SMS Marketing: Guidelines and Examples for 2021
SMS marketing has been around practically as long as the medium has. But recent years have brought about changes in how consumers prefer to interact with brands.
The value of SMS marketing lies both in its format and proximity to consumers. Not only are mobile phones always at arms-length, but text messages are also short and easy to consume.
Add to that the fact that the target audiences of ecommerce businesses are mostly digital natives—gen Z-ers and millennials who grew up with mobile phones. That makes SMS marketing the perfect complement to email marketing, which has long been the established medium for digital marketing.
In total, SMS will become an integral part of your marketing messages—if you use it the right way.
What Is SMS Marketing?
SMS marketing stands for “short message service” marketing. Also known as text message marketing, brands use SMS marketing to connect with their customers. These text messages can be sent via a shared number or short code, or even a number dedicated to the brand.
SMS differs from email in that the messages are very short, with a limit of 160 characters and more immediate delivery. The text message appears on your customer’s mobile phone just seconds after it’s sent, often giving your customer a push notification that it’s arrived.
SMS marketing is great for three main things:
- increasing brand awareness,
- boosting engagement from customers,
- generating more sales.
As an atypical and underused marketing channel, SMS marketing offers ecommerce marketers a unique opportunity to build a relationship with their customers or subscribers.
What Is Bulk SMS Marketing?
Bulk SMS marketing is simply sending out SMS in bulk as part of your marketing campaign. Bulk SMS marketing is distinct from SMS marketing, as you can send automated transactional messages via SMS to your customers.
Transactional SMS marketing messages include order confirmation, shipping confirmation, abandoned cart notifications, and such. Essentially, because these are automated messages triggered by user behavior, they don’t go out via bulk SMS.
Bulk SMS marketing, then, is largely for promotional campaigns. These can be general sales or seasonal messages, such as summer offerings or Mother’s Day flowers.
Bulk SMS will also be a powerful venue for Black Friday specials, as it will allow your brand to stick out from the crowd (which will most likely stick to email or social media ads).
Lastly, you can even send out bulk SMS for important brand or company information in order to stay top of mind for your customers.
For these reasons, bulk SMS takes advantage of the major benefits of SMS marketing which we’ll discuss below.
The Top 3 Benefits of SMS Marketing
SMS marketing may work well during high-volume events, like the holiday season, but what makes it a good year-round marketing channel?
There are a few aspects of SMS marketing that make it stand out as a unique channel and give brands who use it correctly a competitive edge.
It’s important to note that these are some, but not all, of the benefits of SMS marketing.
1. SMS is fast
SMS campaigns are received instantly after you send them, and most importantly, they’re read almost immediately as well.
It’s no surprise that 90% of SMS are read in the first 3 minutes. This makes SMS marketing campaigns great for hyper time-sensitive offers. We’ll go over that more with our SMS marketing strategy ideas below.
2. SMS earns higher open rates than email
Where customers have to consult their inbox for email messages, an SMS gives you an instant push notification on your phone. If customers don’t have push set up for their inboxes, your email campaign will have to wait.
Also, the notification you send stays in place until the message is read. This means that a customer is more likely to at least open your text message. This is a huge reason why you need an SMS marketing strategy.
3. SMS marketing gets a higher engagement rate
SMS marketing campaigns are eye-catchers: 70% of customers say that SMS is an attention-grabber.
Even better, the SMS text is typically read even before it’s opened when the notification appears on the screen. What’s more, SMS aren’t just opened more frequently, they also earn more clicks on average over email.
What Makes SMS a Powerful Marketing Medium
The benefits of SMS marketing are tangible—but this doesn’t mean you should forego email marketing for its character-limited cousin. SMS marketing shouldn’t be overused, and combined in your email marketing automation workflow, SMS can pack an extra punch for time-sensitive offers.
So why does SMS marketing work? It’s the combination of the immediacy, mobile push, and infrequent use that gets your customers’ attention exactly when you want it.
Email is so widely used that customers expect it now. However, a well-timed SMS text is effective because it’s not so usual. Add an incentive in the mix, and you’ve got a message that’s hard to ignore.
But how do you go about using SMS marketing effectively?
