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SMS marketing 101: Examples, best practices and how to start

Reading Time: 16 minutes

On the surface, SMS marketing is exactly what it sounds like: promotion done by SMS messages.

But there’s much more to it—

SMS marketing drives sales, keeps customers happy, nets positive reviews, and grows your business without barriers. It’s cost-effective, affordable, and surprisingly popular with audiences around the world.

Yet, there are a lot of misconceptions about SMS marketing. Many people think SMS have gone out of style or aren’t legal to use in light of laws like TCPA and CAN-SPAM.

But the truth is different. Today, businesses send 75% more SMS campaigns every year — and have quietly increased conversions by 106% in the process.

That’s why we created this quick guide: to explain what SMS marketing is, what its benefits are, why it’s still relevant, and how to use it successfully for your business.

Let’s begin:

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What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing is a form of direct marketing that involves sending promotional offers, updates, and news to customers via text messages. It’s an easy and convenient way to communicate with customers because of its relative speed and positive reception.

example of an SMS communication

Businesses use SMS marketing to share promotions, reminders, time-sensitive updates, personalized discounts, and order delivery updates. Using these SMS text campaigns allows for promoting products and building good customer relationships at the same time.

If you’d prefer a quick and simple explanation of SMS marketing for beginners, check out this two minute video:

Benefits of SMS marketing

Brands that deploy SMS marketing plans do it for three main reasons: to increase brand awareness, boost engagement, and generate more sales.

Email is so widely used that have come to customers expect it. SMS, on the other hand, is used less frequently — a great way to capture attention when and where you want it.

Let’s look at how SMS marketing can benefit your brand, supercharge your profits, and increase your competitive edge.

1. Cost-effective

Compared to other forms of marketing collateral, SMS is one of the cheapest forms of outreach. It also happens to have one of the highest ROIs as well — a boon to your budget and your top-line profits.

Just take a look at this quick comparison chart:

SMSEmailWeb Push Notifications
Cost$0.015 per message$0.50 per email$0.01 per click
ROIUp to 113xUp to 40xUp to 35x
Open Rate22.9%17.9%

With Omnisend, SMS to the US costs less than two cents per message.

2. Direct communication

A study revealed that Americans spent an average of 4 hours on their phone each day. As the average person is awake for 15 hours, we can assume that one-quarter of their daily attention is devoted to a phone screen.

SMS marketing allows you to hit your audience where they already spend a lot of their time.

3. Perfect for real-time updates

SMS campaigns are received instantly after you send them. Importantly, they’re read almost immediately as well.

It’s no surprise that 90% of SMS are read in the first three minutes. This makes SMS marketing campaigns great for hyper time-sensitive offers.

Even if the phone isn’t nearby when your text arrives, chances are your message will be read within minutes. Most text notifications remain on screen until the message is read, which gives your business an elevated communications platform.

4. Ridiculously high open rates

People don’t just like SMS marketing — they love it.

Roughly 95% of all business SMS messages are read by customers. That’s more than nine in every ten members on your subscriber list.

The best part? Nearly half of these messages will receive a response.

Make your messages valuable and personal to customers, and they might receive even higher engagement rates.

5. Proven ability to sell

We found that about one-third of SMS recipients engage with the message’s CTA. Of that engaged group, 47% of them will make a purchase.

SMS marketing shines during the holiday season. On Black Friday 2021, there was a 39% increase in promotional SMS sent over 2020, which led to a 9% increase in orders compared to 2020. That may not seem like a big deal, but it represents tens of thousands of orders.

SMS marketing stats during Black Friday period

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How to use SMS marketing

If you want to drive more sales through a channel where your customers are — and who doesn’t? — then it’s time to seriously consider an SMS marketing plan.

Here’s how to integrate SMS with your marketing workflows.

Build a list of SMS subscribers

Your subscriber list is the most valuable piece of the SMS marketing puzzle.

If you don’t already have one, create a list of subscribers who have opted into your marketing campaigns. You’ll want to make sure you’re doing this legally, so start by familiarizing yourself with compliance in your country.

