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How SMS Can Propel Your Omnichannel Marketing Strategy

An image showcasing SMS as a key component of an omnichannel marketing strategy.

Adding SMS marketing to your email automation workflow may be the best thing you can do for your marketing strategy in 2020 and beyond.

Far from a new channel in the digital marketing world, many marketers and online sellers are beginning to adopt SMS as a primary vector in their omnichannel strategies.

Why now? Why SMS?

There are plenty of things that led to the rise in SMS marketing and why marketers are now integrating it alongside their email strategies.

In this piece, we’ll explore the climate between the generational adoption of text-based messaging, plus how the environment in the marketing and ecommerce industry paved the way for SMS to take more than a supporting role in omnichannel marketing strategies.

Table of Contents:

How SMS marketing will become a significant channel for ecommerce marketers everywhere

  • What led the industry to this point
  • Why adoption from consumers and marketers alike is so strong
  • How adding it to your email automation will increase conversions from both channels
  • Key challenges in using SMS
  • Tips for using SMS effectively

Setting the Stage for SMS Greatness

To understand precisely why SMS is exploding today, it’s essential to look at where this channel has come from and how it rose in prominence over the years.

While SMS has been available since 1992, it wasn’t until 1999, when SMSes could be exchanged between networks, that it began to gain popularity. In the year 2000, users in the US were sending up to 35 SMSes per month on average.

However, in 2008, SMS messages sent in the US surpassed phone calls for the first time. The rise of third-party messengers, Twitter, and other social networks drove down the prices of SMS sending with telecom providers and made SMS adoption even more rapid.

Today, in a world where only 4.13 billion people have access to the internet, 5 billion people have access to and use SMS worldwide.

Generational impact: How Text-Based Communication Succeeds with Younger Demographics

Millennials are today, the largest living generation in the US. With the oldest among them reaching 39 in 2020, millennials are expected to spend $1.4 trillion this year.

And the generation behind that spending power prefers digital to human communication.  65% of millennials and Gen Z interact with each other digitally more than they do face-to-face.

Generation Z already represents $143 billion in buying power and is becoming the generation of focus for many online merchants. With that generational shift, different forms of communication will be prioritized.

The Pew Research Center defines Gen Z as those born in 1997 or later, which means the oldest of Gen Z turned 23 this year. For Gen Z, being constantly connected is the only world they’ve ever known.

This is even more apparent when considering how Gen Z adopts mobile and internet use. With 61% of Gen Z using smartphones for five hours or more daily, the shift to mobile marketing is an absolute must for those targeting younger shoppers.

This means that using SMS marketing to reach this generation is simply part of using a channel where your customers are. For Gen Z, there’s no other place they’ll be if not on their mobiles.

Many companies I see investing in SMS have younger demographics. The more native a communication channel is for you, the happier you are to communicate with that channel.

-Phillip Jackson, CCO of Digital Marketing Agency, Something Digital

As millennials and Gen Z become economic powerhouses in consumer spending, it’s not surprising to see the shift towards marketing channels that are far more native to them.

Email marketing, already popular with previous generations, has continued its popularity with younger generations. However, using SMS to boost an email marketing strategy means speaking the native language of your customers.

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What Makes SMS Unique as a Channel?

SMS is a unique marketing channel for a few reasons.

The lack of dependence on an internet connection means the reach is far broader than other digital channels built for the internet.

Second, SMS is fast. If you have timely promotions or information for your customers, SMS guarantees that your message will be scanned.

According to one merchant, SMS has been an excellent channel for delivering timely quotes to their customers. Frustrated with low open rates from their emailed customer responses, they tried out SMS to send lawn care quotes to their customers faster. Brian Clayton of GreenPal stated:

After we implemented SMS texting of bids and discount offers to our customers, we noticed an 80% increase in sales. It was one of our best moves to date, and I only wished we had done it from the start…it seems to me that our customer base checks email once a day and that SMS text is the best way to get in front of them and give them what they wanted.

brianclayton

-Brian Clayton, GreenPal

There’s also an added level of proximity with SMS. In a mobile-first world, customers are far more likely to do anything they’d do online on their phones. Their mobile phones are always within reach and are likely the first things your customers look at in the morning when they wake up and the last thing they look at before they go to sleep at night.

