Lesson 3: Everything you need for an advanced program

5 SMS plays from leading brands

There’s a lot you can learn from looking at how top-performing brands use text messaging, and how they build on the basics to develop more advanced SMS programs.

As you start to cement your own SMS strategy and gain an understanding of what works best, here's how you can expand your use of segmentation, triggered journeys, conversational messaging, and more to maximize engagement and revenue.

1. Double down on triggered text messages

Triggered text messages are an essential part of your SMS strategy. They help you engage and re-engage your customers, increase conversions, and recover lost revenue.

Once you set up them up, these messages will send on their own—or trigger—when a subscriber takes a specific action, such as:

  • Opting in to receive text messages
  • Visiting your website and browsing a product
  • Abandoning their shopping cart
  • Completing a purchase

These messages empower you to tailor your messaging across the entire customer lifecycle, which can help you drive incremental revenue at critical touchpoints.

Enhance your triggered text messaging strategy by implementing a multi-channel triggered flow. Using your email service provider (ESP) integration, you can create another communication touchpoint along the shopping journey to further engage your subscriber with both channels.

Global fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff created an SMS strategy that complements their already successful email marketing program.

Engage subscribers throughout the entire customer journey

As soon as a subscriber signs up for texts, Rebecca Minkoff welcomes them to their SMS program with a triggered message, including a contact card to personalize the experience. Subscribers can click through on a customized link that will automatically apply their welcome offer. If a shopper doesn’t make a purchase within 24 hours of signing up for texts, Rebecca Minkoff sends a helpful nudge reminding them of their offer code.

Triggered messages also help Rebecca Minkoff bring high-intent browsers back to their website. The brand engages shoppers who’ve left items in their online shopping cart with an abandoned cart reminder. Rebecca Minkoff tailors each message with the name of the item, along with an image, to immediately remind the subscriber of what they left behind.

Don’t forget to A/B test your audience segments

Rebecca Minkoff tested engagement and conversion rates across three segments: shoppers who purchased or clicked on a text, and viewed or added an item to their cart, at least once in a 90-day, 120-day, or 150-day period. The brand learned that their hero segment was shoppers who clicked and viewed or added an item to their online shopping cart in a 150-day period.

2. Use your welcome journey to set up a customer-centric approach

One of the benefits of SMS is that brands can easily collect and respond to customer preferences to execute a tailored, one-to-one messaging approach that drives revenue.

Leicester, UK-based streetwear brand HYPE, known for the colorful and quirky style their Gen Z target customer loves and a growing list of iconic collaborations with Disney, Sonic, and KFC, introduces message preferences within their welcome journey by asking their subscribers what they want to hear.

“Collecting this data allowed us to deliver more personalized and relevant messages, whether they wanted to hear about men’s or women’s clothing, or whether they’d rather hear about new products or discounts,” says Gemma Sanderson, HYPE’s E-Commerce Executive. “Now, we can automatically revise our sending strategy based on those preferences.

”By asking customers explicitly what types of messages they are interested in, HYPE can segment their campaigns to make sure they are sending the right messages to the right customers at the right time. Their targeted approach has paid off: since starting with Attentive in 2022, HYPE gained over 30,000 text message marketing subscribers and drove £160,000 in revenue through their welcome message journey alone.

3. Build a community

SMS is also an excellent channel for building relationships with your customers both in-store and online. As the largest arts and crafts retail chain in North America, Michaels has built their community of makers by offering inspiration and support at every step of the creative journey. They’ve replicated their signature in-store clienteling and discovery experiences on their text channel, helping shoppers feel supported and understood.

Speaking to subscribers’ preferences through personalization

Sophisticated segmentation empowers the brand to deliver relevant content and remove friction by linking directly to the products, bundles, and educational content each subscriber needs to complete their projects. Michaels segments text messages based on:

  • Seasonal preferences
  • Crafting/DIY interests
  • Michaels Rewards membership status
  • Engagement history
  • Store location

The retailer frequently sends SMS campaigns promoting new products and category-specific offers, and tailors them to the items shoppers have browsed online.

Segmentation helps Michaels connect the dots between their loyalty and SMS programs. The retailer targets subscribers who aren’t yet members of their loyalty program with invitations to join and start earning rewards. Promoting the program with limited-time offers and mystery perks helps the retailer build even more urgency.

Once a subscriber opts into Michaels’ loyalty program, Michaels Rewards, the retailer uses SMS to encourage them to take full advantage of their perks.

“We're able to not only increase redemption rates, but use it as a vehicle to drive web and foot traffic. We also layer the incremental data sets from our loyalty members to drill even deeper into their preferences, delivering super personalized experiences.”
Stephanie Turner
Director, Targeted Marketing, Michaels

Bridging online and in-store experiences

When Michaels hosts location-specific events and promotions, they send geo-targeted messages personalized to subscribers’ locations. Subscribers can simply click through to find directions to their closest store. "Being able to segment our texts based on location is a huge engagement priority for us as a company—whether that’s to drive traffic to a store with a promotion or share location-specific invitations," said Turner.

4. Increase engagement with gamification

Today’s consumers turn to online channels to discover new products, join communities, and engage with their favorite brands. But they don’t just want to shop—they want to be entertained. In fact, nearly 80% of consumers agree that “the experience a company provides is as important as its products/services.

