The crawl, walk, run approach to launching your SMS marketing strategy

Profile photo of author Tiff Regaudie
Tiff Regaudie
17min read
SMS marketing
June 20, 2024
In stacked capital letters on the left side of a salmon-colored backdrop, copy outlined in white reads, "crawl, walk, run." In smaller white font on the right side, copy reads, "how to launch an SMS marketing strategy."

SMS marketing is no longer risky or radical.

When people get texts from brands, it’s because they want to.

A recent Klaviyo survey of nearly 9K consumers found that when people subscribe to your SMS messages, 72% of them expect to receive text messages at least once a week—and of that majority, 45% expect to receive SMS messages from you more than once a week.

With the right SMS marketing strategy, brands can consistently reward their SMS subscribers for their deep interest, attention, and loyalty. But a lot goes into executing a strategy that works.

That’s why we recommend breaking down your SMS strategy into stages appropriate for your business:


Foundations for businesses of any size that are just starting out with SMS


Growth strategies for businesses that have an established SMS list


Above-and-beyond SMS marketing strategies for businesses that want to move beyond standard flows and campaigns with a more personalized SMS marketing strategy

Crawl: Start building your list, establishing campaigns and flows, and measuring performance

It’s true—you need to crawl before you can walk. This is actually crucial for SMS marketing because you need to comply with federal regulations the moment you start sending text messages.

To make sure you’re covered and know where to start once you are, here’s what to do:

1. Lay the foundation for compliance before sending

One of the most attractive features of SMS marketing is that it requires explicit permission from recipients. This is how you know you’re interacting with a group of highly interested people when you send an SMS campaign.

To reap that reward, you’ll need to establish the groundwork for a consent-based SMS relationship. Here’s how:

Update your existing privacy policy

Add language to your existing policy that describes your SMS program and what you’ll do with the phone numbers you collect.

If you’re planning to use SMS for abandoned cart flows, you must explicitly state how information is captured by your website to determine when a customer’s cart has been abandoned (e.g., website cookies, plug-ins, etc).

Include a link to your privacy policy on your SMS sign-up form.

Get explicit consent to send SMS, not just email

If you have someone’s phone number but they’ve only opted into email, that doesn’t mean you have consent to send them text messages.

On your SMS sign-up form (more on this next), include language that explicitly states you’ll be sending marketing messages to the phone numbers you’re collecting.

Use double opt-in to confirm sign-up

No matter how you’re getting people to sign up for your SMS list, an important best practice is using double opt-in to confirm that you have their explicit consent to receive SMS marketing.

In this practice, after a subscriber signs up for SMS marketing, they must also confirm their sign-up by replying something like “YES” when they receive the first text from your brand.

Klaviyo features like Smart Opt-in and tap-to-text forms meet double opt-in requirements while making it easier and more convenient for consumers to subscribe to your SMS marketing.

Provide an easy way to opt-out with a STOP keyword

Similar to email, you need to give people the option to unsubscribe from SMS if they want to. We recommend using the keyword STOP, and letting recipients know they can use this keyword to unsubscribe.

While it’s not necessary to include the reminder with every message, we recommend including it for the first and every fifth message. At minimum, include STOP language once a month.

2. Grow your SMS list with a targeted sign-up form

After you’ve set up your compliance foundation, you’re ready to collect phone numbers. Since handing over a phone number usually requires an existing relationship, we recommend starting with a sign-up form that appears only to visitors who are already on your email list.

If you’re feeling bold and you want to challenge that assumption, use a multi-step form. With this type of form, the first screen asks the visitor for their email address. Once they submit that form, they arrive on a second screen which also asks them for their phone number.

If you go this route, consider incentivizing people with a larger discount for an SMS sign-up.

3. Ask for SMS consent at check-out

One of the best ways to ask for a phone number is when a customer checks out. You can easily add this option in Klaviyo if you use Shopify, WooCommerce, Adobe Commerce, or BigCommerce.

The best part? The customer doesn’t need to complete their order for Klaviyo to capture their consent. That means you can grow your SMS list even if someone abandons the check-out process.

4. Create SMS welcome and abandoned cart automations

First impressions matter. It’s critical to build your SMS welcome flow as soon as visitors opt in, so that every new subscriber receives communication right away.

