Ask the OI Experts: What role do you see SMS and email marketing playing in a customer's journey


If you happen to come across one of our Webbula posts on LinkedIn or Twitter, or stumble across the Webbula blog, you will find one of our most common series called, “Ask the Experts.” Webbula launched this series in 2021 to share the voices of email experts on various topics within the email marketing world.

I thought it would be fun to have an Only Influencers Edition of Ask the Experts so I asked a few members in the community the question, “what role do you see SMS and email marketing playing in a customer's journey”?

Here's what they had to say! 

05 Devinney Picture2Paul Christmann
Chief Software Architect

Every year there’s a new tool for customizing the customer’s journey. Everybody’s searching for that magic formula to get their customer from point A to Z. Some tools are fads and some tools become staples in a marketer’s toolbox.

Email and SMS are two very different types of communication, and they’re best utilized in totally different ways.

SMS: transactional, focused

Email: durable, informative, educational

Use them wrong and you risk driving up unsubscribe rates for both.

Generally, SMS can be an effective way of building relationships with customers in a post-transaction environment. It’s great for providing specific and targeted information about a transaction.

  • Does your customer want delivery status updates?
  • Links to e-tickets?
  • Confirmation of their reservation time?
  • Great - SMS works wonders for that!

But so much of a customer journey is in the pre-transaction world. And in that world, Email is still king. Many years and countless technology upgrades later - and nothing has changed, email remains the most reliable way of guiding a customer or prospect through their journey to your business transaction.

In order to convert a prospect to a customer, you need to build a relationship with them as a person. You need to show them who you are, provide a ton of value, and clearly demonstrate why you are trustworthy and worth doing business with.

Personalization is absolutely essential to the success of your email marketing. Your customers receive volumes of information in their inbox and have limited time to sift through it all. You want your email to be tailored to their unique wants and needs - not to your wants and needs.

A drive to personalization, balanced with a clear respect for client privacy desires, ensures your message focuses on what you are offering to each individual reader. And it forces you to answer that question yourself:

  • Do you know what you offer to an individual reader?
  • Are you meeting their needs and desires?
  • Are you relying on your readers to do the hard work?

Most importantly, whether SMS or Email: Always deliver what you say you will and make sure it’s valuable. Build trust and spark joy with your readers - they will keep coming back to you for more!

05 Devinney Picture3Elizabeth Ciccolo
Senior Email Marketing Manager

It is serendipitous that this topic came up as recently, my own customer journey brought me through these two channels quite expectedly. I have been an email marketer for over 20 years, and I am sharing this customer journey to emphasize how important it is to us digital marketers to use these channels in concert.

Yesterday, I googled a brand I was curious about. I had no intention of opting into anything at that point. Within seconds I had opted into emails and SMS messages from a brand that I had never shopped before. How did this happen to me, an experienced digital marketer?

Well, the website did its job of engaging my attention. I wanted to find out more, so I signed up for emails knowing if I wanted to order online this was the channel to get it done. Before I knew it, I was looking at the “Special Spring Savings” and clicking on items I never thought I needed but had to now have.

How could I get the deals asap? I had to plan my evening escape for this new retail therapy. A pop up appeared and enticed me to “Join now for SMS savings'', so I did! Mind you I NEVER opt into SMS, but this brand did such a good job of pulling me in I couldn’t resist. I jumped in my car and was at the store with a SMS discount QR code on my iPhone ready to shop.

What is the significance of these two channels “converting” me in the beginning stages of the customer journey, I began to ponder?

When I opted into email promotions, I subconsciously knew I would learn more about the brand and offers via curated email content. Why then did I also sign up for SMS notifications? I felt a sense of urgency to experience the store front, not just the website, I wanted to hold the products in my hand, determine if these were quality goods and find out if the store experience met the expectations the website set. I was inspired without even thinking about it, two days later I am still bewildered that I got sucked in. LOL

Done right, bundling email and SMS can jump start any type of customer journey, as each channel has its own qualities to build engagement, leverage them together, and you can shorten the nurturing phase with a seamless experience that meets customers on the channel of their choice, at that time their customer journey.

