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SMS SOS: Text Message Marketing Best Practices In The Wake Of IOS 15


Just when advertisers thought the coast was clear after the fast-and-furious iOS 14 rollouts left a trail of performance-measuring implications for Paid Social in their tracks, Apple introduced iOS 15 in late-September 2021, giving email marketers a run for their money.

Nearly six months after the drop, it’s safe to say that the expected consequences–which include the loss of open rates and IP address blocking thanks to Mail Privacy Protect, the disappearance of unique email addresses courtesy of Hide My Email, and the concealing of geo locations via iCloud Private Relay–are, indeed, unfortunate realities for email marketers dependent on such customer data for campaign optimization.

Around Black Friday / Cyber Monday 2021, MuteSix’s Email & SMS team began to see the increasing impact with their own eyes, noting an inflation in open rates and revenue due to machine opens. As more and more Apple consumers continue to download the latest iOS 15 updates, our experts have leaned on strategic segmentation and personalized creative to optimize CTRs, the new gold standard in email marketing performance tracking.

More importantly, however, we have turned our attention to SMS marketing, encouraging brands to double down on collecting phone numbers (in addition to email addresses), and leveraging best practices for a more robust SMS marketing gameplan. The reason: Brand-owned, first-party channels like SMS have become more and more critical, not just as a result of Apple’s privacy changes, but because of Google’s fast-approaching demise of third-party cookies in 2023.

Since its earliest origins in the late 20th century, SMS has more than earned its stripes as an incredibly powerful channel that can garner 4,600% ROI and 30% click-through rates. Plus, since it relies heavily on click data and not open rates, it is not impacted by iOS 15.

To help marketers better understand and harness the power of SMS marketing, as well as the strategic ways to unlock its potential, we have tapped into the expert minds at Attentive, the most comprehensive personalized text message marketing solution, for some tips and tricks on how best to optimize success for e-commerce brands.

What Is SMS Marketing?

SMS, which stands for “short message service,” is a communication phenomenon that mobile users of all ages love because of its convenience. Like email, SMS has also evolved into a direct marketing channel that lets brands connect with consumers in a measurable way, reaching them on the go with personalized messaging.

Because of its ability to reach customers anytime and anywhere, SMS marketing has the ability to drive revenue, build loyalty and engagement with customers, and personalize interactions between brands and shoppers based on futureproof first-party data, including opt-in data, customer preferences and shopping behavior. 

Its potential for brands is undeniable: In 2017, 79% of consumers said they would sign up to receive text messages from brands, while in 2020, that number jumped to 90%. Until the pandemic forced quarantine-fatigued shoppers to rely more heavily on SMS, marketers had been reluctant to adopt it, uncertain of its efficacy, when compared to email marketing. 

Once considered an “emerging technology” for marketers to consider investing in, SMS marketing has recently taken on a whole new meaning for bands. According to Attentive, over 50% of online retailers are currently engaging consumers with text message marketing, with over 90% interested in texting with brands, presenting marketers with a significant opportunity to grow a loyal audience and drive revenue.

Why SMS? Why Now?

According to Attentive, we’re just scratching the surface of what SMS can do for brands. With consumers eager to interact with their favorite brands on a more 1:1 basis, which often includes unique opt-in promo codes and product recommendations, consumers are growing to appreciate the incentive-rich, convenient, and personalized nature of SMS marketing.

Fortunately, the timing coincides with the rollout of Apple’s iOS 15, with its email tracking implications, as well as the demise of third-party cookies, making it high time that brands double down on their SMS efforts. If done correctly, the benefits are plentiful and the path to success straightforward. 

Attentive reports that, thanks to robust analytics and personalization tactics, brands can better engage audiences so they’re receiving content and offers they’re interested in. In fact, Attentive has driven a jaw-dropping 20.5% of total online revenue through SMS

Here, we jump into Attentive’s three best practices for SMS marketers as well as a success study to reference when considering if text message marketing is the right fit for your brand. 

