How to Start an SMS Marketing Program (And Drive Revenue Quickly)

Rally Stanoeva

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The pressure on marketers to deliver results right away is very real – especially when testing a new marketing channel. If this is your first time trying text message marketing, you’ll want to use the first 30 days to demonstrate that the channel shows potential and is worth the effort.

But most brands start using SMS marketing with 0 subscribers and no prior experience. Faced with these two challenges, we’ve seen some brands generate thousands of dollars in sales in their first month while others struggled to get started and soon gave up.

This inspired us to ask: what are the bare minimum steps to build an SMS marketing program that works? The “minimal viable SMS program” if you will. We asked several Postscript employees to help answer this question, including our resident data scientist Christine, our implementation specialist Rae, and our most experienced account managers.

It turns out, there are only 4 steps you need to take to build a bare-minimal SMS program that generates sales in the first 30 days.

“I can guarantee that if you do these 4 things, you will make a few hundred or thousand in your first few weeks. Lots of people make enough money in the first 30 days to cover the next 4-6 months of the cost of using Postscript. With such a quick return on investment, it’s a no brainer to use SMS.”

– Adam Schaechter, Account Manager at Postscript

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can take your SMS marketing strategy to the next level with a few bonus steps listed at the end. The only requirement for getting started is that you have at least 1000 unique visitors to your site per month.

Step 0: Understand the basics of text message marketing

Before building your program, there are a few prerequisites that will set you up for success.

Conversion metrics and goals

If your 30-day ROI goal is $1000 and your average cart value is $50, how many subscribers will you need to reach your goal? The answer, of course, is that it depends on the click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate of your SMS marketing campaigns.

To help you set some realistic goals, we aggregated data from hundreds of ecommerce stores using SMS and published industry-specific benchmarks of open rates, CTRs, conversion rates and earnings per message (EPM).

Use our SMS Benchmarks report as a starting point to set your campaign goals and our pricing calculator to estimate your budget.

Learn about SMS compliance

The rules around SMS marketing compliance are different from email marketing – and the penalties are much more severe.

In the United States, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and its accompanying regulations control how companies can collect phone numbers and use SMS and MMS text messaging services to reach out to their consumers. It is your responsibility to ensure that you understand and are complying with all relevant TCPA regulations. Most importantly, you need to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before you send them text messages and give them a clear way to unsubscribe.

Everything you need to know can be found in our SMS marketing compliance guide. There are also built-in features in Postscript to help you stay compliant, such as double opt-in and compliance language.

Get inspired by how other brands use SMS

Now we can get to the fun stuff: finding inspiration for what your SMS program could look like. The possibilities to have a unique brand voice on text marketing are endless, especially with MMS messages which include photos and gifs.

We created Fantastic Texts so that you can pursue ridiculously good text marketing and learn from SMS marketing pros. You can filter by industry or type of messages.

The Minimal Viable SMS Program

A bare-minimal SMS program is composed of 2 ways to collect phone numbers and 2 marketing automations. You should complete all 4 steps in a couple of days to give your program enough time to ramp up and show results within the first month.

Step 1: Enable desktop and mobile popups

The first step in building an SMS program is starting to grow your subscriber list. Ideally, you’ll have multiple opt-in channels to collect new subscribers wherever they interact with you. The first opt-in channel we recommend are popups.

You might be wary of using popups if you believe that they are disruptive to the customer experience on your site. But as long as there is only one popup on your site with a good offer – they simply work.

Popular offers you can include are 10% off the first purchase, free shipping, or early access to sales.

“Within 12 hours of installing Postscript we generated over $1000 with just a mobile pop up!! We haven’t even gotten the rest of it set up yet.”

– Jawzrsize LLC

Step 2: Create an Abandoned Cart automation

What we know works best on SMS are highly personalized and timely messages, which are possible using automations. There are dozens of triggers and segmentation filters you can use to send automated SMS messages at the right time in your customer’s buying journey. But one automation you can’t do without is the Abandoned Cart flow. With a 98% average open rate, SMS messages allow you to reach customers on their mobile device right after they leave their cart behind.

Luxor Linens – a luxury bedding and bath products brand – was able to increase retention and sales in the first month of using SMS. Their cart abandonment automation generated over $7 in revenue per SMS message.

Using Postscript, you can create an Abandoned Cart automation with multiple SMS messages if they don’t complete the order after the first one. You can also create two automations based on the cart value. For instance, under $100 receives 10% off and over $100 receives 15% off.

