What makes a great text message campaign? 11 SMS marketing examples + 5 SMS use cases to inspire your next send
When Ohio-based apparel brand HOMAGE launched their first SMS campaign to promote the release of their 80s- and 90s-style NFL Starter jackets, they drummed up 100 orders in the first hour alone.
According to Nathan Okuley, VP of brand marketing, the buying process was so easy, customer service calls actually declined—despite the massive volume of traffic during the product drop.
Ultimately, 86.9% of SMS customers clicked the in-message link, and 9% of fans placed an order.
Even more impressive: The campaign delivered $167 in revenue per recipient.
Those numbers aren’t representative of all SMS campaigns. In fact, they’re miles above average—a “good” SMS CTR, according to this SMS marketing industry benchmarks report, is 8.5%, while a “good” SMS revenue per recipient is just $0.14.
But in a post-iOS 14.5 world, HOMAGE’s numbers do show just how impactful SMS can be as a marketing channel—for the ecommerce brands that know how to use it right.
“As social media buys get more expensive, we will continue thinking about what’s cost-effective for us,” Okuley says. “Personalization and first-party data are only going to get more important, and when it comes to being at the fingers of our customers without being intrusive, SMS is our best channel for that.”
Read on to learn about:
- The 5 elements of a great SMS marketing campaign
- 5 SMS marketing use cases, with 11 examples—and why they work
5 elements of a great SMS marketing campaign
What makes an SMS marketing campaign achieve the kinds of numbers HOMAGE achieved with their NFL Starter jacket drop?
Unfortunately, as is usually the case in the realm of marketing, the answer to what makes a “good” SMS marketing campaign is: It depends. On your industry vertical, on your specific business, on the reason you’re running each specific campaign, and more.
But if you pay close attention to 5 core elements, you’ll be more likely to craft an SMS marketing campaign that drives customer retention and long-term SMS ROI for your ecommerce business.
1. A sense of urgency
When Klaviyo asked consumers what kinds of SMS marketing messages they want to receive more often from brands, they identified transactional text messages like delivery confirmations (64%), shipment confirmations (60%), and order confirmations (50%).
Next came coupons (50%) and happy birthday deals (39%), as well as upcoming promo announcements (31%)—and 62% of consumers said they’ll unsubscribe if they receive text messages that “don’t have a purpose.”
Notice a common thread? The content of your text messages should be time-sensitive—and it should also be meaningful.
“The key component of any SMS message is value,” says Kate Massey, head of APAC at Searchspring. “You’re asking for your customer’s time and attention—to stop what they’re doing and take notice of your SMS. Every SMS, therefore, needs to enhance the customer’s shopping experience.”
Remember, a text message grabs your consumer’s attention immediately. It goes directly to their mobile device—their main line of communication with friends and family. Texts can be distracting, and consumers prefer those messages from brands be worth that distraction.
In other words, the best text message a brand can send is a valuable one. Don’t bother someone on their phone unless yours fits that description.
“The brands that do SMS marketing well are brands that are reserving text for their most important messages,” says Jacob Sappington, head of email at ecommerce growth marketing agency Homestead Studio. “Brands that are willing to wait for the right moment to send a text often see that those messages tend to be really impactful.”
Klaviyo’s survey also found that over half of consumers will unsubscribe from text messages if they receive too many messages on topics or products they’re not interested in—and half will unsubscribe if they receive messages that don’t seem like they were intended for them.
“If you’re hitting up consumers with things they don’t need or don’t want to hear, you’re going to get a lot of unsubscribes very quickly,” warns Ashley Scorpio, senior VP of partnerships at Hawke Media.
By contrast, when Klaviyo asked what kinds of SMS messages from brands they most enjoy receiving, consumers identified discounts tailored to their past purchases (48%), special offers related to their unique interests (43%), and messages about products or services they’re interested in (39%).
More plainly: Consumers want more personalized texts from brands.
For Blair Peterson, VP of strategy at ethical jewelry brand and Klaviyo SMS customer Dana Rebecca Designs, 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.”
That’s exactly why Peterson spends most of her time in Klaviyo on segmentation. “Klaviyo provides tremendous opportunity and tools to understand the customer, where they’re spending time, and what emails or SMS drive their interest,” she explains. “It helps us make sure we’re creating tailored marketing that feels very personalized.”
Just like with email, “one of the biggest hurdles of launching SMS is getting the contacts in the first place and then knowing how to work with the data you have,” Scorpio adds. “If you’re providing a personalized, unique value to each person based on the tagged segments you’ve created, you can see a ton of specific income come from this channel.”
