Beyond the hype: 16 high-impact SMS plays that boost ROI
Here’s an important reminder for every business out there right now…
In the midst of a historic economic downturn, consumers are still spending money.
The difference, says Bill Higbee, senior product marketing manager, messaging at Twilio, is that “they’re being more selective about who they’re spending it with.”
If, before, “consumers were spending their money with Company A and Company B,” Higbee points out, “now they’re only spending money with Company A.”
“It’s either going to be you or it’s going to be your competitor,” Higbee clarifies. “It’s your job to build marketing programs that make sure it’s you.”
At a time when consumer attention is low and paid ads are expensive and less effective, smart SMS marketing can be exactly that—a program that turns one-time transactions into lifelong relationships with loyal customers.
What is SMS marketing?
Essentially, it’s sending promotions, updates, and reminders to your subscribers, prospects, and customers via short message service (SMS), or text message.
Like email marketing, consumers must explicitly opt in to receive SMS communications. Like email marketing, SMS marketing is an owned marketing channel—meaning you, as the sender, have full control over your lists and distribution.
Also like email marketing, it works.
3 benefits of SMS marketing
Here are just a few of the benefits of using SMS marketing, according to Klaviyo’s consumer sentiment report, which surveyed nearly 2K consumers:
- Nearly all consumers (96%) are willing to receive a text from a brand at least once a week—up a massive 31% from our survey conducted the previous year.
- More than twice as many shoppers would rather hear from you via text message than over social media.
- 73% of consumers have made a purchase based on receiving a text message from a brand—and over half of them have done so 2-3x.
To help you make the most of this owned marketing channel, here are 16 expert-backed SMS marketing tips on how to build a strong SMS marketing program. The goal? To make sure that when consumers are spending money, they’re spending it with your brand.
Table of contents:
16 dos and dont ’s of building a winning SMS campaign
1. DO: Use SMS in tandem with email
The No. 1 way to increase return on investment through SMS marketing, experts agree, is to leverage it alongside a strong email marketing strategy.
“Email is not going anywhere,” says Jessica Schanzer, senior product marketing manager, Klaviyo SMS. “Email as a channel has been super high-performing for at least the last 10-15 years. We don’t see SMS as a replacement channel—it’s something you do to supplement and enhance your existing email strategy to help drive even more revenue.”
Sound counterintuitive? It’s not. Here are a few reasons why this play is a smart one:
It allows you to treat customers how they want to be treated
Rob Hand, SMS product marketing manager at Klaviyo, says this play “really comes down to the consumer’s preference.”
It’s not just that some consumers may prefer email over text, or vice-versa. Similarly, “not all consumers are going to want all their communication in a single channel,” Hand explains.
As Melissa Matusky, customer onboarding manager, Klaviyo SMS, explains, using SMS marketing in tandem with email allows you to “target your customers across channels” and “discover the channel that works best for each individual.”
It allows you to capitalize on the strengths of different channels
Not only do different customers have different communication preferences—different marketing channels have different purposes, too. “Every channel has its strengths,” says Mason Wheeler, customer education specialist at Klaviyo.
Consider social media advertising, for example. In addition to the fact that Apple’s iOS 14.5 update built a walled garden around iOS users, significantly reducing social media’s targeting and attribution capabilities, social media advertising is also a channel where “you’re casting the net in a very big pond and just kind of hoping,” Wheeler explains.
Not so with owned marketing channels, Wheeler says: “The thing that makes SMS so powerful is that people are opting into it. It’s high-touch and high-conversion.”
It raises all marketing ships
Wheeler has also noticed that when businesses start doing well with SMS marketing, they often start to see performance improvements in email marketing as well.
The reason for this is simple: “You’re sending fewer emails to people who would rather get texts,” Wheeler explains—which means engagement metrics in both channels tend to increase. “Email gets a halo effect from SMS. It raises all ships.”
While a lot of brands are hesitant to explore SMS marketing because of the misconception that it’s too expensive, Higbee says SMS marketing “can actually save you money.”
“Sometimes marketers look at their email sends and they think, ‘Oh my gosh, if I send that same number of texts, I’m gonna go broke—I can’t do this,’” Wheeler points out. “But remember, you’re not only sending fewer emails once you start using SMS—you’re also sending both emails and SMS to a much more engaged audience.”
