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Text ‘STOP’ on Promotional-Only SMS Marketing: Here’s How to Integrate SMS to Grow Your List, Earn Loyalty, and Give Your Customers Social Currency

December 14, 2020
Courtney Grace

SMS marketing is on the rise, and for good reason. Grow your list, integrate your campaigns, and build brand equity for the long-haul with Voyage SMS.

Table of Contents

SMS marketing has grown rapidly in the last couple years. In fact, COVID-19 seems to have only sped up SMS marketing adoption among brands. This is true for e-commerce companies, technology companies, and even local services like nail salons and dentists. 

It’s a hot commodity! And that’s because the numbers largely speak for themselves. 

More than 96% of Americans own a cellphone. And almost no one leaves a text message unread for long. In marketing terms, this makes SMS the perfect channel to get in front of your target audience. 

But, SMS marketing can be, and often is, abused. This is true for a lot of new marketing channels. As adoption grows and as strategists begin to use the channel more effectively, SMS marketing will become a regular part of an integrated marketing strategy.

And that’s great! 

For you, though, it’s better to start now rather than waiting for this channel to mature. Why? 

Because early adopters see more benefits from new marketing channels, and your brand can help shape the future of SMS marketing by using it powerfully (not only promotionally) from day 1. 

This post is long, yes, but it details how to use SMS marketing as part of a larger marketing strategy to get in front of your customers (both new and existing) in ways that grow your list, build loyalty, and ultimately give your customer social currency. 

In other words, this is about getting in front of your customers when they are most likely to be sharing word of mouth recommendations. This is how you use SMS marketing powerfully – and set the stage for the future of this new marketing channel. 

Let’s dive in. 

Editor’s Note: This is a long read (and for good reason). Want to get started faster, in time to launch for the holidays? Check out VoyageSMS to put these plans into action.

What is SMS Marketing?

SMS stands for short message service. It’s the text messaging service component across mobile devices and the Internet. 

What’s the difference between SMS and MMS?

MMS, or multimedia message service, was designed with the same technology as SMS, and it allows us to send videos, photos, GIFs, audio messages, and phone contacts. The combination of these two technologies make up the messaging function us smartphone users know today. 

SMS marketing, then, uses this technology to reach customers through this mobile device function. 

Because the messaging is delivered directly to the user’s phone and doesn’t rely on the user opening another app to receive marketing material, it is one of the most functional tools a company can use to their advantage.

Why You Should Prioritize an SMS Marketing Strategy

Despite some experts viewing SMS marketing as an “outdated” strategy, the realities around global mobile device use make a much more impressive case for utilizing a text message strategy. 

The truth? Humans have gone (nearly) full mobile. We do almost all of our communication through cell phones and now. It’s where most of us get our news, do our shopping, and browse the web. 

It only makes sense to target marketing to the devices people use for every other aspect of their lives.

After all, marketing is about earning consumer attention, and you can’t do that if you aren’t where their attention is most often focused. SMS cuts through the noise and ensures that the customers who want to hear from you actually do so.

But, if you need more convincing, or if your boss needs more convincing that an SMS marketing strategy should be a priority for the next quarter, then you’re in luck.

Here are a few key points to make to help push this initiative forward. 

SMS Marketing Fundamentals

10 minute jumpstart

SMS marketing is on the rise, and for good reason. With this online course, invest 10-minutes of your time and learn how to grow your list, integrate your campaigns, and build brand equity for the long-haul with Voyage SMS.

1. Phone usage is only going to grow (Just look at China). 

Let’s look at mobile phone usage, by the numbers:


Over the last four years, mobile phone ownership has grown consistently in every age group. 

Note the 50-64 and 65+ age groups, too: Not only has cell phone ownership grown steadily and in huge variables amongst these folks, they’re also the biggest spenders of any age group

It’s also important to note that in the 18-29 age range, which includes both later Gen-Z and younger millennial populations, 3 out of 4 of them use their mobile devices to shop online. 

At any rate, the growth is impressive. It’s also not slowing down anytime soon. Many U.S. analysts look to China as an example pattern of what the United States might be able to expect with mobile phone usage and mobile shopping over the next decade. And, the coronavirus has only sped up the adoption. 

The sheer volume of mobile phone owners should be case enough to employ SMS marketing in your strategy, but let’s consider the numbers around text message functions.

2. People open texts very quickly. 

When you consider just how often we are on our mobile phones, it makes sense that text messages get opened quickly and often.

In fact, 9 out of every 10 SMS messages are read within the first 3 minutes of receiving it, and 8 out of every 10 cellphone users open every text that they receive.

Why does this matter so much, especially for ecommerce brands? If you’re running short term promotions or need to get important updates out, you need the channel that is most immediate and visible.

These stats are impressive on their own, but even more so when you consider the stark contrast between open rates for SMS messages versus email.


The direct and deliberate delivery of a text message makes it more likely to be opened and engaged with far quicker than an email, which relies on the user opening another app or web browser.

3. Text messages often have higher open rates than email marketing. 

There are constant comparisons drawn between email marketing and SMS marketing strategies, so we’ll use the comparison to better understand the impact of having an SMS marketing component.

First, let’s determine the types of content that work best for an email campaign versus an SMS campaign.

What types of content perform best via SMS marketing?

If you’re looking to drive ROI and convert quickly, these are some types of messages that could work best:

  • Deals, promos, or coupons
  • Quick, quippy, straight-to-the-point messages
  • Biz info that keeps customers in the loop
  • Account updates, shipping notifications, and other customer info
  • Easy access to pertinent info
  • Info for customers who don't regularly use your app or visit your website

What types of content perform best via email marketing?

Email, on the other hand, lends itself to a larger breadth of content, but is more focused on long-term revenue and brand building goals:

  • Deep, educational information
  • Deals promos, or coupons
  • Promotions around services or products
  • More detailed content
  • Ask for feedback, advice, or action requests
  • Exclusivity
  • Building and fostering a community

Here are the cold, hard numbers:

“Research shows that SMS open rates are as high as 98%, compared to just 20% of all emails. And, on average, it takes 90 seconds for someone to respond to a text and 90 minutes to respond to an email. Furthermore, 75% of people have suggested that they’d be happy to receive an offer via SMS – this is why 65% of marketers say that SMS marketing is a “very effective” method for them.” [Campaign Monitor]

Consider, too, the amount of time the average user spends on their cell phone versus other digital devices:

SMS is all in the name: Short message service. Delivering concise, to-the-point messaging right to your customer’s hands holds an incredible amount of power. Plus, with open rates near an almost perfect 100% in some cases, employing an SMS strategy should be a no-brainer.

4. SMS marketing campaigns often get great response rates. 

Consider this: Would you be more likely to respond to a branded text message, or a branded email? 

What about a phone call?

The truth is, text message is the medium many folks feel most comfortable responding to. This is backed by data, too.

SMS response rates are 295% higher than those of phone call response rates and nearly 40% higher than that of email correspondences. [99 Firms

More than any other channel, SMS marketing opens the lines of communication between brand and customer (more on that next), and it provides a quick, responsive forum for exchanging information:

“Not only are your customers more likely to open marketing offers and communications via text, but they’re also more likely to interact with you when you communicate via SMS messaging. Beyond the obvious personal element, SMS messages are generally more convenient to receive, read, and act on as consumers check their phones dozens of times a day. SMS marketing statistics prove that texts motivate conversion through your sales funnel from the top down, whether your customers are responding to an offer you text, clicking through to your website or giving you a review of recent services.” [Rebrandly]

5. Text messages are great for customer feedback. 

Everyone knows that customer feedback and product or service reviews create credibility and give your audience a sense of trust.

Where some customers are really great about following up on their purchases, others need to be coaxed a little into providing that feedback or writing those reviews.

SMS marketing can be wildly helpful here, especially when you consider the footprint, open rates, and response rates. Hitting recent buyers with a thank you, a “leave us a review” message, and a link to do just that makes the feedback process easier for the user.

