As consumers embrace e-commerce at record rates, brands are finding new ways to curate their online shopping experience and capture their audience’s attention.
We spoke with three e-commerce marketing executives—Alex Dastmalchi, CEO of Vanity Planet; Kimberly Lewis, Co-Founder & CEO of CurlMix; and Noelle Sadler, CMO of Lulus—to discover their SMS marketing advice that will help you achieve your goals.
Tailoring experiences for the mobile-first shopper
As more shoppers rely on their smartphones to research and complete purchases, brands are placing an emphasis on curated mobile shopping experiences.
E-commerce women’s fashion brand Lulus is focusing on creating exceptional mobile-first marketing and web experiences. With the majority of their web traffic coming from smartphones, the apparel brand is investing in humanizing their brand and building 1:1 connections with their audience.
With so many people shopping online, it’s easy for consumers to forget that there are actual people on the other side of the screen. We want to bring the human element to the forefront.”
– Noelle Sadler, Chief Marketing Officer at Lulus
Lulus is building mobile experiences with human connections in mind. For example, the brand recently launched a bridal experience—complete with a new concierge service—to help take the stress out of wedding planning. Brides are paired with an expert stylist who can walk her through every step of the dress selection process for both her and her bridal party. These conversations can take place in real time across multiple platforms, creating a seamless experience for their brides. “We’re trying to take the stress out of planning a wedding, especially during a pandemic,” said Sadler.
CurlMix—which has always been a mobile-first brand—is also dedicating themselves to creating the best mobile shopping experience possible. The natural hair care and clean beauty brand wants their mobile shopping experience to be as simple as their customers’ self-care routines.
One of CurlMix’s key strategies to simplify the mobile shopping experience is reducing the number of clicks it takes to complete a purchase. The brand has a sticky “Add to Bag” banner that’s pinned to the top of the product page as a shopper scrolls through. This mobile-optimized design makes it even easier for a shopper to add items to their cart, no matter where they are on the page.
Forging direct connections with shoppers
Many brands are engaging with shoppers directly, due to the effects of upcoming privacy regulations and third-party data restrictions.
Lulus started rethinking the way they approached data when they began preparing for CCPA and GDPR privacy regulations. “That’s when we understood that owning as much of our customer data as possible was really important to us,” explained Sadler.
As a result, Lulus began proactively building out their own data warehouse to empower the brand to leverage customer data without relying heavily on third parties. “Owning our own data has allowed us to continue to promise our customers that we are doing everything we can to protect their privacy,” said Sadler.
For Vanity Planet, reaching their customers through owned channels has always been a top priority. To listen directly to their customers—and to remain steady as privacy regulations evolve—the brand has also invested in building their own database. With paid media accounting for only 10-15% of Vanity Planet’s budget, the brand is looking forward to experimenting with new, direct channels in the year ahead.
We’re trying things like direct mail, television, and more. There’s an entire world outside of paid social and search that is yet to be explored.”
– Alex Dastmalchi, CEO of Vanity Planet
CurlMix began diversifying their platforms a few years ago to strengthen their data privacy strategy. The brand places a significant emphasis on content marketing, reaching their audience through channels including Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn. “These are all places where you can have a low spend and see high returns,” explained Lewis. To complement this top-of-the-funnel strategy, CurlMix leverages SMS—an owned channel—to turn bottom-of-the-funnel browsers into customers.
Leveraging influencer marketing and SMS in tandem
As influencer marketing evolves, brands who have built their businesses in partnership with influencers are adapting their strategies. Increasingly, brands are viewing influencer marketing as a top-of-the-funnel strategy, and implementing SMS marketing as its bottom-of-the-funnel counterpart. After using influencer marketing to expand awareness and drive traffic, brands are strategically shifting the conversation from being one-to-many to 1:1 through engaging consumers via SMS. This strategic pairing empowers brands to convert followers and browsers into buyers.
Lulus, which started out as a word-of-mouth brand by partnering with bloggers, is constantly optimizing their influencer marketing strategies. As consumers began shifting their attention to visual storytelling, the brand began investing in channels including Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok.