“Once people start trying it, they start to see huge ROIs,” Wheeler adds. “I truly believe SMS is the future of high-engagement digital marketing.”
2. DON’T: Use email and SMS in the same way
According to our consumer sentiment report, 95% of consumers subscribe to less than 7 brands via SMS—and about half only subscribe to 2-3.
“The stats just show that people who give you their phone number are giving you something more precious than their email,” Wheeler points out. “People will give their email away to win a contest they know they’re never going to win, but they won’t even give their phone number to some of their friends.”
When someone gives you their phone number, Wheeler says, “they’re really saying, ‘Market to me differently.’”
“Treating SMS like its own channel is really important—it should be its own unique experience,” Schanzer agrees. “With an email, you have unlimited space to say whatever you want. With a text, you don’t.”
Matusky urges marketers to “be really smart about when you use each channel in a way that makes sense for you as a brand—in terms of your spend, your wider messaging strategy, and what kinds of experiences you’re trying to create overall.”
“Saying the exact same thing over text and email is a huge miss,” Schanzer emphasizes. “Brands definitely need to tailor their content to each channel.”
Marketing messages that work best over email
Our consumer sentiment report found that the majority of consumers prefer email for hearing about:
- Loyalty program offers and benefits: 65%
- Upcoming promotional sales and discount announcements: 62%
- New product announcements: 61%
- Order confirmations: 61%
- Special announcements: 60%
Schanzer says email is ideal for “anything longer-form that’s information-heavy, with lots of images or links to click on,” such as a newsletter or a round-up of recent blog posts. “That would be a $5 text message,” she points out. “You don’t want to text that kind of content.”
Marketing messages that work best over SMS
According to our consumer sentiment report, consumers want to receive more text messages from brands about:
- Delivery confirmations: 64%
- Shipment confirmations: 60%
- Order confirmations: 50%
- Coupons and promotional codes: 50%
- Birthday deals: 39%
“Anything I need to receive immediately that’s super important, that has to come to my phone. It can’t go to email,” says Higbee, who points out that most consumers have 4-5 email addresses that they don’t check regularly. By contrast, “you always have your phone with you.”
“The cool thing about SMS is it’s really timely,” Wheeler agrees. “If someone is signed up to receive SMS messages, they’re getting it right away, they’re opening it right away, and chances are they’re clicking on it right away because it’s top of mind.”
That’s what makes SMS best for anything in the “surprise and delight” category, as Schanzer puts it—“things that have to do with urgency,” she explains. In addition to the list above, that might include back-in-stock or price drop alerts, she says.
Marketing messages that work in both channels
For subscribers who opt in to receive both emails and texts, a hybrid outreach strategy can work well. Matusky provides an example: “Maybe you text them right away that you got their order confirmed, and then you follow up over email with more details,” she suggests.
“The great experience there is they get notified right away that everything’s set to go, but more details follow over email in case they need any additional support, in case they want to review what they ordered, or in case they need help understanding how to use it,” Matusky explains.
For subscribers who only opt in to one or the other, Schanzer emphasizes the importance of setting up separate marketing automations for each channel (more on must-have SMS automations a bit later).
Whereas a welcome email, for example, might contain a lot of information about the brand’s origin story, a message from the founder, and social media links or user-generated content, a welcome text might just be a quick thank-you message with a discount code.
For this kind of behavior-triggered marketing, “Klaviyo flows are really powerful” because they give users the ability to set up conditional splits based on consumer communication preferences, Schanzer says.
“If somebody abandons their cart and they’re opted in to SMS, you can set up your flow so they get a text reminder. If they’re not opted in to SMS, they get an email,” Schanzer explains. “So regardless of which channel they prefer, you always ensure you’re hitting your entire customer base with that message, and never both at the same time.”
3. DO: Grow your list
The biggest factor in generating revenue from SMS, Hand says, is whether or not people are subscribing to your SMS list. “Are people actually interested? That’s the first thing you need to look at,” he says.
Here are a few tried-and-true methods for growing your SMS subscriber list:
Via on-site forms
Whether they’re embedded, pop-ups, or fly-outs, on-site forms are the “No. 1 most effective list growth tool,” according to Schanzer.
Schanzer adds that because Klaviyo cookies and tracks website visitors who are already on your existing email list, you can serve a unique, exclusive pop-up form to email subscribers inviting them to join your SMS list as well.
