As we watch the pandemic begin to slowly recede, it’s becoming increasingly clear that COVID-influenced marketing trends like accelerated digital transformation across industries and increased online shopping in the retail space are likely here to stay. However, there’s one key shift that retailers may not be aware of, one that has the potential to have a significant impact on their outreach strategy — namely, the emergence of SMS as today’s critical customer engagement channel.

SMS has long been a popular channel for people to communicate with their friends and families. In recent years, we’ve seen consumers becoming more accustomed to receiving transactional messages via SMS in connection with key updates like order confirmations or shipping notifications. But during the pandemic, SMS’ special capabilities have made it the essential tool for urgent customer communications. No other channel is as intimate, direct or embedded into customers’ lives as SMS. When you combine that unique access with sky-high open rates topping 90 percent, it’s no surprise that savvy retailers have turned to SMS marketing to power timely, responsive engagement with their customers in the midst of a uniquely challenging time.

As we approach the next “new normal,” it’s time for retailers to focus on long-term retention of the customers they’ve acquired — or just held onto — during the pandemic. SMS marketing is an integral part of this effort. However, making the most of this channel requires a mindset shift on part of marketers. Here are four tips to help approach that challenge successfully:

1. Embrace a seamless, cross-channel customer experience.

SMS is a powerful customer communication tool, but the strongest long-term impact comes from leveraging cross-channel engagement. In fact, messaging customers in two channels instead of just one results in 42 percent higher customer lifetime value (LTV) and 76 percent higher lifetime value. Therefore, make sure that SMS is integrated into your brand’s cross-channel messaging strategy from day one. You’ll see more value while providing a cohesive brand experience for customers, allowing them to choose how and where they want to engage with your brand.

2. Use SMS to reach your most valuable customers.

SMS is a high-touch premium messaging channel. To get the most value out of it, retailers need to resist the temptation to use SMS to message their entire customer base. SMS works best when you’re using it to engage with your most valuable customers; that approach allows marketers to optimize their spend and maximize their return on investment. With a smart cross-channel approach, it all works out — you can focus your SMS efforts on the customers who will drive the most value without worrying that you’re neglecting the rest of your audience, since they’ll be receiving outreach in other, more appropriate channels, as needed.

3. Personalize SMS campaigns to meet your customers’ needs.

While promotions are a key part of most retailers’ marketing toolkits, the real magic happens when you build out lifecycle campaigns that are personalized based on specific customer data, including purchase history, browsing data, user feedback, and campaign engagement patterns. SMS can facilitate this kind of nuanced messaging by creating opportunities for customers to engage with your brand via specific SMS keywords, allowing them to signal their preferences when it comes to the types of messages, product categories, and events they’re interested in. You can then easily trigger responsive, automated campaigns based on those keywords.

4. Long-term loyalty requires a focus on engagement, monetization, and retention.

Long-term loyalty pays major dividends, but achieving it requires a holistic understanding of how all the campaigns you send are impacting customers’ engagement, monetization and retention rates. Because SMS is a premium channel, there may be certain types of campaigns where it significantly overperforms and other campaigns where it makes more sense to leverage a different channel. The important thing is to match each campaign to the recipient’s lifecycle stage and use testing to ensure that the message creative, channel, timing, and other elements are optimized to drive the most value.

SMS is a powerful, highly responsive messaging channel that’s uniquely suited to the urgent, two-way communications required by our current moment. And when you use it as part of a personalized, optimized cross-channel strategy, it’s possible to drive significant value for your customers and your business. That said, if you’re new to SMS, keep in mind that SMS is a highly regulated channel; that means you need to do your homework and make sure you obtain and memorialize your customer’s consent before you start executing any SMS campaigns.

To learn more about SMS marketing, check out our exclusive overview.