SMS Marketing Podcast: Buy vs. Build. What to expect when tasked with developing your SMS marketing strategy.

SMS Marketing Podcast

In this episode of “Left on Read,” hosts Drew Davis and Nate Odell are joined by Chatitive’s CTO Daniel Pirone to discuss the trials, pitfalls and slippery slopes of building your own SMS marketing platform. Often times innovative, direct-to-consumer brands try to go it alone and build their own SMS marketing technology while not considering the costs, time and resources required to build and maintain an SMS marketing solution. Drew, Nate and Daniel discuss the pros and cons of build vs buy and things to carefully consider when you are ready to develop your brands SMS strategy.

 

Drew:
Hello and welcome to Left on Read, the podcast from the folks over here at Chatitive. My name is Drew and I’m here with my co host as always Chatitive’s VP of marketing, Nate Odell.


Nate:

Hey Drew. Hey, how’s it going? It’s going well. We have somebody else with us today as well.


Drew:

Yes, this is a very special buy versus build edition of the Chatitive Left on Read podcast. In the studio today with us we have Chatitive’s CTO Daniel Pirone.


Daniel:
Hey guys, thanks for having me.


Drew:
Yeah, it’s our pleasure. For a little bit of background on, on Daniel. He is one of the cofounders of [inaudible]. He spent years and years in the mobile space. He’s incredibly a good resource for us here and for our customers when they are new, whether they’re new to messaging or or have been sending text messages to their customers in the past.


Drew:
Before we get into it, I wanted to do a little bit of housekeeping here. We now are on Buzzsprout is our URL is chatted chatitive.buzzsprout.com and we are also working on becoming available on Apple podcasts, Stitcher and Google podcasts as of yesterday or February 18th. We are now on Spotify so you can search Left on Read on Spotify and listen to your heart’s content and also on SoundCloud. Awesome. Yeah, so today we are going to be discussing whether or not it would be a good idea for your brand to go out and build an SMS automated automation platform or whether you should go out and vet vendors and try to build one. And that’s why we have Daniel here because he has gone through the leg work of building an entire SMS marketing automation platform. He’s seen every single edge case possible. And he’s really been through it.


Daniel:
Yeah I have got the gray beard to prove it to.


Drew:
Now I wanted to start off sort of with a question. Nate, you’re a marketer. You’ve worked in marketing functions for a number of companies in the past. Have you ever been asked that question? Whether it’s for, you know, it could be, it could be marketing automation, it could be any sort of thing. Your CTO comes to you and says, Hey, we need to build something to solve this problem.


Nate:
Yeah, I’ve been asked that question several times in my career. And frankly, in the tech marketing world, there are so many options no matter if you’re looking for, you know, some sort of multichannel platform email marketing platform, marketing automation platform, a customer data platform social media platform. The, the, the, it’s a great time to be a marketer because you have a whole bunch of tools, but it’s also a challenging time because sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate what you actually need to invest in. To answer your question directly, I am always of the opinion that if there are things that I need to accomplish within marketing for my business, this, there’s a solution in the market that is reasonable for me to buy. They would give me almost instant access to solve those business problems versus designing and building out and trying to figure out what resources and which software engineers should we, um, should we hire or, or, you know, build out, um, our team with to solve this particular problem. So I am always of the opinion that for marketing functions, for marketing eCommerce solutions, you’re always better off buying something that’s already been vetted and tested in the market than you are trying to build something.


Drew:
Okay. And I guess for a little bit of context or background here, we chose sort of this topic based on having conversations with brands and finding that a lot of the times they are down the path of actually building out these sort of automations because maybe they have in the past went directly to say a Twilio to handle those notification based text messages. Very, very simple notification based that maybe a Twilio would make sense. But what we’re talking about here is solving for multiple customer journeys and multiple you know, building out robust workflows that are two way conversational and in depth, you know, customer journeys that, that you would, uh, that you see and would want to solve for in, in the channel.