In fact, according to a recent study by Deloitte, the average consumer checks their mobile phone nearly 50 times per day. This means that by being able to send a message directly to a customer’s phone, you’re reaching an intimate level of proximity with them.

Watered-down, mobile-targeting tactics cost you conversions, clients, and revenue. Meanwhile, SMS marketing lurks in the background, waiting for you to capitalize on it.

neilpatel

Neil Patel, Co-Founder of Crazy Egg, Digital Marketing Entrepreneur & Consultant

Finally, SMS allows for complete channel ownership. Much like an email list, you own the contacts, their opt-ins, their phone numbers, etc. Unlike other third-party messaging apps with pros and cons, SMS is a channel you have complete control over.

Chloë Thomas, consultant, entrepreneur, author, expert in the ecommerce industry, and founder of Ecommerce MasterPlan, gave her thoughts:

Across the industry, we’re increasingly using short-form messaging systems for marketing; tools like Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, and other social media DMs are being tested and rolled out. They are driving great results, but they are not channels the retailer owns – the lists and the communication platforms are owned by the social media engine, and they can remove your access overnight.

SMS offers all the impact of short-form marketing communications without the social media middleman. Given that the retailer has total ownership and control of their SMS list and platform, I think it’s a no-brainer to use if you succeed on the other short-form media.

chloe thomas

-Chloë Thomas, Ecommerce MasterPlan

Channel ownership makes SMS and email a good match: both allow you to decide exactly what, when, and how your customer will receive your message.

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Does SMS Live Up to Expectations?

It’s easy to be hesitant when a new or recently reinvigorated channel emerges on the market— especially when the industry moves quickly, like in ecommerce and digital marketing.

That said, there are clear signs that the SMS boom has longevity.

A look into the data surrounding SMS marketing shows clear benefits to using this channel and combining it with existing pipelines to provide more value.

The Benefits of SMS Marketing: Key Statistics

It’s no secret that SMS grabs your customers’ attention. Open rates for SMS can be as high as 98%. This is a vast difference compared to the 18.55% average available rate for email in ecommerce.

It wasn’t just higher open rates with SMS; the click-through rate was over 14.2%, according to the 2020 Omnichannel Marketing Automation Report.

SMS-click-through-rate-ROI
What’s more, customers are also rapidly adopting and accepting this channel. 48% of consumers prefer receiving brand updates from SMS (the top track among email, app notifications, and direct mail).

sms-preferred-channel

Source

Phillip Jackson commented on the rapid adoption of SMS as a marketing channel, both from consumers and marketers:

Is it a viable channel? Yes. Is it working? Yes. I’ve never seen a more rapid adoption of a new channel. Ever. There’s an explosion of SMS in the market, and it seems to come at the same time as consumers began to accept SMS as a form of contact from brands, too. Normally, the next trend tends to be out of line with consumer adoption. But it seems like SMS is connecting with customers, and they’re even favoring it. It’s pretty impressive. ”

Phillip Jackson

-Phillip Jackson, Something Digital

Does this mean you should forego all other channels in favor of SMS?

Not.

A better case exists for simply integrating SMS within your email automation workflows. Throwing yourself into only one channel means putting all of your eggs in one basket rather than fulfilling the full potential of what your gutters can do together.

single-vs-omnichannel

According to our research within the Omnisend app, omnichannel campaigns utilizing three or more channels earned a 287% higher purchase rate than single-channel campaigns. While most of the single-channel campaigns were solely email, it’s clear that shoppers prefer consistent communication across several channels that are relevant to them.

While email marketing is relevant to most ecommerce shoppers today, SMS significantly impacts conversion rates when combined with email. We found that of those campaigns, those that involved SMS were 47.7% more likely to convert than those who didn’t.

omnichannelandsms

SMS is not a channel that’s well-adapted to every situation like email is. This still means that email is an indispensable tool for your marketing strategy.

