There is currently much debate surrounding the use of SMS and email marketing within eCommerce. The discussion revolves around the relative merits of the two channels, but often misses a crucial point. Namely that it's not simply a case of choosing between one or the other. Instead, brands need to create a strategy to make both work in tandem.
Most marketers will be more familiar with tried and tested email campaigns, but SMS is the new kid on the block. It represents an innovative new way for brands to engage their customers in a manner that is far more conversational and human centric than traditional marketing mouthpieces.
And the opportunity is huge. This year 5 billion people - 65% of the world’s population will send and receive text messages, whilst mobile messaging platform WhatsApp boasts a 1.5 billion users alone. Businesses are only just beginning to fully wake up to its vast potential.
That’s not to say email is dead, however. Whilst inboxes are cluttered and open rates are not what they were, it’s still a channel with a long history of results. With an expected 4 billion active email users worldwide by the end of 2020, it’s not going anywhere fast either.
The question for DTC brands, then is - how to incorporate these two channels into a wider marketing strategy, and how should you use each of them to reach your customers?
Tell your story with emails
What you absolutely should not do is use the same approach for both. Taking a playbook of email marketing that is rooted in open rates, CTA’s and sale offers and applying it to SMS could potentially be a massive turn off for your audience.
The key is to realise that these are different channels which need to be used in different ways depending on your purpose. Again, it’s not about choosing between one or the other, it’s about creating messaging which plays to the strengths of whichever medium you’re using in a particular instance.
In the case of email, your communication strategy should fundamentally be about storytelling. The format is well suited to constructing long-form narratives and editorial content that offers real value to your customers. It’s also easy to segment audiences and personalise content depending on the known preferences of the recipient, and to track the success of your marketing through analytics tools.
In recent years, email has been subject to criticism as open-rates have dipped and conversion has flatlined. Whilst it is true that there is a lot of noise out there (the average person receives 121 emails a day), most businesses still see this channel as a valuable tool.
Dissatisfaction with email marketing can often be traced back to the type of content that’s been delivered, rather than the actual medium itself. Communications which are scatter-gun, heavily sales focused or sent out with no personalisation are recipes for disaster. On the other hand, messaging that informs and offers real value, without immediately demanding credit card details has the potential to foster goodwill amongst your audience, and ultimately convert.
Email remains the best medium to connect with audiences via long-form content or a newsletter on brand updates. You can cultivate a great community over time with useful, engaging content and leverage that to benefit your online store. With a lesser focus on instant ROI and more on building a long-term relationship with your customer, you can exponentially increase the LTV of your audience.
Get intimate with SMS
If email is suited to longer pieces of text - SMS is the opposite. Short, snappy, bite-sized content is the order of the day here. SMS isn’t a new technology - we are all familiar with it and use it everyday in a social context.
It is this potential for having one-to-one human conversations which is attracting DTC players to SMS. Historically, it has been difficult for customers to speak to their favourite brands at an individual level. Most marketing has been done on a one-to-many basis, and whilst businesses are now more aware of the importance of customer service than ever, it can still be a challenge to speak to an actual person to resolve a problem.
SMS has the potential to change all that. If used effectively, brands can deliver their whole buying journey through this one channel. Customers can receive personalised marketing messages, product support, community updates, offers and promotional information, confirm payment and shipping details and request reorders - all via SMS. It removes the need for the often cumbersome and friction filled experience many eCommerce platforms currently offer buyers.
SMS is no magic bullet, however. As with your email marketing, it will only work if done in the right way. Messages must be clear and concise, short but packed with value. Responses to your audience need to be prompt and reflective of your brand’s particular tone of voice. In order to reap the benefits of this one-to-one conversational approach, your chats cannot be over automated and a designated person should be available at all times to deal with complex customer queries.
If this is executed well, a customer could have a person-to-person conversation with their favourite coffee brand, for example. Before purchase they could be guided through which coffee best suits their tastes, and two weeks after purchase could chat to a trained barista to get their filter just right.
That kind of experience represents a complete game changer. Something that was previously two dimensional and purely transactional, now becomes more about bilateral relationships and quality experience. This conversation could happen across SMS or WhatsApp, with the whole chat linked to the customers phone number which relates to a specific online order. Clear attribution, clear ROI.
There is both an opportunity for truly engaging long-form content across email, as well as the potential for instant conversation over SMS. Adding both to your arsenal of content, community and commerce can help fuel your rocket ship to DTC success. Get it wrong with spammy offers, lack of personality and continuous notifications - and it could ruin your customer relationships, and possibly everyone else’s in the ecosystem at the same time.
Check out some great (and not so great) examples of how DTC 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: