Your guide to successfully getting your SMS program off the ground and sending text messages that drive results for your brand.
US consumers spend a lot of time on their mobile devices (about 4.5 hours a day). So it’s no surprise that the SMS inbox is a great place for brands to reach them.
Not only do text messages have an average 97% read rate within 15 minutes of delivery, but the average click-through rate for SMS is 20-35%.
Consumers are also happy to let their favorite brands text them. Many even end up shopping when they get a message that piques their interest. 81.2% of consumers are signed up for at least one brand’s SMS program, and 63% of them have made a purchase from a text message within the last three months.
If you’re ready to invest in SMS, the first step is to choose the best SMS provider for your business. Then, you can start creating a text message marketing strategy that aligns with and helps you achieve your goals.
Consider this your complete guide to getting started with best practices and tips for sending text messages that drive engagement, revenue, and retention.
Setting yourself up for SMS marketing success
When you're launching any new marketing channel, it’s important to get a strategic foundation in place first. SMS is no different. Here's what you need to do to lay the groundwork for your strategy, so you can launch and scale it successfully.
Understand the basics of SMS compliance
Disclaimer: the materials in this section are for informational purposes only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your legal counsel to obtain advice with respect to any particular issues or problems.
SMS is a regulated channel with its own set of rules and requirements. Before you start texting your customers, familiarize yourself—and your team—with the best practices for SMS compliance.
Here’s a quick primer on the regulations you need to know and adhere to in the United States:
- You must get express written consent from someone before sending them text messages.
- It needs to be clear to potential subscribers that, by providing their phone number, they’re opting in to receive recurring marketing text messages from your brand.
- Subscribers must be able to opt out at any time, and you’re required to respect opt out requests.
- You can’t send text messages during federal- and state-specific “quiet hours.”
Keep in mind: the right SMS vendor should be well-versed in compliance laws and be able to provide you with guidance and recommendations on how to navigate them.
Want to learn more about the basics of TCPA, CTIA, and ADA requirements? Check out our marketer’s guide to SMS compliance.
Decide who owns text messaging on your team
One question we get asked a lot, especially from marketers who are new to text message marketing, is “Who should run my SMS program?” The answer is that it depends—on your brand, the size of your team, your goals for the channel, and more.
For some brands, SMS fits within an existing team or function, like digital, CRM, or email marketing. Others have a dedicated SMS marketer (or a small team) that owns the channel and strategy. But you also have the option of working with a digital marketing agency that specializes in SMS.
Whatever you decide, you want the person or team owning your SMS program to have a strong grasp on mobile marketing and your brand voice.
Define your channel goals and KPIs
In your early days with SMS, figure out what your goals are for the channel, how you’ll meet them, and how you’ll define and measure success. It’s also a good idea to think about how you can use text messaging to boost your broader brand and business goals.
Some metrics to consider, whether you're focused on customer acquisition, increasing retention and repeat purchases, or driving revenue:
- Subscriber growth rate
- Click-through rate (CTR)
- Conversion rate (CVR)
- Return on investment (ROI)
- Number of repeat purchases made within a given period
Just like with your other marketing channels, the goals you set help shape your overall strategy, from how you attract new subscribers to the types of messages you send your audience.
Create a plan for growing your subscriber list
Growing a healthy subscriber base is key to the success of any text messaging program. The larger the list, the more people you can reach and influence through SMS.
There are four main things to think about when creating your list growth strategy:
- How you’re incentivizing shoppers to sign up for texts
- Where you’re promoting your SMS program
- How you can use your other digital channels to grow your list
- If you want to drive email and SMS sign-ups at the same time
You don’t have to tackle all of these things at once. Instead, determine where you want to focus your efforts first and build your strategy from there.
For example, when you’re starting out, your website should be a top priority. You’re already driving traffic there on desktop and mobile, so that’s where you have the biggest opportunity to convert your customers into SMS subscribers.
Make sure your sign-up unit offers shoppers something of value in exchange for opting in. We’ve found that discounts are typically the most effective incentive, but they're not your only option. You can also hint at exclusive first access to product launches and the opportunity to “stay in the know,” or encourage customers to join your loyalty or rewards program.
As you scale, expand your list growth efforts to other channels where you have an engaged audience: email, social media, and even offline, if you have a brick-and-mortar store. We also recommend experimenting with different opt-in incentives to see what types of offers work best.
Want more tips for growing your SMS list? Check out our definitive guide with best practices and examples.
Learn about your audience and their preferences
While you focus on building up your subscriber base, it makes sense to send text messages to your entire SMS list, so you can maximize your reach. But as your audience gets bigger, tailoring your messaging to appeal to different groups can help increase engagement and ROI.
The first step to sending the right texts to the right people is understanding your subscribers’ individual interests and tastes. One way to do this is by creating dynamic segments based on your subscribers' activity in real time, like the products they've browsed or purchased.
Another option is to use our Preference Collection forms, which allow someone to share their product category and content preferences as part of the opt-in experience. But you can also ask your subscribers directly about what they like through two-way text messaging.
Gathering these insights is how you create an effective segmentation strategy that keeps your subscribers engaged with relevant, personalized content.
