How two-way SMS marketing can grow your business

And why so many brands are texting back-and-forth with their customers

Tivan Amour
Tivan Amour / Published July 27, 2020

You probably do most of your non-work communication through text messages, right? That's why businesses want to market through text messages: 90 percent of text messages are opened within three minutes, so it's a clear cut way for brands to capture the attention of their audience. As a consumer, you've probably experienced SMS marketing—just look through your phone for the offers and promotions that brands have texted you.

But one thing brands often miss is the opportunity to use two-way SMS marketing, the conversational segment of SMS marketing. Here, we'll define two-way SMS marketing, show you how it can make you more money, and explain how it fits into your marketing strategy.

What is two-way SMS marketing?

Traditional SMS marketing is about campaigns. Two-way SMS marketing is about conversations.

Let's use Usual Wines as an example. They're a fast-growing brand that sells wines by the glass directly to consumers via its website (I just ordered their Brut a few weeks ago).

An image from Usual Wines' website showing that you can text them with questions

Let's say you're a Usual Wines customer. You receive a text from Usual announcing its new rosé wine. You're having a Zoom party this weekend, and you want to make sure that if you order, your wine will arrive in time.

Naturally, your first instinct is to respond to Usual's text message and ask something like, "Hey! If I order the new rosé by Tuesday, will it arrive in time for my party on Friday?" And, yes, you'd want a response.

Without a two-way SMS strategy, you'd be directed to an email support inbox or live chat to get an answer to your question. This can be a problem for two core reasons:

1. Slow responses mean lost revenue. If you need to go through a series of emails to find out if your wine will arrive in time, there's a good chance you won't complete your purchase. Most people don't have the time or patience to wait hours for a response. Imagine this happening at scale for thousands of customers.

2. Communicating in an outdated, inconvenient way can lead to a bad customer experience. People expect to get quick responses via text—day-to-day life has conditioned us to think this way. The brands that deliver on this expectation are much more likely to earn and retain the attention of online shoppers.

Usual uses two-way SMS, not one-way. And because two-way is all about conversations, all you need to do is text Usual back, and you get an answer from a human in minutes. Just like you would with your friends.

A text message string in which Usual responds to the asker telling them that, yes, they would get their wine in time.

In a brand study we did here at Tone Messaging, we found that this quick and personal way of talking with customers leads to up to 24 percent higher conversion. After all, when Usual texts you back in two minutes confirming that your rosé will arrive in time, aren't you going to lock in that order?

On top of that, this positive experience creates a stronger connection between you and the Usual brand. This probably makes it more likely that you'll buy more wine from them in the future.

"The biggest misconception about SMS marketing is that it becomes an 'annoying' way to market," says Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands. The power of developing texting relationships with customers is why more and more brands are moving away from automated one-way SMS and moving toward two-way. "The key is to bring value to the customer," he tells us.

Now that we've defined two-way SMS marketing, let's get into how you can leverage it in every step of your marketing funnel.

How to leverage two-way SMS for your entire marketing funnel

"You cannot schedule a text days in advance because you don't know what the state of the world might be when that text goes out."Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands

Customers are smart. They can easily tell the difference between personal interactions and marketing automation. From the top of the funnel through conversion and beyond, taking a personal approach with two-way SMS can drive serious results for your business. So let's talk about how you can leverage two-way SMS to capture more revenue through your entire funnel.

1. Recover more abandoned carts with two-way SMS

Embr Labs is a wellness technology company that sells the Wave Bracelet, a wearable that heats or cools your body.

A text message exchange from Embr labs where they text the customer asking if they have any questions and the customer replies to ask if there's a trial period

In the example above, the customer showed a deep interest in Embr's product. They added the product to their cart, entered their email address and phone number, but didn't complete their purchase. Why? Because they had a question preventing them from purchasing.

If Embr hadn't sent this text, who knows if this customer would have ever even asked the question. But with two-way SMS, Embr can now uncover the barrier to purchase and send the perfect response to get the sale. In our case study with Embr Labs, we found that abandoned cart texts can recover twice as many carts as abandoned cart emails.

When you can identify who has abandoned their cart and engage with them 1:1 through SMS, that's when the possibilities begin. You can reach out to the customer and ask what questions they have, highlight current promotions, or even sweeten the deal with a personalized offer.

By using two-way SMS for abandoned carts, you can build trust with the customer and make them feel confident that they will be supported when purchasing your product.