5 SMS Best Practices
While SMS marketing isn’t new, it’s a strategy marketers are only now beginning to use and refine. While there’s a bit more of a learning curve than the best practices already carved out for email marketing, you don’t have a large margin for error.
Given the proximity of SMS for customers, it’s important to get it right the first time around. Lucky for you, we’ve got some best practices to make sure the SMS marketing campaigns you send are relevant.
Here are the top 5 SMS marketing best practices you need to know before you get started.
1. Get permission (and keep it)
Just like email marketing, it’s important to get explicit permission from your customer for SMS marketing. This is simple enough, as you can add the option of including a phone number with your newsletter subscription field.
The real challenge, however, will be keeping the permission you’ve tentatively earned. Start off with full disclosure: tell your customer what kind of text messages you will send to them.
Second, don’t abuse the permission granted to you. SMS is intimate, immediate, and overt in getting your customer’s attention. Use your SMS marketing campaigns for time-sensitive and critical information. Overusing this channel is the fastest way to kill it for your customers.
On that note, you need to include a way for customers to opt out with every text message. Just like email, you need to make sure you give customers an unsubscribe link, or a number they can text STOP to.
Sending text messages to people who don’t want them does nothing for you or your brand.
2. Use an SMS marketing tool
SMS marketing might get you excited, but before you whip out your phone and send manual text messages to your customers, know that you should really be using an SMS marketing software for this.
A great SMS marketing tool can help you really nail your strategy in several ways:
- You’ll be able to automate your SMS marketing messages, and send several at once.
- Certain SMS marketing tools will allow you to add SMS directly to your email automation workflows, saving you time.
- Text message marketing campaigns can be triggered the same way emails are, with the same level of segmentation that allows you to target your campaigns.
- If you don’t have SMS permission, you can substitute email or another marketing channel so your customer still gets the message you want to send.
An SMS marketing tool will also afford you important metrics and reporting so you can see exactly how impactful your campaigns are. With that data, you can adjust your text campaigns and try different tactics to get the highest ROI possible.
Not only is a great tool important for your SMS marketing strategy, but it will help boost your ecommerce marketing efforts in general.
3. Add value to your customer
Before you send your SMS marketing campaign, ask yourself one simple question:
How will this SMS text message add value to my customer’s life?
If you can’t answer that question, put the phone down. SMS marketing should only be used when you’ve got a good reason.
This is a channel that can burn out very quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you send too many messages too quickly. That’s the quickest way to turn off potential customers.
4. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point
Not only should you keep your SMS campaigns few and far between, but limits on characters and your customers’ attention spans means you need to get to the point, and quickly.
If you have an offer you want to send, lead with that. If your message has important information about their order, include it in the message. Always include a link so they can get more detailed information about the offer/update you’ve sent.
Another great practice is to follow up with an email. After you send something timely and important, make sure you’re sending more complete information via email in case the customer needs it. Email is less aggressive than SMS, so there’s little risk in sending a follow up.
5. Personalize your SMS marketing campaigns
While the ultimate goal is to make sure you send relevant SMS campaigns, it’s even better when they’re personalized.
I mentioned earlier that a great SMS marketing tool will allow you to use segmentation for your best SMS campaigns. If you can target them the way you do your emails, you’ll already be one step ahead of your competition.
SMS is a more intimate channel, so maintain that closeness with your customer by using their first name, or personalizing your messages.
Send text offers that are relevant based on location, or previous purchases.
This helps build and maintain the relationship you have with your customers.
This also means thinking about when your customer will receive their SMS. Remember, many people have their text message notifications enabled on their phones. This means that if you send a text message at 3 am, it’s going to result in a very grumpy customer.
Overall, one of the biggest SMS marketing best practices is pretty simple: always test and adapt for your brand.
5 SMS Marketing Ideas
You can have all the best practices in the world, but without ideas you’re still at zero. Luckily, there are at least five perfect situations (plus some SMS marketing examples) where a well-timed SMS can make all the difference.
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1. Welcome offers
What better way to welcome your customers in than a well-timed SMS message. Everyone expects a welcome email, but adding an immediate SMS in the mix will be a surprise to your customers.
If you offered an incentive for signing up, send the discount code or link via SMS, then follow that SMS up with an email in case the SMS wasn’t enough to get the customer to purchase.