Be sure you’re getting quality SMS subscribers who are genuinely engaged with your business. You may want to use gamified popups and a wheel of fortune to encourage signups at scale. Text to Join is another viable option for interaction, especially when partnered with an exclusive deal or coupon.

Get an SMS marketing app

SMS marketing software refines text marketing plans into cohesive strategies. Apps allow you to manage messages at scale by tracking compliance data and TCPA requirements. You can also automate your messages to send several at once, putting more time back into your day.

If you’re looking to build an omnichannel strategy, SMS marketing apps are doubly effective. Platforms like Omnisend let you add text messages to your email automation workflows — saving you time and money.

Plus, most SMS marketing tools offer a slew of reporting data that provides deeper insights about your customers. Working in tandem with native dashboards, you can easily adjust your text campaigns over time and net the highest possible ROI.

Create your SMS campaigns

Now for the most significant step: building the actual message.

This is much trickier than it looks. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters, so there’s little  room for rambling. 

Here are a few tips to shape your message:

  • Think about value. Ask yourself one question before sending any SMS campaign: How will this SMS text message add value to my customer’s life?
  • Use proper grammar. Stay away from text slang and abbreviations, since they’re not understood by everyone. Unnecessary abbreviations, text speak, and improper capitalization make your brand look unprofessional.
  • Make your message different from the subject line. “Create a text message that you would actually send to someone,” advises ecommerce marketing veteran Lucas Walker of the Rolled Up Podcast Network. “That will have a huge impact on whatever quality metrics you’re looking for.”

It may seem daunting at first, but like many things in marketing, drafting SMS campaigns just takes practice. With Omnisend, you can send your first SMS campaign in four easy steps.

Define timing and send

Choose the time (or frequency) at which customers receive SMS messages. The right timing ensures customers are more receptive to what you have to say, letting them evaluate your offer from a place of happiness.

If you decide to pick times manually, research suggests sending messages during active hours (8 AM to 5 PM). Additionally, you could use automation platforms like Omnisend to automatically choose the best time for each SMS.

As a side note, remember that SMS messages are more immediate than emails and other marketing messages. Reserve this channel for your most exciting or compelling messages so customers are always happy to hear from you — and not incessantly annoyed. 

Automate as necessary

Weaving text messages into automations and workflows is our favorite best practice.

Omnisend Manager of Customer Success George Moser says that texts within automations result in greater traction than stand-alone SMS campaigns.

“Three of the highest converting automations you can have with any email service provider out there are a welcome series, abandoned cart and browse abandonment. So if somebody hasn’t opened or clicked on the first two emails of a welcome series, I’ll suggest that third communication be a new channel,” he explains. “That’s the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of where a lot of value is.”

How does an average of $15,000 in sales per month from SMS marketing campaigns sound?

That’s the case for wig retailer Divatress, and why owner and founder Rob Lin says he can’t imagine operating the business without SMS marketing.

Their automated abandoned cart series averages a 29% conversion rate. It accounts for 28% of all revenue generated through their Omnisend marketing, yet totals just 5% of all sends.

The workflow operates like so:

  • An email is sent about an hour after the cart is abandoned
  • A second email is sent 10 hours later if there’s no activity
  • A third message is sent 24 hours later—either an SMS or web push notification, depending on customer subscription—accompanied by one final email
abandoned cart automation flow

As Divatress does, we recommend limiting your SMS to one per automated workflow. Do your best to follow up with an email when sending any type of SMS, whether part of a workflow or not.

Then watch the profits roll in.

SMS marketing best practices

Because people are so connected to their phones, it’s important to get your SMS messages right the first time.

Here’s what you need to know about SMS dos and don’ts, key best practices, and what you need to know before embarking on an SMS marketing plan.

TL;DR? Check out the video here.

1. Get permission (and keep it)

The opt-in rules for email marketing apply to SMS marketing, too. Marketers are bound by law to gain explicit consent from customers or subscribers before sending marketing communications.

The easiest way to get consent is with a phone number field in your newsletter subscription signup. Popup forms also work great.

popup form asking for visitors' details

But getting permission isn’t the problem — maintaining permission is. 

