First-party channels like SMS will be crucial for reaching and retaining your audience in a future without third-party cookies.
Customer data is at the center of everything we do as marketers. It allows us to understand audience behavior. It informs how we target and personalize our messages across channels. It impacts the way we communicate with consumers and helps us define success.
But the data privacy landscape is changing, and the recent iOS updates mean we'll have to rethink how we approach data and use it to reach our customers.
To understand how e-commerce marketers are adapting their strategies, we spoke with three industry leaders—Jenna Flateman Posner, VP of Digital at SNIPES, Jolene Abbott, SVP, Head of Global Marketing and E-Commerce at Ember, and David Cost, VP of Digital and E-Commerce at Rainbow Shops—about relying on owned channels like SMS and why the phone number is one of the most valuable first-party data points.
Listen to the full conversation below, and keep reading for their insights and strategies.
Using first-party, omnichannel data to inform the customer experience
SNIPES, a global sneaker and streetwear retailer, hasn’t seen a major shift or decline in their ability to drive revenue from social media as a result of the iOS 14.5 updates. “We've had the benefit of our strategy leaning into creating opportunities for consumers to volunteer their first-party data,” said Posner—like introducing raffles for their hype release shoe drops.
For their customers, snagging a pair of coveted shoes during these releases is an intense process. They’re often competing with hundreds of thousands of people to be the first to buy online or, in the past, would even camp outside to be the first to shop in-stores. SNIPES saw an opportunity to reduce the burden on shoppers, using their SMS channel to promote these raffles in real-time, drive app downloads, and ultimately, capture more first-party data.
Temperature control mug brand Ember is thinking about where else they need to show up to reduce the impact of these data privacy changes. "It's nudging us to diversify our marketing stack a little faster and focus on other ways that we can connect with and reach our customers," explained Abbott.
We’re excited to see how a channel like SMS can offset some of our paid social—and other tactics we use like search and display advertising—to really engage with our core customer in the first place.
- Jolene Abbott, SVP, Head of Global Marketing and E-Commerce at Ember
Beyond their marketing tools and strategy, Ember has been exploring how they can use customer data from their app to gather insights that inspire product updates. When Ember first launched their smart mug, for example, they set the default temperature to 130 degrees. But data from the app post-launch showed that people were heating their mugs closer to 135 degrees.
Now, Ember Mugs are set to 135 degrees out of the box, an exciting improvement for the product. "We've barely scratched the surface of how we can use our app data to inform product development and make the experience better overall," noted Abbott.
Fashion retailer Rainbow Shops is implementing e-receipts to get a more complete picture of their customers' shopping habits, using both online and offline data. “Right now, we don’t have a good way to see the overlap between what happens digitally and what happens at our brick and mortar stores,” said Cost. “E-receipts will be our first opportunity to make that connection.”
Building an SMS strategy around reactivation and retention
While Rainbow Shops has historically relied on email for their re-engagement efforts, including sending browse and cart abandonment reminders, the brand has started using SMS as a reactivation channel as well.
Previously, they've used segmentation to send text messages to the most active of their millions of subscribers, prioritizing those who've clicked or made a purchase in a specific time frame. But as the brand has learned from their email program, if someone doesn't open marketing emails for three months or longer, that doesn't necessarily mean you've lost them as a customer forever. "If you try again at some point in the future, the timing may be better for them," said Cost.
When you send an SMS, you get an enormous burst of traffic. It doesn't require much from the user—they can interact with your text in seconds. But it brings your brand top of mind and, with a single click, they're back on your website. It's incredibly powerful.
- David Cost, VP of Digital and E-Commerce at Rainbow Shops
In a recent SMS campaign, Rainbow Shops messaged a large group of lapsed customers and saw similar results to email. "When we tried to message them again, they activated," said Cost, adding that this text strategy will be something the brand does on a regular basis going forward.
Ember is also thinking about how to use SMS for re-engagement. As a tech product, their smart mugs get better with each generation, so there's an opportunity for the brand to encourage early adopters to "gen up" with messaging around new features and improved battery life.
Another angle is gifting. The brand's top-performing SMS campaign so far positions Ember as the perfect present for all occasions. "There's a lot more that we can do [with SMS] to learn from our customers about when they're buying Ember," said Abbott. "Are they buying it for themselves or as a gift? We're starting to dig into that data."
At the same time, Ember is exploring how they can re-engage past customers who've signed up for email with SMS—and what content will be the most compelling for them to get in a text message. "We've had to completely rethink the strategy of what is going to engage people via SMS," shared Abbott, emphasizing a focus on quick and helpful content around life moments, gifting, and how-tos on recipes and coffee.
Making the mobile number the center of CRM and loyalty
After noticing some of their customers have purchased tens of times from Rainbow Shops but never opened a marketing or transactional email, the brand discovered something critical: not all shoppers have an email address, and others simply don’t want to share theirs. "When a website forces them to enter an email address, they just make one up," Cost said about the most likely scenario in these cases.
The impact is not unlike Hide My Email from the iOS 15 update, which gives Apple users the option to create a randomized email address—and prevents marketers from tracking customers across platforms. But, as Cost pointed out, almost everyone has a phone number and the ability to receive text messages.
That's why Rainbow Shops built their e-receipts around the mobile number, prompting customers to enter this essential piece of first-party data during the checkout process. "We'll use that to look up whether they've given us their email address before or not," added Cost.
At SNIPES, Posner sees e-receipts as a means to an SMS end, asking questions like: How can we turn an e-receipt request into a marketing opt-in and, ultimately, into an SMS opt-in? From there, how do we leverage the mobile number as a unique identifier to tie back to transactions across other channels? For the brand, SMS presents an opportunity to use an in-store opt-in to measure the value of omnichannel consumers, and it's one of the few tangible moments they can use to create customer-driven connections from store to digital.
As a brand that's in the business of moving hype products quickly, getting their customers' phone numbers is also core to their communication strategy. "If you have an email that sits in your inbox for three days before you take a peek at it, and it's featuring a released product that moved in an hour or 10 minutes, then we're communicating in a way that doesn't reflect the needs of the consumer," said Posner.
Meeting our customers where they are and leveraging the right communication methods to support the consumer's desired outcome alongside ours—that's where everything is shifting, and SMS is supporting us in that strategy.
- Jenna Flateman Posner, VP of Digital at SNIPES
Not only does SMS extend the opportunity for brands to capture first-party data, but it also lowers the risk of them losing the ability to communicate with customers. Most people only have one phone number, and they typically keep the same number for a long time—so as a marketer, you know you’ll be able to reach shoppers on this channel for the foreseeable future.