2. Birthday discounts
SMS demands a special occasion, and what’s a better special occasion than your customer’s birthday?
Show your customer you care—send an offer that lasts for a few days around their birthday.
You can either put the offer directly in your SMS messages, or you can send it as a teaser to check their email for a special birthday gift. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to follow up with an email.
3. Special time-sensitive offers
Maybe you have an extra special promotion going on, and you want to make sure your customer has every opportunity to participate?
For your very best sales and promotions, you can add a bit of urgency in the text messages you send, like in the example above. Try out a few different options to see what works best with your customers. As long as you’re not sending SMS campaigns every day, you should be fine.
4. Cart abandonment
Cart abandonment is the bane of any ecommerce seller. With almost 7 of every 10 carts abandoned for any number of reasons, it’s easy to see why.
Normally, a cart abandonment email is hailed as the best response to this phenomenon. But it’s made even better when you combine it with an SMS.
Understand your channels’ strengths and weaknesses: SMS is well adapted for immediacy, and email for information. Send an SMS campaign to capture your customer’s attention, and add the photos of the abandoned products in the email follow up to remind them of what they’re missing.
This combination can be super effective, but limit your SMS to one per workflow for abandoned carts. It’s great to send that initial message, but you don’t want to overdo it.
5. Order confirmation and shipping updates
Where SMS can really shine is in order confirmation and shipping updates. Giving your customer the choice of how they get their updates, which empowers them.
Your customer can enjoy updates to their shipping directly on their mobile phones without worrying about opening an email. It’s also a great idea to place a link in the SMS so they can check out more details about the tracking.
How Much Does SMS Marketing Cost?
At this point, you can probably understand just how valuable SMS marketing can be to your overarching ecommerce marketing strategy.
Now, to another crucial point: how much does it cost to get started with SMS marketing? In these specific terms, you’re mostly not talking about a set monthly rate. Instead, SMS marketing services will charge you SMS credits for text messages sent out to your subscribers.
So let’s look at that quickly.
What are credits in SMS text marketing?
Since you are paying for every SMS you send, most SMS marketing services will charge you upfront for sending text messages. This is as opposed to billing you after you’ve sent out these SMS marketing messages.
For that reason, you will most likely need to buy SMS credits and then use that as you need. So, for example, you can buy $50 worth of SMS credits for this month and use those as you see fit. If you use all $50 within the first two weeks, then you can buy more SMS credits for your remaining SMS marketing campaigns.
One other important thing to note about SMS credits is that the price per SMS changes depending on the country in which you’re sending the text messages.
There are many services online dedicated to SMS marketing. However, at this point it’s important to restate—SMS marketing needs to be part of your overall marketing strategy. Having separate SMS marketing software for your marketing can lead to lots of headaches later.
- If you’re on the Standard or Free plan, you have the standard SMS credit system (buy SMS credits, use for your campaigns, and top up as needed)
- If you’re on the Pro or Enterprise plans, however, you actually get free SMS credits. This is equal to the price of your subscription (if you pay $100/month for marketing automation, you get $100/month in free SMS credits)
With these kinds of prices, it really makes sense to add an SMS strategy to your ecommerce marketing stack.
SMS Marketing Mistakes to Avoid
SMS as a marketing medium was adopted so rapidly. But, because it still is a relatively new platform, there’s still a lack of established protocols. Luckily, marketers are often willing to share insights gathered from their own campaigns.
Based on lessons from failed marketing campaigns, here are some of the most important mistakes to avoid when it comes to marketing on SMS:
1. Neglecting the law
Most countries have very specific rules about marketing on SMS, especially when it comes to data privacy. Familiarize yourself with them and follow them to the letter. In the United States, getting permission isn’t just about following best practices.
Marketers are bound by law to gain explicit consent from customers or subscribers before sending marketing communications. Marketers are also required to honor requests to opt-out of receiving messages.
While it’s tempting to blast messages to numbers you already have but don’t have permission to contact, doing so could have serious consequences. Besides, as you’ve probably learned through email marketing, spamming isn’t an effective means to boost sales, anyway. It’s even more counterproductive with SMS text marketing since there are usually variable costs involved.
