How to Choose an SMS Marketing Platform [Checklist + Examples]

sms marketing platform
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SMS Marketing
Published on
Jan 4, 2023
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Marissa Sanford
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Everything you should look for when evaluating an SMS marketing platform to help you scale a list of subscribers, drive revenue, and build loyalty.

Short on time? Download the checklist.

A lot of brands struggle to reach their customers with relevant messages across channels. That’s why over 60% of brands are already using SMS marketing, citing strong customer engagement and improved ROI as the primary benefits. 

As e-commerce in the US continues to gain steam, brands are adopting a more sophisticated approach to SMS marketing to drive revenue, build loyalty, and increase retention.

Whether you're looking to start fresh, or want to know if you're working with the right vendor, you'll want to focus on finding an experienced SMS partner that integrates with your marketing tech stack vs. a one-size-fits-all marketing solution that may have gaps when it comes to SMS expertise, functionality, deliverability, and compliance.

Choosing a partner that not only meets your needs today, but can continue to keep pace with you, your tech stack, and regulations is critical. Use this post as your guide before you sign on the dotted line:

If your brand’s website is powered by Shopify, explore our Complete SMS Marketing Guide for Shopify Merchants.

What is an SMS marketing platform?

An SMS marketing platform lets you communicate with subscribers via personalized text messages, whether you’re offering a new promotion or reminding someone to return to their abandoned cart (for more industry definitions, check out our SMS Glossary). 

SMS shouldn’t be thought of as a bulk messaging or batch-and-blast tool. It’s a direct channel where you can have one-on-one, back and forth conversations with subscribers. In an era where personalized marketing is no longer a “nice to have,” choosing the right SMS platform can help you not only drive sales, but build long-term loyalty.

1. Easy set-up and launch

More often than not, the difference between a successful program and one that flops is a smooth rollout. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can send messages to shoppers and start driving more revenue.

Make sure nothing stands in the way of your ability to grow your subscriber list, send and schedule messages, create targeted segments, analyze the performance of your program, and more. Consider how much guidance you’ll receive from your SMS partner, and if they offer training and learning opportunities that'll help you boost your strategy (and revenue).

Explore Attentive’s Playbook and learn how our team will help you quickly get started, including:

  • Guidance at every step of the way, from launching and scaling your program, to setting revenue goals.
  • Training resources, best practices, and guidelines on important topics like content, compliance, list growth tactics, and send time tips. 
  • Texts We Love, our SMS gallery featuring hundreds of top-performing text messaging examples sent by our customers.

You should also prioritize an SMS marketing platform that focuses on reliable deliverability. Make sure your provider has close relationships with carriers, so they can quickly advise you when they're experiencing any deliverability issues or making any updates, and provide direction on how to resolve the issues.

2. Guidance on compliance

The SMS industry is held to high compliance standards, so adhering to SMS regulations is crucial. 

In the United States, you must be compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and the guidelines of the CTIA. If you don’t comply with the guidelines, it can lead to costly results including consumer complaints, suspension of your short code, and even lawsuits. 

It may sound intimidating to keep up with all the SMS-specific regulations, but don’t let it stop you from getting started with this marketing channel. The right vendor should be able to provide you with guidance and peace of mind. Make sure that they have the expertise to help you navigate the laws and remain compliant at every step (Check out our Marketing Privacy & Data Glossary to learn the most common terms and regulations you’ll come across when building your marketing program).

At a high level, SMS compliance requirements include the following:

  • Your subscriber must explicitly opt-in for SMS marketing, and it has to be a separate opt-in from email marketing. 
  • You must explain to potential subscribers what types of messages they’ll receive and clearly state how they can opt out. 
  • You must respect opt-out requests.
  • You can’t send text messages during federal- and state-specific “quiet hours.” 

Your SMS platform should also help you determine the right phone number for your business, whether that’s a dedicated 5- or 6-digit short code, a toll-free number, or an A2P 10-digit long code (10DLC). Avoid any platform that’s using standard P2P 10-digit phone numbers—known as long codes—as they’re no longer permitted for sending marketing messages, according to US cellular carriers.

