SMS Strategies

What is SMS Marketing? Best Practices and Examples

sms marketing best practices
Nov 16, 2021
Written by
Hadley Irwin
Hadley is a Product Marketing Strategist at Attentive. When she's not out for a run, she enjoys reading and listening to live music.

Today, marketers are relying on SMS marketing as a must-have channel to meet their business goals. 

If you're brand new to SMS, this post will walk you through the foundational basics and best practices inspired by our thousands of customers. If you are already using SMS, this is a great resource to educate your team about the benefits of reaching your audience on such a direct, owned marketing channel. We’ll include: 

  • An introduction to SMS marketing
  • Why is SMS marketing so effective?
  • Why you should launch an SMS marketing channel now
  • SMS marketing best practices to get you started
  • Measure and analyze your program to maximize ROI over time

What is SMS marketing?

SMS, which stands for short message service, refers to messages of up to 160 characters, including plain text, numbers, and emojis. MMS, or multimedia messaging service, is a type of SMS marketing that contains multimedia like video, images, audio, and GIFs within the text message. Like email, SMS has evolved into a direct marketing channel that lets brands connect with consumers in a personalized and measurable way. 

Over the last few years, text has become a valuable differentiator for brands of all sizes who’ve leveraged it to drive revenue, and build loyalty and engagement with their customers. This performance marketing channel personalizes the interactions we have with brands. 

Why is SMS marketing so effective? 

Most of us have only one cell phone number. We keep it for a long time and are pretty selective about who we share it with. We carry our phones with us everywhere for immediate and reliable communication with our friends, families, and now, brands.  

Being able to text our favorite brands feels natural and convenient. And because SMS requires consent and makes it easy to opt-out, we can feel in full control of which brands are in our “favorites.” 

For marketers, text messaging stands out as a channel that’s uniquely data-informed and measurable. Its immediacy lets you tailor your strategy in real time to drive action.

With analytics, channel orchestration, and reporting tools, you can better engage your audiences so they’re receiving content and offers they’re interested in. Brands who use Attentive for text messaging see average click-through rates of 30%, and have driven 20.5% of their total online revenue through SMS.

When it’s done well, SMS can power much more than the acquisition stage of your marketing efforts. It can become a central part of your CRM. Use it to have back-and-forth conversations with your shoppers—whether recommending new products they might be interested in, or answering their customer service questions. 

SMS also builds unmatched engagement and customer loyalty across a variety of industries: 

SMS marketing sits at the nexus of several major consumer behavior shifts—the acceleration of e-commerce (and m-commerce), as well as consumers’ desire to have more 1:1 interactions with brands. Brands across the board—from small and medium-sized businesses to multinational corporations—use text to interact with consumers in more personalized ways, in real time, and at every step of the customer lifecycle.

Why the time to launch an SMS marketing channel is now

It’s getting harder to reach consumers as their preferences change. They’re trading the traditional acquisition and retention channels for more modern and convenient brand interactions on their own time.

Email click-through rates have decreased by 75% in the last eight years, down to 1.1% on average for e-commerce and retail brands. Similarly, digital ad performance for display and social is down by about 50% over the last few years. Recent changes with iOS 14.5 and 15 have raised new challenges, reducing performance by another 40%. 

It’s clear that marketers can't rely solely on these more traditional methods to engage their shoppers. They need to diversify their channels—both from a consumer preference and marketing performance perspective. 

Consumers see personalized text messaging as a way to have more direct access to brands—whether it’s to get support, access behind-the-scenes peeks, or stay informed about their order status. They’re interested in receiving texts throughout the customer lifecycle—to source discounts before making a purchase and to stay in touch after they’ve clicked “buy.”

91% of consumers are interested in signing up for texts, but not all brands offer it yet—meaning they’re leaving money (and consumer goodwill) on the table. With the majority of consumers interested in texting, you have a massive chance to capture consumers' attention (and e-commerce revenue).

SMS marketing best practices to get you started

Put compliance at the forefront of your strategy

Before sending any text messages, you should ensure your program meets legal and regulatory compliance standards. At a high level, SMS marketing compliance requirements in the US include the following:

  • Your subscriber must explicitly opt-in for sms text messages in writing
  • This opt-in has to be separate from email marketing
  • You must clearly explain to potential subscribers what types of messages they’ll receive and how to opt out
  • You must respect opt-out requests
  • You can’t send text messages during federal- and state-specific “quiet hours"
sms compliance text example

Make sure to choose an SMS partner who can help you keep compliance top-of-mind with tools and services. 

Disclaimer: the materials in this article are for informational purposes only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your legal counsel to obtain advice with respect to any particular issues or problems.

Focus on growing your SMS subscriber list first

Growing an engaged SMS subscriber list is one of the most important steps in launching a successful program. When it comes to meeting list growth compliance requirements, subscribers must explicitly opt in for SMS marketing, and it needs to be a separate opt-in from email marketing. 

  • Make the process simple: The sign-up process should be as easy as possible, limiting the number of steps that shoppers have to take to opt in. You can design your sign-up units to enhance subscriber growth and drive cross-channel acquisition, such as increasing email sign-ups in the same easy flow. 
  • Create sign-up opportunities across channels and devices: Both mobile and desktop sites should be the foundation of your SMS list growth strategy. We recommend showing your sign-up unit to 100% of site traffic, and using a full-screen pop-up. Supplement your strategy with dedicated landing pages where consumers can learn more about your text marketing program and opt-in.
  • Customize to match your brand: Be sure to customize the design of your units to match your brand’s look and feel. You can also set display rules for your sign-up units to appear exactly when and where you want them to. 
  • Determine your incentive strategy: Depending on your brand’s SMS channel goals, you can also include offers and incentives to encourage more sign-ups. If you’re not able to offer a discount, you can offer loyalty or rewards points, access to exclusive content, or entry into a giveaway. 

Measure and optimize: Once you start growing your list, keep an eye on performance, and monitor growth metrics per subscriber source to understand where you’re collecting the most opt-ins. Analyzing and iterating your list growth strategy over time will help you continue to scale your list.

sms subscriber list growth
sms incentives sign

Develop and layer your messaging strategy

Lay the strategic foundation for your program by activating triggered welcome and personalized auto-responder messages. Whether someone is browsing or close to purchasing, you can automatically send messages to them to encourage them to buy. 

Once your triggered messages are set, you'll be ready to send your first campaigns. If you’re not sure what will resonate with your audience, consider A/B testing—and use those tests to inform your future messaging strategy. For example, maybe you want to test one message that contains emojis, and another message that doesn’t. Or, you can find out if plain SMS or texts with images resonate better. 

You can also experiment with campaign messaging cadence and different segmentation strategies, like location-based targeting that lets you send messages to the right people in the right places. 

sms segmentation examples

Engage your subscribers at scale with triggered transactional messages—such as order confirmed and order delivered—and post-purchase messages that ask for a review or recommend a relevant product. Once these messages are set up, they send automatically—without any extra work from you. 

Track and analyze subscriber behavior to identify gaps and opportunities

As with any marketing channel, reporting and analytics can help you meet and exceed your goals. By understanding what’s working with your SMS program (and what’s not), you can refine your strategy over time to get the best results.

subscriber growth graph

Key reports for your SMS channel should include subscriber growth, message engagement and opt-out reporting, revenue attribution, and integrations with analytics platforms. 

Ready to see what SMS can do for you?

Learn more about why thousands of brands choose Attentive as their #1 SMS marketing solution, and see what we can do for you.
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