Step 3: Create a Welcome Series automation

The second automation you’ll want to create and optimize is your Welcome Series. This will be the first series of messages that your subscribers received after joining our list.

Your welcome series can include as many messages as you’d like spread over a few days or weeks. There are a few goals you can accomplish with this automation series:

  • Send a welcome / confirmation message immediately after the join, with TCPA-compliant language explaining how to unsubscribe.
  • If you promised an offer such as 10% off to join your list, that should be included in the first message they receive.
  • Remind your subscribers of the perks they can expect from being on your SMS list.
  • Tell subscribers what your brand is all about. You can include a simple value statement or, if it’s relevant, talk about your brand mission.
  • Educate subscribers about your products. You can send them how-to guides, recipes, or other information that helps them make a purchase decision.

Here are some examples of welcome series messages:

Step 4: Leverage your existing email list or social media following

The last step is to use a second opt-in channel to grow your list. We recommend cross-pollinating with your existing email list or social media following to get your lost loyal customers to join your SMS list.

You may be surprised that collecting subscribers at checkout is not included in the 4 bare-minimal SMS program. We see a lot of brands turn on checkout collection and nothing else. But our data shows that subscribers collected at checkout are not the ones with the best conversion rates:

In the first 5 messages sent, keyword subscribers have 30-40% higher conversion rates compared to checkout subscribers.

Keywords are unique terms that people text to your short code to join your list. You can promote your keyword anywhere and everywhere (just remember to include compliance opt-in language!).

Here are two ways that you can use keywords to quickly grow your SMS list:

  • Create a social media image post with your opt-in keyword and short code.
  • Create an opt-in link associated with a specific keyword – similarly to how UTM URL’s work. The link will drive people to an opt-in form on your site. You can promote your link in an email campaign, social media post, or Instagram swipe-up.

In both cases, you want to include a compelling call to action (CTA) to incentivize people to join your list. For instance: promote it as a VIP list for people who want to be the first to know about product drops or offer an SMS-exclusive discount.

Bonus steps to grow your SMS marketing program

Remember that the 4 steps we just covered create a bare-minimum SMS program. When you’ve covered your basics, here’s how you take your program to the next level:

  • Test, test, test: Just like any other marketing channel, you’ll want to test different copy, creative, and offers. You can use A/B testing inside Postscript to run various tests.
  • Turn on more automations: We’ve found that the most successful brands on our platform use at least 4 automations. You can create automations for upselling, shipping notifications, post-purchase, or specific customer segments. There is an entire library of automation templates in your Postscript account to help you get started.
  • Send 1-2 timely and relevant campaigns: An SMS marketing campaign is a one-off text message sent to all your subscribers or a segment of them. Typically, the more personalized and targeted your campaigns are, the better they will perform. Great opportunities to send a text message campaign in the first 30-days include a product launch, an upcoming holiday, a limited-time offer, or a back-in-stock announcement.
  • Use at least one app integration: Integrating your SMS platform to other apps in your ecommerce tech stacks creates additional opportunities to segment your list, create automations, and offer a better experience to your subscribers. We recommend starting with one of these integrations: Gorgias or Zendesk to handle customer support inquiries that come through SMS, ReCharge to enable “reply to buy” functionality, or Okendo to ask new customers for product reviews.

“Our FIRST campaign, only 568 texts, gained us $1,200 in sales 75% of that within 2 hours of sending! Excited to set up the abandoned cart automation to see how it performs during Black Friday.” 

– RevAir

Here’s what you just learned about building an SMS program:

  1. It’s crucial to understand and take the necessary steps to be TCPA compliant.
  2. There are 4 basics steps you should take right away to generate revenue in your first 30 days.
  3. Start building your subscriber list using popups and keywords.
  4. Create Abandoned Cart and Welcome Series automations.
  5. Keep growing your program and testing your text messages to optimize results.
  6. And that’s it – you’re basically an SMS marketing pro at this point.

Conclusion

Mobile marketing is still a very new channel. Just like in the early days of email marketing, brands are seeing incredible open rates and almost instant results. But the biggest barrier holding people back from trying SMS marketing is not knowing how to start. If this was you before, now you know what it takes to build a bare-minimal SMS program and start generating sales on auto-pilot.

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Rally Stanoeva

Rally is the Product Marketing Manager at Postscript and one of the few Canadians on the team. She has been an early employee in multiple tech startups and joined the ecommerce industry in 2017. On the side, she has also worked as a freelance writer for fintech companies.