Then, they’ll be funneled into a unique list in Klaviyo for subscribers who are opted in to both email and SMS—and all of it happens automatically on the back-end, with no manual input from you.
Via email campaigns
Let’s say someone clicks out of the pop-up form or leaves your site before filling it out. “You can always market to them via the channel you’ve been using this whole time,” Schanzer suggests. “Send out an email campaign—‘Hey, have you heard about our text list?’”
“Make it easy for people,” Hand agrees. “If you already have my email address, ask me for my phone number and offer me an incentive to provide that additional piece of information.”
Higbee loves when companies ask for SMS consent at the point of sale. “I don’t see a lot of companies doing that, and I think they should,” he says. “At the point of sale, ask if the customer wants a text receipt, and have them check a box if they also want to sign up for marketing promos.”
This, too, is about “making it easy for the subscriber,” Hand says, “so they don’t have to give you their information all over again.”
Via QR codes
This is one of Matusky’s favorite creative use cases for SMS list growth: QR codes on shipping boxes, product instructions, or product labels, where “you’re asking people to opt in to get help using their product,” she explains.
4. DON’T: Be shady about it
SMS is a marketing channel that requires explicit consent. “There are specific compliance laws in place to protect individuals from being solicited when they did not explicitly sign up,” Matusky points out—and the potential consequences for brands that don’t comply range from an expensive lawsuit to deliverability issues to list deterioration.
According to Matusky, consumers will unsubscribe from an SMS list far faster than from an email list. “They can ignore a junk email inbox, but they cannot ignore messages that go to their direct phone,” she points out.
If your SMS unsubscribes spike and your list growth remains stagnant, “you’re going to see diminishing returns, because now more people are opted out than opted in,” Matusky explains. “That means the value’s going to go down in that channel.”
From a deliverability perspective, Higbee adds that there are “huge implications” for brands that are not concerned with minimizing SMS opt-outs. “If you have a high amount of opt-outs in various campaigns, you might get flagged by carriers, and if you get flagged by carriers, they might block your numbers,” he explains.
Imagine getting blocked in the middle of Black Friday Cyber Monday, Higbee points out: “That would impact not only your SMS marketing ROI, but your entire business’s ROI and growth expectations.”
“SMS compliance is a proactive game,” Matusky adds. “Being really smart about compliance is what drives SMS list growth, and continually building that SMS list is what drives strong ROI.”
Here are a few ways to do that:
Hammer down your policy language
Schanzer adds that two recent Klaviyo product updates “make it even easier to set that language up compliantly, whether you’re brand-new to Klaviyo SMS or you’ve been using us for a while”:
- For new users: “We’ve always had compliance built into our platform, but now, as you’re going through the onboarding workflow, you’re prompted step by step through everything that has to do with disclosure language,” Schanzer says. “That way, every single sign-up form you create moving forward is going to include that language so you never have to do it again.”
- For veteran users: “If you want to make updates to your disclosure language, you can now do that from directly within sign-up forms and within your SMS account settings as well,” Schanzer says.
Get permission—and confirm it, continuously
The No. 1 way to grow your SMS list compliantly, Higbee says: “Just ask.” Then, he advises, “once you get their initial approval, send a follow-up text asking them to confirm their sign-up.”
This practice is known as double opt-in—and Matusky agrees it’s an absolute must in SMS marketing.
“A lot of marketers have concerns about slow list growth because they’re making people take that extra step to reply YES, but ultimately it’s better to grow your list with high-quality leads and people you know will respond,” she explains. “If you know somebody isn’t willing to respond to a text message from you with a YES, they’re probably not very invested in the channel.”
On a similar note, make it easy to opt out, with either a link or a keyword response opt-out option, such as STOP, in every text, Matusky advises. She adds that Klaviyo automatically handles this for users—another way compliance is built into the platform.
Matusky recommends that you “know your intention” when you launch an SMS marketing program. Then, be clear about it when asking people to opt in.
“Know what types of messages you’re going to be sending so you can articulate that at the point of sign-up,” she suggests. “Anything where you’re really clear about what they’re going to receive is going to work really well.”
What are your SMS subscribers opting into? It might be:
- Transactional SMS, like order and shipping confirmations
- Conversational or two-way SMS, for customer support and immediate feedback
- Educational content, like links to new recipes involving your product
- Marketing messages about new product launches, sales, and more
“Provide some explicit content around what they’re going to receive,” Hand recommends. “If you’re not upfront with subscribers, they’ll get upset, unsubscribe, and complain.”