Start off with full disclosure: tell customers what types of messages they can expect from your brand. And don’t abuse the permission granted. We advise using SMS marketing campaigns for time-sensitive and critical information. Overusing it can quickly send customers away.

On that note, each text message needs a way to opt-out. Allow customers to respond with “STOP” to instantly unsubscribe. If you’re sending messages to recipients outside the US or Canada, just insert an unsubscribe link like so:

example of a message with unsubscribe option

Another convenient option for collecting and maintaining permissions is Omnisend’s Text to Join feature. Customers simply text a keyword to your number, which means all you have to do is promote that number to encourage texts and signups.

Since it isn’t dependent on people visiting your online store, Text to Join is a particularly convenient SMS marketing opt-in method: your customers can find this option anywhere you share it, including emails and social media.

If you’re an Omnisend user, you can get your own Text to Join number completely free.

2. Mention your company

Your SMS recipients should immediately know who you are. Otherwise, they won’t understand the context of your message and will be more likely to unsubscribe as a result.

Identify yourself to customers in every message, adding your business name, customer rep name, or a short snippet about what you do. 

Baking Steel does this expertly:

An order confirmation SMS from Baking Steel

This is fundamental stuff for trust in brand marketing. But it bears reminding nonetheless.

3. Add a call to action

Always include a clear call to action (CTA) in your SMS to encourage recipients to take next steps. It’s a good idea to include a link that adds more context and traceability.

Some examples:

  • Subscribe through <link> to receive weekly email marketing news.
  • Use <code> at checkout before 6PM today for free shipping.
  • Answer our survey <link> for a chance to win prizes!
  • Visit <link> by midnight to snag clearance items before they’re gone.
sms marketing CTA examples

Many CTAs for email marketing messages work well for SMS. Remember: they must be adapted to fit the medium. Make your customer’s next steps as frictionless as possible.

4. Send at the right time

Pick the best time to broadcast your message to customers. You could do this manually by surfacing your open data, or use automations like Omnisend to select the best time for each customer.

Remember that communicating via text is more intimate than other outreaching methods. It’s best not to abuse that trust — especially with personal phone numbers. Unless you’ve verified that your fan base wants constant messages, go about your SMS marketing frequency more conservatively than email campaigns.

5. Personalize your campaigns

A great SMS marketing tool allows you to incorporate segmentation well, and therefore target your contacts the same ways that many marketers do with email.

Use your subscribers’ first name if possible. Send pertinent messages based on such aspects as the subscriber’s location or previous purchases to build and maintain relationships with your subscribers.

Personalization also involves sending an SMS at the right time. Many people have their text message notifications enabled. Deliver your messages during hours that people are typically awake — not too early or too late — to avoid aggravating anyone.

Sending irrelevant or impersonal messages can affect your campaign goals and lead to higher opt-out rates, not to mention a tarnished reputation.

In other words, don’t do it.

6. Align SMS to your overall marketing strategy

A platform designed solely for SMS is a great first start. However, your marketing efforts will be so much easier — and better — when you can work multiple channels from a single command post, and all without worrying about misaligned data.

SMS marketing should be part of your overall omnichannel marketing strategy. Operating a separate SMS marketing software can lead to lots of headaches later, not to mention weaker growth and lackluster response rates.

With Omnisend, you can build an omnichannel marketing strategy for free.

SMS marketing examples

Let’s jump into some SMS marketing examples that demonstrate how ecommerce marketers can build better relationships with customers and subscribers.

1. Welcome offers

Everyone expects a welcome email, but adding SMS into the mix can make for a nice surprise.

A welcome SMS from Runway Rogue

If you offer an incentive for signing up, send the discount code or link via SMS like in the example above. Next, follow up on that SMS with another email in case the SMS wasn’t enough to make the sale. 

It’s always wise to send an email that provides further details and images, neither of which SMS can’t accommodate.

2. Special time-sensitive offers

SMS is great if you have an extra-special promotion and want to make sure your customer has every opportunity to participate. For your very best sales and promotions, incorporate a bit of urgency in the language.

