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How to Integrate SMS Into Your DTC Ecommerce Marketing Plan

Melissa Megginson Axtell, Director of Community Marketing

Dec 9th 2021

Headshot of Melissa Megginson Axtell

 

SMS marketing is having a moment. Is your brand making the most of texting?

In ecommerce, the way brands choose to communicate with their customers is equally important as the message itself. Brands and retailers alike are increasingly using SMS as a highly effective way to connect with their audiences. However, executing successful SMS marketing requires respect, context, and meticulously planned timing.

Direct to consumer (DTC) brands generally have a clear understanding of their customer base and an established close connection with them. In this article, we’ll explore some of the ways you can optimize SMS to achieve real results within your DTC marketing strategy.

SMS Marketing: The Story So Far

With so many instant messaging apps on the market today, it’s easy to assume that SMS is a thing of the past. However, it seems old habits die hard. Today 81% of Americans text regularly, and 180 billion texts are sent every day.

It was the introduction of short codes that helped SMS marketing really off. In Europe, the first SMS short code campaign is generally attributed to Txtbomb, for an Island Records release in 2001. In North America, the honor fell to the Labatt Brewing Company in 2002.

Short codes gave brands an easy way to encourage their customers to opt in to marketing campaigns delivered directly to their mobile devices. However, as brands experienced the opportunity offered by SMS, they started to take new, creative approaches, leveraging long-form cell numbers.

An excellent example of this early form of interactive SMS marketing comes from Nike, who in 2005 unveiled a 22-story billboard in Times Square. Passers-by could use their cell phones to design a sneaker that was then beamed up onto the huge digital display for all to see. They could even download their design to use as wallpaper on their mobile devices. To take part in the interactive experience, they entered a long-form phone number: 1-888-8-NIKE-ID.

Nearly two decades have passed since then, but SMS remains as relevant and appealing as ever. In fact, SMS is an area of marketing that has experienced notable growth in recent years. Infobip saw 8.5% and 20% growth in SMS marketing messages in March and April 2020, respectively (compared to the preceding month) — statistics no doubt accelerated by the pandemic lockdowns.

In January 2020, 51% of retail marketers in a CommerceNext survey reported plans to increase investment in messaging or SMS marketing. The figure leapt to 56% by June. Juniper Research found that global mobile business messaging traffic hit 2.7 trillion in 2020, reflecting a 10% rise from 2019.

This uptick in interest is understandable, especially when we consider the high engagement rates that SMS marketing campaigns enjoy. 91% of consumers would opt-in for text messages from brands, 34% of people read their messages within five minutes of receiving them and the SMS response rate is 45%.

Simply put, if you want to deliver a message, nothing gets you closer to a customer than a mobile device. For this reason, SMS will continue to represent an exciting opportunity for DTC brands.

Let’s explore some of the ways a DTC brand can ensure it effectively integrates SMS into its marketing strategy.

Can I Get Your Number?

Like the start of so many relationships, nabbing a cell number is step one of any successful SMS marketing campaign. As a DTC brand, authenticity, trustworthiness and a genuine connection with your customer base are essential. As a result, it’s important to conduct this step in an ethical, engaging, and, above all, legal manner.

Data privacy has never been more critical. As leading operating systems showcase new privacy features, and major browsers publicize the removal of third-party cookies, it’s important to remember that consumer demand has driven this focus on privacy.

Customers are savvy. Most shoppers understand that brands track (and even monetize) their behaviors. 90% of consumers are willing to share personal details if it means they’ll receive a cheaper and easier experience. As a result, you need to make customers aware that you’re requesting phone numbers for future marketing.

Aside from ensuring total transparency in your collection, you can also highlight what’s in it for the customer (for example, let them know they’ll be receiving personalized coupons via SMS). Ensure they’re getting something tangible back in exchange for submitting their data.

What are some popular and effective ways to collect phone numbers for SMS marketing purposes?

  • Text-in competitions
    If you’re looking to gather a high volume of numbers in a relatively short time frame, offering an appealing incentive, such as a prize draw, can help you see fast results.
  • Text for a discount code
    A classic “give/get” situation, which sees customers exchange their number for a personalized discount code. This method is especially effective because the retailer can be sure they’re investing in motivated customers who are highly likely to make a purchase.
  • Text alerts for sales going live
    Another way to get close to customers that have a proven interest in your brand, business, or product. By framing SMS alerts as a helpful service, you can encourage engaged customers to submit their numbers in exchange for notifications about promotions.
  • VIP/Loyalty Programs
    Onboarding for VIP or loyalty programs offers a great opportunity to collect phone numbers. As customers in this segment are already invested in your brand, you can add to their appreciation l by positioning SMS messaging as a special service that goes “over and above” your standard customer interactions.
    When customers willingly submit their phone numbers, it can be considered as ‘zero-party data’. This form of data (freely given with the expectation of enhanced personalization in return) is becoming increasingly vital in ecommerce. As privacy and data compliance continues to tighten, the benefits that zero-party data offers to brands will only increase. Since SMS marketing is all about an immediate and close connection to the customer, it could represent a valuable data source in years to come.