In addition to being transparent about content, set expectations about frequency as well. A consumer who signs up for SMS marketing and receives 2 messages the first week might get annoyed and unsubscribe—but not if they know you’re only sending 3 per month, Higbee points out.
Klaviyo makes it easy to manage SMS subscriber consent, Hand says: “We only accept explicit consent, meaning every subscriber has actively checked a box agreeing to give you their phone number for X reason. Everything thereafter compliance-wise, outside of policy language, is automated in Klaviyo.”
For example, as soon as someone unsubscribes, “we no longer have consent, so they’ll never receive another message,” Hand explains.
Higbee summarizes this play simply: “Get your information directly from your customer, tell them what you’re going to do, and follow through on it. And respect their choices.”
5. DO: Integrate
Respecting your customers’ choices, by the way, can—and should—go beyond respecting their communication preferences. Strategic targeting based on behavioral customer data is a big part of what drives SMS ROI.
As Matusky asks, “What is the end, revenue-driven purpose that focuses on your customers?” In order to answer that question, Higbee says, “you need to know your customer extremely well. You need to understand them. What’s most important to them? What is their buying criteria? What matters to this particular person?”
“What matters to this person on the left isn’t going to matter to this person on the right,” Higbee adds. “You have to figure that out.”
To that end, the more information you can pull into your SMS marketing software from the rest of your tech stack, the more effective your SMS marketing efforts will be.
Hand notes that Klaviyo has 300+ built-in integrations for “all kinds of different technology—help desk, reviews, loyalty, pretty much anything you can imagine about your customer, we can plug into your account so it shows up on their profile,” he explains.
With all of that real-time customer data coming in, “you can be hyper-targeted by creating segments and triggering communications based on any of those interactions,” Hand adds (more on this in a moment).
- Send a text to someone who had a great support experience thanking them for their time
- Exclude customers who have an open support ticket from receiving marketing messages
- Text a win-back communication to customers who report a poor support experience
Using these kinds of SMS integrations in smart, creative ways, Schanzer says, can enable you to “communicate more consciously with your customers.”
6. DO: Segment your lists
Once you’re equipped with the right customer data, segmentation is one of your best bets for ensuring that you’re texting “a highly relevant message that’s highly personalized and therefore highly desired,” Higbee says.
For Matusky, segmentation comes down to thinking critically about the problem your brand is solving for customers—and then, understanding, “the reason we’re sending this text message is X, and therefore we think it’s going to create a good experience for customer Y,” she explains.
Remember: SMS costs more than email. “You want to make sure you’re sending to people who are more likely to convert in order to maximize your return on your spend,” Matusky says. “When you have data-backed reasons to believe someone won’t convert, filter them out.”
Here are a few ways to consider segmenting your SMS lists:
- Demographics, such as:
- Personal preferences volunteered through forms and quizzes, such as:
- Hair type
- Relationship status
- Pet training needs
- Actions someone has or hasn’t taken, such as:
- Opening or clicking a campaign
- Viewing a certain set of products
- Viewing a product a certain number of times
- Abandoning a cart of a certain value
- Spending above a certain threshold or placing a certain number of orders recently (VIP segment)
- Placing an order in a recent time period
- Analytics-based predictions, such as predicted lifetime value
Klaviyo does segmentation “extremely well,” Schanzer says: “We take all the behavioral data around what someone’s doing on your ecommerce site, funnel all that customer data into our platform, and are able to synthesize and use it to send messages. A lot of platforms don’t do that in a really great way, but we do.”
“You can do very basic things and extremely advanced things, and everything in between,” she adds. “No matter what your skill level is, there’s some part of Klaviyo that you’re going to be able to find value in.”
7. DO: Keep it short and actionable
Because character count is so limited, SMS message copy needs to be as punchy and direct as possible. With every text message you send, ask:
- Are we addressing the subscriber the same way we would address a friend?
- Why should the subscriber care?
- What action do we want them to take if they do?
Schanzer observes that the brands that do this well “pare down their texts to the tl;dr. It’s really about shortening your messaging to be really concise and to the point.”