The role of a good welcome text is to educate new subscribers about your brand and products—and even inspire their first purchase. When crafting yours, consider including:

  • The name of your brand
  • A thank you for subscribing
  • What subscribers can expect from future texts
  • An offer with a discount code
  • A CTA leading back to your website with a next step
  • Opt-out STOP instructions

The second crucial SMS automation is your abandoned cart flow. According to the Baymard Institute, 70% of online shoppers abandon their carts—and SMS is one of the best ways to encourage visitors to finish their purchase.

Even if you’re already using email to prompt those shoppers to take the final plunge, incorporating SMS into your existing flows could help you increase your conversion rates even more. Consider including:

  • The name of your brand
  • An image of the product they left behind
  • The name of the product they left behind
  • Personalization elements, such as first name
  • A link back to the cart they abandoned
  • An offer with a discount code
  • Opt-out STOP instructions

5. Start sending 1-4 SMS campaigns per month

After you’ve spent some time collecting SMS subscribers, you’re ready to start sending.

To start, we recommend sending at 1-4 SMS campaigns per month on a consistent basis. This way, you can learn what works and what doesn’t for your brand, build a consistent relationship with your subscribers, and start generating reliable deliverability and ROI.

Not sure what to send? Klaviyo AI features like SMS AI can help you generate copy. SMS marketing campaign must-haves are:

  • Your company name
  • A time-sensitive offer
  • An element of personalization
  • A shortened link—which can be customized for your brand
  • A STOP unsubscribe reminder, if it’s your first message or you haven’t included one in the last 5 messages/1 month

You can also enhance your message with an image or GIF under 600 KB. This will convert the message into an MMS, which also allows you more than 1,600 characters. Just remember that MMS messages cost more than SMS messages under most billing plans.

6. Create SMS-specific audience segments

Segmentation is how you stay relevant with your audience. As soon as you make it a habit to blast your entire list with the same messages, you’ve lost.

This is particularly important in SMS, where people are far less likely to tolerate generic, irrelevant marketing for long. Here’s where to start with SMS segmentation:

SMS consented

Use this segment to separate your SMS subscribers from your email list. When someone provides your brand with their phone number, it’s an indicator that they’re more than casually interested in your brand.

SMS 30-day engaged

Use this segment to separate people who recently interacted with your texts from those who haven’t. This indicates an intent to buy that’s a tier above simply subscribing to texts. You may want to give these folks special access or discounts on products.

SMS errors

Use this segment to separate subscribers who aren’t receiving messages from ones who are and exclude them from regular sends. In Klaviyo, you can create segments for a variety of SMS error types as part of monitoring the overall health of your SMS program (more on that next).

7. Measure early performance rates

As soon as you send your first SMS campaign, start keeping track of SMS metrics.

In the beginning, especially, make sure your deliverability—the number of text messages that are actually delivered, not just sent—is sitting at 95% or above. This is indicative of the overall health of your SMS program.

According to Klaviyo’s 2024 benchmark report, you should aim for 11.19% click rates and 0.11% placed order rates on your SMS campaigns. Use Klaviyo’s SMS reporting dashboard to track list growth, revenue, engagement, and deliverability, or dive deeper into deliverability with Klaviyo’s SMS deliverability hub.

Walk: Send more campaigns and flows, grow and segment your list, and start A/B testing

After you’ve established an SMS list, sent a few campaigns, and set up your basic flows, you’ll likely know enough about what works and what doesn’t to confidently scale your SMS efforts. Here’s how:

1. Build trust with branded links

It’s standard to include a shortened link in your SMS campaigns. For brands that use Klaviyo for SMS, links look like this:

Image shows a text message on a mock smartphone screen with a standard shortened link in a Klaviyo format.
Source: Klaviyo Showcase

But when brands become more established with SMS, they may want to start using branded links, which include the name of their brand within the link itself.

Branded links build more trust between you and your recipients by showing them you’re not sending spam. This is important given the rise of text and email phishing scams, when people are understandably more wary of links that look suspicious.

