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Channel vs. Nudge: How SMS Can Round Out Your eComm Stack

If you spend much time on the DTC web, you’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about SMS. There’s a ton of hype about 99% open rates and texting as a replacement for email.

And actually, I imagine it’s similar to the period of mass adoption of consumer email in the 90’s and early 2000s. 

Thing is, the tactics that brands use for email don’t translate to text. Consumers have really different mindsets when it comes to texting, and there’s a ton more regulation than in the email space. 

And, while a bad email can have a negative impact on your brand, misusing SMS will absolutely shatter your brand equity with customers. It’s much, much worse than not using SMS at all. 

After all, SMS hits us where we live. A bad text is like a pushy door-to-door salesman- it feels like a violation of our privacy. Handling an intimate platform like SMS takes a light touch, and it needs to be customer-centric to the max. 

So we’re going to dig into the two main forms of DTC text—SMS as a nudge and SMS as a channel—but first let’s talk about texting as it fits into your broader marketing stack.

SMS as Part of Your Stack

First thing’s first: no, email is not dead.

Inboxes are more crowded than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that SMS can replace email in your stack. Email and SMS serve different needs, and your messaging needs the flexibility to work in different ways on these different channels. 

It’s much easier to get consumers to sign up for email than to share their phone numbers. It’s just a lower commitment.

Email allows for longer, in-depth content. SMS makes instant back and forth easy. 

You’ll find the most success by diversifying your messaging based on the different channels you’re using.

Approaching DTC Text

There are two main ways that brands use SMS. Understanding your approach to each (and how they work together) from the very beginning is important to maintaining legal compliance and positive customer interactions. 

The SMS Nudge

Chances are, you’ve gotten an SMS nudge in the past. Basically, this is just a really convenient instant notification that moves you along the customer journey. 

A nudge can be used to let customers know when an order ships, when they need to update card information, if there’s an issue with their shipment, or really any other quick notification that’s important for the customer to see immediately.

It’s the equivalent of a transactional email, and that means a lot of the same tips still apply. The messages should be short, personal, and on-brand. 

But also: it needs to be relative to the specific customer journey and genuinely helpful to the customer. 

Text nudges are not a great tool for hard sales content and marketing. It’s irritating and a misuse of your customer’s information. This medium is highly regulated (don’t worry, we’ll be digging into that in more depth soon) and messing up compliance can be really costly for your business. 

The SMS Channel

This side of SMS is a lot more complicated than the nudge. It can be a really valuable tool, though, and for a lot of DTC operators it’s pretty exciting.

Essentially, an SMS channel is the equivalent of live chat, but it runs directly through texting. It lets customers connect with your brand without interrupting their other routines. 

The big difference here is the two-way conversation. 

A channel encourages back-and-forth conversation with the customer. There are a few common uses for an SMS channel:

  • Helping customers choose products tailored to their needs
  • Quickly and simply replenishing product and making orders via text
  • Improving the customer experience post-purchase via product education and conversation

That said, there are a ton of different ways that a channel can work. Rooted just launched an SMS helpline so customers can get quick answers to questions about their plants. 

Peer-to-peer texting (i.e. one-on-one conversations between your staff and a customer) are far less regulated because a customer initiating a conversation has essentially already opted in. Short code numbers for an SMS channel generally run about $1,000 per month. 

For a great example of peer-to-peer texting, check out BeardBrand's approach.

Tips for a Great SMS Plan

The bedrock of an SMS plan should always be enriching the customer experience. I’ve explored what happens when this goes wrong (*cough* Casper *cough*), so let’s talk about doing it right. 

Use automation carefully. It’s really helpful for getting through the initial stages of a conversation (i.e. figuring out whether the customer needs to chat with support or with sales), but from there you’ll quickly turn customers off if they feel like they’re just being passed between bots.

Train your teams specifically around SMS. Maintaining your brand voice is really important in SMS, but it’s often one of the first things that gets lost on this platform. Work with your team to keep these interactions short and valuable.

Figure out your mission. What are the key KPI’s for SMS? Deciding the goals and the focus for your SMS plan will help you shape the time and resources you devote to it. 

An SMS channel isn’t easy to maintain, so you’ll also need to decide whether it’s worth investing in for your brand, or if it’s worth starting out with a focus on nudges. 

We’ll be digging into SMS a ton more on this season of Playing for Keeps, and here on the blog, so stay tuned! This is just the beginning of the conversation. 

Until next time, let’s close with a question to frame your approach to SMS:

How much buy-in does your brand have from a specific customer? 

A first-time customer picking up a single product might find a text invasive, where as a loyal fan of your brand that makes regular purchases will likely have a really different response. Look for ways to segment and focus your understanding of your customers, and you’ll have a much better chance of creating joy in these interactions.