SMS Marketing: 2020 Guide for Direct-to-Consumer Brands


SMS marketing is not new in practice and yet, is still a nascent channel for how brands should be communicating with their customers. SMS marketing is gaining broader adoption when it comes to simple use cases such as blasting messages or sending alerts. Most SMS marketing solutions focus on using messaging in the same way brands have been accustomed to using email marketing and it looks more or less something like this:

  1. Segment and cohort subscribers
  2. Write content/creative
  3. Include a link for a call to action (CTA)
  4. Schedule campaign
  5. Launch campaign
  6. Measure results

There is nothing inherently wrong with this use case. It can deliver results. However, we all know texting is a more personal channel of communication where a digital dialogue occurs between two people, not one person shouting at the other. Brands that take the simplistic approach outlined above, run the risk of annoying and fatiguing their customers with the same push-marketing tactics as email. They will not fully utilize this new channel and will miss out on the interactive benefits it offers. The missed opportunity is using SMS, MMS, & RCS as an avenue to have very intimate, personalized engagements with customers at massive scale. Marketers have largely gotten lazy and settled for a “set it and forget it” mentality. Consumers on the other hand, demand something different all-together from the brands they love; personalized brand experiences they interact with.

What is SMS Marketing?

Before we dive in, let’s cover some basic definitions:

  • SMS stands for “short message service”.
  • MMS stands for “multimedia messaging service” (texts that include images, gifs, or videos).
  • RCS stands for “rich communications service” which is a new and evolving technology designed to eventually replace SMS & MMS.

Today these terms are broadly used under the umbrella of SMS marketing or text message marketing. SMS marketing differs from email marketing in a few unique ways. Mobile messages tend to be very short (160 characters). However most modern phones and networks support concatenation and segments up to 1600 characters. Messages not using GSM-7 encoding are limited to around 67 characters. SMS marketing is a very effective channel for these general use cases:

  • Customer acquisition which includes acquiring net new customer mobile numbers or augmenting your existing customer data to include mobile numbers. 
  • Customer engagement which includes marketing, two-way digital dialogue with customers, and using data from those interactions to develop rich customer profiles
  • Generating more sales can include simple “text-to-buy” use cases or routing customers to an ecommerce website powered by Shopify, Magento, or custom built ecommerce applications. 
  • And lastly, customer support. Having the ability for customers to use the same mobile number to text you to buy, engage with your brand, and to ask for help is incredibly powerful and creates a world-class brand to customer experience.

Should I Use SMS Marketing?

SMS marketing really should be an integral part to every direct-to-consumer brand marketing strategy. In many cases brands will utilize SMS marketing for high-volume events such as holiday seasons or for notifications only. In addition to much higher open rates, highly personalized two-way SMS marketing is a direct channel to your consumers immediate buying interests and enables them to engage with your brand, rather than just receive your offers. SMS marketing does not require your customers to learn a new application or user interface and it is native to every mobile phone on the planet. In the United States alone over six billion text messages are sent per day. It is part of our every day lives. Performance metrics from SMS marketing campaigns are typically 25x or more than email marketing. In particular, younger generation consumers increasingly have tuned out of email and social media platforms and are increasingly wanting to text with brands instead of respond to email. 


“Generation Z doesn’t use email, and while certainly active on social media, and willing to use apps if needed, text messaging is where they go to interact among their friends.”– Lauren Tracy, Co-founder & Head of Product, Blue Fever


Email Marketing

SMS Marketing

Open Rates


Click Through Rates



Conversion Rates

.09% – 1.5%


A consumer goods company using Chatitive has shared the belief “email marketing is dead”. By utilizing SMS marketing their business realized a 3600% ROI on their messaging for commerce use cases. Another customer in the consumer goods delivery industry transacts over $60,000 per day directly through SMS marketing. The timeliness and performance metrics of SMS marketing compared to email marketing cannot be ignored or denied. SMS Marketing is the modern way to engage with and convert customers faster. 

