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SMS List Building & Data Segmentation
How to Increase Subscribers while Decreasing Spend
Table of Contents
We’ve all heard the saying… if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Like many philosophical thought experiments, there is a way to apply it to marketing.
Bear with me. Imagine your ideal marketing campaign. You’ve perfected your customer persona, built awesome graphics, and set aside a chunk of your budget to use. It is an (almost) guaranteed slam-dunk. But what happens if no one sees it?
When it comes to newer marketing techniques like SMS, a lot of brands tend to “test the waters” before fully committing to using it for all of their campaigns.
In practice, this should work — test driving a car before you buy it, for example — but the results from small tests with small groups of subscribers are often not indicative of what you’d see from a full campaign.
While many brands who are starting out with SMS spend a lot of time focused on the content of a message, like what GIFs, copy, and emojis to use, their primary focus should first be on list growth. AKA, the number of people who are subscribed to your messages.
List growth, when done effectively, organically increases the amount of people who see your marketing campaigns, which directly correlates to the chances of your campaign producing good ROI.
At a certain point, list growth does see limited returns. Just like in email marketing, there is no one-size-fits-all approach once your list exceeds a certain number.
Once your list is big enough, you need to start segmenting your subscribers so that you can send tailored messages to different groups who have different buying habits. This decreases your spend while increasing engagement.
List growth and segmentation might seem like daunting hurdles to massive ROI, but they can actually be quite fun. Each and every day, brands are getting more creative with their owned marketing. We’ve compiled some killer examples, best practices, and other tips to help you grow your list, segment your customers, and master mobile marketing. (Psst… both of these are super easy to do in Postscript.)
SMS List Building Basics
SMS marketing is a mix of two things:
- effective offers and acquisition (i.e. list building), and
- effective communication and personalization that nurtures users along the customer journey.
Your list is the foundation of your campaigns.
So how do you get users to join your list? They opt in. Each and every subscriber you add to your SMS list must give explicit permission for your brand to send them text marketing. Compliance in SMS is no joke — with noncompliant senders facing serious fines and risks. TCPA compliance is highly-regulated.
You may be thinking…is there an easier way? Can you buy lists for SMS marketing?
No way. Buying lists is a surefire way to get into trouble with mobile carriers and SMS platforms. At the very least, your shortcode or longcode could be banned. If you’re a repeat offender or your noncompliance reaches a lot of customers, you could face fines in the million-dollar range.
Ok, now that we have the heavy (but important) topic of compliance aside, let’s get to the fun part.
11 Opt-in methods to build your text message subscriber list
Every ecommerce store has a different user experience. Maybe your shoppers come through organic search. Maybe an influencer mentioned you in a viral TikTok. Maybe you’re involved in a few active Facebook groups. Maybe you’re seeing a huge ROAS through social media advertising. You get the point: there are a lot of journeys a customer could take that end up in purchasing a product.
You should know these journeys by now through user research, surveying, and testing. If you don’t know your customer journey by now, hit ‘pause’ on adding a new channel until you do.
Once you have it mapped out, you can start collecting subscribers. Here are the most common SMS opt-in methods.
1. Website SMS Popups.
Perhaps the most common form of SMS collection is the website popup. When done correctly, it’s a great way to subtly encourage subscribers and new customers to submit their information. Pop-ups often include an incentive -- like a percentage-off discount, a free product, or free shipping.
Pop-ups can be customized to include your brand voice, colors, fonts, and images. You can also tailor the pop-up to collect SMS, email, or both — depending on whether visitors are coming from mobile or desktop.
2. Cross-promote email & SMS.
The majority of brands who send SMS marketing campaigns also use email marketing. Chances are you have a list of email subscribers — and while there’s no way to automatically move subscribers from email to SMS, you can send engaging campaigns to get email subscribers to opt-in to SMS.
Consider sending a dedicated email like the Olipop example below.
If you want to make the pitch a little more subtle, you could always add an SMS section at the bottom of your marketing examples. Here’s a good one from Snif.