Not only can this tactic be used in asking for a product or service review, it can be used to build relationships and earn reviews on social media, Yelp, Google, or other recommendation sites. The best part? Brands can take that feedback immediately and implement it to other parts of the funnel.

6. SMS marketing is cost effective.

While the ability to get in front of your customers so immediately is worth the investment in SMS marketing to begin with, it has time and time again been proven to be one of the most – if not the most — cost-effective form of marketing. 

There is an initial investment of purchasing SMS credits via your provider (where pricing may vary depending on your needs and subscriber list), but where you’ll really save with SMS marketing is in the time and resources needed to dedicate to it.

Other channels and media rely on design elements, editors, consultants, and long-form copywriters. Text messages can be drafted, tweaked, and sent out within moments of conception.

This is particularly helpful when the message needs to be really timely or you’re just looking to see results quickly.

The numbers really do speak for themselves. Millions and millions of marketing dollars are invested annually in other marketing channels that don’t have even a shred of the success that SMS campaigns do.

7. SMS marketing compliments other types of marketing.

Another beautiful thing about leveraging SMS marketing services is that you do not necessarily need to build out an entire new strategy around it. Rather, it can be used as a means to deliver existing marketing messaging or to drive traffic to other channels like blogs, social media, and relevant landing pages.

In other words, SMS marketing is a key tool for getting in front of consumers for integrated marketing campaigns.

One ecommerce home furnishings company was able to drive $360k in revenue over four days by integrating SMS into their sale promotion.

SMS notably works alongside email, too, despite the constant comparisons. SMS is more effective than email at driving opt-ins and converting those leads into customers who are coming from mobile. Once they checkout, brands will end up with both SMS and email opt-ins, so the two channels compliment rather than cannibalize.

Particularly if your digital marketing strategy is based on a stackable content method, SMS can be used to deliver larger pieces of content in real-time as soon as they’re published. 

Considering most texts are opened within 3 minutes, the likelihood of your audience engaging with your content quickly is higher via mobile SMS delivery than it is via email, social media, or even a push notification.

8. SMS marketing strengthens customer engagement.

Your SMS marketing strategy doesn’t have to rely on product launches, giveaways, and other promotions: It can be used to create brand awareness and further nurture brand loyalty. 

9. Customers can opt-in and out easily.

You know the pain point: You’re ready to opt out receiving emails from a particular brand or outlet or sender, and you have to go through a multi-step process in order to cancel that subscription.

Maybe you even employ one of those “mass unsubscriber” tools that never seem to work properly.

It’s a painful process that a lot of folks choose to ignore, so rather than unsubscribe, they simply leave emails unopened.

Imagine if you could simply reply “STOP. QUIT. CANCEL. NO. UNSUBSCRIBE. OPT-OUT.” to your emails in order to stop receiving them.

This is another one of the many, many benefits to SMS texts: The opt-in, opt-out process for customers is So. Much. Easier. With a simple response, subscribers can easily be removed from sender lists, a comforting notion for consumers who choose to opt-in to receiving SMS messaging.

What’s comforting for the companies who use SMS marketing messages? An average opt-out rate of less than 5%. 

That’s significantly lower than any other marketing channel. Your messages are getting to your customers quickly, they’re reading them, and they’re continuing to receive further messaging. Win-win-win.

Better yet, when a customer opts out, tools like Voyage SMS will ensure that they are removed from your list ASAP. 

Examples of SMS Marketing for Ecommerce Businesses  

Now that you know why SMS marketing is effective, let’s dive into some real-world examples of successful, engaging SMS campaigns. While creating these text messages may seem daunting at first, think of them like email drip campaigns — you can segment your audience and send out regularly scheduled content based on their habits.