2. Grow your SMS list with a targeted email campaign

Your email subscribers already care about your brand, so they’re the most likely people to opt into your SMS program. But you never get what you don’t ask for—so it’s smart to send an email campaign with the goal of collecting phone numbers.

At this stage, consider sending your email subscribers to a sign-up form with Smart Opt-in enabled. Smart Opt-in is an easy way to confirm both consent and a real phone number, which can significantly increase deliverability rates.

When someone signs up with Smart Opt-in, they receive a code (e.g., 284764) that auto-populates a separate form to confirm their phone number. If you’re already using double opt-in to confirm phone numbers, consider this as a more seamless way to do it.

3. Send more SMS campaigns

Scaling your SMS marketing efforts means increasing your monthly SMS cadence to grow owned revenue. At this stage, we recommend increasing to 5-8 campaigns per month:

  • 1 campaign each week to your full list
  • 1 targeted campaign each week to your 90-day engaged segment

Ben Zettler, founder of digital marketing and ecommerce agency Zettler Digital, explains that this is about staying top of mind to avoid unsubscribes: “If you build a list and you don’t send a text in 6 months, then there are all these subscribers you’ve accumulated who haven’t heard from you—and they may not even remember that they signed up.”

A step-by-step guide to integrating email & SMS
The No. 1 way to increase ROI through SMS marketing is to leverage it alongside your email marketing strategy. Welcome to your tactical guide to coordinating multi-channel campaigns and flows.

4. Start sending transactional SMS flows

A natural progression from promotional SMS: transactional SMS.

Transactional SMS messages are post-purchase text messages that keep customers informed about a purchase. They improve the customer experience by:

  • Updating people on the status of shipment and delivery
  • Allowing customers to modify an order without an account log-in
  • Connecting customers to agents who can answer questions about an order

Here are some solid examples of different types of transactional SMS:

Account verification

EGGSHELL: Hi Kelsey! You’re signed up to receive shipment notifications about order #12345. Text HELP to reach customer service, or STOP to opt out of SMS. Msg & data rates may apply.

Order confirmation

EGGSHELL: Hi Theo! Heads up, we’ve received your order #12345. Text HELP to reach customer service, or STOP to opt out of SMS.

Shipping confirmation

EGGSHELL: Hi Amrita! Exciting news—your order #12345 has shipped! Expect delivery within 3 days. Track here: [tracking link] Text STOP to opt out of SMS.

Out for delivery

EGGSHELL: Hi Jen! Today is the day—your order #12345 is out for delivery! Expect delivery before 5pm today. Track here: [tracking link] Text STOP to opt out of SMS.

Delivery confirmation

EGGSHELL: Hi Nadeem! Your order #12345 has been delivered. Text HELP to report a lost package. We hope you love your purchase!

5. Expand SMS engaged and VIP segments

The more subscribers you add to your SMS list, the more SMS segments you need to create. As your SMS subscriber list scales, consider developing campaigns for these segments:


For some brands, customers reach VIP status when they buy 5x. For others, it’s 2-3x, or a certain spend threshold. No matter how you set your VIP criteria, this is the segment you want to treat with special offers and early access to new products.

Prefers SMS

Even if you have subscribers who’ve opted in to both email and SMS, some of them may prefer one communication channel over the other. Create a “prefers SMS” segment using their direct behavior as conditions, such as profiles that interact with your SMS messaging frequently but have not recently interacted with your emails.

SMS 60- and 90-day engaged

When your list is on the smaller side, targeting 30-day engaged recipients with offers is standard. But when your list grows, you can feel free to experiment with 60- to 90-day engaged recipients, so you’re sending to more people who might buy.

6. Execute more complex A/B tests

With scale comes strategy refinement. At this stage, whether you’ve been running small A/B tests or none at all, it’s time to layer on some complexity to your testing strategy so you can make your content more effective.

Must-have A/B tests at this stage are:


MMS messages are more expensive than SMS, but they can also yield more revenue—you won’t know if MMS messages are worth it for your brand until you test.

Send time

SMS marketing is about immediacy and urgency. In fact, 90% of subscribers open a text in the first 30 minutes. This also means send time matters a lot with SMS. Test which time of day yields the most engagement.


