The Psychology of SMS: 7 Ways to Write Irresistible Text Messages
April 10, 2023
Reading Time: 3 minutes
As an SMS marketer, you’re hyper-focused on persuading your subscribers to buy (more) products, spend more money, and become loyal fans of your brand.
Creating high-performing SMS campaigns starts with writing irresistible copy. With 50% of Shopify Plus merchants seeing less traffic and lower conversion rates—and 35% seeing a lower average cart size—your copy is more important than ever.
Effective copywriting is rooted in psychology—understanding how people's minds work so you can influence them to take action. The “godfather of influence,” Dr. Robert Cialdini, has dedicated his entire career to researching factors and feelings that lead people to say “yes.” He distilled his research into 7 principles of persuasion:
Reciprocity: Doing things for people who do things for us
Scarcity: Fearing there’s not enough for everyone
Authority: Trusting the word of credible experts
Liking: Supporting people we genuinely like
Social Proof: Caring about other people’s opinions
Consistency: Creating alignment between what we say and do
Unity: Desiring a sense of community
Using the 7 Pillars of Influence in Your SMS Campaigns
These seven principles are powerful keys to unlocking the revenue potential of your SMS marketing program and maximizing your Subscriber LTV. Let’s explore how you can employ these pillars of influence to write text messages and campaign copy that will drive your subscribers to take action.
1. Reciprocity: Doing Things for People Who Do Things for Us
People often feel obligated to give back to those who have given something to them first. As such, giving gifts to customers has a direct effect on how much money they spend with you.
So, put on your gifting hat and come up with special offers for new subscribers, first-time customers, and repeat buyers.
How to Use the Pillar of Reciprocity in Your SMS Copy
Welcome new subscribers with a discount or a free item in their cart.
Include a free gift with each customer’s first order. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. A small token of your appreciation will go a long way toward encouraging a reorder.
Send a piece of valuable content, like a Spotify playlist or a gift giver’s guide.
Give SMS subscribers early access to new releases and special promotions.
Pro Tip: Credits for specific dollar amounts or free items tend to perform better than percent-off discounts (even if the percent discount is worth more than the dollar amount).
“Reciprocity” Text Message Examples
Blume Coffee Message
Avara New Items Thread
2. Scarcity: Fearing There’s Not Enough for Everyone
People have a natural fear of missing out and often want more of the things they can’t easily get. When customers know there’s limited availability of a particular item, they’ll go so far as to line up out the door and around the block.
Tapping into the scarcity mindset starts with your campaign parameters. Put finite limits on offers and clearly communicate those limits to your subscribers. And don’t forget to add some excitement to your tone!
How to Use the Pillar of Scarcity in Your SMS Copy
Limited quantity offers like temporarily back in stock, only 100 available, or we won’t be making these again perform really well.
Limited-time deals like order by Tuesday to get this before V-Day or sale ends in 3 hours build urgency.
Scarcity isn’t always about limits. Painting a picture of what life is like without your product can be another powerful way to create FOMO.
Pro Tip: Displaying the quantity of limited-supply items in your ecommerce store is an effective scarcity tactic proven to boost sales.
“Scarcity” Text Message Examples
Chomps: Cyber Monday Madness
3. Authority: Trusting the Word of Credible Experts
People follow the lead of knowledgeable experts. Highlighting professionals in your SMS campaigns builds trust with your subscribers. This could be external experts like doctors, scientists, and professional athletes—or internal ones like your brand’s founders.
How to Use the Pillar of Authority in Your SMS Copy
Get credible testimonials from doctors, athletes, celebrities, etc.
Share press from known publications.
Share founders’ experiences and stories to build credibility.
“Authority” Text Message Examples
Dr. Brite: The Doctor is In
4. Liking: Supporting People We Genuinely Like
As humans, we prefer to buy from and support people we genuinely like. So what makes someone likable? We like people we have things in common with, who pay us compliments, who listen, and who help us reach our goals. And we tend to like brands that do those same things.
Focus on humanizing your brand and building personal connections between your team and your SMS subscribers. It will lead to more sales and stronger brand loyalty.
How to Use the Pillar of Liking in Your SMS Copy
Get personal, conversational, and super-targeted.
Send texts from individual team members.
Give compliments generously.
“Liking” Text Message Examples
Aisling Organics: Founder Story
Shine Cosmetics: Dishing Out the Compliments
ByEgreis: Mother’s Day Poem
5. Social Proof: Caring About Other People’s Opinions
People often look at the opinions, recommendations, and behaviors of others as a guide for their own actions. This is precisely why so many ecommerce sites feature customer reviews on their homepage and product pages.
How to Use the Pillar of Social Proof in Your SMS Copy
Include testimonials and reviews in your text messages.
Highlight popular and trending products.
Show a counter (e.g., 50,000 happy customers or 256 people purchased this in the last hour) on your website.
“Social Proof” Text Message Examples
Maceoo: Customer Review
Snif: Media Coverage
6. Consistency: Creating Alignment Between What We Say and Do
People like to demonstrate behaviors that are consistent with what they’ve previously said or done. This means you can leverage people’s preferences and actions to lead them to a product purchase (i.e., guide the customer to the yes).
How to Use the Consistency Pillar in Your SMS Copy
Send a quiz asking subscribers about their goals and preferences. Save their responses for future segmentation and to make their shopping experience quicker next time.
Recommend “often bought with” products.
Offer risk-free returns.
Pro Tip: Giving people a trial period gets them over the hump of committing, and it’s unlikely they will go through the hassle of returning their order. The benchmark ecommerce return rate is 20%.
“Consistency” Text Message Examples
Laka: Choose Your Discount
7. Unity: Desiring a Sense of Community
People long for a sense of belonging. Community development has become a core marketing strategy for some of the most influential brands. By fostering a shared identity and building an atmosphere of “us,” you can create longer-lasting and more valuable relationships.
How to Use the Pillar of Community in Your SMS Copy
Use we/us/our language.
Treat your customers like close friends or family.
Give your community a nickname and refer to them by name.
Ask for feedback from your community
Pro Tip: Choose your words wisely. The word “advice” gives a feeling of togetherness. “Opinions” and “expectations” can feel divisive.
“Unity” Text Message Examples
Easy Standard: Community Gratitude
It’s Time to Practice the Power of Influence
There you have it—seven pillars of psychology that you can use to write more effective copy for your SMS campaigns.
Now it’s time to pick one or two and test them out. Be sure to document the performance of past SMS marketing messages so you know which new tactics work best. If you want to see how your SMS marketing efforts stack up against other brands in your industry, be sure to check out our 2023 SMS Benchmarks Report.
Principal Customer Success Manager
Joe Vela is the Principal Customer Success Manager at Postscript, where he has helped hundreds of brands shape and optimize their ecommerce strategies. Based in Philadelphia, Joe is also the CEO and founder of his own ecommerce brand, a musician & DJ, and a 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 finalist.