For SMS opt-ins, we didn’t want to take any risks with compliance. Attentive was a big help in this regard. TCPA and CTIA compliance is built-in, and they went above and beyond to ensure that industry best practices were being followed.

– Alexander Sebelen, Senior Manager - E-Commerce & Digital, Frederic Fekkai

3. Integrations that connect with your tech stack

While SMS is a top performance marketing channel on its own, it can become even more powerful when integrated with your existing tech stack. The data you collect from e-commerce platforms, ESPs, CDPs, CRMs, and other technologies lets you centralize and access valuable customer details—so you can send more relevant text messages and increase revenue.

Integrations also help amplify your SMS marketing efforts and ensure consistency with your other marketing channels—so you can deliver more personalized subscriber experiences.

We believe in personalized customer experiences—both in our SHEFIT products and in our marketing, so it’s incredibly important for us to be able to utilize data between our martech systems. That personalization enables us to drive more revenue per message we send. 

– Ezra Chasser, Senior Director of Digital, SHEFIT

Think about your brand’s other important marketing channels—such as email or your website—and how you might be able to use customer data to improve your text messaging results. Then, make sure your SMS vendor lets you easily integrate with those channels. For example, Attentive has advanced integrations with select ESP partners to allow for easy orchestration across email and SMS, in addition to other marketing technologies.

You should also be able to integrate your SMS channel with your customer service help desk, so your team can quickly respond to customer inquiries via text messaging.

4. List growth tools

A healthy subscriber base is key to the success of your text messaging program. From converting website traffic into subscriber growth, to optimizing how people join your SMS subscriber list (whether online or offline), your text message marketing partner should offer a robust suite of list growth tools and take the manual work out of opting in subscribers. Without this, you risk significantly limiting your SMS list growth rate.

At a minimum, make sure your SMS marketing platform offers the following list growth strategies. Bonus points if they also allow you to grow your list across social media, dedicated landing pages, and more.

  • Convert on-site visitors: Engage your website visitors with a sign-up unit that’s displayed across your mobile and desktop websites, and encourage them to opt in to get text message marketing updates from your brand.
  • Scale email and SMS subscribers simultaneously: You’re likely already collecting email sign-ups on your website, so working with a partner that can easily add SMS to your existing flow is crucial for growing both lists. When evaluating SMS vendors, make sure they allow you to build your email subscriber list, too—and determine if their functionality is manual or automated. 
  • Drive offline sign-ups with Text-to-Join: In addition to driving subscriber sign-ups across your digital channels—including email, social media, and your website—don’t forget about using Text-to-Join options for in-store signage, checkout kiosks, packaging, physical mailers, outdoor advertising, business cards, receipts, event collateral, and more.

You should also make sure you have the flexibility to control what your sign-up units look like and where/when to show them.

  • Design high-performing sign-up units that match the look and feel of your website. Our platform’s design editor lets you edit and customize your sign-up units. And the Attentive team can advise on strategies for optimizing your design for your brand’s unique needs.
  • Optimize your onsite experience by controlling when and where you display your sign-up units. Our display rules include a Pop-Up Timer, Scroll Delay, and Exit Intent. 
  • Incentivize sign-ups by including coupons or offers. Use our auto-apply URLs, which send subscribers to your site with the discount code already applied, so that they don't need to copy and paste a code at checkout

Attentive offers 24 different types of sign-up units used by thousands of brands—designed with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and TCPA compliance in mind. 

It was a very easy process—we provided Attentive with a few different options of visual content, and they produced an incredible pop-up to start capturing new text messaging subscribers immediately.

- Chad Ross, Founder and CEO, Dorsal Bracelets

5. Sophisticated campaign message-sending workflows

Text messaging is another opportunity to engage, educate, and offer value to your shoppers. SMS doesn’t just increase incremental revenue—it’s a powerful channel for building brand loyalty, too.

Your SMS marketing platform should allow you to send revenue-generating one-time campaigns that showcase your product, promotions, and more. You should also be able to segment your campaign messages, so you can easily target any marketing initiative—whether it’s retention, awareness, or acquisition.

We also recommend checking for testing and optimization capabilities within your SMS campaigns. That includes being able to A/B test individual messages to find the copy, images, and timing that resonate most with your audience, plus see performance in real time and use historical A/B test results to improve future messages.

