sms marketingThe Hidden Dangers of SMS Marketing (and how to avoid them)

Last time, we talked about why SMS is an exciting channel for ecommerce brands in 2021 and how we’ve helped brands get the most out of SMS marketing. With record results for ecommerce merchants in 2020, SMS proved its worth as a marketing channel and that it’s here to stay. 

However, SMS success doesn’t happen overnight (even if it’s easy to set up). When considering SMS as a marketing channel, ecommerce brands must plan ahead and continually optimize their campaigns. SMS isn’t a “set it and forget it” channel. 

What brands get wrong with SMS

There’s no doubt SMS is an exciting and lucrative channel. However, we’ve seen a lot of brutal and easily avoided mistakes that can tank the effectiveness of SMS campaigns. Here are some of the more common SMS mistakes and SMS best practices you should be adding to your toolkit today.

In today’s world of robocalls and unsolicited texts, your potential customers aren’t likely to buy from you if they get messages without knowing more about your brand. You might be tempted to buy lists of phone numbers and send our promotions. In a word, DON’T. For one thing, sending unsolicited texts can result in heavy fines. For another, this is a terrible way to approach customers!

You may already have the phone numbers of customers who have previously purchased from your brand. Unless they specifically opted-in, you still need to get an opt-in from them. Sending an email with a link to an SMS opt-in, or asking at checkout are great ways to get their permission to follow up via text.

Sending spammy messages

No one likes spam. SMS shouldn’t be used as a channel to blow up customers’ notifications because you want to make easy sales. At most, we recommend sending 4-6 texts every month, but this varies depending on your audience. Start slow with your customers and see how they respond. Back off if necessary.

For example, Gen Z and millennials may be ok with getting more texts, but Boomers and Gen X might prefer email. Make sure you’re thinking about your target demographics when deciding how many texts to send.

SMS is not “just like email”

Most brands starting out with SMS use it as a way to replace lackluster email performance. This is destined for trouble. SMS should be used with email as part of an omnichannel communication strategy. A winning strategy for most brands is to use email for longer messages, while SMS should be focused on getting customers to take action or followup for transactional conversations (like shipping notifications).

Don’t always try to sell

SMS isn’t always about selling your products and customers get turned off and unsubscribe if they know you’re only trying to sell, sell, and sell. You can do more than just take their money–engage with them instead! Instead of always promoting products, use SMS as a channel to send timely product tips, get their feedback, provide delivery updates, ask for reviews, and more. It’s not All about the Benjamins, no matter what Ice Cube said.

No segmentation of your audience

SMS blasts may be easy to do, but sending the same message to every single customer on your SMS list is the best way to ensure people unsubscribe from your future messages. Target the right customers with the right message at the right time using segments. 

With SMS, you can send messages to customers who’ve purchased specific products, interacted with your customer service team, or abandoned their high-value carts. A segment could be as simple as “First Time Customers” or “Carts over $100” but you absolutely must be targeted and personal to succeed.

Not using an URL shortener

SMS messages are limited to 160 characters, so every character counts. Long links can end up costing you more money per text message. When using links in SMS messages, use a service like (or a provider that already shortens them!) to shorten links for free.

How we recommend approaching SMS

While SMS campaigns can be implemented overnight, we recommend taking a strategic and methodical approach to the channel. Just like email, SMS requires planning and optimization in order to achieve your goals. 

Here’s what brands should keep in mind when considering SMS as a marketing channel in 2021:

Make sure you’re TCPA compliant

Email marketers must follow the CAN-SPAM Act; SMS marketers must follow the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). This basically states that you must collect explicit opt-ins from your customers in order to market to them. If you send texts to customers without opt-ins, you could pay a fine of $1,000 per unsolicited text message. That’s a stiff penalty and the enforcement is much stricter than with email.

You must also provide them with an easy way to opt-out of messages (think of “Reply with STOP to stop receiving messages from our brand.”) One thing to keep in mind is that brands are allowed to send a final text message confirming the unsubscribe, but you’re not allowed to use it as a promotional message. So that means your final text message can’t say something like: 

“We’re sorry to see you go! Subscribe again for 10% off your next order.”

That’s a direct violation of the TCPA.

We recommend that you speak with your legal counsel to review the TCPA so they can help craft a plan for collecting SMS opt-ins from your customers.

Use more than one channel (email + SMS)

There are already a plethora of channels for communicating with customers: email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. By adding SMS into the mix, you’ll need to track communication in a central location so that all the communications are logged and tagged as needed. 

While SMS is a powerful marketing tool, it shouldn’t be your only marketing tool in 2021. It’s better to improve your SMS campaigns by combining SMS with email. Why? Some communications are just better suited to email or SMS. For example, if you want to promote a new collection of products, email would be a better choice because you have more space to promote, link to and display each product with rich imagery.

On the other hand, SMS is a better channel for promoting new deals or offers because you can get the message across quickly. In general, use email for long and descriptive messages while SMS is more for short messages that are easily consumable and can be acted on immediately. Just because you have a new tool doesn’t mean you have to ignore the rest of your toolbox!

Make it personal and relevant

Personalization is a proven method for improving conversion rates and customer retention. With SMS, brands can personalize the contents of their text messages, but can also trigger texts based on customers’ behavior. For example, if customers make a purchase for a shirt, they can get a text message two days after the product is delivered to upsell a fantastic hat or belt that you know sells well (and really complements) the shirt. Personal, relevant, and timely. 

To further improve SMS results, brands should segment their subscriber list based on demographic and behavioral data. The quickest way to reduce the effectiveness of SMS campaigns is to send generic messages to every customer on your list. By using segmentation, and then customizing the message for each segment, brands can send messages to the right person at the right time to improve the performance of their campaigns. 

Automate with templates

Part of the reason SMS marketing works so well is how it lets brands communicate with customers at scale. Depending on which campaigns and automation a brand sets up, they can automatically handle welcome messages, abandoned cart recovery, upselling, customer service, delivery updates, and more. This is achieved through the use of content templates.

A template is just a pre-defined message that is set up to say what you wanted, but with a whole lot less work (and with the advantage of being pre-tested and already having best practices considered). Templates make you a marketing expert even when you’re not and speed the configuration process up considerably.

Through the use of templates, brands can quickly set up workflows and campaigns. These templates are usually customizable, so you can give your brand’s text messages a more personalized touch. If your brand is fun, you might add emojis. If you want a more professional tone, that’s easy to do as well. 

You can set up automated text messages to be sent at a set time after the cart is abandoned by the customer. This time is customizable as well. The integration of automation in the SMS campaign allows you to make the perfect text at the start and schedule it to be used for all cart abandonment recovery interactions.

Try support with texting

As customers begin to receive texts from your brand, they’re more likely to treat SMS as a customer service channel. And 60% of customers want to actively text businesses back about customer support issues. When implementing SMS, it’s better to choose a phone number that can two-way text with customers. This way, you can personalize each response and not leave customers waiting for a response. 

One note about SMS customer service: customers typically expect a quick response when texting a business. If you choose to implement SMS, make sure your staff is ready and prepared to answer questions as they come in. If you plan on sending broadcasts to thousands of customers, be prepared for the influx of incoming texts.

Final thoughts

As you begin to implement SMS marketing for your ecommerce brand, there are factors to consider. In our next post, we’ll discuss how to find the right SMS provider that helps you leverage SMS into a powerful marketing channel.

In the meantime, check out Recapture to learn how we can help implement highly successful SMS campaigns.

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