3. Timing + frequency
According to Klaviyo’s consumer sentiment report, 73% of consumers will unsubscribe from SMS if they receive too many text messages, and 69% will do so if they receive the same message too many times. 41%, meanwhile, will opt out if they receive messages at “inappropriate times.”
“SMS is powerful because of course customers are much more likely to see your texts than emails. But with power comes responsibility,” cautions Ken Ott, co-founder of Metacake. “If you send too many texts or send texts that are not compelling, customers will get annoyed and opt out very quickly.”
At the same time, “SMS is a channel you need to nurture a lot, because people will drop off a lot quicker,” points out Elliot Scott, founder and CEO of London-based retention agency ElliotDigital—and it’s a channel that requires patience, too.
“The build-up and the warming and the nurturing—we’re not talking days or weeks. We’re talking months,” Scott says. “The more consistent you are with its use, the more you’re going to be able to keep that audience active.”
The numbers prove it: Klaviyo’s survey found that 96% of consumers are willing to receive a text from a brand at least once a week—and 30% are willing to do so a few times a week. “There’s a good chance that even if you think you’re sending ‘a lot’ of text messages, you are still not sending enough,” says Katherine Burlock, senior account strategist at &BAM.
The “it depends”-like bottom line: Text your SMS subscriber list enough—but not too much.
Klaviyo recommends texting SMS subscribers 2-6x a month and sticking to a regular schedule, as well as sending your text messages between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. in the recipient’s local time zone.
“Be strategic about what time you send SMS campaigns,” suggests Alex Klein, VP of consumer engagement at 85SIXTY. “Many brands leverage an email strategy of sending at the same time on the same day of every week, but SMS performs better when you can hit the user at a moment in time you know they are likely looking at their phone.”
“I don’t know about you, but I tend to need a little break from my work mid-morning and in the late afternoon,” points out Ashley Ismailovski, director of email marketing at SmartSites. “During that time, I’m usually checking my phone for any notifications I might have missed. Make the most of this screen time by sending your messages when people are most likely to be checking their phones. Just be mindful of local quiet hours.”
Being direct—“kind of quick and punchy,” Sappington says—is “the biggest thing for SMS content.”
Homestead has run A/B tests to evaluate direct language vs. indirect language, and has found that “when you try to be a little bit too flowery, you just lose people,” Sappington explains. “Whenever we’re much more front and center about the offer or the reason why we’re texting, we tend to have better click rates, better conversion rates, and better revenue per message.”
Massey agrees that to optimize SMS click-through rates, you need to be “short and sharp” and “make your copy shine.” For example, “if you’re promoting a specific product, you’ll want to quickly give shoppers a sense of what it offers and how it fits their needs,” Massey explains. “If you’re promoting a campaign, make every character count to build excitement.”
“Less is more when it comes to SMS,” agrees Brandon Matis, owner of LUXOR, who points out another benefit of “simplified copy” in text messages: “better deliverability with carriers.”
Our consumer sentiment report found that 95% of consumers subscribe to less than 7 brands via SMS—and about half only subscribe to 2-3 brands via SMS.
So, what makes someone sign up? Over half of consumers opt in to text message marketing because they purchase from the brand frequently, or because they simply love the brand.
That’s a big reason why Cassie Benjamin, email/SMS channel manager at Tadpull, thinks of SMS marketing programs as loyalty initiatives.
When a customer gives you their phone number, “they’re trading you something really valuable—direct access to a text notification they will most definitely see,” Benjamin explains. “Define your strategy before starting and ensure you have a plan for providing value back to those customers.”
Exclusivity is a big reason HOMAGE was able to drive such incredible performance with their first SMS campaign. After releasing a hype video encouraging customers to opt in to SMS if they wanted to be first in line for the new jackets, HOMAGE used text messaging to share exclusive updates about the product drop—including the link to buy first when the time came.
“Klaviyo unlocked for us the modern way to shop,” Okuley says. “There was a feeling and a rush for customers to have access to something and in such a simple way. This changes the way we think about product dropping and releasing cool things and getting people excited about it.”
5 SMS marketing use cases, with 11 examples—and why they work
We’ve covered the elements of a great SMS marketing campaign. But what do those principles actually look like in practice—and what can they help your business accomplish?
Here are 5 SMS marketing use cases, with 11 examples of real-life SMS marketing campaigns that check all the right boxes.