”Brands are actively exploring new options to create highly engaging experiences for their customers by incorporating gamification into their SMS strategies.

what is gamification?
Gamification is a strategy that incorporates gaming aspects into non-gaming contexts

People are competitive by nature, whether it’s against themselves or others, and they’re easily motivated by rewards. But gamification isn’t just about winning and earning rewards. It’s a form of entertainment that grabs the attention of your subscribers.

Here are some ways to integrate gamification into your current SMS strategy:

  • Spin-to-Win sign up units. Entice your shoppers to opt in to SMS with the chance to “win” a discount, free shipping, or some other reward.
  • Two-way text messages. Launch a fun and engaging keyword-driven adventure, like a scavenger hunt or guessing game, that helps subscribers learn about your brand and products.
  • Quizzes and product recommendations. Gamification is also a way for brands to collect first- and zero-party data. If you have any online quizzes, send a text message inviting your subscribers to take it, so you can learn about their product and shopping preferences. You can also conduct quizzes through SMS and use the results to create relevant audience segments and deliver more personalized experiences.

Founded by Reese Witherspoon, women’s apparel retailer Draper James knows their customers love shopping for seasonal moments. The brand created a meaningful conversational campaign leading up to the Easter holiday that drove demand for unsold styles without screaming “we’re on sale!”

“When you give customers a choice with what they are participating in, they are going be a lot more engaged, a lot more interested, and develop a deeper connection with the brand. We see high repeat purchase rates within our SMS marketing segment.”
Helen Nightingale
Director of E-Commerce, Draper James

Know your audience

Draper James sent a text message to all of their subscribers inviting them to join a virtual Easter Egg Hunt on the Draper James website. This campaign created an exciting and unique opportunity to engage subscribers with content specifically relevant to them.

For its Easter campaign, Draper James saw a 6.37% total response rate for the initial text message; and the two messages sent as a follow-up to the campaign received a 63% CTR and 31.9% CTR, respectively.

5. Create engaging seasonal campaigns

Staying relevant is key to engaging your subscribers at the right place and the right time. Using the year’s most opportune moments to send relevant messages—including timely offers and educational content, can contribute to a higher lift in engagement and help you achieve your revenue goals.

Resources like an SMS marketing calendar can help you stay ahead of your SMS planning— even a year in advance—and help you prepare fun and unique messaging strategies for each marketing “holiday”.

The holidays are a busy time for both brands and consumers. As marketers prepare for some of the biggest spending days of the year, consumers expect brands to deliver convenient shopping experiences—on top of great deals.

For brands, it’s also one of the best opportunities to show their customers that being a loyal text subscriber comes with extra benefits.

Women's footwear brand Dolce Vita uses the holidays to engage their SMS subscribers with exciting new seasonal content and give them VIP treatment.

Keep your subscribers engaged during the holidays and beyond

Dolce Vita launched their text messaging channel with Attentive in August 2020 and set out to grow their SMS subscriber list ahead of the busy holiday season. They wanted to make sure their new subscribers stayed engaged during the holidays and well into the next year.

To keep their new subscribers engaged and deliver a high return on their list growth strategy, Dolce Vita launched two “Season of Surprises” campaigns throughout December. Each day, the brand revealed a new discount that was exclusively for SMS subscribers.

The first Season of Surprises campaign launched right after Black Friday to keep the momentum from the shopping holiday going without having to extend their big sale. The second campaign launched toward the end of December to close out 2020 on a high note.

In less than six months, Dolce Vita grew their SMS list to nearly 50,000 subscribers.

“It was great to see improved engagement with the second Season of Surprises campaign, showing we could send more messages without bombarding our audience. And something else to note: Historically, Christmas Day is not a good sales day for us. But this year, December 25 and 26 were two of our best days in that month. This campaign definitely contributed to that success.”
Murphy McPherson
Marketing Director, Dolce Vita Footwear

Bonus Play: Work with the best SMS platform for your brand

The best thing you can do for your SMS program is to make sure you’re working with the right provider.

Membership-based e-commerce retailer Thrive Market had already been working with another SMS marketing vendor in May 2021, but wanted a platform that was more self-serve and flexible. They also wanted a strategic partnership and hands-on support.

Leverage advanced segmentation

Since Thrive Market is a subscription-based business, most of their subscribers are already paying members. All of their SMS audience segments—134 in total—are split among this group. Thrive Market often segments paying subscribers based on their website and browsing behavior, as well as their product affinity and preferences, which are collected via quizzes sent to new subscribers.

For non-members who opt in to their SMS and email programs, Thrive Market focuses on nurturing them with incentives to encourage conversion, such as first order incentives.

“If we're sending a free gift with a purchase of a Paleo product, we’ll target people that just have an interest in Paleo items and send it to them. This way, we’re less likely to get opt-outs from the people who are less interested in Paleo products.”
Lindsay McGovern
Senior Director of CRM and Lifecycle, Thrive Market

Take advantage of integrations

With their SMS platform’s Zendesk integration, Thrive Market’s customer support team is able to directly answer the questions their customers ask via text message. This lets Thrive Market track their conversation log with subscribers in real-time. Things like customer questions over website issues or confusion with coupons are easily accessible and addressable.

Since migrating their text message program, Thrive Market has seen tremendous growth. They set an initial SMS revenue goal for their first year, which they hit by August. Then they set a stretch SMS revenue goal, which they surpassed by the end of 2021—only after about 7 months with their new vendor.