Here are some types of SMS messages you can send or add into your messaging platform:

1. Welcome texts or offers.

A welcome email is a huuuuuge first impression-maker for your brand. The welcome SMS text is no different! Effective welcome texts all have a few (or all) of these elements in common:

  • An actual greeting: Yes, obvious, but your new subscribers should know what to expect from these messages.
  • CTA: What do you want your new subscriber to do — purchase something? Visit a landing page? Share with friends? An explicit instruction can guide the user where you need them to go.
  • Opt-in and opt-out instruction: Let them know they can leave (and come back) at any time. Not only is this a legality, it’s just friendly.
  • A unique promo code for new users: As aforementioned. You make sales, your customer has a good experience. Win-win.
  • UTM-coded link to gauge CTR: Are people actually clicking the link you want them to go to? Was your CTA clear enough about why they should check it out? These are a few of the important metrics you should be measuring (more on that later).
  • GIFs, images, video links: Have fun! Show off your brand’s personality!

SMS Example for a Welcome Test or Offer: "Thanks for signing up for SMS offers. Click here for 10% off your order today![CODE]"

2. Purchase reminders.

Sending out a purchase reminder or an appointment reminder will ensure your product or service is top of mind when it comes time for your customer to repurchase.

Even better, make the scheduling or repeat purchase easier with a simple “YES” opt-in, like MentalDental does when their patients are due for a check-up.

Taking the guesswork away from your customer makes them feel taken care of, and that builds a trusting relationship between brand and consumer.

SMS Example for a Purchase Reminder: "Don't forget to use your welcome offer! Click now to get 20% off your first order![CODE]"

3. Unique deals and promotions.

We know how effective time-sensitive marketing messaging is, especially around the holidays and other high-volume shopping seasons. When you consider that 90% of text messages are read within three minutes, SMS marketing is the most logical communication channel for seeding urgent deals or last-minute promotions versus email or creating promoted social posts that may or may not reach your target audience.

Another effective promotional tool is to offer potential customers a special promotion or a discount code if they sign up for your SMS service. Not only will this exponentially scale brand awareness and add new numbers to your contact lists, you’ll see a significant jump in sales:

“The survey found that two-thirds of consumers have "made a purchase they weren't originally planning to make solely based on finding a coupon or discount". Similarly, four out of five (80%) said they feel encouraged to make a first-time purchase with a brand that is new to them if they found an offer or discount. This is why it's a good idea to use new customer special offers to attract consumers in online ads. Seeing a good special can encourage people to buy when they otherwise wouldn't have.” [Inc.]

SMS Example for a Unique Deal and Promotion: "Shh ... this offers for our SMS list only. Get 20% off today here to apply the coupon automatically[CODE]"

4. New product announcements.

Announcing a shiny new product? Of course, cross-channel promotion here is so important, but SMS shouldn’t be discounted from that mix, especially when you consider its significantly higher open and response rates.

Product launch announcements via email often get buried in our inboxes. SMS is the most effective way to ensure your most loyal customers get the news immediately, allowing them to take action immediately.

Plus, giving folks “early access” will create a sense of brand loyalty and generate initial buzz.

SMS Example for New Product Announcement: "Drum roll pants have arrived and you're the first to know. Shop now before they sell out!"

5. Birthday rewards.

Is there a better way to keep subscriber counts up than with the promise of a birthday treat year after year?

Brands like Starbucks have successfully rolled out and maintained their birthday freebies and, while their brand is a huge case study on customer loyalty to begin with, any company can leverage birthdays as an excuse to surprise and delight their customer base.

Plus, with plenty of SMS marketing automation tools available, you can easily capture your subscribers’ birthdays and have a text sent out in advance of their big day. Plus, as we previously mentioned, making it urgent (i.e. you have one week to redeem this code before it expires) signals to the customer that yeah, they need to use this.

SMS Example for Birthday Rewards: "Happy birthday {first name}! Here's a $50 gift card just for you! [{]({gift)unique gift code}"

6. Black Friday, Cyber Monday Reminders.

Urgency, urgency, urgency: That’s the name of the game on the year’s two largest shopping holidays. 

