Text your customers without annoying them: 6 SMS marketing ecommerce experts give their hot takes
You’ve probably heard the statistics hundreds of times—the ones about how quickly people open a new text message and about how high the “open rate” is for SMS.
Because of those enticing engagement rates, plus the fact it’s a relatively easy channel to get up and running, SMS is one of the hottest marketing channels DTC brands are experimenting with right now.
SMS in marketing is still fairly new, though, which means it’s largely uncharted territory for marketers. As a result, many are jumping on text message marketing as a way to convert customers—without thinking through the unique experience of the channel, or the long-term SMS marketing strategy.
Here’s a secret: SMS marketing isn’t a quick win.
And here’s the first SMS marketing hot take of more to come: there’s a lot marketers are getting wrong with SMS today. But that doesn’t mean it can’t get better.
Here, SMS professionals from Andzen, Ben Zettler Digital, Electriq, and AMB Interactive all weigh in to provide the texting tips that won’t annoy your subscribers—and will earn loyal customers for life.
Differentiate email from SMS
Repeat after me: my emails and SMS messages shouldn’t be one and the same.
It’s crucial to appreciate SMS as its own, unique channel—separate from email. SMS and email may share similarities, but to be successful, you have to understand SMS subscriber expectations.
You shouldn’t be sending a shorter version of your email to customers via text. And sending those messages at the exact same time? You can do better.
There are a few ways to ensure you’re differentiating email and SMS in your digital marketing strategy, according to the SMS experts.
Use SMS for urgency
If you’re doing SMS marketing with the intention of copy and pasting your email campaigns over to text, you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for—at least not for long. Because people will unsubscribe.
When you have a unified email and SMS marketing platform, you have the innate ability to implement texts and emails as part of the same automation—which means you can rise above sending both at the same time.
So how do you decide what channel to send on and when? Jason Anderson, COO at Andzen, emphasizes that SMS should take priority over email whenever there’s a time-sensitive or urgent message, like a flash sale or a discount code expiring.
Wondering how to implement this in your pre-existing flows? Here’s how to think about it with 3 core marketing automations:
- Abandoned cart: Send a first cart checkout reminder via email, then follow up via text with anyone who still hasn’t purchased, or vice versa.
- Welcome messages: Welcome your subscriber to the brand via SMS, then send nurture content like blogs, product information, and the brand story via email. If they subscribe to receive a coupon code, send a 24-hour reminder text when the coupon code is expiring.
- Post-purchase: Use SMS to relay order confirmation and delivery notifications, then thank the customer for their order via email once they receive it.
Anderson emphasizes that it’s important to put yourself in the subscriber’s shoes when it comes to deciding which is the best promotional channel to use and when.
“What’s an instance where a subscriber would be disappointed if they didn’t receive a message? Think about it through that lens. If you had a coupon code that was going to expire and you forgot about it, you’d be disappointed,” Anderson points out.
Don’t sound like a robot
Consumer behavior has evolved to the point where we expect to see marketing messages in our email inboxes. When we receive a text, on the other hand, we expect it to come from a friend—or at least sound like it’s coming from one.
Stay true to your brand’s tone and voice, but use more conversational language over text. It might even be worth experimenting with texts that come from the founder or someone else on the team, so that they sound more human.
The bottom line is you want your texts to sound more conversational than their email counterparts—even if they’re automated, they should read like they’re coming from a human.
The team at AMB Interactive uses SMS as an opportunity to take a more playful and organic approach to marketing with their client, The Woobles, a brand that offers crochet kits.
“The Woobles’ brand is so unique, and we want to keep their audience highly engaged on SMS. We’ve observed that people love these witty and fun little messages we send,” says Josh Behr, CEO and founder of AMB Interactive.
“They look forward to getting another quirky text about Henri the frog or Bubbles the elephant, and they end up making repeat purchases because of it—ultimately resulting in a higher lifetime value.”
Keep it all in one platform
In terms of being able to implement a strategy that allows you to leverage both SMS and email to the best of your ability, Zettler urges marketers to consider using a unified platform rather than separate point solutions.