SMS Strategy #1: Grow Your Subscriber List 

Just like any digital marketing channel, your SMS marketing success will only be as strong as the customer lists you build. The name of the game is quality over quantity, so focus on growing an engaged SMS list. When it come to nurturing a healthy SMS subscriber list, Attentive recommends that brands do the following:

  1. Simplify the Opt-In Process: Limit the number of steps that shoppers have to take to opt-in. If done correctly, brands can even design their sign-up units to drive cross-channel acquisition, such as increasing email sign-ups in the same easy flow. Whatever you do, don’t make it a headache for shoppers. Brands want those coveted phone numbers, and the more steps required to get them can deter shoppers from providing it.
  2. Promote Sign-Ups Across Channels and Devices: Prompt shoppers to opt-in on both mobile and desktop sites, as well as on Paid Social channels, using a hard-to-miss, full-screen pop-up. This omnichannel opt-in marketing strategy will ensure that a brand is showing their sign-up units to 100% of their site traffic. Attentive also recommends that brands consider dedicated landing pages where customers can learn more about their text marketing program, making opting-in less intimidating and more compelling.
  3. Ensure Brand Consistency: Providing an all-too-personal phone number can feel more intrusive than an email address. Brands should thus customize the design of their SMS opt-in pop-ups and collection forms to match their overall branding  so that customers trust their numbers are in the right, non-spammy hands. 
  4. Craft a Compelling Incentive Strategy: To make opting-in more enticing, brands should consider providing exclusive offers and incentives, such as one-off discount codes, loyalty and rewards points, access to exclusive content, or an entry into a giveaway in exchange for opting-in to receive SMS marketing from the brand.

Growing a healthy SMS subscriber list takes time. However, as a brand’s list grows from a few subscribers to thousands, be sure to keep an eye on performance, and monitor growth metrics per subscriber source to understand where your brand is collecting the most opt-ins. Also, pay close attention to the all-dreaded opt-outs, and pivot messaging, offers, and cadence accordingly. 

SMS Strategy #2: Develop and Iterate Your SMS Messaging Strategy

As with any marketing channels, targeting and acquiring the right customer is one part of the puzzle; retaining and converting them with the right messaging is the other. Remember, shoppers are turning to your brand’s SMS marketing for 1:1 contact, personalization, and incentives. Be sure to deliver relevant content so that those hard-earned opt-ins don’t turn into unfortunate opt-outs. Brands can do this with four types of messaging:

  1. Triggered Welcome Auto-Responder Messages: Attentive recommends that brands activate triggered welcome and personalized auto-responder messages (predefined responses used to communicate with customers across specific scenarios). For example, if a shopper is close to making a purchase but getting gun shy, brands could leverage SMS marketing to automatically message them with friendly nudges or exclusive incentives.
  2. Strategic Campaigns: If your brand is unsure what messaging will best resonate with your audience, consider A/B testing, and using that data to optimize your future messaging strategy. For example, A/B test the efficacy of plain text versus videos. Additionally, experiment with different campaign hooks, cadences, and segmentation strategies, like location-based targeting. 
  3. Triggered Transactional Messages: Brands are encouraged to engage their subscribers with triggered transactional messages—such as “order confirmed” and “order delivered”—and post-purchase messages asking for reviews or recommending relevant products to round out their purchase. Try not to overwhelm customers, though. All automated messages should make the shopper feel as though they have a 1:1 line of customer support to thank them for their purchase and encourage future business.
  4. Conversational Messages: For a more human and personalized approach, brands can also take advantage of Attentive’s Two-Way Journeys, which allow brands to send engaging and personalized conversational messages that prompt responses from their subscribers. This feedback can help improve your brand’s offerings and address customer concerns to reduce churn.

SMS Strategy #3: Measure Subscriber Behavior to Maximize Performance

As with any marketing channel, analytics can help your brand meet and exceed your goals. By understanding what’s working (and what’s not), brands can and should pivot accordingly for optimal results. According to the experts at Attentive, reporting for a brand’s SMS channel should include subscriber growth, opt-out reporting, revenue attribution, and integrations with analytics platforms. 

