Ding. McKay rubbed her right eye as she flipped her phone over with her left hand. 5:46am. Two unread texts from an unknown area code. She ignored and rolled back over, hoping to fall back asleep before her alarm went off in 24 minutes. Worst case scenario.
Alarm. Run. Shower. Coffee. Drake. Bus. Snapchat. Work. Freedom. McKay had the afternoon to kill. She wandered. Browsing the city streets felt pacifying, if not necessary. A woman started walking beside her. “Can you rate your experience?” she asked. Caught off guard, McKay examined her. She was medium height, medium weight, attractive but not striking. Her clothes left no impression on McKay.
“Come with me to the Store and talk to me about your experience” she commanded. The stranger was assertive, but not disciplinary.
“Oh you’re here to talk to me about my shoes from the Store! How did you find me?” McKay asked. The woman winked and smiled at the same time, and then nodded. McKay was a frequenter of the Store and was planning to go anyway, so she followed the woman who was already walking away. She lost her in the crowd.
Five blocks later, she arrived. As she approached the propped open door, a strange sense of smallness struck her spirit. Peering into the store, she could see the clean lines of the modular space. She stepped over the bevel of the threshold and a man slid into view and said “Can you rate your experience? I will give you 25% off the next item that you buy if you do.”
Feeling compelled to say something McKay ventured “Good, so far.”
“Please tell me a single digit number. The higher the number, the better your experience.”
“Eight, but I don’t understand what is happening. A woman asked me the same question earlier but I don’t know where she went.”
The man stepped to the side and said “You get 25% off the next full price item you purchase” and he leaned over and whispered into her ear “I’ll text you the code.” McKay was already eyeing a stunning dress out of the corner of her eye and jolted away.
Grasping its hanger, McKay draped the dress over the front of her body with her right hand and examined herself in a nearby mirror. A woman’s head popped up from behind the mirror. There was a tag on her shirt that said Candice. “If you like that, you’ll probably like these as well” she said in a monotone yet friendly voice. Remaining behind the mirror, she stretched her arms out to reveal several other dresses.
Her suggestions were quite gorgeous, but McKay was weirded out. Still clutching the dress to her body, she stepped toward fragrances, which was her intended reason to visit the store in the first place. Ding. It was the same number from the morning. McKay ignored.
She picked up her favorite fragrance, Spring, which she had purchased many times before. A woman with an iPad approached. Her tag said Amelia Store. She looked taller than she should have, like she had been somehow elongated by a few inches.
“The Store has been making fragrances since 1993. I love the season of spring and desired the feeling of spring to be experienced in every season, which is why I created the fragrance you are holding. Buy it today and you’ll experience spring every day.”
“Very interesting, thank you.”
This was getting creepier and more frustrating by the moment. McKay wanted nothing more than to buy her things and gtfo. Ding. Another text message. She spun her head around, looking for a way to purchase. Realizing the woman with the iPad was her only way out, she smiled her best smile. “I’d like to purchase these items.”
The woman smiled back. Ding.
“Do you have a coupon code?” Ding.
McKay remembered the man had texted her 25% off. She tapped into Messages. She had uncharacteristically been avoiding the unknown number; the early morning text had set her against it. Five unread messages from the sender. Ready to block and report, McKay clicked on the thread. It was the same message over and over. Can you rate your experience? She left the Store.
As the digital world becomes more of the default reality of interaction, McKay’s nightmare of a day begins to feel less like a scene from Kafka’s The Trial and more like a real life experience. Email, social, ecom, text messaging—these modalities have switched places with IRL as the preferred mode of communication and interaction. And if you correlate McKay’s IRL interactions to a digital marketing campaign, her experience is only slightly exaggerated.
SMS in particular is one of the most personal and least brand-influenced communication channels remaining in North America. It’s also one of the most engaging. McKay was the outlier:
Brand texts are likely to be both seen and acted upon. This makes SMS marketing one of the best ways to connect with customers.
And yet if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a brand’s SMS campaign, you may have identified with McKay’s story. Often the experience is disconnected messages, repeat messages, conflicting messages, multiple people in contact, multiple brand voices—truly disconnected communication. This is across channels - or sometimes even in the same channel. It feels jumbled at best, but can even be surreal and nearly dystopic. A very personalized text out of the blue is creepy, whereas a personalized message in response to customers’ specific interactions with your brand is useful to them.
This means choosing the right SMS platform is both essential and something to be cautious about. There are a lot of options to pick from and understanding what matters can be complicated. Features are plentiful, but they can just be software bloat if they don’t result in a cohesive and desired interaction. You don’t want your customers to end up like McKay.
You need an SMS platform that enables approved, desired, expected, cohesive, measurable, and flexible communication. This means picking a partner who has both a proven track record of success and a clearly developed product roadmap that will allow your business to scale.
If you aren’t sure how to find the right SMS provider for your needs, here are five factors to consider as you look to create better harmony across your marketing channels.
1 | EXPECTED AND COHESIVE, (part 1):
A single platform for SMS and email marketing
Email is consistently one of the top revenue-generating channels for eCommerce businesses, which is why it’s best to strategize how email and SMS can complement each other.
Due to its immediacy and placement accessibility on consumers’ phones, SMS is a much more visible, and therefore intimate, marketing channel than email.
If you use two different platforms to manage email and SMS, you risk losing sales, accurate reporting, and an ideal customer experience through the natural “crack” that occurs when using disjointed software solutions.
Things to keep in mind:
- When selecting an SMS provider, it’s ideal to choose one that manages both email and SMS under one roof, and merges your customer data into one profile. This way, you can easily account for and track the ways your customers interact with both channels and keep messaging consistent.
