SMS Holiday Marketing Best Practices
September 15, 2021
Reading Time: 9 minutes
BFCM 2021 is right around the corner and many retailers are predicting a blow-out year with the COVID-19 pandemic at least partially receding the rearview mirror. However, marketers have their work cut out for them if they plan to snare this year’s holiday spend.
Last year brought many brands online for the first time and forced others to significantly up their digital game, driving customer acquisition costs higher in the process. With organic and inorganic CAC hitting all-time highs marketers need to be even more creative with their dollars.
At the same time, digital platforms that once delivered cost-efficient results are seeing their targeting capabilities curtailed by consumers who’ve voiced concerns about privacy and regulatory crackdowns on the use of consumer data.
For many brand marketers, this means doubling down on owned and operated channels where they have greater control over using consumer data and increased ability to contain costs. Among this arsenal of owned channels, SMS is taking center stage as the star of the holiday shopping season. Global SMS spend rose 10% in 2020 and is positioned for continued growth in 2021.
We’re buying online more than ever!
At the end of 2020, eCommerce represented approximately 14% of U.S. retail sales, up 7.3% from 2015. Driven by the pandemic eCommerce grew by 44% and despite the easing of pandemic era restrictions and a decline in cases, e-commerce has not dropped to previous levels.
While some of that jump can be attributed to consumers taking holiday shopping sprees to Amazon, the gains were distributed across the digital retail sector. Some of the biggest e-commerce players like Shopify reported that their platforms were handling above Black Friday level numbers of transactions.
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Even digital advertising agencies like Common Thread Collective report Black Friday-level revenue for their clients.
The post-pandemic economy is growing, and American consumer confidence hit an all-time high in June of 2021. Combined with an increased willingness to travel, gather, and spend, this holiday season makes it likely that BFCM ecommerce spending in 2021 will continue to break records.
Sure, the mix of what people buy might be different (pajamas and board games could be replaced by fancy clothes and travel experiences), but consumerism in the United States is still going strong, especially as so many online brands have extended their product line into the services realm — most of them doing so via SMS.
So, to capitalize on what is coming, it is crucial that ecommerce brand owners and operators get started right now.
SMS is not a tactic to just tack onto your holiday strategy. It is a crucial channel for prospect and customer conversion and information. In that way, how you think through it should have the same level of importance as your website design and UX.
Here is all you need to think through to make sure you have everything ready to go for the holidays.
Just getting started with SMS?
If you’re just getting started with SMS, your first step is getting your ducks in a row. You’ll need to:
1. Update language across your website.
2. Plan out paths to grow your subscriber list.
Building an SMS list takes time, so start now. Unfortunately, you can’t use any telephone numbers you’ve already collected for customer-service purposes. Customers need to be specifically opt-in to receive SMS marketing messages before you can reach them via this channel.
Consider making some updates to your site that are focused on capture SMS opt-ins like pop-up messages, easily fillable forms, discounts or incentives, and prompts at checkout. Building your SMS list now will give you the best chance to fully realize the power of SMS marketing when BFCM rolls around.
3. Determine what types of SMS messages you will send.
Abandoned cart, welcome series, product updates, loyalty programs, etc. Your best bet is to start small and with segments of your audience so you can test and iterate.
Once you are up and running (and tools like Postscript can make this process much, much easier and faster for you), then you can start planning out your holiday campaigns.
Techniques to consider for holiday campaigns
For brands that already have their SMS marketing ducks in a row and are ready to go, it’s about time to call a brainstorming meeting with your team. After all, the holidays give us a highly consumer-focused point in time to try out a variety of tactics and grow our audiences, customers, and revenue.
There is a lot to think through — mostly because the options are decently endless. So, grab your creatives together and send them a quick hit list of the things you’ll be brainstorming in your hour together (or more likely, over Zoom).
Our list below contains 4 topics of conversation, and some ideas to help set the stage and get the teams thinking strategically about the topic’s importance.
Testing is #1 on our list because it should be a part of every single strategy you employ with SMS marketing. This is for a couple reasons:
You should A/B test just about everything on your site. Minimal increases in performance add up over time, and can be the lever you need to stay one step ahead of competition (with a lot of extra revenue in the bank).
SMS marketing is a new channel. What works for one brand won’t work for them all. And what works for you in the summer might not be what works during the holidays. Testing is important so that you make sure you are both growing brand affinity as well as growing brand revenue.
As you think through your SMS marketing strategy for BFCM 2020, be sure to test variations of messaging, segments and cohorts, timing, streams, etc.
Of course, be sure that you do these tests all one at a time so that you can see what actually dorve meaningful change versus what may have been a fluke.
Oh, and make sure that you are actually measuring success rates here. Set a KPI.
Is the goal that more people click on the link and come to the site?
Is it that they purchase the product?
Is it that they sign up for a loyalty program?
Maybe it is that they use a discount code?
Whatever it is — be sure you have a set KPI you are measuring when you test.
SMS and MMS marketing is challenging because you can so easily get in front of a customer, but you only want to do it when absolutely necessary.
Send too many texts, and you’ll get ignored.
Send too few, and folks will forget they signed up and opt-out when you do send a message.