Looking for a different kind of offer? Skip the discount and play on the fear of missing out (FOMO). FiGPiN has a customer base that is eager to get ahold of its limited edition collector pins. As FiGPiN Senior Marketing Manager Allison Caufield puts it, FOMO is “really, really high.” 

Combined with the immediacy of SMS marketing, FOMO is a natural fit for success.

“I started SMS several months ago just to kind of test it out. The ROI on it has just been absolutely insane. So we will continue to do it for our customer base.”

Allison Caufield, Senior Marketing Manager, FiGPiN
A FOMO-infused SMS from FigPiN

“The SMS has been extraordinarily successful because people want to see those drops right away, so that they don’t miss out on any sort of limited edition character or variant that they need to have for the collection,” Allison explains.

3. Order confirmation and shipping updates

SMS marketing really shines with order confirmation and shipping updates.

Your customer shouldn’t have to check their email to ensure their order was placed. And if the email is somehow slow in arriving, your text also eliminates second-guessing.

It’s a great idea to follow up with SMS messages that include tracking details as well.

“I think it just adds a layer of transparency to the order and shipping process. It also makes you feel more comfortable with the brand,” says Greg Zakowicz, senior ecommerce expert for Omnisend.

“It does have this kind of subtle psychological factor where it makes you feel like the brand’s got it together. You get that level of comfort, which I think you can’t buy just from branding and marketing, unless you’re a really established player.”

4. Customer service

SMS messages aren’t just about sales. They can also be used to proactively address issues before they become problems. 

For instance, consignment shop Once Upon a Child warned its SMS subscribers of their limited availability because of staffing shortages.

A store update from Once Upon a Child

SMS marketing can also be used to reassure customers experiencing hiccups with your business. As it’s a more intimate channel for subscribers, it’s a great way to keep customers in the loop and show off the human side of your brand.

“SMS can be utilized as an opportunity on the front end, or being a little more candid in your communication,” says Gabe Macaluso, Omnisend director of customer success. “People want it to be conversational. SMS is an opportunity to build that relationship deeper.”

5. Time-limited sales and promos

When it makes sense, why not jump on a current event and send relevant texts that reflect your brand? This SMS marketing example from Mom Life Must Haves is a perfect case in point.

An SMS message triggered by a Facebook shutdown, from Mom Life Must Haves

Instead of allowing a six-hour shutdown of Facebook and its family of apps to impede their marketing efforts for the day, Mom Life Must Haves capitalized on the moment in the best possible way.

Of course, be mindful of the current events you choose to launch from. It might be best to stay quiet on potentially controversial issues — and save yourself from backlash or criticism.

6. Personalized offers

Show customers they’re more than just a number. Call out noteworthy occasions like their birthday, or highlight their one-year anniversary as a special rewards member. 

An offer that lasts for a few days around this special time frame is even better. Personalized SMS messages are a great way to roll this out, especially with internal links.

Start by posting multi-day offers directly in your SMS messages, or use the SMS as a teaser to prompt recipients to check their inbox. Either way, the emotional impact will be priceless.

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

7. Thank you offers

Sometimes the best way to engage your customers is just to say ‘thank you.’

Basic Piece does a great job of engaging customers with the magic words, as seen below:

sms with a thank you offers

For best results, enable two-way conversations for your SMS marketing campaigns. This will engage customers and foster meaningful connections at the same time — a boon for brand awareness and your bottom line.

8. MMS messages

Once you’ve got the basics of SMS, it will be time to graduate to the next level: MMS.

MMS (multimedia messaging service) is an enhanced version of SMS that features imagery, including stagnant attachments or animated GIFs. Character count can expand up to 1,600, which means you have a lot more opportunity to wow and delight your customers. 

Crust Club does a great job of leveraging MMS by showcasing a yummy-looking menu item, then taking advantage of the expanded real estate to list off its ingredients.

An MMS from Crust Club

MMS is a great tool to create compelling messages that play on emotion. The only limit is your imagination — and great images to pull from as well.

Drive more sales with SMS campaigns using Omnisend’s features for free! Explore SMS features

Best SMS marketing software

If you’re ready to experience the transformative power of SMS marketing ROI, your first step will be to find an automations tool to do heavy lifting on your behalf.