Want an extra level of engagement? Consider incentivizing signups with a percentage off, or a giveaway like what Power Digital Marketing did for Helm Boots.
3. Product drops.
The so-called “Drop Economy” of ecommerce is a one-two punch: it builds hype and scarcity for products, while also giving merchants insight into future demand.
Direct-to-consumer baby and toddler gear brand Lalo let visitors sign up for their Play Table waitlist via SMS on this landing page.
With over 90,000 followers on Instagram, Whimsy and Wellness certainly has a captive audience. They advertised an upcoming product launch on their stories by letting users sign up for a text reminder.
As we just saw in the Whimsy and Wellness example, social media remains a powerful customer acquisition channel for modern ecommerce brands.
There are many ways to incorporate SMS list growth into your organic social media presence. While some capabilities are limited to brands that have over 10,000 followers (and thus, the ‘swipe-up’ feature), there are options for everyone.
This is the easiest way to convert social followers into SMS subscribers. With a ‘swipe-up’, you can advertise your SMS list right in Instagram story feeds. Here’s a good example from Copper Cow Coffee:
Psst.. don’t forget to make sure you are linking them to a dedicated landing page. Here’s where you go once you click “see more” in the above post.
The only downside to this feature is that it is limited to brands with over 10,000 followers.
But don’t fret — there are some other ways to use social to grow your SMS list. You can include your keyword and phone number directly in an image or story without the swipe up feature. It adds a few extra steps for the customer, so consider making the offer a little more sweet.
Pro tip: Save your SMS story to Highlights so that future followers can find your opt-in link or keyword.
The feed post/grid post
Creating an image post with your opt-in keyword is another way to let your followers know about the benefits of your SMS list and how to join. Olipop used a feed post to announce the launch of their SMS program.
If working with influencers is part of your marketing strategy, they can also help you grow your SMS list. You can give each influencer you work with their own unique keyword to share along with your phone number to make it easy to track performance. This is exactly the strategy that Outer Aisle uses with their influencers.
Last but not least, another straightforward idea: include a keyword and phone number right in your Instagram bio or link aggregator (like LinkTree or Linkinbio).
When it comes to social media advertising for retail brands, a lot of minds immediately turn to Instagram — and rightfully so. Instagram has more than 1 billion global users as of the end of 2020, so it’s a good place to begin your social media marketing strategy.
But there are also brands that have found their niche in Facebook. It all depends on your customers. Simply put: if they prefer to shop on Facebook, you should advertise more there.
Here’s a great example from Bad Habit Boutique.
Some brands also see success with Facebook Live shopping events.
Curb appeal is real. Shoppers are drawn to well-designed packaging.
Adding a keyword and phone number onto your packaging to let label-readers know that they can reach you through text messaging.
Here’s a great example from the back of an Eat Your Coffee bar.
7. Package inserts.
We’ve all heard the phrase “the unboxing experience”, but in case you need a refresher: the way you package your items is an often underlooked customer retention tool. And if your brand has been around for awhile but you just started with SMS messages, that means there are lots of your customers out there who haven’t subscribed to text message marketing but likely would.
If you sell on marketplaces, you’re missing out on owned marketing. Fat Snax combatted this by including the below slip in orders fulfilled by Amazon. This option is a bit more flexible than product packaging, since it can be added or removed with no effect to the product itself.
2020 was the year of the QR code, with contactless payments and menuless dining rising in popularity due to COVID.
Verve Coffee gets it - and included an easy-to-scan code to get purchasers to sign up for texting.
8. Print advertising.
While many digital marketers state that print media is past its heyday, the truth is that some retailers — especially household and CPG brands — see success with editorial advertising.
Native Deodorant ran the below ad in a magazine.
As a bonus, SMS marketing can add an extra layer of conversion tracking to print advertising. While traditionally it was hard to track the ROI of a print ad because there isn’t a pixel involved, having a dedicated keyword or landing page used solely for print ads can give retailers a direct line into the traffic it brings.