“It doesn’t have to be as buttoned up as an email,” Hand agrees. “You don’t have to use full sentences and paragraphs. You can be a little less formal with it.”
Similarly, make your call to action (CTA) short and sweet—and make sure the hyperlink takes subscribers to a logical destination. “If the message is about bird feeders, the landing page should probably have some bird feeders on it,” Higbee points out. “The landing place, wherever that may be, should be specifically relevant to the SMS marketing campaign you’re running.”
8. DON’T: Lose your voice
That said, don’t let “short and sweet” translate to “boring.” “The brands that do SMS marketing well are able to infuse their personality into it,” Hand says.
Matusky agrees: “You really need to be honed in on your brand voice and messaging and know who your audience is.”
Of course, with such a short character count, that’s easier said than done. Compared to email, where you can rely more heavily on imagery, “trying to show some personality when you’re writing text messages can get a little stale sometimes,” Hand points out—which is why both he and Matusky recommend leaning on Klaviyo’s SMS assistant for help.
Skeptical that AI could help you nail something as intangible as brand voice and tone? “That tool is actually really surprising in terms of how much personality it evokes,” Hand says.
Klaviyo’s SMS assistant “helps you automate text message crafting by using language from existing copy,” Matusky explains—for example, a pre-existing email campaign, ad, or even internal brief. Then, “it takes that language and puts it into 160 characters using what we know converts.”
“If you’re not sure exactly what language you want to use, but you know generally what you want to go after, it’s a really smart way to get that hands-on help,” Matusky adds.
And even if you don’t end up using the recommendations, the SMS Assistant can be “good inspiration for how to say things a little bit differently,” Hand says—as well as for various options you might want to A/B test in the future (more on this later).
9. DON’T: Rely on discounts
It’s unanimous: Discounts may work for grabbing someone’s immediate attention, but in the long run, they’re boring. “Discounts are honestly the least exciting thing you can do with SMS,” Schanzer says. “It’s so overrated and overdone.”
Perhaps even more important, discounts may detract from list growth. Hand refers to it as a “spin to win” SMS strategy—and points out that it’s actually not much of a strategy at all.
“When you use something gimmicky to get someone to sign up—‘Hey, give me this information about you and I’ll give you a discount in exchange’—you’re not really setting up a relationship with that person,” he explains. “It’s become this transactional game you’re playing, and that just doesn’t feel good as a consumer.”
“If you’re just going for deals, deals, deals, and you’re not being strategic about what you’re offering when and why, it’s going to feel spammy,” Matusky agrees. “It’s going to cause people to opt out and not interact, and that’s going to lower your ROI.”
In order to keep your SMS marketing program cost-effective, “you have to be even more strategic about what you’re sending” over text than over email, Matusky explains.
“You can be smart about it in really simple ways that don’t require a strategy meeting with your marketing director and your CMO to figure out,” Matusky adds. “But the more time you invest in making sure every text message has value, the more ROI you’ll get.”
10. DO: Make it feel exclusive
When thinking about how to provide long-term value and drive customer retention via SMS marketing, Higbee recommends looking inward. “I tell everybody to literally just go back to their own experience, here,” he says. “We’re all consumers. We all deal with these things day in and day out.”
Compared to discounts, Schanzer says, “there’s just so much more you can do with SMS—things that aren’t salesy but are rather helpful.”
In other words, as Wheeler puts it: “Give people a long-term reason to care.”
Remember, half of consumers only subscribe to 2-3 brands via SMS. “It’s not like you’re just pulling someone off the street who doesn’t like you that much,” Higbee points out. “If they’re signing up for SMS, they love your brand. You need to treat them as such.”
This is where many experts recommend using SMS as an exclusive channel for VIP customers. Whether that means sending links to gated podcasts or early access to new product drops, brands that take this approach are saying, “we recognize texting you is more personal than just sending you an email, so we’re going to make it worth your while,” Hand explains.
“Think of creative ways you can create almost a subculture within your brand for your most loyal fans—the people who buy every product you send out,” Wheeler agrees. “When you create an exclusive experience for people who share their phone numbers, they feel like they’re getting something special. That makes them want to stick around for the long run.”
11. DON’T: Be afraid of SMS automations
It’s a widely accepted fact: For both email and SMS, “campaigns are likely going to generate more revenue than automations,” Hand says.