2. Increase website conversion with a textable number on the page

Simple questions about things like shipping times, colors, pricing, or product information can be conversion killers. And with 70 percent of shoppers now making purchases on their mobile device, people don't have the time or patience to search through your website to get answers. So why do so many brands make it so difficult to get a quick answer from a real human?

Now, imagine you're scrolling through an online store for an answer and see this:

A screenshot of Usual Wines' website with a button that says Text us

When you tap the Text us button, this happens:

An entire text conversation between a customer and Usual Wines about the nutritional content of their wines

This quick Q&A process is often the difference between the customer moving on to discover a competitor, and sticking with your brand and completing their purchase.

3. Optimize customer experience with a textable number on the page

When it comes to things like returns, shipping information, and other typical customer service questions, a little personalization goes a long way.

In this example, the brand just adds another step for the customer. Now the customer has to send an email just to get a basic answer.

A customer texts a brand to ask if they can return something and they're told to please email instead

But in this next example, the customer got the information they needed. Plus, if that wasn't enough, the brand went above and beyond to make sure they would get their order by the date they needed.

The brand texts the customer back with an answer to their question and tells them they can always text again if they have other questions

Every touchpoint is an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your customers.

How two-way SMS marketing fits into your overall marketing strategy

So, how does two-way SMS fit into your existing marketing strategy?

Any good solution starts with a well-defined problem. So, let's start there. Some of the problems that brands typically run into include things like:

  • Low website conversion
  • Diminishing performance of existing marketing channels
  • Low repeat purchases

Here's how two-way SMS marketing can help solve for those problems.

Two-way SMS can support the conversion optimization efforts you're already doing

You're probably already running A/B tests, sending abandoned cart emails, analyzing heatmaps, and testing different offers. Two-way SMS works right alongside these efforts. Here are a few ways you could integrate two-way SMS into your conversion optimization strategy:

  • Test a landing page with a text-for-answer number in the top banner.
  • Layer in abandoned cart text messages to support your email abandoned cart playbook.
  • Tap into SMS subscribers with timely campaigns that boost your conversion rate.

Two-way SMS can be the new channel that helps you scale

With more and more brands pouring money into Facebook and Google, the competitiveness (and the cost) of those channels are only going up. To maximize the return of paid traffic from these channels, most brands rely on email capture.

Why? If you're paying to send 100 people to your site, general conversion rules say that two or fewer of those people will buy. Email capture gives you the opportunity to directly market to an additional chunk of that paid traffic after they leave your site.

SMS doesn't need to replace email, but it should be a part of your strategy. After all, the average response rate to brand text messages is 45 percent.

When you combine email and SMS capture effectively, you now have warm traffic to plug directly into your existing marketing funnel. And when brands add SMS to the equation, we found they can see 10-26 percent increases in revenue.

Here are a few ways email and SMS capture can work together:

  • Run email capture on desktop, but run SMS capture on mobile. It's natural to ask people who are looking at your site on their phone to opt into text messages.

  • Offer an extra incentive for people who sign up for text alerts. If building an email and SMS list together is the priority, you can also create a two-step pop-up that captures the visitor's email and phone number. Just make sure to offer a big enough incentive to justify them giving that amount of information. "If you promise a customer a 15% off code in exchange for their phone number, they expect to get that within 10 seconds or less," Nik Sharma tells us.

Two-way SMS can help you generate more repeat purchases over time

Because two-way SMS is centered around conversations, driving more revenue from a loyal customer is as easy as a follow-up text. Here's an example.

A follow-up text from a brand after someone purchases

How are the experts leveraging SMS to drive more purchases from existing customers? Here's what Nick Shackelford, Managing Partner of Structured, had to say:

The most consistent performing SMS campaign we run is our early access VIP sale launch that highlights three things:

1 - Early access granted now
2 - When general public will get access (urgency)
3 - The discount, of course!

We leverage our SMS lists almost exclusively for special offers or limited access to product releases.

So how do you get started with your two-way SMS strategy? Strategically, the most logical place to start testing two-way SMS is at the bottom of your funnel. The customers who are closest to purchasing are going to be the easiest to convert—whether they have questions or need a little extra incentive to get across the finish line.

This week, try implementing a two-way SMS approach to the bottom of your marketing funnel. I bet that within a few days, you'll see meaningful improvements.

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