Cultural fit: building SMS marketing strategies for the UK and Europe

Lizzie Davey
9min read
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“Every car has a high-quality body,” claimed Ford’s ad campaign. Catchy—in English…

But when the same slogan was translated into Dutch, it quickly took a dark turn: “Every car has a high-quality corpse.” We can feel the ad team cringing from here. 

Translations can make or break a multi-market campaign, but it’s not just language barriers that can hold you back. Different regions have different interests, pop culture references, and requirements which demand careful consideration if you don’t want to end up wincing as hard as the Ford advertising team. 

It’s the same with SMS marketing

There are a lot of positives about promoting your products via text message. It feels more intimate than an email, lands directly in text message inboxes alongside notes from friends and family, and has higher open rates than email. 

But the sentiment towards SMS differs depending on who the recipient is. Some people love them, some people are more sceptical and, while there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for every location, there are cultural differences between markets—especially when the playing field is as big and diverse as Europe. 

SMS plays an important role in effective multichannel strategies because it’s so instant and intimate, but how you use it will ultimately depend on who you want to reach and the regulations at play. Different audiences require a different touch, whether that’s a different tone of voice, cadence, or preferred text message type. 

SMS marketing in the UK

UK consumers are the most open to SMS messages out of the most prominent European markets. 64% say businesses should use SMS more than they already do and they actively want brands to text them. If that’s not the biggest green light ever, we don’t know what is. 

UK consumers have fast fingers—the average person checks an incoming text message within 3 minutes of it landing in their inbox. This makes it an ideal channel for sharing important updates and limited-time offers. 

SMS open rates are considerably higher than email too. Promotional text messages have an average click rate (CR) of 36%, compared to 2.25% from email. 

What kind of messages should you send to your UK audience? 

SMS campaigns can act as the bonding glue in your wider marketing strategy. You can use them to promote offers, engage customers, reward loyal buyers, and drive traffic to your website. 

Time-sensitive offers

Most UK consumers are glued to their phones. While they might miss out on a limited-time offer sent via email, there’s very little chance they’ll miss it via text. Share limited-time discount codes or one-off deals, like 24-hour flash sales, and product drops.

Limited inventory 

As well as monetary incentives, SMS messages are great for inciting FOMO and generating scarcity around your brand and products. Text customers to let them know a product they expressed interest in is almost out of stock, or highlight a product line you’re about to retire. 

New or recently restocked products

The instant nature of SMS messages means they’re ideal for launching new products and creating anticipation. Alternatively, reach out to customers who have expressed interest in an out-of-stock product when it’s available again. 

The legalities of SMS marketing in the UK

SMS marketing is very much a norm in the UK but there are compliance laws you need to stick to. Make sure you’re following data privacy regulations as outlined in GDPR and the Data Protection Act of 2018. 

This means gaining explicit consent to send texts to customers. As well as highlighting exactly what consumers are signing up for—including how often they’ll hear from you and what type of messages you’ll send them—you should implement a double opt-in to make extra sure people want to sign up (and they haven’t hit the button by mistake). 

In fact, brands that use Klaviyo can’t send texts to people who haven’t opted in, so there’s an extra layer of certainty and compliance. 

SMS marketing in France

French consumers are also open to receiving SMS messages from brands. 60% already receive texts from their favourite companies, but they also relish a healthy mix of email and SMS campaigns more than any other market. 

While the French SMS market isn’t quite as progressive as the UK (yet) SMS marketing is on the rise. Texts are a great way to meet this growing market where it matters and stand out among other brands that continue to lean on traditional forms of marketing. 

What kind of messages should you send to your French audience? 

The French market isn’t too dissimilar from the UK market, except it might not be as open to receiving promotional texts. Apply caution here and, as always, don’t bombard consumers with messages, or you’ll lose them quickly.

Promotional messages—sparingly 

Sending SMS messages bypasses the busy email inboxes of your French market and reaches them where they’re interacting with their nearest and dearest. You’re just one quick ping away from a sale, whether that’s through a limited-time promotion, flash sale, or discount.

Personalised messages

First impressions count, especially in a growing market that’s just starting to dip its toes into SMS marketing. Instead of sending bulk messages, make your first impression count with thoughtful, personalised messages. Send recommendations based on previous purchases, share content related to the recipient’s interests, or offer unique discount codes to your most loyal customers. 

Abandoned cart messages

Remind shoppers they’ve left something in their cart with a short, sweet abandoned cart reminder. This feels less invasive than promo emails because you’re tying your message to an action the consumer has already taken. 

The legalities of SMS marketing in France 

Emily in Paris taught us that the French have strict working hours—they need to have at least 11 hours of consecutive rest a day, and this extends to SMS marketing regulations. 

