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Why Fashion’s SMS Strategies Are Evolving

Once promotional broadcasts, SMS strategies now offer a direct, intimate channel to engage consumers. To discover how brands are pioneering a new method of communication through text message, driving engagement and sales, BoF speaks to Attentive's CEO and Co-Founder Brian Long.
Consumer using a mobile phone | Source: Shutterstock
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NEW YORK, United States — As our global society faces a protracted period of distancing measures, brands are evolving their branding, sales and CRM strategies to reduce the emphasis on in-store experiences. Now, brands are giving increasing importance to responsive, personalised communications channels — including the adoption of SMS strategies.

As the amount of time consumers spend on their smart phones continues to increase at an accelerated rate, dwarfing the amount of time they are exposed to physical retail locations, the significance of the smartphone as a touch point has grown beyond browser and app-driven e-commerce. The smartphone is now an integral part of customer services and sales strategies, as well as operationally supporting emerging yet crucial sales and service channels such as Buy Online, Pick-up In Store (BOPIS) and Buy Online, Return In Store (BORIS). It is also being utilised to drive sales through novel consumer engagement strategies.

To hear how effective the role of text messaging is in market-leading communication strategies and discover how industry leaders are using SMS to drive both engagement and sales, BoF sits down with Brian Long, CEO and co-founder of Attentive, the New York-based personalised text message marketing solution, which works with over 1,000 leading brands including Coach, Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg.

Brian Long, CEO and Co-Founder of Attentive | Source: Courtesy

Why is the opportunity for retailers to use SMS strategies growing?

I would place the trends fueling the growth of SMS in two buckets: first, the trends that were present before the onset of Covid-19 and second, the shifts in consumer behavior due to the on-going effects of the pandemic. Prior to the start of the pandemic, it was getting harder and harder to reach people via email. Their inboxes were cluttered with competing messaging, with open rates and click-through rates decreasing. As a channel, it's just much harder to reach people via email than it was a few years ago.

The second factor that has made it increasingly important to have a direct line of communication with consumers is the rise of mobile commerce. Covid-19 has seen the growth of e-commerce rapidly accelerate, with consumers now primarily browsing and buying on their smartphones — the device on which they’re spending the majority of their time.

As a result of these two major trends, Attentive has seen a significant increase in the number of people who are signing up for brands’ SMS messaging programmes. In April 2020 alone, the number of subscribers opting in to text messaging programmes increased 53 percent compared to the opt-in rate for January and February. We've also seen a sustained increase — we're still seeing those opt-in rates now.

Consumers are also signalling that these new habits are permanent — in a recent survey I read, 58 percent of respondents said they believe they are going to keep a lot of the habits they picked up during Covid-19. The rise of e-commerce and with it, mobile commerce, has signalled a fundamental shift in the way consumers are interacting with brands. There’s an opportunity for brands to build communities by communicating one-to-one with their audience, breaking through the digital noise and starting valuable, two-way conversations with their audiences, which will ultimately help companies drive more incremental revenue.

How is consumer interaction with SMS changing?

SMS is definitely becoming much more of the two-way channel that it should be, allowing consumers to engage in real-time, two-way conversations with brands. People communicate via text messaging every day — and they’re now beginning to expect brands to interact with them via SMS as well. The types of interactions are also increasing — it might be a marketing message but consumers now also want to complete transactions and handle customer service questions over SMS too. Brands are also successfully clienteling and community building via SMS. It’s truly an interactive experience and in five years, we believe consumers are going to expect every business to offer that type of two-way interaction.

SMS is built for this mobile, quick-fix world we live in now, where customers can get what they need in short, back-and-forth interactions.

I think another strength of text messaging is that it's a concise, quick method of communication. SMS is built for this mobile, quick-fix world we live in now, where customers can quickly get what they need in short, back-and-forth interactions. That direct communication is increasingly powerful — although consumers may be at home, in some cases, they are harder to reach than they were previously because so many people are trying to get their attention. SMS can really cut through that clutter and reach people. But you have to do it in a thoughtful way that makes sense for your brand — it can't be the same message repeated every day.

How are you seeing the tactical application of SMS campaigns evolve?

This holiday season, I believe you're going see a lot of companies jumping into holiday-related messaging ahead of time in an effort to be proactive. In this unique retail environment, no one is sure what the holiday season will look like. I think many leaders are taking a step back and saying, "This holiday season is not going be like any other year." Black Friday, Cyber Monday, won’t work in-store with social distancing like they used to. Brands will need to adjust their approach by shifting to online-first models.

But to have a successful holiday season, you need to start the work building your subscriber list database now. You can't decide to start on November 1. I believe in a portfolio approach to growing your subscriber list, collecting opt-ins in as many places as you can and the highest performing opt-in channel is a brand’s mobile website. Brands can also convert their audience into high-value subscribers by driving opt-ins on their desktop website and social channels — through both paid and organic posts.

Being able to leverage the existing website traffic, pushing social, paid and other channels to your mobile website and then converting them to subscribers and, in our case, using SMS campaigns is extremely effective. SMS is such a personal channel and brands need to approach it in a thoughtful way, constantly testing and optimising to determine how often their audience wants to hear from them and what kind of messages they want to receive.

How can SMS strategies be used to build communities?

I think that the number one thing that consumers want is to be heard — and we often forget that. Listening, letting them know that they are being heard, is a powerful thing. That's how trust and relationships are built, whether it's in our everyday life with family, friends, co-workers, or with the consumers that we interact with.

The SMS method speaks to younger cohorts — it feels authentic to the consumer due to that personal, one-on-one interaction.

The first step of having that type of genuine conversation is asking consumers questions. I think that, today, it's still done in a way that doesn’t spur discussion. We ask our audience for an NPS score, to rate their experience from one to 10. We need to dig deeper to get a true understanding of our customers. What else would you like to hear from us? What's your favourite thing about us? How can we create a better experience in the future? Customer intelligence is invaluable and the consumer likes providing feedback — you’re not only hearing what your customers have to say, but you’re acting on it. This will foster a deeper connection with your audience.

What opportunities for growth excite you for the future?

I believe that luxury brands are going to start sharing their viewpoints on a wide variety of subject matters. Millennial and Gen-Z consumers expect brands to stand for something, and it has a considerable impact on who they choose to shop with. These consumers seek out what some call “brand-friends” — brands that share similar values with them, like their friends, and they’re building a network of brands they are loyal to. Not only is that attractive to consumers, but they're also noticing the brands that don't share their viewpoints or remain silent, and they’re calling that out more than ever before.

The SMS method speaks to these younger cohorts because it is such a personal way to share these viewpoints and starts that two-way conversation about what you believe in via text messaging, which feels authentic to the consumer due to that personal, one-on-one interaction.

SMS also drives tangible results. Now, we are seeing increasing opportunities for companies like Coach, Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg, who are using us in order to reach that Millennial and Gen-Z audience, to grow relationships with the next generation of shoppers. For our own customers, Attentive is driving 18.5 percent of online revenue through personalised text messaging. This is a really tremendous performance marketing channel, not just in terms of sales, but to engage your community and share your brand’s vision and values out there.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Attentive as part of a BoF partnership.

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