Nate:
Yeah, I think so you’re right, we run up against this somewhat regularly where we’ll talk to a prospective customer and they may be down a path of building out an SMS solution or they have SMS already enabled for very simple things like notification based text messages and they’ve built on top of Twilio or a or a solution, you know, such as Twilio, there’s a handful in the market. Typically those are developer centric use cases and they’re, they’re generally speaking, they’re automated. So it’s an application talking to an application really and it’s delivering a message to the end user. That’s great. There’s a whole big world out there for those types of use cases. But the minute you want to start making texting conversational, it kind of throws a lot of that stuff out of the window. Because a lot of those use cases aren’t meant to, aren’t designed to handle a response back from the customer. And that’s the big missed opportunity in the world is creating an SMS marketing platform that allows your customers to respond back to your, to your messages. And to do that in a well thought out way.


Drew:
Cool. And so Daniel, you built this.


Daniel:
Yeah, absolutely. I think Nate was just saying something that’s really worth diving a tiny bit deeper into. So one thing that comes to mind is the thinking about what does it mean to be conversational? What does it mean to handle responses? And we’ve in earlier podcasts talked about that in broad terms, but I’m going to get a little nerdy here for a second. If you think about a system that was maybe created to help with password resets or shipping notification or stuff like that, it’s designed to blast out short little messages as fast as possible. Couple of problems with that when you try to apply it to a conversational, so the system is, you know, the engineers who built it thought, okay, go through this big list, send it out as fast as possible and go home. But if I have a user that’s wanting to reply back, Hey, this isn’t working or I’m going to be out of town, can you change it?


Daniel:
That incoming message needs to be afforded for both. In terms of where it gets routed to, does it get routed to a, or some sort of human, what’s the context that it’s coming back in? But even more fundamentally, if the system has spent all of its resources, sending out the messages, it doesn’t have much leftover to handle that incoming message. And if you think about it, when you’re texting with someone, if you’re going back and forth and it’s working great and you’re, you know, Hey, what do you want to get for dinner? Blah, blah, blah. But if all of a sudden they disappear for 10 minutes or 30 minutes and they don’t get back to you, that’s not really conversational anymore. So if the system is spending all its time sending out notifications, it’s not spending any time getting to, you know, I’d start with that. There’s a lot more, but I think that’s a really great architectural distinction.


Nate:
Yeah, it’s great. You bring up something that I think a lot of marketers haven’t quite thought through and they’re, they’re used to being sold solutions that handle the use cases, Daniel, that you just described. Or it’s like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna set up my little mini campaign and I’m gonna, you know, write a short message. Maybe along included an image of a product or something like that that I want to send to my users. And then I’m gonna attach a link to a website. That’s fine. There’s a big world out there for that type of thing. If you want to be, if you want to start simple. The challenging thing is, that that doesn’t, that doesn’t initiate a conversation with, with a prospective customer so that you can gather more information based on that customer’s likes. And so we spent a lot of time in previous podcasts talking about the fact that I was getting offers from a brand for products that I just wasn’t interested in. And and so as more modern marketers think about using messaging as an integral part to scaling their business and building a brand, you need to think about what am I going to do that’s uniquely different to start a real digital dialogue with customers and not just blast messages out.


Drew:
Hold on. I have a question. So is it the marketer actually the one that is building out these notification based text messages or is that a product guy or is that just straight up the dev team and when it transforms from, Oh, we have had this channel, let’s build on that instead of going to vet vendors, is that where the real costs come in because then now you’re having a marketer come in to the developers and say, we need to send messages over our short code that we purchased that were sending shipping notifications.


Daniel:

Yeah, no, that’s a fantastic point. And I would say two things might happen there. One is, as you say, the marketer goes and says, Hey, we want to do this. Someone says, well, we already have an account with Twilio? Let’s just use that. And the sort of challenge with that is that the assumption is that Twilio’s basic tool set is appropriate for marketing and it is for some types of marketing. But I think not the future that we want, which is personalized and timely and allows for a rich exchange of ideas and has kind of the doesn’t feel spammy, doesn’t feel kind of on like a robot robotic. Exactly. Thank you. You don’t want to, you don’t want to get that, there’s enough of that in the world. But I think another challenge is that you end up going with another vendor.