However, adding SMS at critical moments of the communication flow can dramatically improve your purchase rate, as seen above.

Chloë Thomas reinforced the need to consider making SMS one of the top priorities this year:

SMS has long been a channel of consideration – one that sits on the “maybe list” each time the marketing planning process is underway. I think it’s now time for it to be moved to the “must test” list. Consumers are increasingly used to getting SMS from businesses – so the fear of annoying customers by sending SMS should no longer stop anyone from testing it.

-Chloë Thomas, Ecommerce Masterplan

As she mentioned, SMS has long been on the radar for many savvy marketers, but today, we can no longer ignore the impact SMS marketing can have on an automation workflow.

Founder of Nadimo and popular industry podcast Ecommerce AllStars, Branden Moskwa, agreed, sharing some of his own experience in the demand for SMS marketing with his clients and affiliates:

We have built an affiliate platform for a client, and one of the main components we needed to make into it was the capability for one-click SMS marketing. We saw a significant increase in those using the SMS function.

I believe that SMS Marketing will rise and become as commonplace as email marketing. With everyone on their phones, it has become the go-to form of communication. We have seen increased client requests to integrate SMS into their marketing communications.

branden moskwa- omnichannel expert

-Branden Moskwa, Nadimo and Ecommerce AllStars

While this demand is essential, it’s also critical to consider that SMS will fulfill different things than email marketing. Where SMS falls short, email will fill marketers’ needs in communicating with customers, and vice versa.

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SMS Challenges to Consider (and Pitfalls to Avoid)

Like any marketing channel, SMS has its challenges. While we’ve highlighted many pros to working with SMS, this channel has unique challenges.

SMS Messages Can Feel Invasive if Not Sent Properly

As previously mentioned, SMS is an intimate channel. It offers a level of proximity that other media can’t necessarily achieve because you can send a direct message to your customers wherever they are, no matter what they’re doing.

And chances are, that message will be seen immediately.

Please be careful how you start a conversation with SMS because it will set the stage for how your customer views communicating with you via this valuable channel. Sending an SMS campaign for everything means your customer will feel their privacy has been invaded.

In an interview with Phillip Jackson, he weighed in on his experience with SMS from a consumer standpoint. Explaining how a brand he values leads the conversation on SMS via transactional updates, he commented:

I got a text after my recent purchase with a brand, just a simple, “Hey, your order’s been shipped.” Those little one-off texts are appreciated, making me much more susceptible to getting unsolicited marketing messages from them. When I do get promotional news, which is rare, it’s such a delight.

“On the flip side, with another brand I purchased from, I never received any transactional SMS from them. One day, I randomly got a promotional text from them with a new product that had nothing to do with what I’d initially purchased. It felt so random.

“Start the conversation with an opt-in or a transaction, then continue with your promotion. But don’t start the conversation with a promotion because you haven’t created that connection yet.

-Phillip Jackson, Something Digital

Earn your customer’s trust and build a relationship with them by ensuring that your SMS campaigns are essential and relevant.

Branden Moskwa echoed this advice, stating:

When you can tap into the preferred form of regular conversation, you substantially increase your chances of success. Remember, as with any other form of marketing, if it’s perceived as SPAM or the message is not correctly targeted, you will turn people off of your brand potentially quicker than other forms.

-Branden Moska, Nadimo & Ecommerce AllStars

SMS Imposes Strict Character Restrictions

With a 160-character limit, your important message needs to be concise. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se, it means you won’t be able to add many details to your message.

This is why including a link to a page with more information may make the most sense when sending an SMS with critical updates — or better yet, sending a follow-up email offering more info can create the perfect 1-2 punch.

For example, if you’re sending an SMS in a post-purchase automation workflow for shipping confirmation, you might start with something like this.

Increase your engagement, conversions and sales with Omnisend's new SMS marketing feature

From here, you would add your regular email for shipping confirmation to the same workflow (with or without delay) to give your customer the critical information they need, like a tracking link, a recap of their order with pricing and returns information, etc.

These elements are paramount to post-purchase communication and won’t fit into a traditional SMS message. That’s what your email follow-up is for.

