SMS Strategies

What is SMS Marketing? Best Practices and Examples

what is sms marketing
Feb 17, 2022
Written by
Hadley Irwin
Hadley is a Product Marketing Strategist at Attentive. When she's not out for a run, she enjoys reading and listening to live music.

Today, marketers are relying on SMS marketing as a must-have channel to meet their business goals. 

If you're brand new to SMS, this post will walk you through the foundational basics and best practices inspired by our thousands of customers. If you are already using SMS, this is a great resource to educate your team about the benefits of reaching your audience on such a direct, owned marketing channel. We’ll include: 

What is SMS marketing?

SMS (short message service) is the act of sending messages of up to 160 characters, including plain text, numbers, and emojis. MMS, or multimedia messaging service, is a type of SMS marketing that contains multimedia like video, images, audio, and GIFs within the text message (for more industry definitions, check out our SMS Glossary). Like email, SMS has evolved into a direct marketing channel that lets brands connect with consumers in a personalized and measurable way. 

From top-of-funnel to post-purchase use cases, brands take advantage of SMS marketing at every step of the customer lifecycle. Businesses can use SMS to capture browsers’ attention to turn them into buyers, drive conversations with current customers to turn them into brand advocates, and, of course, boost brand loyalty to retain customers for the long haul. Creating meaningful, one-to-one customer connections through personalized messaging is at the core of why brands use SMS marketing.

Over the last few years, text has become a valuable differentiator for brands of all sizes who’ve leveraged it to drive revenue, and build loyalty and engagement with their customers. This performance marketing channel personalizes the interactions we have with brands. 

Why is SMS marketing so effective? 

Most of us have only one cell phone number. We keep it for a long time and are pretty selective about who we share it with. We carry our phones with us everywhere for immediate and reliable communication with our friends, families, and now, brands.  

Being able to text our favorite brands feels natural and convenient. And because SMS requires consent and makes it easy to opt-out, we can feel in full control of which brands are in our “favorites.” 

For marketers, text messaging stands out as a channel that’s uniquely data-informed and measurable. Its immediacy lets you tailor your strategy in real time to drive action.

With analytics, channel orchestration, and reporting tools, you can better engage your audiences so they’re receiving content and offers they’re interested in. Brands who use Attentive for text messaging see average click-through rates of 30%, and have driven 20.5% of their total online revenue through SMS.

When it’s done well, SMS can power much more than the acquisition stage of your marketing efforts. It can become a central part of your CRM. Use it to have back-and-forth conversations with your shoppers—whether recommending new products they might be interested in, or answering their customer service questions. 

SMS also builds unmatched engagement and customer loyalty across a variety of industries: 

  • E-commerce brands convert mobile browsers through relevant text messages, like cart abandonment reminders. Global fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff uses Attentive’s 2-in-1 sign-up units on their mobile and desktop websites to drive email and SMS sign-ups simultaneously. With Attentive’s Shopify integration, they can convert high-intent shoppers into SMS subscribers with an opt-in at checkout. Rebecca Minkoff also uses triggered messages to remind subscribers to return to their abandoned carts and complete their purchases.
sms compliance text example
  • More traditional retail brands increase online revenue and foot traffic to stores with location-specific campaigns. Take arts and crafts retailer Michaels, which uses Attentive's A/B testing, geo-targeting, and segmentation capabilities to tailor text messages to subscribers' preferences. The retailer frequently sends SMS campaigns promoting new products and category-specific offers, and personalizes them based on the items shoppers have browsed online.
  • Food and beverage businesses use SMS marketing text messaging to build diner loyalty with special offers or discounts. They can also drive in-store traffic with localized campaigns. Fast-food restaurant chain Jack in the Box works with Attentive to keep hungry customers in-the-know about local store openings and online delivery offers in their areas. They drive SMS opt-ins on their mobile website using Attentive’s “two-tap” sign-up creatives, and then use geo-targeting to segment subscribers with highly-relevant offers—which boosts online and in-store orders.
  • Entertainment brands and influencers connect with their fans by promoting merchandise and events. For example, country music singer Tim McGraw and his team at EM.Co use SMS marketing to communicate on a more personal level with fans. McGraw uses Attentive’s 2-in-1 sign-up creatives to collect email addresses and phone numbers simultaneously, and sends exclusive content and updates—such as a first look at a new album—via SMS.
  • Media and publishing companies can increase page views and drive paid subscriptions with SMS by segmenting their audience based on interests and past behaviors, like topics they care most about and stories they've read. Take Darling—a print magazine focused on women empowerment and inclusion—which uses SMS marketing to communicate their brand mission to readers. Last year, they sent subscribers a comforting, hopeful message to recognize a full year of COVID-19. Darling included a link to download free, inspiring phone backgrounds—a great way to send digital gifts that help build relationships with subscribers. 
Darling text example

SMS marketing sits at the nexus of several major consumer behavior shifts—the acceleration of e-commerce (and m-commerce), as well as consumers’ desire to have more 1:1 interactions with brands. Brands across the board—from small and medium-sized businesses to multinational corporations—use text to interact with consumers in more personalized ways, in real time, and at every step of the customer lifecycle.

Why the time to launch an SMS marketing channel is now

It’s getting harder to reach consumers as their preferences change. They’re trading the traditional acquisition and retention channels for more modern and convenient brand interactions on their own time.

Email click-through rates have decreased by 75% in the last eight years, down to 1.1% on average for e-commerce and retail brands. Similarly, digital ad performance for display and social is down by about 50% over the last few years. Recent changes with iOS 14.5 and 15 have raised new challenges, reducing performance by another 40%. 