The reason for that comes down to simple numbers. “It may vary depending on what industry you’re in, but most of the time it’s because with campaigns, you’re sending to more people in general,” Hand explains. “More people are going to see those messages, so more people are going to end up converting.”
Automations, however, are more likely to garner higher customer engagement, including click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates. “Flows are more targeted, they’re more personalized, and they’re hyper-relevant to what the subscriber is doing because whatever they’re doing triggered that experience,” Hand explains.
“You’ll usually get more money from campaigns, but in terms of your customer experience, automations are where the value comes in for your end user,” agrees Matusky, who believes SMS “is actually super well-suited to automations.”
Here are 3 SMS flows to consider experimenting with:
The SMS welcome series is “a critical flow,” Matusky says. “It’s really important that people know they’re actually going to get contacted in the channel as soon as they sign up for it.”
What you send in that first message “sets the tone for the entire customer relationship,” Matusky explains. “Investing time there to clarify, ‘Hey, we’re so excited to connect with you here, here’s what you can expect’—that’s a really great way to start to build that relationship and make sure you have those foundational pieces in place to continue to grow.”
“Some people think marketing is only about driving a new sale,” Higbee points out. “But marketing is also the customer experience”—and that means keeping your current customers engaged post-purchase.
Post-purchase flows include transactional messages—remember, consumers want more order and shipping confirmations via text, according to our consumer sentiment report—but they can also be a bit more involved.
Here are a few ideas:
- Higbee recommends sending customer experience surveys after an event or sale and using that information to improve your business operations or drive an increase in positive online reviews.
- Matusky is a fan of quick thank-you texts that show there’s a person behind the brand, especially for retailers with entrepreneurial roots.
- Instead of sending a discount or a related product after someone places an order, Schanzer suggests “texting them a link to a video that shows them how to get the most use out of their product.”
Style tips, recipes, instructional videos, dad jokes—“there are all these creative ways of interacting with your customers after they’ve purchased where you’re not selling them on something,” Schanzer says, “but you’re trying to build a relationship off of that post-purchase touchpoint.”
This is a big one for Matusky. Although replenishment flows have a reputation for only applying to “really niche brands,” she says, they can actually work well in a variety of industries, from consumer packaged goods to makeup to wellness.
“You know how long your products last. Use that information,” Matusky advises. “This is something that can provide really high value for your audience.”
12. DON’T: Send too much
As we’ve seen, “texting has the power to be this super effective personal channel for your VIPs and your best customers,” Schanzer says. But because marketing directly to someone’s mobile device feels more intimate, “it also has the power to annoy people more so than email.”
With email, “the idea is to stay in the top of the inbox because the inbox today is so crowded,” Hand says. “Your email subscribers are not going to see every email.”
“SMS is not like that,” Hand points out. “Almost 100% of those text messages are going to be read.”
Even if every single text you send is relevant and engaging because you’re using all the do’s outlined so far, you still need to find a frequency balance that works for your brand, says Hand, who recommends starting with at least 2 campaigns per month.
“From there, work up to getting a text message out there to a targeted audience at least once a week,” he suggests (more on recommended frequency below).
As you’re figuring out your send cadence, don’t make the mistake of viewing SMS as a filler channel, Matusky cautions. “You really need to be strategic,” she says. “It shouldn’t just be like, ‘I need to plug a gap—I don’t have an email today, so I’m gonna send an SMS.’ It’s really thinking about, ‘What am I planning here, and what am I trying to accomplish?’”
Klaviyo has a quiet hours feature that helps you make sure you’re not sending text messages to consumers during mandated no-contact times. As Schanzer emphasizes, “You need to be careful. Know how much you’re sending and why.”
13. DO: Send frequently enough
That said, Higbee cites not texting enough as a prime way to break trust with your customers. Many marketers are understandably wary of annoying their subscribers by texting too much—but if you barely text at all, “now, you’re not delivering on your promises or treating your loyal customers with the exclusivity they deserve,” Higbee points out.
Consistency, therefore, is key. On a monthly basis, Klaviyo recommends:
- Sending 2 major SMS announcements for promotions, new releases, or holidays to your full list, excluding profiles that have already converted
- Sending 2 follow-up SMS campaigns to the major announcements, either for early access or last call before the sale ends
- Sending 3 targeted SMS campaigns to segmented audiences, such as:
- Category or product purchasers or viewers
- New subscribers who haven’t made a purchase yet
- Adding SMS to at least 4 of your flows:
- Welcome series
- Abandoned cart
- Browse abandonment
- Transactional notifications
“You never want to end up in a situation where all of a sudden someone’s receiving a text from you when they haven’t received one in 3 months,” Hand explains. “That’s going to seem a little bit out of the ordinary. They may not even remember why they subscribed, or that they subscribed in the first place.”