“Keeping SMS and email living within one platform is just as important as doing SMS at all. This is how you store all your data within a single user profile, so that you can then use it to leverage for the purposes of segmentation,” Zettler explains.
“If I want to text users that have opened 3 emails in the last month and placed an order, I’m not going to be able to do that unless I have Klaviyo for both email and SMS,” he adds.
Founder and CEO of Electriq, Brandon Amoroso, believes the biggest mistake marketers make with SMS is not keeping email and SMS in one platform.
“When you’re using separate platforms for email and SMS, it takes attention to detail and an advanced understanding of the integration between both platforms in order to have a successful messaging strategy early on,” Amoroso says.
Personalize whenever possible
Personalization is paramount when it comes to ecommerce SMS marketing, but don’t take our word for it. In a consumer study conducted by Klaviyo, personalization was the common thread for subscribers when identifying which messages they like receiving from brands:
- 48% of respondents said they enjoy receiving discounts tailored towards past purchases.
- 43% of respondents said they enjoy receiving offers related to their interests.
- 39% of respondents said they enjoy receiving messages about products and services they’re interested in.
- 31% of respondents said they enjoy text messages that include an aspect of personalization.
Amoroso sums it up nicely: “Personalization is by far the most important component of a successful SMS strategy.”
“Personalization is important with email marketing too, but with email, you get away with a lot more because it’s not as personal or in-your-face as text messages,” he adds. “The feedback loop is much tighter with SMS—if you don’t personalize your text messages, you’ll quickly see high unsubscribe rates and complaints. With email, people tend to just delete messages, and there’s not the same level of scrutiny.”
But personalization can mean different things to different marketers, and it’s important to distinguish between basic personalization tactics—like using someone’s first name in a text—and a more thoughtful strategy that puts customer data at the forefront.
Effective personalization in practice
For Amoroso, personalization is about combining Customer-First Data—the combination of zero- and first-party data—into segments.
“Once you build those segments, you can begin personalizing your text messages to different audiences,” he explains. “You need to be able to segment in order to do personalization, and if you don’t have the data to do the segmentation in the first place, then you can’t personalize anything.”
“That’s the power of Klaviyo—all the best-in-class tools pass all of the data into Klaviyo, so that you can create those segments, which feed into the SMS personalization strategy,” Amoroso adds.
Amoroso encourages marketers to consider the following criteria to jumpstart their SMS strategy:
- Orders placed
- Products ordered
- Last order date
- Demographic data
- Subscriber status
- Quiz or survey responses and results
This data will allow you to create more defined segments—and, ultimately, better personalize the content of each send. Plus, the more integrations you have, the more data you can leverage in your SMS communications.
Anderson suggests “thinking about SMS as a channel, and Klaviyo as your central tool.” By integrating your marketing tools into Klaviyo and using that ecosystem of data to power your SMS experiences, you can get more out of your tech stack.
For example, the Andzen team pairs their clients’ existing tech stack with Klaviyo SMS to:
- Collect reviews.
- Remind customers of recurring subscriptions.
- Rewards influencers for social sharing.
Amoroso provides a perfect example of how this data can come together in your text message campaigns:
“Rather than sending out the same campaign for an upcoming sale to everyone, pick a data point and use it to inform different segments. Let’s say it’s a skin care quiz, and the 3 skin concerns are dry skin, acne, and uneven skin texture. You could send out the same campaign to your subscriber list, but depending on which of those 3 answers were chosen in the quiz, you can tailor the copy and the first product that shows in the text to each segment.
As opposed to highlighting your facial cleanser for the uneven skin texture, you might highlight a toner that specifically targets that issue. For people whose skin concern was acne, you would lead with an acne cream. That’s how you can make it more personal.”
Make it a no-brainer for people to sign up for SMS—and stay subscribed
SMS experts agree that when it comes to making people want to subscribe—and stay subscribed—to text message marketing, most marketers are currently overlooking opportunities.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few ways to ensure shoppers find it easy and worthwhile to opt in to your SMS offering—without eventually responding, “STOP.”
Explore creative ways to grow your SMS list
Many brands provide the option for shoppers to opt in to marketing communications via their pop-up forms, but don’t explore more ways to grow their SMS list.