Daniel:
So you get a special vendor just for a certain marketing use case and then you have a new guy down the hall who worked with someone in the past. So they bring that in and all of a sudden you have seven different text numbers and your customer doesn’t know which one to reply to. And we do you want to say, Oh, I’m sorry you’re a jerk. You called us on our support line. You’ve got to call us on whatever. That’s not bright, right. So I think one of the things, one of the core values that chatted about is having a single solution that can span all of those use cases. And that can but is flexible enough to have high quality experiences within them.


Nate:
And under skit understand the context for each interaction. Right. So if somebody texts, I need help. Yeah. Don’t just send them to, you know a URL so that they fill out a form and then they have to submit and wait. Yeah. Understand the context that they need help with something in a route to customer support. Even though they may be really inquiring about a product that they purchased, their initial use case was commerce then happened, they need support. Make that exchange all through the same conversation thread.


Daniel:
Yeah, absolutely.


Drew:
And what sort of time frame are we talking about? If you’re, if you’re expanding use cases from what you were originally doing, sending maybe a two factor auth and a two factor, you know, like authentication authentication or sending a password recovery link over Twilio you want to build on that channel and then you’re bolting all this other stuff on onto the side of it. And then also tapping your dev team to build platforms to handle this automation. And so you can actually oversee it. Yeah. What is the timeline involved?


Daniel:
I think that’s a, another really not well understood area. So I’m sure marketers have a relationship with dev teams and sometimes they can be great and sometimes, you know, not always.


Nate:
You’re looking at me Daniel.


Daniel:
I am looking at you and the, in terms of time you’ve got to look at how crisp is the marketing vision. So if you’re brand new to texts, do you really know the voice you want to use? Are you comfortable and practiced in communicating in small chunks? You know, a strategy and a voice that might work well in print or on the web where you’ve got, you know, a thousand pixels by whatever doesn’t necessarily translate to smaller mobile devices. And many people learn that in the, in the first move to mobile. Yeah, that’s certainly true with SMS MMS. So you’re gonna work with the engineers and try to get them to build something that you’re not totally confident about.


Drew:
Engineer’s smell fear. They’re going to give you grief. And even if they’re a great shop, really flexible you’re still spending a lot of time just to get to your first experiment. Whereas if you go with a solution, like Chatitive we can get you into the market today, you can begin experimenting today, learn what works and then come maybe a year from now come back to your dev team, that kind of thing. You know, obviously that’s not my favorite version of that. But you get instant entree into the market, instant ability to do multiple cohorts and to actually solicit feedback from your users. You think that maybe they’re interested in just support, but they may actually be much more interested in a last minute deal or special offers or a white glove service. And this is a great tool for finding that out.


Drew:
Cool. And I think that it also comes down to a really important question that you have to ask yourself as a marketer and that’s is SMS core to your business. And if it’s not,


Nate:
Well it should be.


Drew:
But I’m saying as in your org. Yeah. Are you a text messaging company?


Nate:
Is that your core discipline?

Drew:
Is that what you want to spend your time building?


Nate:
Yeah, it’s analogous in my opinion. Um, if you, if you pulled a bunch of, pick any industry, if you, if you pulled a bunch of marketers and you asked how many of those marketers built their own email marketing automation platform and how many of them bought a, you know, one out of the box as software as a service I’d be willing to guess greater than 98% bought some solution, whether it was Marketo or Mailchimp or whatever. SMS is way more complicated than email. So thinking about building a solution in house that you’re going to invest capital, you’re going to invest time, you’re gonna invest you know, human resources as software engineers and product planners. And and, and then, then you have the maintenance of that as a core application that you have to sustain for the lifetime of your business. Um that’s a tremendous amount of unnecessary expense versus the alternative of which is looking at solutions available in the market today.


Daniel:
I’d tag on to that and really want to emphasize the challenge of that. So you say, Oh, we’re going to build it ourselves. So you get the team ready, you get buy in, the whole effort comes together and you get into the market and it’s working great. That’s, that’s wonderful. Definitely. nice outcome. And then six months later, California comes along and says, Oh, there’s a new privacy law CCPA that changes how you process information. And many people consider mobile numbers part of PII. So all of a sudden that thing that you built and the dev team has since moved on with, needs to get drug in quick, fast in a hurry to re architect to make sure that you’re capable of dealing with that. And oftentimes there is a lot of noise in the marketplace about exactly what you should do. So you’re alone trying to figure that out versus if you had partnered with a solution early on, you get best of breed support and kind of guidance or you don’t even have the problem to begin with because a Chatitive has taken care of it for you.