The great thing about Attentive is that we can be flexible with A/B testing our segmentation and messages—and pivot depending on what we see has the most impact. 

– Chip Malt, CEO & Co-Founder, Made In Cookware

6. Media options including SMS, MMS, and video

Consumers expect a polished and engaging experience—complete with eye-catching images and personalized information. Our recent survey found that 51.1% of consumers would be more likely to make a purchase if they received a text that included a GIF, image, or video. Only 15.9% indicated they prefer plain text messages with no media.

Make sure your SMS partner allows you to send a variety of messages. While all platforms should have plain SMS capabilities, you’ll also want to verify you can send text messages that include images, GIFs, or videos.

Your provider should also have A/B testing capabilities that let you understand how your subscribers are engaging with different types of messages—and whether they prefer SMS or MMS—to ensure you’re sending them the content they want. Your provider’s platform should allow you to easily understand which message variation was the most effective, and why.

For more best practices, check out our MMS image cheat sheet.

7. Personalized triggered messages that engage subscribers across the lifecycle

Triggered messages let you automatically drive revenue based on real-time behavioral data from your subscribers, like signing up for your SMS program, abandoning their online shopping cart, or making a purchase. 

You’ll want to make sure your SMS partner has built out multiple types of triggered messaging flows, including the examples below. These types of messages help make sure you reach your subscribers at the right time with personalized content. Plus, once these messages are set up, they’ll send on their own.

  • Welcome messages: It’s important that you’re able to start your text messaging relationship with new subscribers by sending a friendly hello, and sharing helpful information about your brand to establish a lasting relationship.
  • Browse abandonment reminders: If someone browsed a specific product, but left your website before adding it to their cart, this type of message can help encourage them to head back to your site to view the product again—making it easier for them to complete their purchase.
  • Cart abandonment reminders: If shoppers leave items in their digital shopping cart, you should be able to re-engage them with an abandoned cart text message. This type of triggered reminder helps recover otherwise lost revenue. 
  • Post-purchase messages: To keep past purchasers interested in your brand—and stay top-of-mind even after they buy something—you’ll want to make sure you can send them post-purchase messages.
  • Transactional updates: We know the worst part of online shopping is the waiting time between clicking “Buy” and receiving your order. Make sure you can give your customers peace of mind by sending transactional text messages, including order confirmations and shipment notifications.

8. Real-time, two-way conversations

Reaching your subscribers through two-way conversations increases engagement and deepens brand loyalty while providing your brand with valuable data. Make sure the SMS vendor you’re evaluating gives you the ability to send a variety of two-way text messages that invite subscriber replies—through both AI-assisted and human-powered messaging—versus messages that are only one-way. 

Sending conversational messages is an effective way to ask questions and gather more information about your subscribers. You can use their responses to build a robust profile of their preferences and behaviors—like the product categories they’re interested in or their unique style preferences—so you can send them more relevant messages that drive conversions.

For example, Attentive customers use Two-Way Journeys™ to encourage product discovery with fun quizzes or keyword-driven scavenger hunts, share personalized recommendations and offers, and more.

You should also be able to provide your subscribers with real-time support directly via text message, so you can get ahead of any roadblocks in the path to purchase and help shoppers get over the finish line. Attentive Concierge™ enables our customers to engage subscribers in back-and-forth interactions with real people, who answer their questions, offer advice, and ultimately, help drive conversions.

9. Personalization and targeting tools

Personalizing your text messages is critical to delivering impactful content that resonates with your subscribers. Leading SMS solutions should provide out-of-the-box targeting capabilities and integrate seamlessly with your existing marketing technology stack. 