It’s clear that marketers can't rely solely on these more traditional methods to engage their shoppers. They need to diversify their channels—both from a consumer preference and marketing performance perspective. 

Consumers see personalized text messaging as a way to have more direct access to brands—whether it’s to get support, access behind-the-scenes peeks, or stay informed about their order status. They’re interested in receiving texts throughout the customer lifecycle—to source discounts before making a purchase and to stay in touch after they’ve clicked “buy.”

Almost 70% of consumers said they’d be extremely likely or likely to connect with a brand via text message to receive customer support, and another 24% would consider it. But despite this significant interest, less than half of consumers are taking advantage of SMS for customer service. This discrepancy between consumer interest and actual use today may be a result of many brands not offering customer service within their text programs.

customer service interaction bar chart

It’s clear that brands have the opportunity to tap into pent-up demand—and stand out from their competition—by creating two-way support experiences through personalized text messaging.

SMS marketing best practices to get you started

Set benchmarks when you’re launching your SMS program

If you’re new to SMS marketing, setting daily and weekly benchmarks can help you get off the ground and start driving results from the get-go. Here are some goals to strive for during your program’s first 30 days:

  • Day 1-3: Lay your strategic foundation. Identify your main KPIs, determine your list growth strategy, create your triggered welcome message, personalize your auto-responder message, and launch your sign-up units.

  • Day 4-7: Put your SMS strategy in action. Integrate with your e-commerce platform and email service provider, create your triggered abandoned cart and browse abandonment reminders, and, finally, send your first campaign message.

  • Day 8-14: Maximize your SMS program ROI. Start A/B testing your campaign messages and find their ideal cadence, create your segmentation strategy, and send your first segmented message.

  • Day 15-21: Add new strategies to your SMS toolbox. Invite email subscribers to sign up for your text messages, grow your SMS list via social media, optimize your campaign cadence, and create your triggered transactional messages and post-purchase flows.

  • Day 22-30: Expand and optimize your SMS efforts. Discover the ideal sign-up units for your audience, start A/B testing your triggered messages, integrate with your CX platform, and grow your list with Text-to-Join keywords. 

Put compliance at the forefront of your strategy

Before sending any text messages, you should ensure your program meets legal and regulatory compliance standards. At a high level, SMS marketing compliance requirements in the US include the following:

  • Your subscriber must explicitly opt-in for sms text messages in writing
  • This opt-in has to be separate from email marketing
  • You must clearly explain to potential subscribers what types of messages they’ll receive and how to opt out
  • You must respect opt-out requests
  • You can’t send text messages during federal- and state-specific “quiet hours"
sms compliance text example

Make sure to choose an SMS partner who can help you keep compliance top-of-mind with tools and services. 

Disclaimer: the materials in this article 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.

Focus on growing your SMS subscriber list first

Growing an engaged SMS subscriber list is one of the most important steps in launching a successful program. When it comes to meeting list growth compliance requirements, subscribers must explicitly opt in for SMS marketing, and it needs to be a separate opt-in from email marketing. 

  • Make the process simple: The sign-up process should be as easy as possible, limiting the number of steps that shoppers have to take to opt in. You can design your sign-up units to enhance subscriber growth and drive cross-channel acquisition, such as increasing email sign-ups in the same easy flow. 
  • Create sign-up opportunities across channels and devices: Both mobile and desktop sites should be the foundation of your SMS list growth strategy. We recommend showing your sign-up unit to 100% of site traffic, and using a full-screen pop-up. Supplement your strategy with dedicated landing pages where consumers can learn more about your text marketing program and opt-in.
  • Customize to match your brand: Be sure to customize the design of your units to match your brand’s look and feel. You can also set display rules for your sign-up units to appear exactly when and where you want them to. 
  • Determine your incentive strategy: Depending on your brand’s SMS channel goals, you can also include offers and incentives to encourage more sign-ups. If you’re not able to offer a discount, you can offer loyalty or rewards points, access to exclusive content, or entry into a giveaway. 

Measure and optimize: Once you start growing your list, keep an eye on performance, and monitor growth metrics per subscriber source to understand where you’re collecting the most opt-ins. Analyzing and iterating your list growth strategy over time will help you continue to scale your list.

sms subscriber list growth
sms incentives sign

Develop and layer your messaging strategy

Lay the strategic foundation for your program by activating triggered welcome and personalized auto-responder messages. Whether someone is browsing or close to purchasing, you can automatically send messages to them to encourage them to buy. 

Once your triggered messages are set, you'll be ready to send your first campaigns. If you’re not sure what will resonate with your audience, consider A/B testing—and use those tests to inform your future messaging strategy. For example, maybe you want to test one message that contains emojis, and another message that doesn’t. Or, you can find out if plain SMS or texts with images resonate better. 

You can also experiment with campaign messaging cadence and different segmentation strategies, like location-based targeting that lets you send messages to the right people in the right places. 

sms segmentation examples

Engage your subscribers at scale with triggered transactional messages—such as order confirmed and order delivered—and post-purchase messages that ask for a review or recommend a relevant product. Once these messages are set up, they send automatically—without any extra work from you. 

Track and analyze subscriber behavior to identify gaps and opportunities

As with any marketing channel, reporting and analytics can help you meet and exceed your goals. By understanding what’s working with your SMS program (and what’s not), you can refine your strategy over time to get the best results.

subscriber growth graph

Key reports for your SMS channel should include subscriber growth, message engagement and opt-out reporting, revenue attribution, and integrations with analytics platforms. 

Ready to see what SMS can do for you?

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