1. Promote product launches, sales, and discounts
Email is a strong marketing channel because it drives high-intent traffic to your site at a low cost. But SMS campaigns built around product launches, holidays, offers, and price changes can help generate incremental revenue and customer engagement, too.
Klaviyo’s latest SMS marketing industry benchmarks, SMS campaigns drive, on average, over 5.6x higher click rates and 1.4x higher conversion rates than email campaigns. Sending promotional text message campaigns to your customers or subscribers, in addition to email, will likely increase your overall performance.
“Promotional messages are large revenue drivers for SMS,” says Emma O’Rourke, email and SMS marketing manager/copywriter at CURIO Agency. “People check their text messages more quickly and frequently than they check their email, so it’s convenient for subscribers to hear about sales and new products directly through text and have the ability to quickly purchase right away.”
Here’s a great example from microdrink brand waterdrop®: The text is personalized with the recipient’s first name, and gets straight to the point introducing the specs of a new product line. Instead of relying on a discount code to promote the new product, waterdrop offers a simple reminder that shipping is free after $20.
Similarly, in this promotional text, clean beauty brand Each & Every pairs playful emojis with a beautiful product image to introduce a new line of body wash, available in the brand’s best-selling scents.
Jen Brennan, director of digital marketing at Northern, observes that flash sales, in particular, “are great SMS ‘rope drops.’ So many subscribers will see the message and action it well before they see an email and possibly miss out on a limited-time offer.”
2. Coax abandoners back to their shopping sessions
Visitors that come to your site and browse the same product multiple times show high intent to purchase. And visitors who add a product to their cart but don’t purchase show even higher intent to purchase.
SMS cart and browse abandonment flows can prompt these visitors to take the final plunge.
Many ecommerce brands believe they need to include a promo code in their abandonment flows in order to drive conversions. Not true. Here’s a great example from Zend Coffee—notice how they use simple, on-brand copy, a beautiful product image, and a prominent CTA to remind the subscriber of the product they intended to buy. No discount necessary.
Drive more ROI with hybrid email + SMS abandonment flows
Even if you’re already using email to recapture lost shopping sessions, leveraging text message marketing automation in addition to email could help you increase your conversion rates. “If email is working really well, you can start supplementing some of the emails with a text, or replacing an email with a text,” Scott advises.
It could be the first message in a series, or it could be the third, Scott says. “A/B test to figure out which stage a text works best, and whether it’s outperforming email,” he suggests.
Unless the subscriber has consented to receive only email or only SMS, most of Dana Rebecca Designs’ flows are hybrid, Peterson says. “If they’re an SMS subscriber, the first touchpoint is coming to SMS vs. email, and that’s where we’ve seen a greater return,” she explains.
The brand’s cart abandonment flow consistently earns the highest engagement from subscribers. “In the beginning, SMS was the second or third touchpoint within the flow. But we see a higher conversion rate from being able to send the reminder directly to the customer’s fingertips,” Peterson explains.
“If they’re signed up for both, we want to send them both,” Sappington agrees. Homestead sets this up in Klaviyo by using conditional splits and time delays: “If someone’s getting a text, we want to delay that maybe 2-3 hours after the email, and then delay another day until the next email.”
“We know SMS is super efficient there, but we definitely want to utilize both and really come at it from an omnichannel approach,” Sappington adds.
A word of caution about abandonment flows: check your timing filters
Any customer would find it off-putting to receive an abandonment text shortly after clicking on an abandonment email and completing an order. With an SMS marketing platform that also manages email, filters make it easier to avoid texting a subscriber who’s recently engaged on another channel.
Sappington, for example, often sends texts to full lists instead of segmenting—but he adds exclusions on the back-end to filter out subscribers who recently made a purchase, haven’t engaged in a while, or have an open customer service ticket.
“Sending to disengaged audiences or those who have purchased within the last X hours is only going to hurt your KPIs,” summarizes Kelly Cunningham, senior retention manager at Fireside Digital.
3. Keep recent buyers in the know
Remember: The top types of text messages consumers want to receive more often from brands include transactional text messages like delivery, shipment, and order confirmations.
But not “leveraging SMS within transactional flows is a big miss for a lot of brands,” Klein observes. “It’s not usually thought of as a revenue-driving tactic, because at the goal level, it’s not. But in reality, the increased engagement you get typically results in increased incremental revenue—which drives tangible business results.”
“Transactional messages are underutilized in SMS,” Burlock agrees. “I personally love getting a text that lets me know my delivery is on its way or is waiting on my porch. It also gets the subscriber used to hearing from you—and, more importantly, wanting to hear from you.”
