Marketing   //   December 14, 2021

How brands are incorporating text messages into their holiday marketing strategies

More brands are leaning on SMS since the Black Friday sales kickoff.

Over the past few years, text message-based marketing has been a growing trend among big retailers and direct-to-consumer brands. In the beginning, it was considered a way to more easily connect with customers while people’s email inboxes became more and more crammed. Now, as the channel has matured, brands are beginning to experiment with a greater variety of SMS strategies, depending upon what their priorities are at any one given time. Particularly this holiday season, marketers and brands say they are finding SMS to be effective in communicating shipping delays to customers, as well as which inventory is in-stock.

CB2 first launched its SMS channel in 2018, which has since been used for customer inquiries and surveys. This year, the holiday strategy is to personalize text message alerts based on customers’ CB2 engagement and product interests, Liz Reeves, director of brand marketing at CB2, told Modern Retail.

“In the last two years, we’ve found an opportunity to accelerate our SMS investments to tell the brand’s story and build engagement over time,” Reeves said.

This year, the company says the strategy is starting to work. During the Black Friday through Cyber Monday period, CB2’s SMS customer list grew nearly 30% over the same period last year, according to its SMS provider Attentive. CB2 also increased sales from SMS by 24% over last year across new and existing customers, according to the company.

Reeves said that in order to keep customers engaged with SMS, CB2 has started asking its list of SMS subscribers more multiple-choice questions about what kinds of promotions and product alerts they’re interested in receiving during the 2021 holidays. “We’re segmenting campaigns based on each customer’s response — like whether they’re interested in home entertaining or gifting content,” Reeves said.

CB2 began using SMS to promote early holiday sales starting in October, including seasonal decor and entertainment products. By early December, the SMS campaign focus switched to messaging shipping date about cut-offs. “Our two-day shipping window is coming up next week so we’ll begin pushing that,” said Reeves. As those deadlines pass, CB2’s SMS will focus on pushing in-stock items “and driving customers to shop in-store or buy online, pickup in-store,” said Reeves.

Smaller brands say they are also benefiting from an SMS push this month. Michelle Serna, marketing coordinator at DTC water bottle startup HydroJug, said the company saw SMS spike revenue over the Black Friday weekend. About 30% of the weekend sales were prompted by SMS blasts, Serna said. HydroJug offered customers 30% off site-wide and 50% off select items during the holiday shopping event through a campaign in partnership with SMS marketing technology Postscript. “Our SMS campaign focused on promoting ‘gifting hydration at an affordable price,'” said Serna.

Since then, HydroJug has been working to extend conversions throughout this month. The brand began using SMS in late 2019, and from then on “we’ve pushed to onboard new customers to SMS early,” said Serna.

Like other marketers’ Thanksgiving moves, HydroJug decided to send out Black Friday SMS promos on Thanksgiving day. “I sent out two Thursday to create buzz around our limited edition restocks,” said Serna. HydroJug kept that rate going throughout the weekend, and on Sunday sent several ‘final sale’ countdown clock texts.

Now that the brand has conditioned customers to expect more texts this month “we’re staying in that cadence until the week of Christmas,” she said. “We’re also texting shoppers being frank about shipping deadlines and last-minute gift options.” This week, HydroJug is using SMS to promote new limited-edition releases, like brand ambassador bottle sleeve collaborations. The last week before Christmas, the brand will switch to promoting e-gift cards instead, Serna said.

A more nuanced strategy

These types of campaigns, however, require walking a very delicate tightrope. While HydroJug says it has found success in texting customers multiple times a day, other brands have been criticized for bombarding customers with too many messages. Fast fashion brand Fashion Nova, for instance, has been criticized for sending multiple texts per day during Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Last year, the company also received negative attention for texting customers to spend their Covid-19 stimulus checks on Fashion Nova orders.

Still, SMS remains a popular channel for brands to test out because it is a relatively untapped channel for brands compared to say, email. Adriana Williams, e-commerce specialist at branding agency The Foundation, said that SMS has been a big part of this year’s push for clients like clothing care tool brand Steamery, natural soap brand Soeder and sparkling water machine maker Aarke. Williams began utilizing text message marketing in April 2021 for all three brands. But in the past few months, The Foundation began crafting gift guides via SMS that customers can easily shop. “All three brands obviously spike in conversion whenever we message about a promotion,” Williams said.

At a time when customers are getting daily texts from multiple brands, Williams said she has found it important to segment SMS based on that brand’s customer preferences. One effective tactic The Foundation is seeing among its brand roster is maintaining a list of SMS subscribers “we can readily exclude from email campaigns,” said Williams. This is to avoid bombarding them with multiple text messages and emails in the same day.

“Aarke customers, for example, prefer an image with the message — unless the message is speaking to a sale specifically,” she noted. One of the top performing messages was a recent ‘family photo’ with all of Aarke’s carbonators machines lined up in a row,” Williams said.

Like CB2 and Hydrojug, the agency is also using text messaging campaigns to remind customers about holiday shipping deadlines to rally customers to start shopping earlier.

“We’ve also shortened the time span for triggering automated alerts for abandoned carts and browsing abandonment sessions,” Williams said; this has been cut down from four hours down to one hour “to create a sense of urgency,” she said.

With more consumers expecting brands to communicate holiday sales and shipping delays, SMS is effective in doing that quickly, said CB2’s Reeves.

“Overall, SMS is one of the fastest-growing channels in our mix,” said Reeves. “So we’re actively thinking of how to use it in the future.”