactive personalization, and it shows respect for the recipient’s time and text message bandwidth.
Clear call to action (CTA)
Every text message should come with a next step, even if you’re not asking your recipients to buy. Clear CTAs serve two important functions:
- They drive conversions on your SMS marketing campaigns.
- They allow you to measure engagement where open rates count for nothing.
A “clear” CTA will vary in appearance by brand and by text, but your recipients should know within a few seconds what you’d like them to do with your message.
Shortened, well-placed URLs
Your subscribers don’t want to open a text message that contains an eyesore of a long link that takes up half a smartphone screen.
When you’re sending SMS marketing campaigns, shorten your outbound URLs (Klaviyo offers an in-house link shortener in your SMS message template). This is how you make sure the URL is still clear and visible without overshadowing your message.
And it does seem like link placement matters. Klaviyo wanted to see how much, so our data science team ran some tests to assess whether it was better to place a link at the beginning or the end of a text.
The verdict: SMS messages that place the link toward the end tend to perform better than those that place the link toward the beginning.
You may get to a point where you want to test some evergreen content with a highly engaged segment of your SMS audience, but this shouldn’t be the rule starting out. The backbone of any basic SMS strategy is urgency, because a primary convention of text as a channel is immediacy.
Check the body of your message and your CTA, and ensure there’s an aspect of immediacy included in your copy before you hit “send.”
Ready to add SMS to your marketing strategy?
SMS marketing doesn’t need to be overwhelming if you start slow and build on what works. Deploy the basics, test what works, and double down with more creative campaigns as you get more comfortable.
If you want to become an expert on SMS marketing, read our other resources in this ecommerce SMS marketing series:
- What is SMS marketing?
- SMS marketing examples
- SMS best practices
- Top SMS marketing software
- SMS integrations
SMS marketing campaign FAQs
What is the best time to send SMS marketing messages?
It’s generally a good idea to send SMS marketing messages during non-peak hours, such as the lunch hour or weekend afternoons. But the best time for your brand will depend on your target audience and their preferences. To determine your optimal timing, A/B test various times of the day and week and observe click-through metrics and conversions.
How can I ensure my SMS messages comply with legal regulations?
To ensure compliance with legal regulations for SMS messages, you’ll need to obtain explicit consent from recipients before texting them and provide a clear opt-out mechanism for an easy unsubscribe. In the US, perform a regular review of your SMS messages against the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to remain compliant.
How can I measure the success of my SMS marketing campaign?
Measure the success of your SMS marketing campaign by tracking click-through and conversion rates. Monitor opt-out rates to understand if your campaign is prompting unsubscribes. Keep in mind that open rates are a vanity metric for SMS, so you don’t want to take them too seriously.