Ismailovski adds that transactional texts help prevent “common issues like repetitive inquiries about package status, missed deliveries, package theft, and more”—and also “give brands an easy way to follow up with customers post-purchase to ask about their experience, request a review, or suggest recommended products.”
In this order confirmation text from premium skin care brand Hello Skincare, the brand does more than just confirm the recipient’s purchase. They also include a cute image to build excitement, encourage the recipient to take progress photos, and share their social media link so that the subscriber can stay connected on other channels.
Here, Hello Skincare does a great job following this advice from Fiona Stevens, head of marketing at LoyaltyLion, on how to improve the performance of post-purchase SMS messages: “Take the opportunity to remind customers of the ways they can interact with your brand in between purchases. Tell them where to find you on social media, tell them how to create a loyalty account, and tell them how to find your content.”
4. Nurture your post-purchase customer relationships
On that note, “the foundational building blocks of customer loyalty start at the post-purchase phase,” says Sam Alder, lead CRM strategist at Ragnarok. “Creating a post-purchase experience consisting of a personal thank you from the brand, product education, and relevant cross-selling is the formula to retaining a new customer.”
Post-purchase follow-ups: the up- and cross-sell angle
Post-purchase SMS messages “are a great time to get the flywheel going and re-engage existing customers to queue up their next purchase,” observes Sharon Goldstein, CEO of LimeSpot. “Providing personalized product recommendations,” for example, “is a great way to retain their interest and get them visiting your site again.”
“Many brands use SMS as a microphone for newness and promotions, but it’s also a great tool for targeted upsells and cross-sells,” agrees Loretta Doria, senior strategist at Ragnarok.
For example: “You know what would go great with that couch? This rug!” “You got the bathing suit—now complete the look with these sunnies!”
“You get the idea,” Doria says. “Prompting and inspiring customers to their next most likely purchase in a specific way can be more effective than general marketing blasts.”
Post-purchase follow-ups: the non-promotional angle
But post-purchase SMS is also a prime opportunity for non-promotional communication with your new and repeat customers.
As you build out your SMS subscriber list, “it provides the opportunity to really interact with customers and use SMS in a more fun way,” Scott says. “It’s asking questions, it’s requesting user-generated content (UGC), it’s playing games with them—it’s just building community. I think that’s what a lot of brands are missing out on is that community element.”
“Brands have to send more community-building SMS messages,” agrees Mollie Woolnough-Rai, senior marketing manager, Penny Black. “Whether that’s to just check in with the customer, share some exciting content the brand has just dropped, or spotlight other members of their community, this will make sure that customers don’t just think the brand is reaching out for a transactional relationship.”
That could erode trust, Woolnough-Rai points out. By contrast, “brands that adapt their SMS strategy to emotionally connect will show customers they care about them on a personal level, ultimately building long-term customer loyalty.”
Consider this great example from Leggari Products, LLC, a brand that aims “to sell the industry’s most durable and user-friendly epoxy products while providing the industry’s most user-friendly installation.” In this educational text, Leggari celebrates “DIY Sunday” and shares a link to help subscribers resurface their old countertops—no purchase required.
Sparkling water brand Aura Bora takes a similar approach with this post-purchase MMS text, sharing a recipe for a homemade drink called the “Spiked Cactus” SMS subscribers can make at home—using Aura Bora ingredients, of course.
To promote a positive customer experience, you might also consider asking your customer if they have any questions or suggestions. “A lot of brands should be doing that more—asking for feedback,” Scott says. “Take that more personal approach. ‘Hey, I wanted to introduce myself, I’m the community manager of XYZ Brand, if you have any questions, let me know.’”
In this post-purchase text, organic skin care brand Essentially Haitos shares a survey link encouraging the recipient to share feedback about their experience with the brand. After greeting the recipient by their first name, the text expresses a human desire to learn more about their customers—and anticipates customer needs by promising the survey will take only 5 minutes to complete.
Here’s one last fun example from Pizzamas—a two-week annual event that is “equal parts fundraiser and celebration of community, with a healthy dose of absurdity and nostalgia,” according to Good Good Good.
For a brand that started as a niche internet joke, an SMS marketing strategy centered on daily jokes is a perfect fit. And after the joke, the text doesn’t try to pivot into making a sale—it just encourages subscribers to stay connected to the Pizzamas online community.
Overall, Stevens says, “the more ways you can show subscribers how to connect with you after their first purchase, the more likely you are to secure the next—and enjoy a longer-term relationship with your customers.”