- Often, SMS solutions only allow you to capture both email and SMS consent from customers through a single popup form. This can cause a delay in the sending of the first email in your welcome series because you have to pass customer email addresses from your SMS software over to your email provider. For customers who prefer email or are waiting on a promo code to place their order, this delay can create a poor experience and result in lost sales.
- When you bundle email and SMS together, you can make smarter decisions that shape your customers’ experience. For example, if a customer doesn’t open your email, you can try sending them a text message with the same information since you know they haven’t received it. This is a useful SMS strategy to convert shoppers who haven’t yet purchased.
No matter how you decide to time your campaigns, choose a tool that enables both email and SMS messages immediately after your customers opt into your marketing communications to ensure seamless communication, costly delays, and unnecessary time between opt in and first contact that could cause customers to forget that they opted in at all.
2 | EXPECTED AND COHESIVE, (part 2):
Seamless integration and functionality
One of the biggest advantages of selling directly to your consumers is gathering data from them to create more personal and relevant experiences in return. When someone shops on your website, you collect information like their email address and phone number, plus their order history, onsite browsing behavior, and more.
Things to keep in mind:
- You can use your site visitors’ behavior to trigger logical follow up text messages to send based on your customers’ own actions—like an SMS message with a link to an item they were interested in that just dropped in price—or personalize your texts with customers’ first names. The key here is timeframe. Without triggers available you may end up sending a message later that feels disconnected from the customer’s interaction with the item.
- Look for a platform that has predictive analytic tools. With the right data, you can trigger emails and SMS messages to send based on your customers’ predicted next order dates and segment your audience based on their predicted customer lifetime value (CLTV)—all of which will increase the personalization and timeliness of your messages.
- The best performing marketing messages are sometimes the most personalized in context, so consider an SMS provider that allows you to send hyper-targeted messages to your subscribers inline with the context and flow of communication from previous sends and channels.
When choosing an SMS provider, your best bet is to select a tool that allows you to use all of your customer data through a robust integration with your eCommerce platform - and not just “personalized” sends in a vacuum.
3 | APPROVED AND DESIRED:
Compliance and deliverability expertise
Text message marketing is still a relatively new channel for most eCommerce marketers, which is why it’s important to choose a provider that’s focused on compliance and deliverability from the start.
Things to keep in mind:
- SMS compliance isn’t complicated but it’s mandatory. Between ensuring you’re only messaging subscribers who’ve given you explicit consent, to providing the recipient with instructions on how to opt out, try and pick a provider that understands all the nuances of compliance and automatically enforces them within the platform.
- Sending text messages is pointless if the messages don’t actually arrive in your subscribers’ inboxes. Regardless of whether you choose a toll-free phone number or short code, choose a provider that has an SMS delivery rate of over 95 percent for deliverability you can count on.
Strategizing how you’re going to use SMS marketing is exciting; compliance and deliverability are not. Leave the boring part to your SMS provider and spend your time creating amazing customer experiences that will wow your subscribers.
4 | MEASURABLE:
Clear tracking and analytics
Good tracking and clear analytics are absolutely essential for SMS - how could you ever know if your subscribers are having McKay’s experience if you’re blind to what’s happening to her. Mediocre SMS campaigns often cause more harm than good. SMS marketers walk the finest line between useful and annoying. When you get "annoying", each text you send can hurt your brand image.
Additionally, even when the conversation is cohesive, if you don’t understand the impact it’s having on your customer (ie engagement/conversion) you’ll never know if it’s actually valuable to them or to you. And yes, especially when done right SMS touts impressive average return on investment (ROI) numbers. But that ROI is only valuable if you can trust the analytics and reporting of your marketing platform.
- Attribution allows you to track the performance of your marketing efforts, which can help you give credit to the right marketing channel for a sale. But accurate attribution can be a challenge if you’re managing SMS and email in two separate platforms, as it becomes difficult to understand whether an email or a text caused a sale.
Imagine a customer receives one of your emails and text messages within a few days of each other and then places an order. If you’re using a separate email and SMS platform, each one will attribute that order to their respective platform and cause your analytics to inaccurately attribute one sale to two channels.
When you manage both email and SMS together, only the message that the customer most recently engaged with would get the credit for the sale. This gives you an understanding of which channels drive more revenue & which customers respond better to each channel – allowing you to optimize your marketing spend.
5 | FLEXIBLE
A contract structure built with your best interest in mind
Whether you’re merely testing out SMS marketing for the first time or you consider yourself an SMS expert, having contract flexibility from your text messaging provider is key.
Here are some things to consider:
- Watch out for providers that want to charge you based on the total size of your business, not the size of your SMS subscriber list.
- Think about your contract length. Is your SMS provider forcing you to lock into a multi-year contract or charging additional fees to opt-out of a contract? Do they want to charge you an extra fee for month-to-month flexibility? If so, you may find the contract with your SMS provider extremely limiting, especially if you’re still finding your footing with SMS.
- Choose an SMS provider that doesn’t lock you into long-term contracts and gives you the ability to adjust your spend base.
Let your provider prove their value on a monthly basis, so if SMS isn’t performing as you expected, you’re not locked into a multi-year plan that doesn’t fit your business needs.
Choose the best SMS provider for your business
Text message marketing is an effective way to build customer relationships and drive revenue. But your SMS strategy is only as strong as the SMS marketing platform you use.
Any SMS provider can provide you the ability to text your customers. But not every provider will integrate channels to enable seamless conversation between you and your customers and allow you to connect the dots between their interactions with your brand and your messaging to them.
McKay is not the one on Trial, you are. “Can you rate your experience?” isn’t a question, but a statement back. She is always privately rating her experience, even if she’s not communicating it back to you. If you don’t want her to abandon your store you’d better make sure she approves, desires, and expects your communications, that those communications are cohesive, and that you can measure their value and have a provider that’s able to work with you and for you.