I’m looking at TikTok for a lot more fun this year. Initially, we grabbed our handle and sat and watched what others were doing. We didn’t want to jump right in and do something in a place where it didn’t make sense. Now, as they open up their ad and influencer platforms, we’re continuing to watch it grow.”
– Noelle Sadler, CMO at Lulus
Knowing that their audience is spending more time on mobile, Lulus launched their text message marketing program to engage with consumers on their preferred channel.
Vanity Planet began honing their influencer marketing program eight years ago. Approaching the channel as a paid media opportunity, the brand has completed over 18,000 paid promotions in partnership with influencers.
“We’ve done everything from sponsorships to one-off promotions on YouTube, Instagram, and anywhere else we can find our audience. That’s delivered a lot of data to us, and that data is what’s making us more and more successful.” Vanity Plant continually analyzes data from their influencer marketing campaigns to inform their future investments and increase their ROI. By crunching the data from historical deals with influencers, the brand is able to build look-alike audiences that help them predict how an influencer’s audience will behave with the brand.
I think the more strategic you are about your data and what you want to get out of your influencer marketing, the higher the likelihood of your success. The more data you have and the more you crunch that data, the more you’ll be able to make intelligent decisions.”
– Alex Dastmalchi, CEO of Vanity Planet
After some initial forays into bottom-of-the-funnel influencer marketing that didn’t deliver the results they were looking for, CurlMix began rethinking their strategy. They decided to take a top-of-the-funnel approach instead, repurposing content from ads, social posts, and emails that had performed well in the past.
“We need people talking about us and searching for us, so that’s where our influencer strategy is focused.” Once a shopper reaches the bottom of the funnel, the brand leverages direct channels like SMS to drive conversions.
Retaining new customers and promoting loyalty
After driving record e-commerce traffic during the 2020 holiday season, brands are experimenting with new retention and loyalty strategies to drive repeat purchases.
CurlMix launched a subscription box, CurlMix Fresh, with new products that complement the brand’s core haircare products. The subscription box is designed to not only drive recurring revenue, but to increase customer loyalty through exclusive perks and moments of delight.
We know that if someone’s purchased twice, they’d be open to a subscription. We don’t offer any discounts bigger than what’s in our subscription, so you get a lot of value if you subscribe. You get free shipping, discounts, and might even get a free gift in your order. That’s because this subscriber is what’s most important to us.”
– Kimberly Lewis, Co-Founder and CEO of CurlMix
Lulus also knows that once a customer purchases from them twice, she’ll continue to purchase from them. To build a loyal and engaged audience, Lulus invites shoppers to join their VIP program after making a second purchase.
Following the holiday season, Lulus has amassed a large audience of customers who have made only one purchase. To incentivize repeat purchases, the brand is reminding shoppers that they’re only one order away from joining their VIP program. “We started identifying customers who are one purchase away from being a VIP. Then, using the data from our CDP, we can message them across other platforms to let them know they’re just one purchase away,” said Sadler. “We’ve seen a lot of success with that.”
Looking forward to 2021
Beyond optimizing their existing programs to meet increasingly mobile-first shoppers, brands are evaluating new opportunities to dive into.
To break out from their main digital channels, Lulus is considering testing some “old school” channels like TV, catalogs, and direct mail to drive top-of-the-funnel awareness. The brand will use these channels to drive demand before converting high-intent browsers into SMS or email subscribers that are ready to engage directly with the brand.
With e-commerce continuing to grow at record rates, Vanity Planet is looking forward to investing in technology that’s only just come into existence. They’re especially excited about text-to-buy and after-pay options, which give shoppers additional seamless shopping experiences to choose from.
Vanity Planet is also introducing new technology to propel product discovery and increase brand stickiness. For example, the beauty brand is launching a skin analyzer—embedded on their website—that anyone can use. It will score the user’s skin and provide custom recommendations, linking to Vanity Planet’s products.
CurlMix is excited to build out their automated text messaging flows as a complement to their email flows. “Automated emails already drive around 15% of our revenue, so I can’t imagine the results we’ll see once we launch even more segmented automated flows on SMS,” said Lewis.
Want to learn more about where SMS is heading and how you can take advantage of this critical performance marketing channel? Explore the Attentive Outlook, a new content series exploring the state of text message marketing.