Businesses can’t send marketing messages before 8am or after 8pm on weekdays, before 10am or after 6pm on Saturdays, and not at all on Sundays or national holidays. If you do slip up (time zones are a struggle), don’t panic—your message will be queued to go out the next day. However, this can impact any limited-time offers if they expire before marketing hours open up again. 

As well as sticking to these hours, you’re legally required to give French consumers the ability to opt out of all promotional messages via a short code. You can choose this short code yourself, or use a generic codeword like “STOP”. 

SMS marketing in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland

The DACH market (which comprises German-speaking countries Austria, Switzerland, and, of course, Germany itself) are keen mobile phone users. So much so, that 40% say they spend too much time on their phone, with the average German spending about 2.5 hours staring at their screen every day.  

But despite their high mobile usage, Germany is one of the only markets where consumers prefer to communicate with brands differently. One study revealed that Germans spend more time interacting with social media ads and search ads than text messages compared to other countries that chose SMS and email as their top channels. 

Of those who are open to receiving branded SMS messages, 33% preferred to receive messages once a day, while a further 24% only wanted one message a month. It’s better news if you’re targeting Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers, as 26% are open to more frequent messaging. 

What kind of messages should you send to your DACH audience? 

The majority of Germans and the wider DACH market consider their SMS inboxes as private, intimate spaces reserved for friends and family. This means you might have to put more thought into what kind of content you send to this audience. 

Transactional messages

Despite the DACH market favouring email and social media, text messages can still serve a functional purpose. Use them sparingly to send core transactional messages, like order confirmations and shipping information. 

Personalised content 

26% of Germans said a good marketing text message points to relevant products. Take the opportunity to share personalised product recommendations or content that leans into their interests. 

Exceptional deals—not your everyday discounts 

The DACH market’s aversion to SMS marketing doesn’t mean you can’t share a few promotions now and again—just make sure they’re highly relevant and an exceptional deal. 29% of Germans said a good text message includes an offer or a discount, with the caveat that it’s geared towards their needs. 

The legalities of SMS marketing in the DACH market 

Germany falls under GDPR legislation, which requires explicit consent from recipients to receive SMS messages. Austria and Switzerland follow similar compliance guidelines. As well as explicit consent, you need to give recipients the opportunity to remove themselves from any type of marketing at any time. 

In Austria and Switzerland, you can only send messages during daytime hours unless it’s urgent and campaigns should always have a HELP or STOP message in the recipient’s local language. You can’t contact end users on do-not-call or do-not-disturb registries. 

SMS marketing in the Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg

The Benelux market (a.k.a. Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg) predominantly shop online, which is good news for brands looking to digitally connect with this market. In fact, research shows that people in this region are likely to have an exclusively online research and purchase journey, which makes them more receptive to SMS marketing campaigns. 

With retail confidence on the rise in The Netherlands and Belgium, there’s never been a better time to show up in consumer inboxes. 

What kind of messages should you send to your Benelux market? 

The progressive, business-focused culture of the Benelux market creates an experimental landscape for SMS marketing. As much of the buying journey is carried out online, send a healthy mix of product recommendations, deals, and nurturing information to build deeper connections. 

Promotional messages 

The Benelux market is used to fast, progressive ways of doing business and is no stranger to promotional messages. Send your latest deals and discounts, or share time-limited offers to generate excitement around your products. 

Personalised, nurturing messages

The preference for online buying means there’s a lot of competition between progressive brands serving the Benelux market. Stand out by sending highly-personalised texts that drill into the recipient’s specific needs, interests, and attributes. 

With Klaviyo, you can create targeted customer segments based on previous purchase history, product preference, and other demographic data.

Traffic-driving messages

Use SMS as a stepping stone in a multichannel sales cycle and encourage Benelux shoppers to visit your website to continue their buying journey. 

The legalities of SMS marketing in Benelux

The rules and regulations around SMS marketing in Benelux are very similar to those in the DACH market. Note that both Belgium and The Netherlands have banned any advertising or promotional content around gambling and betting. Otherwise, make sure you get explicit opt-in consent for each recipient, only send messages during daytime hours (unless it’s urgent), and include a “HELP” or “STOP” option in the recipient’s local language. 

Your SMS strategy: personalised content that matches cultural needs

The rich cultural landscape of Europe offers some exciting markets for brands to connect with—these are people who value online shopping experiences and are open to how they interact with technology. But the assortment of cultures and languages means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to SMS marketing in Europe.

Persona segmentation is an essential part of ecommerce marketing, especially if you’re targeting different markets. Catering to different regions means you need to personalise content that matches cultural needs as well as traditional buyer personas.

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Lizzie Davey
Lizzie Davey
Lizzie Davey is a freelancer who specialises in helping technology companies tell compelling, engaging, and rich stories. She is proficient in SEO, thought leadership, email, and content strategy. Lizzie is based in Brighton.