Nate:
Yeah, it’s a good point. There’s, there’s two other dimensions as well, which is how do you want your SMS platform or solution, whether you build it yourself or you buy one, how do you want that application to interact with other business applications? So anytime you’ve got, you know, you’re either connecting via an API or some sort of integration. If that’s home grown, you’re going to have to support that. So that’s another consideration. And then the second one is just a new innovation in space, right? Like we know that RCS is a thing that’s coming. Every day we’re getting a little bit closer to that being a realized thing in, in North America. And for those that aren’t aware of what RCS is, it stands for rich communication services. It’s really sort of the next generation of SMS and MMS. It’s designed to provide very rich texting experiences native to native to mobile phones and primarily Android phones. So ask yourself, okay, we’re going to go build something and now we’ve finally got our, you know, MVP, if you will, for SMS MMS and then all of a sudden RCS shows up on your door. So now you’ve got to go build for that and you have to support that. And it just sort of has this cascading or snowball effect where you really gotta think through all these different nuances when considering a build versus buy approach.


Drew:

Yeah, and I think another, along the same lines with industry, you have to deal with, you’re dealing with a multitude of carriers. You’re, and you’re now tasking your dev team or whoever it is. I have no idea who it would be to monitor the deliverability of those messages that you’re sending out and monitor and deal with any violations that you might be getting. Because you know, you’re new to space, you don’t know what best practices are. You, you might be able to look you know, at Twilio and, and look for them to, to guide you, but they’re not going to, they’re not going to hold your hand.


Daniel:
Absolutely not. If truly is a great company don’t get me wrong, but they are very clear that for the last 10 plus years they’ve been focused on developers and innovators more on the hands on gonna write some codes side of the fence than a traditional marketer who might use a Marketo or a MailChimp. You know, where they’re writing a couple layers up above the, the pipes, if you will. And yeah, they’ll give you guidance. But that guidance is going to be typically going to translate into many, many a person hours of additional dev work. And in the meantime, you’re either not in the market, you know, missing opportunities. Here comes another Christmas season. You know, you’re, you’re not there or you’re fumbling in front of your customers. And that’s really, I think that’s a thing that keeps a lot of people from experimenting is the thought of, well, you know, there’s, you know, looking like a robot that doesn’t know who they’re talking to and sends out 5,000 annoying messages at three in the morning, you know, nightmares, scenarios. But I think also very real when you hand roll something because unless your dev team is an expert in space, there’s a lot of pitfalls and traps which we could go into another time. But I think, to Drew’s point earlier unless you’re doing something where it absolutely makes sense for you to own the stack top to bottom, why would you take on that risk? Why would you go it alone? When you can partner with someone whose whole job is to think about it and who has dozens of customers in all segments and can bring the best experiences to help you work through challenges or create patterns that are proven to be effective with both in the marketing goals and also a kosher with the carriers.


Nate:
Yeah. In the, I think the little amount of time that we have left, I sort of want to double click on what you just said, Daniel, which you know, oftentimes when people think about messaging, they’re thinking about the message delivering from the brand to the customer. But there’s so much that happens in between there, right? Which is the brand sends the message, it goes out over, you know, a transport service. It hits the carrier, the carrier then delivers it to the end user. If the end user or if the solution can handle responses in a conversational way, then they, in an ideal situation, the user responds. That message goes back over to the carer, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. What complicates that even further is that there are four big carriers and you know, major carriers in North America.


Daniel:
And it’d be at least a thousand regional little, little ones. Right?


Nate:
Absolutely. And they all have different sorts of rules and parameters around that. And so you know, could you talk just a little bit about some of the things, the challenges that we see just supporting our customers as an example?