In most cases, brands don’t release their discounts or deals until the eleventh hour, so this last-minute messaging is ripe for SMS automation. Plus, because you can blast a mass text to every segment of your audience, it can be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Plus, you can link directly to your online shop via SMS, which is a crucial feature when you consider the quickly growing number of mobile shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Consider last year’s stats:

“Black Friday 2019 was the biggest ever day for mobile shopping with $2.9 billion in smartphone transactions, with 61% of all online retail coming from smartphone transactions, representing a 15.8% increase from a year ago, and 39% of all e-commerce sales coming from smartphones, a 21% increase from year-ago figures.” [Mobile Payments Today]

Give your customers the savings message right where they’ll be shopping anyway and watch the sales roll in.

SMS Example for Black Friday, Cyber Monday Reminder: "Don't forget to use your 30% off discount for black friday! 24 hours left!"

7. Giveaways.

You want to grow that subscriber list fast, create new leads, and grow product awareness and brand exposure? Create a giveaway and use your other marketing channels to promote it. It’s a tale as old as time, but it works; even better, offer those who don’t win a small discount or a free add-on for playing along.

SMS Example for Giveaways: "Tag @brand on instagram wearing your new pants for a chance to win $1000!!! learn more"

8. Cross-sell and upselling.

The good news: If a customer is signed up to receive SMS messages from your brand, they’re already bought in (to some extent). There’s an established relationship and some trust – read, some. That makes the upselling or cross-selling process a little less daunting.

Consider segmenting your audience by purchasing behaviors or by product affinity. When you can understand what your customers are buying, you can make more logical recommendations for new, additional products to purchase. 

SMS Example for Cross-Selling / Upselling: "Need a belt with those pants? We've got the perfect one:"

9. Abandoned cart reminders.

Abandoned carts are the bane of any e-commerce brand’s existence. It causes all sorts of problems and revenue loss (somewhere around $18B a year!) so introducing the most immediate form of customer outreach can help alleviate this prevalent e-commerce issue.

A few tips for making your abandoned cart text successful — and conversion-worthy:

  1. Don’t offer discounts at every turn: Discounts can cheapen your brand and encourage future cart abandonment. Promos should be offered on occasion, not as the norm.
  2. Simplify the checkout process: Make paying for a product easier for the customer. For example, have a guest checkout function for those who don’t want to create an account.
  3. Use product images: Show your customer what they’re missing! Link to items or provide images of the specific products they were looking at.

SMS Example for Abandoned Cart Reminders: "Distracted by a squirrel? You left something in your cart. Check out now!{ID}"

Sending Your First E-commerce SMS Message

So you’re convinced now — SMS is a must-have in your marketing arsenal. Where do you begin?

Like any new venture, there are some important boxes to tick before you start slinging GIFs and sending out promo codes. Here are five steps to creating a successful SMS program for your e-commerce or DTC brand.

1. Define your goals and KPIs. 

You have to know how to measure success before you begin your SMS campaign. While most of these metrics will sound familiar from your other marketing channels, knowing how to measure them for this specific medium is crucial.

You can determine KPIs by researching your particular industry and finding the average rate or percentage for these metrics. Bear in mind that a lot of these numbers will vary greatly across different organizations. Here are some key metrics to keep an eye out for:

1. Response rate.

How many subscribers have taken an action after receiving a text message? That’s what this response rate measures. It is the number one measure of effectiveness around that SMS text. You’ll be able to see, too, the types of content or format that most customers respond to and take note of any patterns.

2. Return on investment.

It’s important that this number remains positive! Whether it’s across all campaigns or on a per-campaign basis, this measurement tests if investing on an SMS strategy is a worthy investment that makes the company money, ultimately.

3. List size.

How many phone numbers are subscribed to your list? That’s what this number measures. Don't confuse it with reach, though, as there will naturally be unusable numbers in your database. Ideally, this number will consistently grow with each campaign, month over month.