Plus, SMS is “a new muscle to learn,” Hand adds. “It shouldn’t be something you put on the side and wait for, because you’re not going to get better at communicating and texting with your consumers by waiting.”
As SMS becomes a more and more common marketing channel for your competitors, “you need to practice and figure out what actually works,” Hand says.
“It sounds a little cliche, but people just need to try it,” agrees Wheeler, who recommends checking out Klaviyo’s free, ungated “Getting started with SMS” resource for guidance on:
- What to look out for
- How to set up SMS marketing in Klaviyo
- Which key campaigns and flows to launch first thing
- How to interpret your data moving forward
“This doesn’t need to be scary,” Higbee adds. “The ROI is there and you can prove it—start small, quantify the value, show the dollars, and use that as the foundation to grow your program. Don’t make it more complicated than it is.”
14. DO: Track your performance
Speaking of the dollars: The No. 1 way you can tell your SMS marketing is working, experts agree, is to track whether the channel is generating revenue for you.
But first, “you really need to define your ROI goals,” says Higbee, who recommends asking yourself questions like:
- What is our primary objective?
- Top-line revenue?
- Bottom-line profit?
- How is our marketing ROI calculated?
- Based on payback period vs. expenses?
- Based on customer acquisition cost (CAC) vs. customer lifetime value (CLTV)?
- Based on revenue vs. customers retained (churn reduction vs. increase in loyalty)?
Once you’re ready to dig into KPIs, Wheeler reminds brands that open rate is a vanity metric in SMS because most people read their texts just to get rid of the notification on their mobile device. “You want to know people are not only looking at your texts, but engaging with them,” Matusky points out.
Instead, experts recommend paying attention to engagement metrics like CTR and conversion rate—as well as disengagement metrics, like opt-out rate.
Higbee adds subscriber volume, or growth rate, to that list—“that’s a nice simple way to understand whether your efforts are paying off,” he explains—as well as keyword response rate, such as how many subscribers texted back SALE to receive a discount code.
Matusky and Wheeler both encourage brands using Klaviyo SMS to check out Klaviyo’s SMS benchmarks to understand how they’re performing in relation to their peers.
“That way there’s no guessing around, ‘Is that a good conversion rate?’ Yes, that’s a good conversion rate—you’re doing great,” Wheeler says. “So without holding your hand, we’re empowering you to own your data and make informed decisions on how to leverage SMS moving forward.”
15. DON’T: Make assumptions
There’s an important difference between an assumption and a hypothesis—the latter has data in its corner, and data changes all the time. Making informed decisions, then, requires acting on the numbers you’re tracking. Continuously.
“Assume nothing,” Higbee says. “Don’t assume that an SMS marketing methodology written in a blog is right for your company. Test it out, make data-driven decisions, and then find out what works best for your particular situation.”
“You need to test and iterate in real time to see what actually works and gets people excited,” agrees Hand, who notes it’s easy to A/B test a variety of factors in Klaviyo:
- Shorter vs. longer copy
- Different terms for the same thing (for example, “discount” vs. “sale”)
- SMS vs. MMS
- Hyperlink structure and/or placement
- CTA verbiage
- Use of emojis
“Review and adapt and change based on what works and what’s not working,” Wheeler agrees. “Your customers and potential customers are going to interact with your content differently than they would with another company’s. Ideally you’re analyzing on a regular basis to understand how effective your messages are at converting.”
16. DON’T: Separate email and SMS into two different platforms
That kind of analysis is a whole lot easier, experts agree, when you use a unified email and SMS marketing platform like Klaviyo.
Here are a few reasons why separating email and SMS into two different platforms is a bad idea:
It creates a poor customer experience
“When you’re running those two channels side by side in different platforms, you’re relying on an integration to pass data back and forth, which inherently means there is some latency there,” Hand explains.
Latency means delays. “Whether that’s 15 minutes or an hour or 24 hours, all of a sudden that customer experience is delayed as well,” Hand points out. “So your customers may not be getting the same experience they would if all that data was pumping into the same platform in real time.”