Daniel:
Absolutely. I’ll try to keep this brief cause it really is a bit of a technical rat hole. But to, to your point at the end of the day, the point is to have a conversation with your user or to respond to an incoming question. And if the messages aren’t getting through, whether they’re getting through in a jumbled order or the, you know, there’s just a lot of friction there, then it really becomes a wasted opportunity. Or even worse, you can get bad faith where, you know, they think, Hey, I, I sent you back a question and you didn’t get back to me. You know, you obviously don’t care about my business, that kind of stuff. So in thinking about the space, you mentioned sort of the brand and then say the carriers and then the handset. There’s really several more actors in there. And without going into sort of all the sort of cast of characters, without a doubt, all of those systems have slightly different sets of rules and in particular they have things, a rate limits so you can only blast out messages so fast. And this is a sort of a artifact of the telephone companies wanting to protect their networks. They consider that essential and in effect honestly even the governments consider the phone networks to be sort of a key bit of infrastructure that they want to protect. So all of a sudden if your, you, your Homebrew script, that worked great when you had a thousand users, you’re up to 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 users and you’re starting to hit those limits. And how do you find out about that? Do you find out about it because your customers complain and you realize that half of them didn’t get the message or worse, or you get a cease and desist letter from someone in that food chain that says, Hey, stop it. You know, it’s a real challenge to get to the kind of perfect experience that I think we want folks to have. And it’s something that I really don’t think a marketer needs to be sitting up late at night worrying about the details of, they should sort of find a solution that really has the maturity and has those concepts baked into it.


Nate:
Yeah. Frankly, not even just markets, but, uh, a brand on unto themselves, right? Like if you’re in the, you know, uh, women’s apparel business, do you want to sell women’s apparel or do you want to manage messaging infrastructure and communications with mobile carriers and and, and managing a, you know, a software engineering team to build out solutions for your marketing organization. So it really depends on what you want to invest your time and money into.


Daniel:
Yeah. And it’s, it has even if you think you have one element, say rate limits, conquered, then all of a sudden comes a the 2020 CTA regulations that suggests moving from 150 or so subscribers for a long code down to a hundred with the move to 10 DLC, there’s other changes as well. So the thing that you had finely tuned and you spent all those hours on all of a sudden is gonna be the date here. So that day, there you go again. Wouldn’t you rather your dev team be innovating in some other area rather than, that just doesn’t make sense to me. Yeah. So, yeah.


Drew:
So I guess to wrap up, I want to just reiterate that the SMS channel, it’s an exciting time to be a marketer over at, and especially when you’re looking to innovate in the SMS channel, you can go the route of building yourself. You can go the route of bolting multiple vendors and notification based API APIs together and, and give your customers an experience that is all over the place, frankly fragmented. Or you can go with a vendor like [inaudible] that is built for that innovation that you seek to touch your customers in every single point of every single journey that they might have with your brand. So, I, I hope and then we kinda, we kinda went long today, but I, I hope that we were able to just peel back a little bit of that onion. And you know, I think in almost every case, if you’re going to be looking at making a marketing automation platform that is two way and truly conversational and can solve for all those points in the customer life cycle, you’re almost always, always, always better off going the buy route.


Nate:
Yeah. Yeah. I, I would, you know, just to put a underlying on something you just said, drew, that understanding your use cases, where the problems that you want to solve today and then where do you want to go, your vision, be very clear and honest with yourself on what you think you realistically can do. And and I think you might surprise yourself in terms of solutions that are available today. In the market that can handle all of those things. So do your research, understand your customers, understand these cases clearly, and then talk to a vendor about what you’re trying to solve. And and you’ll, you’ll be surprised it was available. So


Drew:
Cool. Awesome. You can read more about buy versus build at our blog that’s chatitive.com/blog. Be sure to like and subscribe to us on Spotify or SoundCloud. Our new Buzzsprout URL is chatitive.buzzsprout.com. And I would like to just quickly plug our next show, which will be on personalization and, and conversation actually creating that two way and what it looks like in all those touch points. And what you would need to know when you go to those vendors and they say to you, eh, they throw out terms to you. Like, Oh yeah, we are a two way enabled. We are conversational, we are intelligent. And so you can maybe avoid being gaslit by that unintended unintelligent SMS vendor. Thanks. This was Left on Read.


Daniel:
Thanks for having me on guys.

 

Conversational Messaging Evangelist at Chatitive