Amoroso suggests a few ways marketers can increase SMS subscribers:
- Create an invitational email campaign segmented to email-only subscribers, encouraging them to opt in to texts.
- Give people the option to sign up for SMS when they place an order.
- Put QR codes in your packing, making it easy for customers to sign up for texts.
- Allow people to sign up for texts through Instagram stories
For example, Amoroso invites Soylent‘s email subscribers to sign up for SMS in order to be the first to know when new flavors drop.
Customers of Andzen client Cheeky Chickadee also get amped about product launches—so Andzen incorporates them into their list-building strategy.
“To create hype around new season launches, we’ll send a teaser email alerting customers that a new collection is dropping soon—but we won’t always reveal the details,” explains Natasha Hanley, copywriter at Andzen.
“To play into the hype, we let email subscribers know that if they opt-in to SMS, they’ll receive early access to shop the drop. This creates a sense of exclusivity, and gives customers a great reason to opt-in to SMS. We’ve found that this is an effective tactic to grow a client’s SMS list,” she said.
Make an offer shoppers can’t refuse
Many experts suggest treating SMS subscribers similarly to how you would a VIP. And you don’t have to keep it a secret, either—when they’re signing up for texts, let shoppers know they’ll receive exclusive offers and early access to content they wouldn’t receive otherwise.
“Build exclusivity around the channel,” Amoroso suggests. “Whether it’s content, pre-order access, exclusive access to new products, insider tips, or something else, give people a reason to sign up for SMS other than just offering a discount.”
According to a recent Klaviyo survey, SMS subscribers want to feel like they’re part of a special group—but 20% of them don’t feel like the texts they currently receive from brands are delivering.
In the same survey, consumers reported that the following messages would make them feel part of an exclusive group:
- Invitations to VIP experiences: 38%
- Loyalty programs and benefits: 36%
- Birthday deals: 34%
Zettler experimented with creating exclusive experiences for SMS subscribers teasing and announcement and then setting up a flash sale for his client, Promix—and he witnessed incredible results. During the one-hour window where the sale was only accessible via text, the message had their highest SMS click rate for a campaign in the brand’s history—even beating their Black Friday Sale announcement on last-click attributed revenue by 4x.
If you can make your subscribers feel like they aren’t just another phone number on your SMS list, you’re more likely to earn loyal subscribers for life.
Reward loyal customers
Once you earn a shopper’s phone number, it’s important to continue to provide value and keep repeat customers happy.
With customers who’ve bought multiple times before, Zettler suggests using SMS as a way to foster engagement and product feedback, going beyond asking for reviews.
“Reach out to your loyal customers, such as people who have bought from you 5x, with a text message saying, ‘Thanks for completing your fifth purchase. We would love to know what’s your favorite thing and what’s your least favorite thing about what we’re doing,’” Zettler advises. “Use SMS to ask customers about what you offer, what you sell, and what we can do better with.”
“It’s another avenue to try to engage with users, and it breaks through the noise of email. Plus, customers appreciate gestures like that from the brands that they’re most interested in,” he adds.
For their client Little Party Dress, the Andzen team segments subscribers into 4 loyalty tiers to reward the brand’s best customers. The loyalty program, Club LPD, was created to replicate the feeling of an exclusive nightclub that doesn’t let you in unless you’re on the guest list.
“We send early-access SMS marketing campaigns for their biggest launches and events, like Black Friday Cyber Monday, and we stagger it by loyalty program tier, so the higher up you are in Club LPD, the earlier access you get,” Hanley explains.
“Customers in the top loyalty tier, the VIP Lounge, are often given access 24 hours before members of the lowest three tiers,” she adds.
The higher the loyalty tier, the better the results: The top tier of customers recorded an astounding 20.31% conversion rate.
Find your balance with SMS communications, and stick to it
How often should you send marketing communications vs. just engaging with SMS subscribers? How much texting is too much, and how much is not enough?
These questions can make marketers feel frozen, but SMS experts offer a few words of advice to find a cadence of communication that fits your brand’s goals—and meets your customers’ expectations.
Don’t be scared to text on a regular basis
The first tip is simple, Zettler says: Send more text messages.
