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How to start an SMS marketing campaign from scratch

SMS marketing can be a real revenue driver for your brand, but it’s not as simple as just pinging out the odd text message. In this seven point plan we break down the key considerations you should be thinking about when getting your strategy off the ground.

SMS marketing is the best kept secret in eCommerce. It’s a channel which offers a whole host of benefits - including speed and convenience for the customer, and increased conversion and retention for the vendor. 

Open rates of SMS messages are 5x that of emails, whilst on average it takes just 90 seconds for somebody to reply to a text. What’s more, consumers actively want to engage with businesses in this way - in total, 79% are willing to use messaging apps to receive customer service. 

But despite all of this, 65% of all brands still don’t have a formal SMS marketing strategy in place.

Part of the reason for this is that delivering a quality SMS campaign which provides real value to your customers and drives revenue for your business is a difficult thing to execute at scale. It requires more than just bulk sending the occasional promo offer out to a list of phone numbers. 

Successful SMS campaigns are well planned, long-term strategic initiatives based upon a distinct set of predetermined goals. They incorporate a real understanding of the audience they are trying to reach, and are driven by content tailored specifically to text-based channels. They have the potential to revolutionise brand-customer relationships through one-to-one communication, but businesses must ensure they have the resources in place to offer buyers genuine value through personalised conversations.

Get it right and you will supercharge your brand engagement and ultimately, convert. Get it wrong, with spammy messaging and untimely customer support, and you will turn people off and damage your brand. 

“When using SMS, ask yourself: Does this marketing message warrant interrupting someone’s dinner” Greg Murphy - Product Manager of Mobile, Salesforce

To avoid you ruining your customer’s dinner - here is our guide to starting an SMS marketing campaign from scratch: 

  1. Understand the potential benefits and decide upon your goals

We kick off with a pretty obvious one but it’s amazing how many marketers miss this out! As with any project it’s nigh on impossible to work towards a result if you don’t know what you’re shooting for. Ask yourself why you are doing this and what you want to get out of it. Your goals - whether it’s sending out offers or product updates, community building or conversion - will define your campaign from the outset. 

It’s also important to understand that SMS has the potential to drive significantly higher numbers for metrics like open rate, customer response and conversion than your standard email marketing efforts. Make sure you understand what these pay-offs look like for you before you start sending out those messages. Take a look at this breakdown detailing the specific benefits of SMS marketing to help get yourself started. 


  1. Choose an SMS marketing platform 

Your campaign will almost certainly require investment in some sort of software package geared towards SMS marketing. The platforms on the market today typically offer a portal from which can manage and segment your target lists, share messaging with your audience and collect data about your customers. 

Not all SMS platform’s are equal, however - they will offer you varying functionality at different prices. Do your research on each, and make a choice based on your needs, budget and the best fit for your eCommerce store. Check out this tool comparison to see what the main software providers have to offer. 



The pitfalls to avoid, and the key features to look for when deciding on a SMS marketing platform  


  1. Understand the legalities 

There are important regulatory considerations to take into account for businesses contacting customers via SMS. These vary depending on which country you are operating in, so knowing the local legislation is crucial to avoid landing yourselves in hot water. 

In the United States the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPR) requires businesses to obtain explicit written consent before adding customers to a marketing list. Subscribers must also clearly be given an opportunity to opt-out of communications at any point. 

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) serves a similar purpose, whilst in the UK is governed by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). Ensuring you are compliant within the relevant region is a must for any SMS campaign.  


  1. Educate your customers

Because 65% of brands have no existing SMS strategy in place, it is likely that many of your customers will not have interacted with a business in this way before. They may well not instinctively understand what’s in it for them, and could also feel reticent towards sharing their personal phone number with a company. 

It is therefore up to you to educate consumers on the benefits of using SMS to communicate with your brand, and to reassure reluctant would-be subscribers. This is something DTC brand Verb have done particularly well. The high-caffeine energy bar vendor uses an extremely transparent, informational landing page to prompt customers to opt-in to their SMS-based subscription service: 


 

The landing page clearly explains to prospective customers exactly what they are agreeing to before they subscribe. This clarity serves to articulate the benefits of signing up, whilst alleviating much of the fear factor that exists around sharing mobile numbers. Verb also publishes an SMS policy on their website to further promote this transparency. 

It’s also important to point out that customer education isn’t reserved for your opt-in landing page. The fact SMS is a relatively new marketing strategy means that the in-channel content you deliver to your subscribers must continue to explain its value on an ongoing basis. 


  1. Get to know your audience 

Understanding who you are speaking to is a must for any marketing campaign, but is especially important for SMS. As customers have to opt-in to comply with regulations, you can be pretty sure those who do are explicitly interested in your brand. 

Although similar consent is required for email marketing, being sent direct messages to your phone is a much more personal interaction than receiving a bulk email newsletter. As a result, customers will be more discerning when choosing which brands to engage with via SMS. This means your text marketing list is likely to be highly concentrated, and contain the customers who are most actively engaged with your brand. 

Over time, SMS will allow you to build up historical data associated with the mobile numbers in your list. You will be able to develop a picture of what content individuals are engaging with, which products they are buying from you, how often, and for how much. Based on this you can segment your audience in granular detail, and send hyper relevant messages to receptive customers. 


  1. Have the resources in place to facilitate one-to-one conversations

A strong SMS strategy doesn’t simply push content at subscribers and then promptly forget about them. One of the stand out benefits of text marketing is it allows brands to treat every customer like the individual they are. You should be prepared to engage each person you contact via SMS in a succession of ongoing one-to-one conversations in-channel. In fact, 86% of online shoppers actively prefer this kind of proactive customer support. 

This so-called “conversational commerce” unlocks a whole new form of brand-customer relationship, based on two-way personalised dialogue - but it is not easy for a brand to master at scale. Chatbots, whose functionality has improved significantly in recent years are undoubtedly part of the solution.

However, there is always a limit to the complexity of interaction they can support, so must be supplemented by a designated human customer service rep(s) who can jump in and solve problems seamlessly. These kinds of dedicated resources don’t just appear overnight, and brands must consider how to put them in place when planning an SMS campaign. 

  1. Nail your content 

An SMS campaign is a long term play - it’s about consistently promoting your brand, nurturing an audience, providing stellar customer support and ultimately, converting. All of this takes time to develop, so it’s no good just having a week’s worth of content then rapidly running out of things to say. Plan a coherent campaign which aligns with your existing brand messaging and have a strong pipeline of content in place to support it. 

This doesn’t just mean regurgitating the stuff you sent out in your emails and put on your website either. SMS requires specially written, short, snappy, value-packed content that people don’t mind pinging up as a notification on their phones as they are going about their lives. Spam is really not an option here. You’ll find a further breakdown of how content for SMS differs from that of email marketing in our guide.

“Content marketing is like a first date. If all you do is talk about yourself, there won’t be a second.” David Beebe

SMS campaigns have the capacity to deliver real results for eCommerce brands, above and beyond what more traditional marketing strategies can offer. Customers themselves, fed up with receiving bulk emails and impersonal customer service are actively willing to engage with businesses via messaging apps on their mobile devices.

Yet many brands have failed to even think about such an approach, and the campaigns of those that have are largely in their infancy. There are serious, long-term considerations to make before deciding to invest in an SMS strategy, but for those early adopters that take the plunge and get it right, SMS is potentially a significant revenue driver. 

You can check out some great (and not so great) examples of how eCommerce brands have incorporated SMS into their marketing strategy here.

To find out more about what SMS can do for your brand, check out what we’ve been building.

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