Benefits of SMS Marketing Campaigns for Direct-to-Consumer Brands

SMS marketing is often abused by brand marketers by simply mass blasting offers that may not be of interest to certain subscribers (buyers). Modern marketing organizations should invest in software-as-a-service (SaaS) that enables them with a complete solution to tailor offers and communications to users that are personalized & contextually aware of the users’ profile, preferences, order history and other attributes. Chatitive enables direct-to-consumer brands with a compelling, real-time digital dialogue with consumers at massive scale. Benefits of advanced SMS marketing software platforms includes:

Speed and context

SMS/MMS campaigns are received instantly and they’re read almost immediately. Over 90% of SMS/MMS messages are read in the first 3 minutes. This number can be drastically improved with a platform built to listen and respond to messages back from consumers.

Contextual SMS/MMS campaigns earn higher open rates than email marketing

Be honest. Email marketing is a pain and each of us are bombarded with offers that flood our inbox and those emails if timely, are often missed due to inbox clutter. On the other hand, SMS gives you an instant notification on your phone making it more likely to open and read.Text messages can even be read directly from the lock screen on most phones, making it nearly impossible to ignore.

SMS/MMS campaigns drive higher engagement rates

SMS marketing campaigns are eye-catchers: Over 80% of customers say that SMS/MMS is an attention-grabber and they prefer to engage with brands over texting instead of email. SMS marketing campaigns aren’t just opened more frequently, they also drive higher click through rates and engagement rates on average compared to email marketing.

SMS & MMS Best Practices

SMS & MMS is a rapidly emerging channel for modern marketing organizations. However, care and consideration should be taken into account when establishing your mobile messaging strategy. First generation SMS marketing vendors unfortunately encourage bad behavior by using the channel to blast or use “spray & pray” tactics to drive engagement. This approach in a lot of ways is not too dissimilar from how many businesses use email marketing. Below are some high level guidelines to think through to ensure a successful SMS marketing strategy.

Compliance is Crucial

Texting is a very personal activity and consumers will be quickly annoyed with your brand if you blast them frequently, with communications not personalized to them, and most importantly if you have not received explicit permission from your customer for SMS marketing. However, it is simple to acquire net new customers through opt-in programs driven by website forms, texting keywords to short codes, promote on social media accounts, or even incentivize users via email to opt-in to your SMS campaigns instead of email.

SMS opt-in

It is important to start every opt-in welcome series with a full disclosure to your customers. They should know the type of messages to expect and frequency. More importantly, it is imperative you do not abuse the trust of your customers. Use your SMS marketing campaigns for highly personalized conversations, time-sensitive offers, and critical information.

SMS Marketing Tools

SMS marketing can be a game changer for many direct-to-consumer brands. Advanced SMS marketing software technologies often deliver 30X or more ROI compared to legacy email marketing programs. However, not all SMS marketing software platforms are the same. All businesses should be looking for solutions that can demonstrate the ability to listen for responses, learn from responses and then respond in turn to your messages. Every D2C brand should choose a platform that can scale with personalization, help you ensure and maintain compliance, and integrate with your existing applications. A world-class SMS marketing platform and vendor should help you every step of the way. Here are a few examples of what to look for when evaluating SMS marketing vendors:

  • You can automate your SMS marketing messages and send hundreds, thousands or millions of personalized messages at once.
  • Campaigns and workflows can be triggered based on customer behavior, preferences, interests, orders, or engagement.
  • Cohorts and segmentation is possible to run multiple simultaneous campaigns targeting groups of customers based on individual preferences. 
  • Your vendor should have a solution that is context-aware. This means the platform is listening and learning from your customer interactions helping you engage with customers in the same way they are accustomed to texting with their friends and family. 
  • Your vendor and platform should be able to help you with both short codes (not shared) and ten digit long codes (10DLC) at scale. 
  • The platform you choose should integrate with your existing marketing and commerce applications either through a direct integration or via APIs. 
  • Your platform should provide you with metrics and easy administration and management tools to ensure your campaigns are effective and you are driving the highest ROI possible.

Adding Value Throughout the Customer Journey

Before deploying your SMS marketing campaigns, it is important to understand how this will add value to your customer and improve their relationship and loyalty with your brand. This may include timely offers for products your customers love, notifications for delivery or status of products ordered, support related inquiries, content engagement, re-marketing, or reminders such as abandoned carts.