“There are certainly some brands that text too much, which you don’t want to do. But others become so hesitant to send anything, they send nothing,” he points out. “You don’t want that either, because if you build a list and you don’t send a text in 6 months, then there are all these subscribers you’ve accumulated that haven’t heard from you—and they may not even remember that they signed up.”
Think about it: If you sign up for a brand’s text messages, months pass without hearing from them, and then you receive a text from them about a sale, it’s going to be an unexpected and jarring experience.
On the other hand, “if you consistently nurture your SMS subscribers, they’re going to be a lot more receptive to your messages,” says Zettler.
Consider subscriber engagement
Just because you’re texting consistently doesn’t mean you have to text all of your subscribers on the same cadence.
Amoroso urges marketers to consider subscriber engagement when deciding when to text. Similar to email, you can segment subscribers by their engagement with your SMS communications. It’s worth differentiating your strategy based on how often people are clicking your texts.
“You might have thousands of SMS subscribers who haven’t clicked on a text in 180 days, for example, but yet they’re still being included in the brand’s regular campaign blasts. That’s a waste of money,” says Amoroso.
Instead, he recommends sending more frequent updates to engaged SMS subscribers, and saving special offers that might be more enticing for those who are unengaged.
“It’s not like email, where you have to sunset them and stop communicating with them or risk hurting your overall deliverability. It’s more about putting subscribers into a bucket where you might only text them on Black Friday, or another big sales day,” Amoroso explains.
Use two-way texting as competitive advantage
Remember: SMS doesn’t have to be a one-way communication channel. You can also use SMS conversations to create a dialogue with subscribers and increase engagement.
Conversational texting can really help you stand out in your subscribers’ mobile inbox and create a better customer experience, since many marketers are sticking to one-off SMS campaigns.
“A lot of marketers look at SMS as a transactional form of communication. But the reality is that people can reply to texts in a much more seamless way than they would in email,” Amoroso says. “Most people don’t reply to marketing emails that they get, but people will reply to texts that they get.”
Offering dedicated customer support via text, Amoroso adds, is a major competitive advantage for ecommerce brands.
“A lot of ecommerce businesses don’t have the customer support on the other end to manage and handle customer interactions, which can be annoying for a consumer. Personally, if you’re going to text me, and I reply, I’m going to expect a response,” he says.
Steer clear of sales-only texts
One pattern SMS experts are noticing: Too many marketers are using SMS solely as a way to communicate sales, and they’re not diversifying their content enough.
“Each of your brand’s text messages come from the same phone number, so you need to tell a continuous story, since people can scroll up and see what all the other text messages were,” points out Phil Sblendorio, CRO at AMB Interactive.
When your content is too much of the same on SMS, it becomes glaringly obvious to subscribers when they look at the conversation—or lack thereof.
“There’s one company I always get messages from, and everything is sale, sale, sale, sale. It’s training me to never buy anything unless they send me a text for a sale. If you go back and look at your texts, and all the messages are the same, what’s the point?” says Sblendorio. “This is where you need to get creative when nurturing through SMS while driving revenue in a less obvious way.”
“When a brand hits me with a sale every week, as soon as I see that number, I already know what it’s about. It’s nothing exciting. I don’t even read it anymore. I don’t feel any connection to the brand, and it no longer makes me want to click and buy” he adds.
Rather than inundating your subscribers with the same promotions repeatedly, mix it up by providing value in a different way, such as:
- Providing tips and tricks, or other relevant content
- Sharing fun memes, pictures, or GIFs
- Sending customer testimonials or product reviews
- Announcing the launch of a new product, collection, or influencer collaboration
- Hosting a giveaway, contest, or event
- Replenishment reminders
- Encouraging subscribers to engage with your online store on social media
SMS for humans, by humans
It’s easy enough to get started with SMS. But crafting a strategy that won’t make shoppers want to unsubscribe after a week? That’s hard.
By learning from the marketing experts who’ve seen what SMS can really do for your business, you can craft a strategy that will have your customers screenshotting your texts (in a good way), sharing your brand with their friends, and coming back to your ecommerce store for more.
Ready to get up to speed with SMS? Read the crawl, walk, run guide to text message marketing.