There are lots of software options to consider, including these five platforms. 

Omnisend

Omnisend a tool for sending email and sms

Omnisend is one of the world’s most popular automation platforms for email, SMS, and web push notifications. Users can create unique SMS campaigns that reach recipients in hundreds of countries — all for just pennies per message.

Omnisend’s price per SMS depends on the country in which you’re sending the text messages. You can use the pricing calculator to get a good idea of how much your SMS campaigns will cost for international locations.

Omnisend SMS pricing

Marketing platforms that are omnichannel in nature operate a bit differently. With Omnisend, SMS marketing costs are baked into the pricing plans.

There are robust features on every tier:

  • If you’re on the Free plan, you have up to 60 SMS credits
  • If you’re on the Standard plan, you can send international SMS anytime you want
  • If you’re on the Pro plan, you get free SMS/MMS equal to the price of your plan

Omnisend’s automated text messages let you do more work without clocking additional time. Create campaigns in advance, track data and analytics, and add a touch of delight for each of your subscribers.

SlickText

Slicktext a tool for sending sms

SlickText is an SMS marketing platform known for its robust automation workflows. Users can implement Text to Join and shortcodes to reach customers at their point of need, then integrate with third-party tools like Zapier and Salesforce to customize workflows and track their data. MMS tools are also a part of the stack, which can be beneficial as your company grows.

Keep in mind that SlickText was built for SMS only. Unlike Omnisend, it can only automate messages for texts and group messages. You can’t access email or web push notifications at all, which may not be ideal for omnichannel strategies.

Twilio

Twillio tool for sms communication

A robust customer engagement platform, Twilio was designed to simplify cross-channel communications with SMS, MMS, and WhatsApp messaging.

Twilio relies on SMS APIs to develop custom workflows, which includes unique personalization software and one-to-one messaging capabilities. You can also integrate with a variety of messaging alternatives, including Facebook Messenger and GMB messages.

Because Twilio is focused on a myriad of communication solutions, coding is necessary to create your first few SMS campaigns. This isn’t the case for most SMS providers. Platforms like Omnisend allow you to build personalized messages directly on-site — no coding skills or prior experience required.

Simpletexting

Simpletexting a text messaging service

As the name implies, Simpletexting is an intuitive messaging platform built for SMS, MMS, and two-way conversations. The software boasts hundreds of successful case studies for brands all over the globe, and supports interesting use cases for extended messaging, text to vote, and autoresponders.

The only restriction to Simpletexting is its price. 500 SMS starts at $29 per month, which may be costly for businesses looking to schedule lots of campaigns.

Klaviyo

Klaviyo tool for sms and email

Klaviyo is one of the biggest names in email and SMS automation. Instant integrations are a helpful feature for less experienced businesses, while toll-free and short code numbers establish a positive repertoire with growing subscriber lists.

However, Klaviyo also carries an expensive price point. After recent shifts in pricing, the plan now costs $45 per month to send 10 campaigns and 150 SMS to 1,500 contacts.

If your business doesn’t have enough budget to cover Klaviyo’s monthly spend, you may want to consider another partner.

Kickstart your SMS marketing strategy with Omnisend

At this point, we hope that those who are on the fence about SMS marketing understand just how valuable it can be to their ecommerce marketing strategy.

And with Omnisend’s full suite of tools for SMS campaigns and automations, you can integrate a winning strategy alongside your emails to foster a winning omnichannel experience.

If you’re already signed up but not sure what to do first, just follow our four simple steps to built your first campaign in minutes:

  1. Start gathering customer phone numbers
  2. Send your first SMS campaign
  3. Track the campaign results
  4. Add texts to your automation workflows

Alternatively, we’ve got a video walk-through of how to set up SMS using Omnisend for those who learn best from demonstrations.

When you’re ready to upgrade your SMS expertise and branch out to better things, dig into our knowledge base for more specifics.

Any questions? Just holler! We’d love to help any way we can.

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Tracy Puckett
Article by
Tracy Puckett

Content Marketing Manager for Omnisend. Tracy is a content creator who believes in the immense power of the written word. Free time is for family, exploring community gems and reading.


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