5. Re-engage your best customers
Scott’s agency primarily uses SMS as a VIP channel. “We push it as a channel to sign up for early access,” he explains. “It’s not always a discount, it’s not always the biggest deals, but whatever it is, you hear about it first.”
Dana Rebecca Designs loves the early-access approach, Peterson says. “We are not a discount- or promotion-heavy brand,” she explains. “Our strategy is more around, ‘We’re moving new product into the sale section on Friday, but an SMS subscriber would find out on Thursday.’ Or, ‘We have a new product launch—get access a day ahead via SMS.”
In sum, Peterson says: It’s about sharing “small perks that make them feel exclusive and stay engaged.”
Choosing a text messaging marketing platform with best-in-class segmentation functionality allows you to reach VIP customers by defining SMS segments based on factors like:
- Purchasing a specified number of times from your brand
- Purchasing a certain dollar amount from your brand
- How active they are on your website, emails, SMS, etc.
- How many loyalty program points they have
- Their predicted lifetime value
The VIP treatment: speak their language
Remember: The best SMS messages are personalized and make subscribers feel special. That means the text messages you send to your best customers should probably be different than the ones you send to your one-time purchasers.
If you’re using SMS as a VIP channel, “you need to know these individuals who are on your SMS list,” Scott explains. “You need to know who they are, and you need to know how to talk to them. It’s friendly. It’s not generalized. It’s, ‘Hey, you signed up for this reason, you’re getting it first.’ You’re making it clear that because they’re on SMS, they’re within the loyal community.”
This text from premium skin care brand Rebels Refinery accomplishes exactly that. It’s clear from the very first line that the recipient is getting something special—the words “early drop” plus “VIP” are a one-two punch that make the subscriber feel like they’re getting in on something exclusive before they even open up the notification to read more.
The VIP treatment: make it worth their while
First dibs on back-in-stock or limited-edition products, like in the example above, as well as early-bird access to sales and upgraded discounts throughout the year, are all great ways to make an SMS subscription worth a VIP’s while, Benjamin says.
“They’re getting the discounts first, they’re getting responses quicker, and they’re the ones who’re hearing about new or limited-edition products,” Scott says. “That way, they know we’re thinking about them. That makes them feel like they’re in a channel that’s worth it for them.”
Consider this early-access reminder, in which kids’ clothing brand Cheeky Chickadee combines a brand-positive greeting with short, direct copy to invite SMS subscribers to access their new fall collection early. The inclusion of a secret password makes the invitation even more enticing:
Here’s another great example from The Peach Truck, a Tennessee-based fruit subscription brand whose mission emphasizes buying local. This colorful MMS message does several things to make the recipient feel special and connected to the brand:
- It’s personalized with both the recipient’s name and the sender’s.
- It reminds the recipient of their VIP status above the fold.
- It provides details on an exclusive new product that’s available for a limited time—it’s a special, seasonal fruit, one of the juiciest varieties of oranges, and it’s only harvested for a few weeks a year.
The VIP treatment: remind them that they’re special
Finally, using loyalty points “is another really fun way of doing it,” Scott suggests: “Offering loyalty-only products, asking for what products they want to see next, getting people involved and actually using the feedback.”
Texts about loyalty rewards are particularly effective at driving conversions “when offers are timely and relevant,” Massey says—“for example, when customers have reached a reward tier that entitles them to a free product, or when exclusive new items match that shopper’s interests.”
How to use SMS marketing to achieve “customer intimacy at scale”
HOMAGE dove into SMS marketing because they’re a brand that’s built on catering to niche fan bases, and text messaging offered a better way to identify customer preferences.
By adding SMS to their quiver of marketing tools, the team at HOMAGE discovered new ways to deliver authentic customer experiences at a scale they could have only dreamed of 15 years ago.
“I believe there are stories about HOMAGE that help you respect and fall in love with who we are and how it relates to you as a customer,” Okuley says. “I can’t realistically have a 20-minute intro conversation with every customer. I need customer intimacy at scale.”
And Klaviyo, Okuley says, is the SMS marketing automation platform that enables personal text communications in a way that “makes personalization sustainable, and still authentic.”
When you set up your text message marketing strategy on a marketing platform like Klaviyo, you’ll grow your SMS audience, convert new subscribers, and generate more purchases from existing customers.
Want to go beyond the basics? We cover everything you need to know to make sure you start from a place of value and end with loyal, lifelong customer relationships in this ecommerce SMS marketing series. Check out:
- What is SMS marketing?
- SMS marketing strategies
- SMS best practices
- Top SMS marketing software
- SMS integrations