Using SMS for DTC Customer Experience

Direct to consumer brands live or die by their customer experience. Without a dependable way to connect with customers and obtain a deeply personalized understanding of their habits, desires, and preferences, DTC brands fail to capitalize on their biggest advantage over more conventional competitors.

Typically courting a younger Millennial or Gen Z audience, SMS enables DTC brands to connect with their customers in their preferred method of communication – text.

SMS does more than offer the advantage of immediate close connection, it’s also a format that lends itself to high levels of precise personalization. By applying other data sets to create tightly segmented audiences, brands can deliver exceptionally well-targeted messages and made-to-measure discounts on products and services that are guaranteed to appeal.

DTC brands using SMS campaigns make it easier for their customers to act on impulse and make a purchase. For example, provide an easy pathway to purchase by offering time-limited discount to your customers, activated by a simple “one click” link.

SMS also helps brands to learn more about their customers by asking for feedback. Replying to an SMS message is second-nature for consumers. This type of intel can help influence product development and provide zero-party data that enhances personalization.

Using SMS to Build DTC Loyalty

When the message you’re sending is relevant and engaging, your customers are keen to hear from you on a 1:1 basis. By connecting with SMS, brands give their customers an opportunity to engage in a two-way conversation. The effect? Increased connection and loyalty.

The benefit of loyal customers needs little explanation. Creating a brand that shoppers repeatedly choose to come back to can have an enormous impact on your profits. Research from Harvard Business School suggests that improving customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits up to anywhere between 25% to 95%.

SMS marketing drives loyalty in a wide variety of ways, all of which center around the concept of “added value” — going above and beyond to give your customers something extra, whether it’s a tangible benefit such as a discount, or simply a helpful “service” like a reminder about the items they left in their cart.

Attentive pulls together some excellent examples of loyalty-boosting SMS campaigns in their article covering the topic. SMS can enhance brand loyalty at all stages of the purchase process, from initial account creation (with a welcome sequence, onboarding new subscribers, and offering an introductory coupon code) to reactivation campaigns.

DTC & UGC: BFFs With SMS

DTC brands have a lot to gain within the post-purchase window from SMS marketing. Not only is this a great opportunity to cross or upsell, but it’s also the prime time to request a review or user-generated content (for example, their own photo of the product). For DTC brands that thrive on a sense of community and connection, this kind of direct feedback and authentic content is highly valuable — and all within easy reach using SMS.

SMS campaigns are highly effective for incentivizing reviews. Okendo’s integration with Attentive further streamlines your collection process, making it far more efficient, appealing, and successful in terms of the engagement you can expect to see from your campaigns. By pairing Okendo’s intuitive review collection with a well-timed, well-managed SMS campaign delivered by Attentive, brands have seen as much as a 98% increase in review generation, compared to the previous week.

Where does the secret to this success lie? It’s the seamless way that reviews are requested. SMS makes the process entirely friction-free. What’s more, the chances of capturing higher quality, media-rich reviews increases. It’s easy to quickly respond to a review request and snap a picture or record a short video — customers already hold the device in their hands.

By leveraging an integration such as the Okendo/Attentive partnership, it’s also easier to enhance the levels of personalization in your messaging and requests. Zero-party data collected via Okendo helps create a clearer picture of your customers and their actions. This means that you can tightly target your messaging, perfectly pitching the tone of each SMS sent. Talking to a regular reviewer? Great — push for additional UGC, images, or video content. Messaging a customer who has shied away from leaving feedback until now? Add an incentive, such as a discount on their next purchase.

DTC Loves Data

Data is the lifeblood of all ecommerce businesses, but DTC brands tend to rely heavily on collecting and leveraging their customer insights. After all, their success typically depends upon delivering a highly specialized and specific product or service.

In the omnichannel age, brands can collect data from multiple sources. However, SMS provides a particularly insightful option for understanding your customers. Collecting UGC offers the opportunity to continuously learn, adapt, and improve. A/B testing tracks the success of all messages sent and helps you optimize accordingly.

SMS: More Relevant Today Than Ever Before

The immediacy of customer connection. Highly personalized messaging. The potential to capture valuable zero-party data. An opportunity to differentiate from the competition. For DTC brands, SMS marketing represents endless opportunities.

The Okendo/Attentive integration offers the opportunity to optimize the benefits that come from both UGC collection and SMS marketing — working together to give valuable results, far greater than the sum of their parts.