Use SMS texting to build engagement

Traditionally used as a marketing tool, texting has become a device that businesses are using for purposes beyond selling – and bringing value straight to customers’ inboxes.
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While brands attempt to connect with customers on the constantly shifting – and noisy – platforms of TikTok, Snapchat and IG, SMS has re-emerged. It promises high engagement (with 98% open rates), it’s personal and direct, and it doesn’t require visual assets. Here are two businesses that have launched customer SMS channels. 

Case study: Thoughtline from Man Repeller

When Covid-19 struck, online fashion magazine Man Repeller’s plans for a SMS service had to be introduced immediately.

Launched in May, Thoughtline is a free SMS service that sends Man Repeller’s readers three texts a day: an uplifting morning text, an afternoon challenge and a daily open office hour where readers can text back and forth with the editor running the show that day, broaching anything from fashion to romance. ‘SMS made a lot of sense in that it really continues to meet our readership where they’re at and how we interact with people like friends,’ explains Matt Little, director of strategic initiatives. 

The first step in creating Thoughtline was to contact phone service providers, work out which would offer best value and enable Man Repeller to easily send messages across providers and different number types. Then the company hooked the number up with its content management system and communications platform Twilio. To onboard new customers, it set up a survey-based system to sign readers up to a version tailored to their needs – and in full knowledge of what they were getting. 

Thoughtline started as one-size-fits-all, but Man Repeller broke out multiple offerings based on reader feedback. ‘We wanted to get live sooner and involve the community in this experiment as it continued to evolve,’ explains Matt. The intimacy of texting has given the editors a direct window into what matters most to their readers – to tap readers for ideas and to feature them in the content. ‘It enables us to ask what they want to be reading right now, what they wish they’d been reading for the past month, and what they want to see from us that might be universal,’ says Matt. 

The feedback from unsubscribers has highlighted that SMS is ‘a powerful and intimate channel, but there’s a bit of preciousness with it,’ adds Matt. ‘There’s a mutual respect and trust if we’re going to be texting – valuing that in how you build and iterate your strategy is critical.’

Case study: Potline by Great Jones

Launched last year by direct-to-consumer cookware startup Great Jones, Potline allows customers to receive instant access to the recipes and culinary advice they need, on tap.

‘The idea came from wanting to have that friend or older sibling – the experienced cook in your life who you can just text and ask a question,’ explains co-founder Sierra Tishgart. Tapping into the immediacy and intimacy of SMS, Great Jones launched Potline in June 2019 as a strictly separate channel to the company’s SMS marketing. ‘It’s not meant to be a sales driving activity for us,’ says Sierra, ‘but, from the brand perspective, it helps us articulate our values: that we want to make people more confident in the kitchen.’ 

Although it’s not sales focused, Potline establishes a rapport with potential buyers that ‘goes a long way when you’re thinking about making that purchase [and] you feel that this is a brand you have a sense of trust in,’ says Sierra. 

Creating Potline was straightforward. Great Jones hooked up a number with its customer relationship management system, Kustomer. Users sign up first via text or online to tick the legal boxes – though there are very few legal hoops to jump through, according to Sierra. Customer experience manager and avid cook Gaby Scelzo then fields customers’ questions. ‘It might be, “Hey, I went to the farmers’ market and I ended up with a ton of zucchini. What the hell do I do with it all?”’ says Sierra. 

Great Jones has tweaked Potline along the way, expanding the hours from one to six and bringing in specialised chefs and bakers for takeovers. The company has had to strike a balance between promoting the service but not overwhelming the small team. ‘The whole world is cooking more than ever and, for a lot of people, it’s the first time they’ve really done this,’ adds Sierra. ‘It’s been great to be a support system during a hard time, beyond just selling products.’

Learn more:

- breaks down some more examples of excellent SMS case studies. 

- Twilio remains the most flexible and comprehensive platform for setting up your own SMS channel. 

- Community, jumped on by a host of celebrities, allows brands to communicate with their customers. 

- analyses the leading SMS software tools and compares them, depending on what criteria your business needs. 

- The Quiet Light podcast episode ‘How SMS can improve your engagement 4X’ takes a deep dive into the topic.

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