2. Sending too many texts
Best practices teach you to tell your customers what to expect from your SMS campaigns. Treat that as a promise and keep it. If you tell them you’ll only use SMS for critical or time-sensitive information, don’t use it for anything else. Doing so would result in overusing the channel and possibly prompting your customers or subscribers to opt out.
Remember, just because you’ve gained permission to contact your customers via SMS messages, it doesn’t mean that they’re open to hearing from you so often.
Reserve this channel for the most exciting or compelling messages so you can condition your customers to be happy to hear from you. That way, they won’t just be more receptive to what you have to say, but they’ll actually be more open to availing of whatever it is you have to offer.
3. Not scheduling properly
Your customers can ignore or even become aggravated by your messages if you catch them at a bad time. That doesn’t just affect your campaign goals but could also lead to higher opt-out rates, not to mention a tarnished brand reputation. To minimize the risk of that happening, make an effort to time your messages wisely.
The perfect time to send your text messages depends on the content and intention. For the announcement of sales to take place over the weekend, you’ll get the best turnout by sending your SMS messages on the preceding Thursday and then another one on the morning of the first day of the sale.
On the other hand, appointment reminders should be sent on the day before the appointment date and possibly an hour before the scheduled time. If you have an international audience, make sure you keep time zone differences into account.
4. Using text slang
SMS allows for only 160 characters in your text messaging. Understandably, it can be challenging to get your message across with limited space. But that’s really no excuse to resort to text slang. Yes, text slang and abbreviations have become commonplace in SMS communications. But the reality is that it’s not understood by everyone.
Apart from risking confusion amongst your recipients, unnecessary abbreviations, text speak, and improper capitalizations make your brand look unprofessional. Be creative enough to craft your messages using full words and sentences. That way, you don’t risk wasting your SMS credits, not to mention your limited opportunity to reach customers or subscribers through this channel.
5. Forgetting to identify yourself
Your recipients should immediately know who you are when you contact them. Otherwise, they won’t immediately understand the context of your message. Think about it. Even personal text messages from unknown sources are largely ignored. So why should your customers make the extra effort to determine the source of marketing messages?
Don’t be afraid to use up character space with your brand name. When you have an excellent brand reputation, identifying yourself in text messages engenders trust and so your recipients are more likely to pay attention. Additionally, doing so further improves brand recall.
6. Failing to include a call-to-action
A call-to-action prompts your recipients to take the next step. For this, it’s essential to be as clear and concise as possible in your text messaging. If your character count will allow it, include a call-to-action statement, a purpose, instructions, and a time frame.
Here are some SMS marketing examples:
- Subscribe through <this link> today to receive email marketing news weekly.
- Use <this code> at checkout before 6PM for free shipping.
- Answer <this survey> now for a chance to win exciting prizes.
- Visit <this link> before midnight for items on clearance.
Just like these examples, craft your messages so that your customers or subscribers know exactly what to do next, how to do it, and when. Doing so will allow you to help move them along their customer journey.
SMS marketing can add immense value to your ecommerce strategy when done correctly.
Big takeaways for using SMS marketing for ecommerce:
- Get permission to use SMS with your customers, and keep it by using SMS only when absolutely necessary.
- Use an SMS marketing tool to automate your campaigns and keep your messages relevant. Make sure you understand the pricing structure for your chosen SMS marketing software.
- Think about the value you add to your customer with your SMS campaigns, and get to the point quickly.
- Personalize your SMS marketing campaigns to build and maintain a relationship with your customers or subscribers.
- Use one SMS per workflow for things like Welcome, Birthday, and cart abandonment workflows.
- Use SMS for time sensitive offers and the most special deals you’re proposing.
- Offer your customers the power of choosing the channel they get shipping updates on, and offer SMS to keep them updated even quicker.
- When you use text message marketing in a workflow, follow up with an email to give your customers more details that you can’t include in an SMS.
As long as you follow best practices for marketing messages, and use SMS when it’s going to make the biggest impact, you can drastically improve your ROI. With these takeaways, you’ll be able to make SMS marketing work for you and your ecommerce store.
What are your best SMS marketing tips? Have any amazing examples of ecommerce text messaging? Let us know below!