SMS (short message service), or in plain English, texting, hasn’t been used as a marketing tactic until fairly recently.
As such, it’s largely unexplored and full of opportunity; a space we are sure to see a huge amount of innovation and growth in over the next few years.
Some brands are seeing impressive results from their efforts to explore the world of SMS marketing, which raises several questions:
- How are they approaching SMS?
- How do they see other brands using SMS, and to what effect?
- How do they recommend brands use SMS?
To find out, we spoke with:
- Eli Weiss, director of customer experience at Olipop, a healthy (and delicious) soda company
- Val Geisler, an email marketing conversion copywriter and strategist, and customer evangelist at Klaviyo
- Taran Ghatrora, CEO and co-founder of personal care brand Blume
- Nichole Powell, founder and CEO of outdoor essentials brand Kinfield
Let’s dive right into the four principal takeaways we gathered from them.
This article was created from a live Commerce Club event on Clubhouse about SMS marketing. Olipop, Blume and Kinfield use Postscript to power their SMS marketing and Klaviyo to send email campaigns and flows.
1. SMS is the most intimate channel available: treat it delicately
SMS open rates are close to 100%. When compared to email, that’s astronomically high.
The very personal nature of texting imbues SMS marketing with a specific kind of intimacy; an opportunity to send a message to an individual who will almost certainly read it. Because of this direct access, SMS marketing can easily be overused and misused by brands.
“We think this is a sacred space for our customers so we don’t text them often and we’re careful when we do.”
– Taran Ghatrora CEO and Co-Founder of Blume
Customers voluntarily sign up for SMS messaging, and if they get annoyed because the messages aren’t thoughtful, are too frequent or are always trying to sell them stuff, they’ll probably unsubscribe, and chances are they won’t come back.
For instance, Eli said Olipop sends their SMS list a text once a month, twice at the most.
The most common way brands use SMS incorrectly is by barraging the customer with too many messages–typically having to do with sale notifications. Eli, Taran, Nichole and Val all suggested the same thing: don’t use SMS the exact same way you use email.
The high open rate means SMS must be treated as an entirely separate channel, one with its own rules, specifications and strategy.
2. Approach SMS marketing uniquely and authentically
Along with using SMS for an optional post-purchase onboarding flow to provide customers with advice on how to best use their new products, Blume’s team also decided to send their SMS list Starbucks gift cards, on a first-come-first-served basis: “We’ve bean missing you — so here’s a coffee on us!”
Source: Fantastic Texts
Continuing in the connective vein, Kinfield recently launched SMS with an ask to their community about an upcoming product, gathering feedback on whether customers wanted them to package in paper or plastic.
“Seeing the opportunity in treating it as a channel for direct 1:1 communication with our customer was what got us excited to use it.”
– Nichole Powell, CEO and Founder of Kinfield
As for Olipop, they’ve had success sending messages with the sole purpose of checking in with their customers—just like you would a friend. For example, they once asked how people were keeping busy in quarantine, sending a GIF of their Customer Experience Lead riding a skateboard and drinking an Orange Squeeze.
“What we’ve seen over and over is you don’t necessarily need a link to sell,” Eli said. In the skateboarding example, despite not sending any link with the skateboard GIF, Olipop still sold a couple thousand dollars of Orange Squeeze as a direct result of the one text.
3. Create meaningful connections with customers: the importance of segmenting and exclusive messaging
If you go looking for an SMS subscribe link on Olipop’s website or socials, you’ll notice it’s somewhat hard to find. This is on purpose, as Olipop wants the customers who sign up for their SMS channel to be highly engaged with their brand already.
Source: Fantastic Texts
Olipop uses their SMS list to launch new products and give exclusive access to new flavors—a list that’s about 10% of the size of their email channel. These campaigns (which might look like their CEO sending a selfie from his porch holding a can of the newest soda flavor) accrue more revenue in three hours than they do from Olipop’s entire email list.
“The more we can build engagement, keep SMS a channel consumers really enjoy, and show people this is an okay place to be with brands, the less regulated it will likely be.”
–Val Geisler, Customer Evangelist at Klaviyo
Blume is similar, launching new products with their SMS list as a way to build community and connection through exclusive access. Additionally, they send post-purchase texts with information the customer may have missed, including insights into their charity work.
“I think the actual message matters less than what you as a brand have in mind as guiding principles of the channel. At Olipop, we don’t want SMS to turn into spam, we want to use it sparingly and intentionally. We’d like it to be a conversation and less of a billboard, delivering value instead of always selling,” Eli voiced.
4. Trial and error is the name of the (winning) game
When Blume first sent the Starbucks gift cards out to their SMS list, they didn’t know the campaign would be as well-received as it was, ultimately attracting a large Gen-Z audience, who shared it widely over social media.
“Choose a path and then test it. You can always decide you’re not going to do it anymore if it doesn’t work with your audience,” Val said, emphasizing the necessity of testing different strategies and approaches.
And if you’re testing an SMS approach with your most invested and loyal customers, they already love your brand. If something doesn’t work, they’re much more likely to be forgiving than someone who is not as familiar with the brand.
“Knowing your audience and not being afraid to test and mess around a bit is the easiest way to win.”
– Eli Weiss, Director of Customer Experience at Olipop
While Olipop frequently uses SMS as a way to try new things with their customers, Eli noted their unsubscribe rate on text never goes over 1%: “These are people who signed up for texts about anything and everything, so something completely random twice a month is different from getting a 20% off message every morning.”
Source: Good Firms
Key takeaways on how to use SMS marketing effectively
It’s clear all of these brands have approached SMS marketing with intentionality, thoughtfulness, creativity, care and respect.
So what are the four most important takeaways for how to use SMS marketing to drive positive results for your brand?
- Remember that SMS is a delicate and intimate form of messaging. Treat it and the access it gives you with respect.
- Be creative and unique in how you approach SMS marketing. Think beyond simply using it to sell products or advertise sales and promotions and consider the ways you can use it to add joy and value to your customers’ lives.
- Be selective with your SMS list to make engagements more meaningful and exclusive. Segment customers and use SMS to engage and build community with your most loyal ones.
- This is a relatively new channel in the world of marketing. No one knows exactly what it’s capable of, so don’t be afraid to test it out and see how your customers respond.
About the show
Hosted by David Hoos, this SMS-focused show was on Commerce Club, founded by Matt Schlicht and Ben Parr, also co-founders of Octane AI.
Commerce Club is one of the fastest-growing clubs in ecommerce on Clubhouse, hosting conversations with founders, investors and experts on DTC, retail and commerce. This show featured DTC folks Eli Weiss, Val Geisler Taran Ghatrora and Nichole Powell.
Check out Commerce Club to sign up for the newsletter and access show notes, articles, and show schedules.