An added benefit in the wake of iOS 15 is the importance of click data (as email’s gold standard–open rates–inflate and become less reliable due to machine opens). As a result, keep a close watch on those click-through rates to ensure messaging is on-point, and if it’s not, ideate and test new messaging and promotional strategies to boost them. Rest assured, those click rates are about as reliable a metric as they come and reveal what makes a consumer take action, which is ultimately the most important piece of the marketing puzzle.

Case in Point: How Mer-Sea Increased SMS Revenue by 164% 

Mer-Sea, the creative minds behind artisan-designed clothing and home accessories running the gamut of cozy travel wraps and shimmer body spray, came to MuteSix just months before September’s iOS 15 drop. 

Leary of the email tracking implications on the not-so-distant horizon, they turned to MuteSix and Attentive to build an SMS program that would mirror, support, and capitalize on their email program. Their goal was to proactively leverage SMS to support Paid Media efforts to decrease top-of-funnel acquisition costs and improve conversion rates across their channels.  

Partnering with Attentive, MuteSix built an SMS program from scratch that complemented their email setup. This included automations (Welcome Series, Abandoned Checkout, Post Purchase, Cross / Upsell, etc.) to help keep mobile-first prospects and customers engaged with the brand at all times.

We leveraged SMS’ ability to intimately connect with customers anytime, anywhere by ensuring that texts would be received by a customer before an email, which often takes days for a consumer to open, if at all. Our strategy was to keep Mer-Sea at the forefront of each customer’s mind and to ensure that we weren’t giving them any exit points in the shopping journey. 

When we first started our initiatives, we assumed SMS would be a supplemental support system to email, where email would drive the majority of revenue. And, although we weren’t 100% certain how receptive Mer-Sea’s middle-aged female demographic would be to SMS marketing, we quickly learned that SMS was a highly effective channel, even more pivotal than email itself. 

In fact, SMS instantly helped capture shoppers who weren’t converting via email marketing tactics, with email conversions clocking in at 4% versus SMS’s conversions over 3 times that number.

However, via testing and the implementation of a robust SMS program, we quickly learned that SMS was going to be a highly effective channel, even more pivotal than email itself. In fact, SMS instantly helped capture shoppers who weren’t converting via email marketing tactics, with email conversions clocking in at 4% versus SMS’s conversions over 3 times that number.

Overall, since our August 2021 launch of SMS through the end of Q4 2021, we saw:

  • SMS Revenue: 164% Increase
  • SMS Click-Through Rates: 19% of Total CTRs
  • SMS Conversions: 27% of Total CVRs
  • Total SMS Opt-Ins: 25,904

The MuteSix X Attentive strategy was impressive and comprehensive, not only because of its fast success, but because we were able to align our SMS marketing efforts with those of all our Paid Media campaigns, ensuring brand consistency and optimizing omnichannel success throughout the funnel. 

A Final Word: Just Say “Yes” to SMS 

SMS marketing is clearly no longer the “emerging technology” it once was, with 90% of consumers wanting to opt-in to text messaging with their favorite brands. In any advertising landscape, its ability to reach loyal, mobile-first customers with automated, personalized, and incentive-rich messaging is powerful, as evidenced by its incredible ROI and impressive Click-Through Rates. 

However, in 2022, its relevance is all the more indisputable, allowing marketers to track and optimize campaigns with resilient metrics especially bulletproof as third-party cookies crumble and email tracking becomes more and more unreliable in the wake of iOS 15. 

Marketers are encouraged to implement an SMS marketing strategy if they haven’t already done so or to double down on their efforts, not as a replacement to email marketing, but as a complementary solution.

To learn more about how MuteSix and Attentive can help your brand break revenue goals and better maximize SMS marketing, reach out for a complimentary consultation today.

Special thanks to our friends at MuteSix for their insights on this topic.
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