With podcasts exploding in popularity over the last few years, many ecommerce brands have started investing heavily into podcast sponsorships. The challenge with podcast sponsorships is having a call to action that’s easy for people to remember or do on their phone (which is the device most commonly used to listen to podcasts). Instead of pushing them to a webpage, have listeners text a simple keyword to your short code. Just like with influencers, you can create unique opt-in keywords for each podcast you sponsor.
Now we’re getting to the super creative part.
If TV waters are in your company’s ideal customer profile, why not advertise your phone number as part of your next commercial? As a bonus, it’ll be even easier to track the conversion rate if you use a specific keyword.
Check out this ad from Scotts & Miracle-Gro during the 2021 Super Bowl.
Why not? If you’ve seen success using billboard advertising, go for it. Just keep the keyword and shortcode brief. You don’t want to distract drivers.
One of the best parts of shortcodes and keywords is that they’re super versatile and can be placed on pretty much any form of advertising.
Now that we’ve built a list about how to build your list - hah! - let’s get a bit more in the weeds.
Having a 1,000+ SMS subscribe list is a great accomplishment, but your results (like click-through rate, open rates, and earnings per message) from the campaigns you send to these subscribers depends on how well you can pattern-match their interests, desires, and spot in the purchase journey.
If your store sells coffee and tea, sending one campaign to all subscribers at once will likely result in some sales, but what if you got a little more granular — separating your list into two: coffee drinkers and tea drinkers — and then changed the messaging of each campaign? You’d see better results.
This is called segmentation.
SMS campaign segmentation basics
What is segmentation?
Segmentation is when you create segments of your sendable user base in order to customize campaigns. Segmentation can be used in almost all customer-facing marketing, from digital ads, to direct mail, to messaging like email and SMS texts. It is a best practice recommended because it helps tailor marketing messages to customer attributes and behavior.
How should you segment your SMS customer list?
The process of segmenting your SMS customer list depends on the platform you are managing your SMS subscribers in.
But assuming that your SMS platform has the ability to segment customers, Not all do. At Postscript, our deep integration with Shopify allows senders to segment based off of any segment they have within Shopify. This includes customer tags, which can designate anything you’d like them to.
But before you make it too complicated, there are a few easy ways to segment right out of the gates based off of customer demographic information and purchase behavior. These are the most common segments, and a good place to start:
Geography / time zone: This helps you reach customers at the ideal time. If you’re sending those coffee-lovers a message about their first cup in the morning, it should reach them in the morning.
In Postscript, you can segment by Geography by selecting the Customer City or Customer State segments.
Customer purchase behavior: Repeat customers should receive different messages than first-time shoppers. Big spenders should receive different messages than budget shoppers. You know the drill.
The minute a subscriber interacts with your text message marketing, you can segment them even further with filters like automations clicked, automations received, campaigns clicked, campaigns received, keywords subscribed to, and more.
Segments are also the tool needed for A/B testing. If you want to send two different groups of customers varying messages to understand which performs better, you’ll need to first create segments.
How to automate SMS list building and database segmentation for ecommerce with Postscript
Check out this video to learn how to create segments in Postscript.
If you’d prefer written instructions, here’s a step-by-step:
Let’s walk through creating a Segment for customers that have spend over $50 and haven’t been texted before:
Click the “Segments” tab on the left navigation of the app.
Click the “Create Segment” button.
Type in your Segment Name (“Customer > $50 Without Any Texts”).
In the “Segment Criteria” section:
Select “Total Spent” in the first dropdown.
Select “greater than” in the second dropdown.
Type “50.00” in the text box.
Click the “+ Add Filter” button”.
In the row that just appeared:
Select “Number of Texts Sent” in the first dropdown.
Select “Equals” in the second dropdown.
Type “0” in the text box.
If there are more than 0 members in your Segment, you can click the “Preview” button next to the “X Members” badge to preview some of the customers that will be included.
Click the “Save Segment” button to save this Segment for use in future campaigns.
And that’s it!
If you’ve made it this far – congrats. You are now well equipped with tons of ideas for list growth, and a clear understanding of how to segment your list to maximize your ROI from SMS. Remember to start by building your list, and then refine into segments as you go. And above all, make sure everything you do is compliant.
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