The balancing acting here is to work to have your SMS message build brand affinity (loyalty, relationship, etc.) as well as revenue.
One sure fire way to burn the brand affinity bridge? Send a text at 3 a.m. Unless you are some kind of sleep aid (and even then, aren’t you hurting more than helping), no one but emergency services should be texting at that hour.
Take timing into consideration when sending your messages, including time zones! Time your sends with activities folks do that are related to your product, or time your SMS messages with when folks are more likely to be relaxing and browsing.
You want to come off more as a friend than as a brand. Experts say this again and again:
Michael Wieder, Co-Founder, President & CMO, Meet Lalo: “Be human. Text like a friend.”
Mark Johnson, Ecommerce Manager, Hydrant: “Take your existing brand voice, and make it more conversational. Consider how your SMS reads - would a friend send you that text?”
Austin Brawner, CEO, Brand Growth Experts: “Use casual language and stay aligned with the tone your brand is already using across your other communication channels. Use emojis, use GIFs, make it feel like the message is coming from a friend, not a business.”
Gina Perrelli, Director of CRM, Lunar Solar Group: “Be casual, authentic, and understand texting is personal so don't overdo it.”
And finally, on Gina’s point, don’t overdo it. Think through how often you are sending text messages to people, and why. Test your timing (and measure unsubscribes!).
Be sure that every aspect of your holiday SMS marketing campaign thinks through the time of day, when the last text was that you sent, and if a friend would actually say this to someone.
3. Conversational marketing.
A great way to build brand affinity as you grow revenue through SMS marketing is to launch a conversational marketing channel or shortcode. Conversation SMS marketing is often 1:1 — where a customer and an employee are literally texting back and forth.
What are they talking about?
Well, ideally they are talking about things relevant to your brand’s niche and expertise.
Cookware brands like Great Jones have a recipe program.
Mental wellness brands have therapy programs.
Bathing suit brands like Summer Salt have “feel good” channels in which someone will text you a happy quote to help brighten your day.
Whatever you do, be sure that you have a tool or system in place to route these messages to the proper employees who have the knowledge and the time to talk directly with customers about things both customers and the employees are passionate about (one of which should be your brand!).
4. Support via SMS.
Outside of conversational marketing, which is more of a relationship building and brand affinity activity, think too about how you might be able to provide customer support via SMS over the holidays.
People are busy after all, and sometimes it's just easier to text someone a question rather than emailing, looking it up, or calling. The same is true for returns, or wrong shipping addresses. There are so many things, as you likely know, that your customer service team deals with on a daily basis – big and small.
Many of those things can be taken care of over SMS with the right tool. It makes it easier for your customer, and should just work in the same customer service system you already have.
This way, questions get routed appropriately, answered in a timely fashion, and everyone is merrier for it.
The do’s and don’ts of SMS for holiday
All right — now that we have you brainstorming the possibilities, let’s talk real quick about guardrails. There are some SMS marketing basics that may be good for you and your team to know before you hit the ground running.
Don’t worry – most of these are fairly easy to understand. Many marketers already have a deep understanding of what makes their customer tick, and what turns them off immediately. The following don’ts live on the list of the latter.
1. Don’t over send messages.
Timing is so important with SMS marketing messages. You don’t want to set all of this up for this channel, promise a high return on investment and then see negative results solely because you spammed your prospects and customers.
Send SMS messages sparingly, and with good reason. Make sure the messages contain interesting information said in a friendly tone. Two good rules of thumb:
Things that relate to an order are always helpful and can come more often.
Marketing and promotional messages should be fewer and further between.
Instead, segment your audiences.
With Postscript and Shopify, this takes all of 2 minutes to set up. Then, you can send regular messages to various groups, running tests, and seeing incremental revenue gains weekly.
2. Don’t ignore responses. Don’t monitor messages.
You’ve done it. You’ve set your SMS messaging system and it is sending and people are responding. Sales are coming in. You’ve done it!
As with all things, nothing is set it and forget it — especially when it comes to people. Do not ignore responses. The same way that so many brands have policies to reply to every single comment on a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn post (paid or organic!), you should also be ready to respond to every single message that comes in.
This is the relationship building side of SMS. This is work, yes. But it is worth it. Is it rewarding. It is the reason why you set it up to begin with.
3. Don’t forget about in-store traffic.
The year 2020 will go down in history for a ton of reasons. Don’t let one of them be that you got so wrapped up in the commerce frenzy that you forget entirely about in-store or printed materials.
To solve for that, consider putting your short code on packaging. This will be helpful for gift-giving, as well, so that new customers can get to know you and the brand more quickly after they receive the gift.
The sky is the limit with SMS marketing for BFCM 2020. Pull your team in and start brainstorming about the possibilities, the branding, the conversation, the information, the shortcodes, whatever you want.
Just keep in mind that SMS marketing gives your brand the power to show in someone’s phone in the same way as friends and family. Abuse that power and you will lose it. So don’t.
Be mindful of your messaging and your timing.
Be friendly and helpful, and go above and beyond.
This is your chance. This is your year. How will you leverage it for the best possible outcome?