05 Devinney Picture4Evan Lazarus
SmarterSends, LLC.

SMS and Email, when done correctly, have what we all aspire to in a great relationship. They complement each other, but also work amazingly well as individual channels.

Using email without SMS, or SMS without email, is to leave out crucial parts of the delicate dance we do with our customers, as we lead them through the journey of information gathering, decision making, purchasing, informing, and maintaining a crucial line of communication post-purchase.

Email does a phenomenal job of storytelling through engaging content, transactional information when a password needs to be reset or a receipt needs to be sent, getting feedback from your customer about their experience, and then reigniting the conversation through reengagement campaigns.

SMS, with its amazing open rates and feeling of personal immediacy, shines as a marketing channel when the need to create urgency is paramount, sending timely alerts and reminders when you need to build that excitement that a shipment is on its way, or notifications when sending another email just feels wrong.

Historically, setting up SMS campaigns was a far more involved process than getting an email campaign up and running, but at this point most (if not all) ESP’s are locked and loaded to deploy both email and SMS campaigns, allowing you to use the same triggers and journeys, for the same person, giving you the ability to spread your strategic wings and communicate with your customer when, where and how they like it.

SMS and Email are the yin and the yang, the peanut butter and jelly and the bacon and eggs of timely, relevant, and engaging marketing. Use them wisely, and you shall prosper. 

05 Devinney Picture5Alexandra Palau
Email Marketing Consultant

SMS and email are like peanut butter and jelly. They are good on their own but even better together.

As email marketing has evolved, so has SMS as it has become a powerful marketing tool that gives marketers the ability to strengthen their one-to-one communication alongside email. It’s here to stay and ready to elevate your customer journey

SMS has become the personal channel.

Customers want to connect with your brand; they don’t want to be sold to, especially in SMS.

I think it will eventually become an even stronger player that will not only produce higher ROI and customer loyalty but will continue to nicely compliment email.

The challenge lies in where to strategically place SMS within the customer journey. I’m a proponent of always adding it within transactional communications such as order, shipping, and delivery confirmations as well as welcome and nurturing flows.

Then create a cadence in which alongside your emails, you use SMS to announce highly engaging and exciting news for your customers such as new products and the start and end of your promotional offerings.

Use it, test it and see where it fits best because as mobile continues to dominate, SMS will be at the forefront of your customer marketing strategy.


05 Devinney Picture6Kisha Robinson
Manager, Broadcast Email

The role SMS and email marketing play in a customer’s journey is relationship building. At least that’s the most effective way to use these channels. When I tell someone outside of email what I do, their response is often: “Oh ok so you spam me?” Could people have this impression because they’re used to their inbox being abused by unwanted messaging?

For most industries (some might argue all), the old way of using email and now SMS as alert systems for what we as marketers want our customers to know is no longer working. With the popularity of email as a marketing channel, we want our customers to look for us in their inbox as opposed to trying to stand out amongst the crowd. How do we do that? By building relationships.

Think about that coworker, that friend, that significant other, that family member you’ve built an actual relationship with. When you know they’re going to be where you are, you look for them. You enjoy what they have to say, you look forward to it. You share value mutually. This is the sweet spot we want to aim for along the customer journey. Build rapport by providing value.

As companies introduce SMS to customers, the pressure is often applied to acquisition in order to build our lists, just as we see quite often with email. But should the goal be a larger list? Should we be focusing on quantity over quality? That’s for us as marketers to decide based on the overall business model and goals.

But when we are focused on the customer journey, it’s likely we’ve found the value is in the quality of our databases and customer retention becomes the goal. When we’ve found ourselves here, we’ve done ourselves, the business we represent and most of all, our customers a disservice when we drop the ball after acquisition.

We could learn a lot about our customers’ needs by what they tell us through their behavior. When we’re building relationships 1:1, we pay attention to whether this new person in our life prefers texting, email, phone calls, or in-person interaction. Makes sense that we’d do the same in marketing. Let the customer tell us what role they want email and SMS to play in their journey.