You can either have a link to the customer’s account in the SMS or say, “Check your email for more info.”

Ensure you’re using SMS when it counts: the last thing you want to do is burn your contacts out with SMS spam.

Which brings me to my next point:

SMS Has Been Cost-Prohibitive in the Past

Depending on the SMS marketing provider you use and where you need to send your SMS campaigns, the channel can vary in cost.

Some companies will charge a flat fee for sending SMS campaigns plus the price per SMS, depending on the country, but it can range between $0.01 and $0.05 per message.

However, these cost barriers have been mostly removed in recent years.

In light of the boom in SMS marketing, some SMS providers are lowering their prices, and others are even offering free SMS credits to help ecommerce marketers add the channel to their email marketing strategies at no risk.

While challenges exist within any marketing channel, they shouldn’t dissuade you from adding them to your marketing workflows. If anything, they should act as a guiding light to help you maintain best practices when using SMS marketing.

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Tips for Using SMS Effectively within Your Email Marketing Strategy

There are transparent best practices for SMS marketing that will determine whether your campaign flies or fails. Follow these tips to ensure maximum results from your next campaign:

Start the conversation via opt-in and transactional text messaging: You don’t want to send an SMS campaign to your customers out of the blue, especially if you’ve never sent them a message before. Even if you have permission, introduce your customer to SMS via an opt-in or a transactional message to start the conversation. Then, move towards promotion once you’ve opened that door.

Ensure you have a good reason to send an SMS: If you’re sending a direct notification to a customer’s phone, you’d better have a good reason. The key to ensuring a customer will be receptive to your offer is by providing it’s relevant. Keep your text messages limited in frequency, and ensure you’re always adding value to your customer’s experience with your brand to maintain your relationship.

Keep your message short, sweet, and to the point: No one has time for long letters, and you don’t have the character space for them! Ensure you get straight to the topic with your SMS campaign and give your customers the relevant information they need.

Please always offer an out: By law in most countries, and by best practice in general, always give your customer a way to opt-out from further messages, just like the unsubscribe link in emails. It does you no good to send SMS campaigns to those who will view them as a nuisance.

Think about geography and timing: This is something to consider if you’re sending SMS campaigns cross-border. While most people may not have notification alerts enabled for their email accounts, they certainly will for SMS. There’s no better way to kill a customer relationship than to wake them up at 3 a.m. with a promotional text message.

Combine SMS with email and other channels for maximum impact: Given that you should keep SMS campaigns only for the most important and relevant messages, other media will need to be used to maintain your brand’s relationship with your customers. Combining SMS with email and other media will help you preserve that contact and avoid the temptation of overusing SMS.

Rytis Lauris, Omnisend Co-Founder and CEO, had this to say:

SMS can be a powerful channel when used properly, but it can’t do it alone. No channel can do it all alone. Each channel you use in your marketing strategy serves a specific purpose, and SMS is no different. While SMS might fulfill certain needs that email can’t, it can’t replace email completely. The best way to succeed? Use SMS alongside your email automation to increase conversions from your entire omnichannel workflow.

rytislauris

-Rytis Lauris, Omnisend

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Key Takeaways

SMS marketing could be the best thing to add to your ecommerce marketing strategy this year. With the right tactics and practices and targeting the right customers, you could see significant benefits to combining it with email.

Critical Takeaways for SMS Marketing:

  • Use SMS with email to improve conversion rates from your automation workflows by leveraging the timeliness of SMS and the added dynamic content of email.
  • Customers are adopting SMS as a marketing channel just as much as marketers are, so don’t be afraid to use it if you do it properly.
  • SMS works well for any demographic and is wildly successful with anyone under 40; SMS is a great channel to communicate with customers where they spend the most time natively.
  • Be sure to use SMS marketing when it counts. Sending for irrelevant or non-timely reasons will earn you nothing but opt-outs.

We expect SMS to evolve as a marketing channel over the next few months and further earn its place alongside email as a critical channel in most online marketers’ digital strategies.

This article originally appeared in the Omnisend blog and has been published here with permission.

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