Types of text messages to include in your SMS strategy
There are four types of text messages you can send to engage your subscribers, and they each serve a different purpose. Depending on your brand’s goals for SMS, you’ll want to focus on incorporating a healthy mix of one-time campaigns, triggered messages, two-way conversations, and transactional messages into your strategy.
Let’s break down the difference between each kind of message:
Campaigns are one-time or single-send messages that you can schedule in advance based on your marketing content calendar, or send on-demand to drive more sales in real time.
They’re ideal for creating a sense of urgency, like when you have limited-time deals and promotions and want subscribers to click-through and shop immediately. But you can also use campaign text messages to:
- Engage your SMS community with non-promotional content
- Build excitement around new product or collection launches
- Celebrate niche marketing "holidays" with unique promotions year-round
- Drive in-store traffic with geo-targeted or location-based offers
- Highlight your brand story, mission, and values with educational content
For many brands, the agility of SMS also allows them to come up with campaign ideas on the fly, and execute them same-day to capitalize on relatable or cultural moments.
Also known as journeys, triggered text messages are sent based on specific behaviors or actions your subscribers take, like browsing your website or joining your SMS program. They allow you to engage individual subscribers and encourage them to convert at key moments in their customer journey. You can use them to:
- Greet new subscribers with a welcoming first text message
- Convert high-intent shoppers with browse and cart abandonment reminders
- Keep recent buyers interested with post-purchase messages
- Re-engage lapsed subscribers with winback journeys
- Reach specific groups of subscribers with Magical Journeys
- Announce restocks, price drops, and more with product data triggers
Once you set them up, triggered journeys are “always on,” helping you drive ongoing engagement and incremental revenue without any manual work for you or your team. But remember: it’s important to check in on them, re-evaluate how they’re set up, and experiment with new strategies to continually improve their performance over time.
The beauty of using SMS as a marketing tool is that it’s made for two-way communication. Conversational or two-way text messaging allows you to tap into this—by inviting your subscribers to reply to your messages directly and go back and forth with your brand.
Here are some examples of how you can use conversational messages to deliver the kind of personalization and curation that consumers are looking for:
- Include a call to action like “text us back if you have any questions” in your campaign messages to set the expectation that subscribers can reply to your texts and get a direct response from your brand in return.
- Add Two-Way Journeys™ to your welcome series to learn about your subscribers’ content and shopping preferences (i.e., valuable zero-party data) from the moment they opt in to SMS. Save their replies as custom attributes, so you can use those insights to send them more relevant text messages in the future.
- Create a conversational quiz or scavenger hunt that gamifies product discovery for your SMS audience. Use keywords to deliver personalized product recommendations based on subscribers' responses or guesses.
- Provide your subscribers with 1:1 support throughout the shopping journey with Attentive Concierge™. You can answer any questions they have, help them decide what to buy, or resolve any issues they're facing, to get them over the finish line.
Not only are consumers open to interacting with brands like this via text, but they also say it improves their overall shopping experience.
Transactional text messages are an important part of the customer experience. They're sent during the fulfillment process, after someone places an order or starts a new subscription, making it easy for them to track the status in real time.
There are six types of transactional messages you can send to keep your customers informed from the moment they complete their purchase to the day it arrives on their doorstep:
- Order confirmed
- Order shipped
- Order out for delivery/delivered
- Order/shipment canceled
- Refund success/refund failure
- Subscription started/skipped
Sending these types of messages is also convenient for your brand because sharing status updates with your customers via text—and getting ahead of questions like, "When will my order arrive?"—can help reduce support inquiries.
The important thing to know is that transactional messages need to meet a specific set of legal and carrier requirements:
- They must include content about the customer’s order (e.g., their order number or a confirmation that their order has shipped).
- They must not include marketing content of any kind (e.g., discount codes, upselling, product recommendations).
SMS marketing strategy best practices
Keep these best practices in mind as you build and evolve your channel strategy.
- Write concise and actionable text message copy. As a general rule, we recommend keeping your copy between 75-115 characters, or 3-4 lines long. Incorporate timely language (e.g., ending soon, today only) that encourages your subscribers to click through and convert, so they don’t miss out on exciting offers.
- Find the right messaging cadence for your brand. We recommend sending around eight campaign text messages per month. But it’s important to experiment with how often you send text messages, evaluate how your audience responds, and adjust accordingly. You can also go directly to the source and use Two-Way Journeys to ask your subscribers how often they want to hear from you.
- A/B test your campaigns and journeys. Doing this helps you understand what does and doesn’t resonate with your subscribers, and where there’s room for improvement in your strategy. Remember to only test one variable at a time (e.g., image type, emoji usage, tone of voice, send time) to get the most accurate results.
- Personalize your SMS campaigns to increase ROI. Segmenting your audience helps you target specific customer groups, so you can send them more relevant and effective text messages. Try tailoring campaigns based on your subscribers’ browsing and purchase history, VIP or loyalty status, geographic location or time zone, and more.
- Integrate SMS with your marketing tech stack. This includes existing tools like your email service provider (ESP), so you can collect email and SMS opt-ins at the same time, and your e-commerce platform, so you can use your product data to customize your campaigns and journeys.