This will let you create a more advanced segmentation strategy and target audiences based on anything and everything you know about your shoppers. At a minimum, your SMS platform should make it easy to set up the following segments based on:

  • Purchase history: Use purchase history and transactional data to develop profiles for subscribers who have or haven’t made a purchase over a certain time period.
  • Past text message engagement: How you define “engaged” should be specific to your brand and goals, but a common benchmark is any subscriber who’s clicked on at least one text message from your brand within two to four weeks.
  • Geographic location: This is especially useful for targeting weather-related merchandise or location-specific events, such as promoting new swimwear items to subscribers in warmer climates or inviting subscribers in specific zip codes to attend new store openings.
  • Shopping behaviors: Find your highest intent audiences by identifying which subscribers have viewed a product or added it to their cart without purchasing.
  • “VIP” status: Use subscriber data to identify your best customers, and develop messaging that'll build long-term loyalty and maximize revenue growth. Create threshold segments that subscribers can “graduate” into, such as VIPs who’ve spent a certain amount of money with your brand over a specific time period.

10. Reporting and analytics

Continually analyzing and optimizing SMS marketing performance ensures you’ll drive the best results and improve your program in the long term. By understanding what’s working with your SMS program (and why), you can implement learnings to refine your strategy.

When evaluating SMS vendors, make sure you’re able to set up custom reports, pull ad-hoc reports, and format reports to meet your business needs. Understanding how your SMS channel is performing shouldn’t feel like embarking on a research project.

Key reports for your SMS channel should include:

  • Subscriber growth
  • Message engagement and opt-out rates
  • Revenue attribution (on both a full program and individual message level)

Attentive offers many different types of pre-built reports that analyze your data and provide the transparency you need to understand how your campaigns are performing. You can generate an instantaneous report or schedule a recurring one. This is also helpful when sharing insights about your SMS program with key marketing stakeholders.

How to use your SMS marketing tool for maximum success

You’ve chosen your SMS marketing platform. Now, you’re ready to get your program up and running. Here’s what you need to do in the early stages to set your brand up for success.

  • Define your goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). What are your goals for SMS? How do you plan to meet those goals? How will you measure success? The answers to these questions create the foundation for your SMS strategy, from how you grow your subscriber base to the messages you send your audience. If you're not sure where to start, use this guide to help decide which metrics you should track based on your brand's goals.
  • Develop a plan for growing your SMS list, so you can reach more shoppers. Think about: How you'll incentivize shoppers to sign up for texts (e.g., discounts, exclusive access to new product launches). Where you'll promote your SMS program (e.g., your website on desktop and mobile, offline in your physical stores). How you can cross-promote SMS on your other channels (e.g., email, social media). If you want to drive email and SMS sign-ups at the same time.
  • Before you start texting your customers, work with your provider to make sure your SMS program is compliant. It's important to familiarize yourself with the basics of SMS compliance. But your SMS partner should be well-versed in the rules and regulations for text message marketing, and be able to provide you with guidance and recommendations on how to navigate them. They should help make sure everything from your sign-up units to the text messages you send are compliant.
  • Write and send the most effective text messages possible. Length, formatting, language, using multimedia like images, GIFs, video, and audio—all of these factors and more make a difference in how your text messages land with subscribers. Use these tips to craft SMS marketing copy that drives results.
  • A/B test your campaigns and triggered messages on a regular basis. Experiment with your tone of voice, different image types, emoji usage, send times, and more to see what performs best. You'll gain a better understanding of what resonates with your audience (and what's not really clicking with them). Just remember to only test one variable at a time for the most accurate results. 
  • Get to know your subscribers on a personal level. With tools like our preference collection options for sign-up units and Two-Way Journeys, you can proactively learn about your subscribers’ content and shopping preferences. And then, you can use those insights to segment and tailor your messaging based on their unique interests. 
  • Integrate your SMS channel with the rest of your tech stack. This includes your e-commerce platform (to access your product data), your ESP (to collect emails and phone numbers at the same time), your customer loyalty platform (to reward your most loyal shoppers via SMS), and more.

Remember: Prioritize a “more than software” platform. Look for a true partner that will keep your business goals front and center—one that listens to your feedback and focuses on building smarter and more efficient tools for you

Attentive drives an average 18.5% of total online revenue for e-commerce brands. Learn more about why thousands of brands choose Attentive as their #1 SMS marketing solution, and see what we can do for you. Try us for free.

Want to experience Attentive in action? Sign up for texts to unlock our exclusive, interactive SMS overview and see what might be missing in your current SMS program. You can also join SMS 101—an introductory course that teaches you how to unlock the full potential of SMS marketing.

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