SMS Marketing: Guidelines and Examples for 2020

SMS Marketing for Ecommerce

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Whitney Blankenship
Content Marketing Manager
Reading Time: 11 minutes

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. Combined with the advancements in marketing software, it’s no wonder why omnichannel campaigns have become a gold standard in ecommerce marketing, with SMS as an integral channel.

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 the perfect complement to email, which has long been the established medium for digital marketing.

What is SMS Marketing?

SMS marketing stands for “short message service.” Also known as text message marketing, brands use SMS marketing to connect with their customers.

SMS differs from email in that the messages are very short, with a limit of 160 characters and more immediate delivery. The 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 channel, SMS marketing offers ecommerce marketers a unique opportunity to build a relationship with their customers.

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 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.

1. SMS is fast

SMS campaigns are received instantly, 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 SMS strategies.

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 stays in place until the message is read. This means that a customer is more likely to at least open your SMS.

3. SMS gets a higher engagement rate

SMS marketing campaigns are eye-catchers: 70% of customers say that SMS is an attention-grabber.

Not only is the SMS typically read even before it’s opened with the notification that appears on the screen. What’s more, SMS aren’t just opened more frequently, they also earn more clicks on average over email.

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What Makes SMS a Powerful Marketing Medium

The benefits of using SMS marketing are tangible- and this doesn’t mean you should forego email marketing for its character-limited cousin. SMS shouldn’t be overused, and combined in your email marketing automation workflow, SMS can pack an extra punch for time-sensitive offers.

Why SMS marketing works? The combination of the immediacy, mobile push, and infrequent use means it gets your customers attention exactly when you want it.

Email is so widely used that customers expect it now. However, a well-timed SMS 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 isn’t a new channel, it’s a channel marketers are only now beginning to use and refine. While there’s a bit more 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 keep your SMS marketing campaigns relevant.

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 default Omnisend exit-intent popup with a few changes

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 they should expect to receive from you.

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, include a way for customers to opt out with every message. Just like email, you need to make sure you give customers an unsubscribe link, or a number they can text STOP to.

Sending 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 start sending manual 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.
  • SMS 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 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 campaigns try different tactics to get the highest ROI possible.

3. Add Value to Your Customer

Before you send your SMS campaign, ask yourself one simple question:
How will this SMS 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, 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. If you’ve sent something timely and important, make sure you’re sending more complete information via email in case the customer needs it. Emails 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 your SMS campaigns are relevant, 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 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 sending a text message at 3 am is going to result in a very grumpy customer.

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 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?

Use SMS marketing to make your subscribers' special day even more special

Show your customer you care with an offer that lasts for a few days around their birthday.

You can either put the offer directly in your SMS message, 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 your text messages 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 its made even better when you combine it with an SMS.

Use Omnisend's SMS marketing automation to send timely abandoned cart messages

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 cart. It’s great for 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.

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 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 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 on SMS 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 to opt out.

Remember, just because you’ve gained permission to contact your customers via SMS, 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. 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 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. If your character count will allow it, include a call-to-action statement, a purpose, instructions, and a time frame.

Here are some 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 customer knows exactly what to do next, how to do it, and when. Doing so will allow you to help move them along their customer journey.

Key Takeaways

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.
  • 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.
  • 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 SMS 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, 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? Let us know below!

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Whitney Blankenship

Content Marketing Manager for Omnisend. When not writing awesome content, Whitney is reading up on the latest in digital marketing, ecommerce, and social media trends. Obsessed with pop culture, art, and metal. Powered by coffee. Fastest Googler in the West.


Further Reading:

Klaviyo SMS vs. Omnisend SMS: Functionality and Pricing Comparison for 2020
Cart Abandonment SMS: How to Integrate Text Messages into Your Strategy
Introducing SMS: Reloaded

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4 Comments

  1. It’s interesting to learn that text can be used for time-sensitive sales and promotions. I have a cookie delivery startup and I am thinking about sending texts out to our customers to let them know of our flash sales during the week. I’ll have to make sure I don’t overdo it and get the excitement going from our customers.

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