Testing is how you discover which incentives work for email, and which ones work for SMS—they may not be the same. It might be as simple as offering 10% off, but subscribers also appreciate being in the inner circle. SMS marketing can provide early access to deals or new products, which are great ways to pique their interest.

Message length

It’s a best practice to keep SMS messages short and sweet, but you won’t know your audience’s tolerance for length unless you test. VIP audiences, for example, may appreciate more depth and explanation, and be more likely to engage because of it. Experiment.

Run: Expand to multi-channel list growth and maximize your flows and segments

This stage is ideal for businesses that want to move beyond standard flows and campaigns with a more personalized SMS marketing strategy.

At this point you have solid data and insights about the performance of your SMS marketing program, and you’re ready to maximize growth of the channel. Here’s how:

1. Expand to multi-channel list growth

At this stage, it’s time to expand your SMS list growth beyond sign-up forms. Multi-channel SMS list growth involves leveraging channels outside your website, and it’s ideal for businesses who operate brick-and-mortar stores and invest in great packaging.

Execute multi-channel list growth by:

Adding QR codes to in-store signage

Similar to discounts on website pop-ups, incentivize people to scan an in-store QR code that leads to an SMS sign-up page. Bonus points if they can use the discount instantly for an in-store purchase.

Adding QR codes to physical receipts

Train your sales associates to circle the QR code on the receipt and mention a discount upon sign-up.

Adding QR codes to packaging

Ask for a sign-up on your packaging with a discount to incentivize a next purchase.

Adding a mobile two-tap link to social channels

Ideal for Instagram Stories, add a link to a single-field form so people can submit their phone number in just two taps.

2. Maximize your flow types

As your SMS marketing program expands, so does the work to run it—the campaign planning, the content creation, the performance monitoring, etc.

This is when it becomes important to make the most out of automation, which allows you to set up send criteria and content once without adding more resources.

Here’s a list of automations to consider:

Conversational SMS

Use a combination of AI and human agents to answer questions during the pre- and post-purchase phases.

Back-in-stock notifications

Back-in-stock notifications are text notifications that are triggered when a product is back in stock. They go out to targeted segments that have shown interest in an out-of-stock product that’s now ready to ship.

Price drop alerts

The price drop alert is perfect for SMS, as it requires subscribers to act fast and take immediate action. Make this flow mobile-exclusive by using filters to send only to SMS subscribers.

Replenishment reminders

Ideal for subscription businesses, this flow uses a time-based trigger to remind customers when it’s time to re-up on a product.

Low inventory alerts

For segments that have shown interest in a particular product, either via product page visits, abandoned carts, or purchases, send an urgency message as soon as your online store indicates you’re running low on a product.

3. Segment by location and loyalty

Whether you operate brick-and-mortar stores in multiple cities or sell only online, it’s time to start segmenting:

By location

To build a connection with your audience in real life, send them event notifications, in-store discounts, location-based flash sales, etc. One of the primary benefits of location-based targeting with brick-and-mortar is that customers may spend more once they’re in the store.

With your loyalty program

SMS marketing and loyalty programs belong together like peanut butter and jelly. Segment your loyal customers by points earned, customer lifetime value, average order value, etc., and create immediacy based on how they’ve interacted with your loyalty program before.

Use Klaviyo SMS marketing to connect with your most active audience

With high customer ratings on both G2 and TrustRadius, Klaviyo is “the leader of the industry” for SMS marketing, says Elliot Scott, founder and CEO of London-based retention agency ElliotDigital—and it’s the only platform his agency uses for email and SMS.

Use Klaviyo SMS marketing to:

  • Feel secure knowing you’ve checked all the SMS compliance boxes.
  • Grow your list with targeted sign-up forms, QR codes, consent at check-out, and AI-powered forms display optimization.
  • Integrate SMS marketing into your owned marketing strategy with email.
  • Send personalized messages with hyper-specific audience targeting.
  • Engage with your customers with conversational and transactional SMS.
  • Speed up content creation with AI-generated copy and replies.

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Tiff Regaudie
Tiff Regaudie
Tiff (she/they) is a writer and content consultant who specializes in marketing, health, and the attention economy. Before devoting herself to freelance writing full-time, they led content teams at various startups and nonprofits in Toronto, Canada.