Plus, data gaps mean “you may start to get a little bit redundant with your messaging,” Hand cautions. For example, “if you don’t see in real time who converted from the email you just sent, you might send them a text message about the same deal they already shopped.”
With a unified platform like Klaviyo, by contrast, “real-time data determines which experience each customer is going to receive,” Hand explains.
It creates more work for your team
In addition to lower visibility into “who’s getting what when,” as Matusky puts it, managing your email and SMS marketing efforts in two separate platforms makes life harder on your team.
“It’s very hard to discover the ‘why’ or whether something is working if you don’t have all of it in a single warehouse,” she points out. “Technically, you can do them disjointed, but it requires scheduling separately, building things separately, and testing and testing and testing.”
That kind of scattered approach creates more than just headaches—it also creates compliance issues, Matusky cautions. “Things get missed very easily because of that,” she says. “I get text messages at all kinds of hours from brands not using Klaviyo because they forget what they’re doing, or they’re in the middle of working between 3 different platforms.”
The result? “High unsubscribes, being labeled as spam, and people reaching out over compliance issues,” Matusky says. “Those unknowns and the anxiety of messing up are just so much greater when you’re using multiple platforms.”
With a unified platform like Klaviyo, “you can see it all in one place and move very fast,” Matusky explains. “That makes it easier for someone to go in and create and track these journeys and manage all of this.”
Klaviyo also uses a cooperative last-touch attribution model, which better measures email and SMS ROI and doesn’t overprescribe revenue to your SMS efforts.
It limits your visibility into what your customers want
With two different platforms for email and SMS, it becomes challenging to keep track of which people have opted in to either channel, both, or neither.
The “beautiful thing about having all that data consolidated within one platform,” Hand says, is that you can view, on a single customer profile, all the communication channels someone has opted into. “That way, I’m not messaging someone asking them to opt in if they’ve already opted in, or texting someone who hasn’t consented to receive text messages.”
That’s what’s so “great and strong about Klaviyo,” Wheeler says—“you have that information about your customer all in one place, so you can understand what kinds of messages they respond to and how they engage with each channel.”
“It’s almost like you have the ability to A/B test the channels, as opposed to pulling in data from platforms and having to rationalize them in Excel or something,” Wheeler adds. “You can really get a full understanding of what your customers care about, how they want to be communicated with, and what’s working across channels.”
Schanzer summarizes it this way: “Combining SMS and email in a single platform means you have a single place for list growth and consent management, it means you have more accurate attribution across channels, it means you’re better at coordinating your customer communications, and it rounds out your database so you’re able to use the right integrations to power the right messages at the right time.”
SMS marketing ROI FAQs
What is a good ROI in SMS marketing?
Unfortunately, it depends. Whereas there are benchmarks for SMS metrics like click rate (14.6% and above is considered great for campaigns; 15.4% and above is considered great for flows), conversion rate (2.1% and above is considered great for campaigns; 3.6% is considered great for flows), and revenue per recipient ($2.42 is considered great for campaigns), what constitutes “good ROI” in SMS marketing is subjective.
How to calculate SMS ROI?
The same way as any other marketing campaign—for example, by measuring cost vs. revenue. Defining your ROI goals requires understanding your primary objective as a business (for example, top-line revenue vs. bottom-line profit), as well as whether your brand’s broader marketing ROI is calculated based on payback period vs. expenses, customer acquisition cost vs. customer lifetime value, revenue vs. customers retained, etc.
One way to calculate the revenue potential of a new SMS campaign is by using the following equation:
(total audience x conversion rate = # of purchases) x average order value = revenue potential
For example, if you send an SMS to 500 people at a 2% conversion rate, you can expect to see 10 purchases. If your average order value is $50, your revenue potential from this SMS campaign is $500.
What is the best way to increase my SMS ROI?
This, too, depends on your business. Some creative strategies for increasing SMS ROI include using SMS in tandem with email; reserving SMS as a channel for exclusive, VIP, and/or timely content; growing your SMS list compliantly, via on-site forms, email campaigns, or at check-out; using double opt-in to ensure your SMS subscribers will engage with the channel; segmenting your lists; and implementing SMS automations like welcome series, post-purchase flows, and replenishment reminders.