4. List growth rate.

Now that you know the size of your list, what’s the rate at which that list grows with each send? You can calculate this by the week, month, or year, and what the list growth rate ultimately shows is that you’re steadily acquiring new customers and keeping them on. If list growth rate drops, though, look to your attrition metrics and other marketing channels.

5. List attrition.

It’s natural for some subscribers to drop off — whether they’re no longer interested in your product or service or they’re finding your SMS content offensive, intrusive, or lacking value prop. These are important things to note, too, and you can determine the nature of attrition by asking for feedback, then tweaking the nature of your content or the frequency of sends.

6. Acquisition cost.

What’s the cost of acquiring a mobile subscriber? Compare this cost to the average profit of a subscriber to determine how much you can offer customers to sign up to your list.

2. Find an SMS marketing service. 

First and foremost, there is still some legality that has to be considered when beginning an SMS program around data and customer protections. Luckily, using an SMS marketing service provider can ensure all of that is taken care of — and more. 

Using a service can allow you to store phone numbers, segment your audience as well as your creative, create templates, send polls or reminders, manage workflows, and — of course — view data and metrics.

One such service we really love is Voyage SMS. They’re the ultimate SMS marketing tool for e-commerce brands, and they have some helpful functions that can ensure you’re seeing the highest CTR and ROI for your holiday campaigns (or any other time of the year, of course). See #4 for more on one of those awesome features.

3. Start getting phone numbers and growing subscribers. 

In order to start collecting phone numbers and growing that subscriber list, your other channels have to work for you, too. It all starts with creating a simple keyword and an easy string of numbers that people can text to opt in to quickly.

Then, promote the heck out of it.

Run social ads. Blast it out to your email list. Add a pop-up widget or a sign-up field to your website. Remember those new subscriber promos we talked about? That will entice people to get on board — fast.

4. Segment subscribers and send messages.

Much like with your email list, you’re not going to mass text every member of your contact list, right? This is where services like Voyage’s Unlimited Keyword come in handy.

What’s so cool about Voyage Keyword is that it automatically segments your customers - customers tell YOU what products they are interested in, and self-segment themselves into buckets.

One of the best places to utilize keyword is on social.

For example: In May, Lokai launched Star Wars themed bracelets. While Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker performed admirably, the Baby Yoda bracelet was the runaway popularity winner and sold out within two hours of launch. 

Lokai posted on Instagram, calling its loyal followers to text Star Wars to be the first to know about the re-launch. 

When the limited amounts of Baby Yoda bracelets were re-launched, Lokai messaged only those who had opted in via Star Wars keyword and generated a whopping 92% CTR. Not only that, but Lokai generated 7x more revenue per SMS message sent than email!

5. Test and iterate. 

SMS marketing isn’t unique from other channels in the testing, iterating, and optimizing sense. That’s the only way to really determine if your customers are resonating with this new communication method. By segmenting your creative or the types of messages you’re sending and measuring opt-in and opt-out rates after each send, you can draw conclusions to what your subscriber list really wants to see.

Most importantly, try a little bit of everything. Send GIFs. Ask for feedback.

Measure click-through rate and open rate and conversion rate. And, of course, make sure SMS complements your other marketing efforts. This shouldn’t be a flash in the pan — it should be another wheel to your larger business engine.

Conclusion: SMS is here to stay — and it’s only getting better

The world is more mobile than ever, and as the years go on, desktops and home computers are slowly phasing out. If social media and web pages can be adapted for mobile optimization, so should the rest of your strategy. 

Contrary to what you may have heard lately, SMS marketing isn’t going anywhere. If you consider the way things are moving, SMS seems like the most logical — if not the most profitable — marketing channel any business can be leveraging right now.

As always, if you don’t know where to begin, we’ve got someone in our network who does. They’re ready to help.

Courtney Grace
about the author

Courtney Grace is a researcher and writer for MarketerHire. She's also written for brands like Laffy Taffy, Bowflex, and iFLY Indoor Skydiving. When she isn’t creating content, you can find her trying new restaurants or trail hopping with her one-eyed Aussie, Poppy, in Austin, Texas!

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