Brevity and Context Matter

Your SMS campaigns must be timely, relevant, short and to the point. If you are sending a customer a unique offer, be sure to lead with your offer first. If your message has important information about the status of an order, include critical details in your message. Most importantly, use the channel as an avenue to ask customers what they want instead of sending blanket offers. If you are thorough in your strategy, you can easily migrate most of your communications to customers away from email marketing and directly through the messaging channel. Today, many modern businesses are building their company, product offerings, subscriptions and communications around messaging first!

Personalization is EVERYTHING

Messaging is intimate. Email is not. Because of this, time and care built into your messaging strategy will ensure enormous ROI gains and help you sell more products faster than through email marketing tactics. Personalization for messaging goes beyond knowing a subscribers name. Remember, subscribers are human beings not email addresses and phone numbers. Messaging is the fastest path to asking each customer about their likes and dislikes. Every messaging interaction from that point forward should use data captured from your messaging platform to deliver personalized messages. Your messaging platform should also leverage your existing consumer data to improve the experience. 

SMS Marketing Tactics to Get Started

SMS marketing campaigns might seem daunting, but with a plan, a few identified use cases, a world-class enterprise platform and an experienced vendor will ensure your success. Here is a short list of basic use cases to help you get started.

Welcome Series with Offers

There is no better way to onboard your existing customers to your SMS marketing program than with a well-timed and personalized message with an unique offer. This is the perfect channel to incentivize customers to sign up. This can be delivered with texting keyword logic such as “Text VIP to get 20% off” or through a discount code or link delivered via SMS/MMS. Remember to extend offers based on what you know of each customer to maximize conversions to sales.

Holiday, Birthday or Valued Customer Discounts

SMS campaigns use properly over the lifetime of customer engagement doesn’t require special occasions. However, sometimes special occasions feel personal and are timely. Use this to your advantage and send messages to all customers for recognized special events, holidays or for VIP or loyalty programs. Personalization with a human touch and showing your customers that your brand values them and cares builds lifetime brand trust and loyalty. 

Promos & Time Sensitive Offers

For promos and time sensitive offers, SMS marketing provides you with an opportunity to connect with your customers quickly. When you add a bit of urgency to your message content and apply a unique offer, your customers are increasingly likely to respond and take advantage. This is an excellent use case to use segmentation and cohorts to see what groups of customers respond best and what messages are the most effective.

Shopping Cart Abandonment & Win Back

Mobile shoppers have an incredibly high cart abandonment rate at over 85%. Traditionally cart abandonment notifications have come in the form of email. Email is noisy, not timely, and increasingly ignored by next generation consumers. Messaging on the other hand is not. Because of the timeliness of messaging and the fact it is mobile native, brands benefit from being able to send SMS reminders to customers with un-purchased items in their account. Adding personalization to this use case can increase sales and drastically drive down cart abandonment across all of your customers.

SMS cart abandonment

Order Confirmation & Shipping Status

Order confirmation and shipping status SMS notifications are table stakes for any SMS marketing vendor. They are however important for keeping customers engaged with your brand and aware of the status of orders they have placed.

SMS Shopify


SMS marketing software combined with a well thought out strategy is a modern communication channel that will outperform any email marketing campaign. Every consumer has immediate access to a smart phone and mobile messages are nearly impossible to ignore. Getting started is easy and with proven results of 30X ROI compared to email marketing, it is a critical strategy and channel for any marketer. Let’s review some of the key takeaways:

  • Get permission to use SMS with your customers
  • Use personalization and make sure every message add value to your customers
  • Use SMS marketing software to ensure compliance, automate your campaigns and keep your messages contextually relevant.
  • Brevity matters! Keep messages short and to the point.
  • Personalize your campaigns and messages to build and maintain a relationship with your customers.
  • Use SMS & MMS for use cases such as welcome series, birthday offers, VIP offers, anniversaries and cart abandonment.
  • Keep your customers in the loop on the status of all orders or important updates for every transaction. 

This guide is designed to help you consider migrating your email marketing tactics to a more modern engagement channel. Following best practices and selecting the right SMS marketing platform will ensure your success and help you increase revenue for your brand. To learn more about how to easily get started contact us to setup a meeting and to discuss your desired use cases. 

Conversational Messaging Evangelist at Chatitive