How Hot Topic Uses Attentive to Retain 1 Million Engaged Subscribers

hot topic picture wall

1 million



ROI from SMS


of subscribers stay opted-in to SMS after receiving their Customer Winback Journey

Learn how Hot Topic uses SMS to approach marketing like friendship, where engagement and trust build lasting relationships.

Iconic apparel and accessories brand Hot Topic has been the online and shopping mall destination for pop culture and music merch for over 30 years. Staying at the forefront of the scene for so long is no easy feat, but it’s something the brand has pulled off by identifying, and even defining, trends over the years.

Reaching tech-savvy audiences in new ways with a team of two

It was that same grasp on cultural trends that led Hot Topic’s email marketing team to Attentive. As Faith Bukauskas, Hot Topic’s Email Manager explains, “We have such a wide array and age range of customers—those who have grown up with us and those who are just finding us now as teens. Not everyone is going to want to interact with us the same way, and we knew there were opportunities to reach our younger and more tech-savvy audience in new ways.”

As Bukauskas and Terry Mata, Hot Topic’s Email Analyst, were exploring communication options for the TikTok generation, they noticed something: “Any time any of us got a text message from a brand, we would talk about it. It always got our attention: ‘Oh look, I got this text message from so-and-so about a sale, isn’t that cool,” says Mata. 

As they describe it, this was a lightbulb moment for the team. SMS was a channel where customers were really listening, and one they could use to reach out in a conversational and direct way.

Launching SMS and optimizing to maximize engagement

Hot Topic kicked off their SMS program with Attentive during the holidays in 2020. Initially, the team had two main goals: grow their subscriber list and set up triggered journeys

“Building our list was important because it was a brand new channel for us and we needed to set a baseline,” says Bukauskas. Automation was equally important because, as a team of two, they couldn’t do the heavy lifting on their own. “We had big plans, and we needed those plans to be manageable between the two of us.”

Once these goals were set, Bukauskas and Mata realized that the most important thing their team could pull off was keeping subscribers engaged. “Engagement was at the center of everything we did,” says Bukauskas. “We decided to frame everything through that lens, which made our job 10x more interesting. Everything became this fun puzzle to see what we could adjust and optimize to make a difference.”

The team used this logic to continually optimize their welcome series, making sure it was making the best possible first impression. “This is our first chance to hit it off with the subscriber, so we really had to think about it like starting a friendship,” says Bukauskas. That meant not coming on too strong and taking time to build trust with subscribers, rather than hitting them with several messages at once. 

“We really did think about it like a friendship,” says Mata. “We just kept asking ourselves, ‘Are we coming on too strong? Are we giving subscribers room to breathe?’ We didn’t want to scare them off before we even had a chance to really engage with them.” 

For example, the team decided to move the Contact Cards message to the end of the welcome series. They realized that being added to a subscriber’s contacts was something they would have to earn, and not something they could ask for right away. 

contact card hot topic

Getting conversational

Another way to keep subscribers engaged? Asking them directly about their preferences. “One of the best parts of running an SMS program is that when we have a question, we can ask our subscribers directly,” says Mata. The team did exactly that recently. They launched Two-Way Journeys to learn more about their subscribers and drive loyalty program sign-ups. 

Here’s how it worked: Hot Topic sent out a text message to subscribers asking if they were a loyalty member. Subscribers had the option to respond yes or no, and based on that response, Hot Topic followed up one of two ways. 

If the subscriber answered “yes”, Hot Topic thanked them for being a member and dropped a hint for an upcoming members-only perk. If the subscriber responded “no”, Hot Topic sent a slightly different message, letting them know that if they joined today, they could access the upcoming perk. 

hot topic conversational text

This campaign not only allowed Hot Topic to talk directly to their customers about the benefits of joining their loyalty program. It also allowed them to segment future communications by loyalty program status, so they could be more precise and personalized with their messaging. “This was a fast and easy way to confirm our data about loyalty users,” says Mata.

Hitting 1 million subscribers, driving ROI, and increasing engagement

It didn’t take long for Hot Topic’s SMS program to take off. They recently hit their 1 million subscriber milestone and are regularly sending out campaigns every week. Since launching with Attentive in late 2020, Hot Topic has driven 99x ROI from SMS. 

They’ve also seen strong engagement: over 98.5% of subscribers stay opted-in to SMS after receiving Hot Topic’s Customer Winback Journey (which sends messages to subscribers who have been unengaged for 45 days). 

While the team has achieved a great deal in two short years, they’re most excited for what’s to come. “We’re really looking forward to building triggered journeys that include other marketing channels and being able to segment more personally,” says Bukauskas. “The more we learn about our customers, the more we can talk to them in a way that’s valuable for them.”

Whatever the future holds, Bukauskas and Mata know that Attentive will be there to guide them every step of the way. “They’ve always been there to give us the support we need, and the improvements and recommendations they make have been extremely helpful,” says Mata. 

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