Omnichannel 101: Integrating SMS with an Existing Email Program


Many companies now ask for a customer’s phone number as well as the email address at point of sale, shipping, or entry. They use online forms or capture it in person through a pin pad or mobile credit card reader.

This gives the company an extra contact point with the customer, but it raises two practical questions for using SMS effectively:

  • How do you determine an SMS number’s priority against an existing email address?
  • What kinds of messages should you send via SMS rather than email?

Texting, or short message service (SMS), sends text messages between cellphones or from a PC or handheld to a cell phone. Today, SMS is the most widely used data application in the world, with 86% of consumers sending and receiving texts every week and sending 389 billion text messages monthly.* Users also read 95% to 98% of text messages within one minute of receipt.*

There are a few key questions to ask when considering SMS:

  1. What is the conversion rate for each channel?

Most clients that Trendline work with began collecting SMS numbers after establishing their email databases, making SMS a newer channel. As a result, SMS can convert at a higher rate than email because it’s a newer channel with fresher contacts. You’ll want to be sure you are comparing new email contacts to new SMS contacts to get a fair view of both channels.

  1. What messages are appropriate for SMS?

SMS is a channel with a low tolerance for marketing or sales messages. This is important when considering which channels to use for each message. The messages sent via SMS must be text only and under 160 characters per message.

If you’re ready to consider adding SMS to your messaging strategy, this two-step planning process will help you get going the right way:

Step 1: Identify SMS Message Candidates

SMS allows you to send urgent messages without requiring your recipients to install an app.  They also stand out in the clutter of an average email inbox.

This is something you’ll want to consider when including SMS as a messaging channel. What emails that you send now rely on a quick response from your recipient? Would that quick response come faster via SMS instead of email?

The exercise below will allow you to separate and prioritize messages into two groups: “Candidates for SMS” and “Email Only”

You have three messages: A, B, and C. Messages A and B are time-sensitive, 1:1 messages, while message C is a marketing message alerting users about a new sale. Message C would be placed in the “Email Only” bucket because it’s a sales message (unless users opted in to SMS specifically for sales alerts).

Message A and Message B  are candidates for SMS because of their business impact. Generally, this means you would send A and B via SMS first before attempting to be sent via email.

This is easier said than done unless you have a WYSIWYG tool such as Journey Builder or other marketing automation tool. You’ll want to consider how long it will take for a subscriber to convert on the message before attempting a resend in another channel.

During this exercise, you might also find new messaging opportunities that weren’t as feasible when using email alone. These include a flash survey for an event, appointment updates, confirmation messages, quick opt-in via short code, or even something as straightforward as password reset (especially if you’re interested in two-factor authentication).

Step 2: Choose a sending platform

The platform from which you send SMS messages is important. However, the SMS feature set is not as robust as a modern email service provider, and it doesn’t vary as much from vendor to vendor (when compared to the email toolset; certainly there are differences in data management and security protocols between vendors).

This is partially due to the nature of SMS. Compared to email, SMS is fairly straightforward from a creative standpoint and provides significantly less from a reporting standpoint. This is also partially due to evolving and advancing technologies. Most major email platforms have evolved over the past few decades, while enterprise SMS marketing has really come into focus within the past seven years.

Data is one of the primary things to consider when selecting an SMS platform. Where does your data live? If you already push all of your marketing data into an ESP for email, it is likely that SMS is a natural fit with that ESP if it offers an SMS add-on product.

However, if your data lives in a data warehouse or other internal database, you might want to consider testing vendors. CPM pricing can fluctuate for SMS much as it does for email.

SMS tends to be an easier à la carte implementation than email because of the content required to send an SMS message. You will have similar kinds of user-level personalization challenges with SMS as you do with email, but the parallels and requirements will be apparent when going through the exercise outlined in Step 1.

Step 3: Convert and Test

Adding SMS allows you to give your subscribers more options. This is important for many reasons, but the most important reason is the prevalence of multi-platform users.

The 2016 ComScore Global Digital Future in Focus study  found that users often engage with brands using multiple platforms.

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It is important to understand the conversion differences between channels for the same message so that you can justify your efforts. Testing into SMS gives you a clear understanding of the different conversion rates for email versus. SMS. This is made slightly easier if you’re using something like Salesforce’s Journey Builder or IBM’s Journey Designer.

Testing into SMS shouldn’t prevent you from offering SMS as an option. However, it will help you understand the value of an email address versus an SMS phone number, and that should inform your acquisition strategy.


SMS and email are a powerful combination. Adding SMS to an existing program is a natural way to dip your toe into the waters of omnichannel/cross channel marketing. If you’d like to hear more about omnichannel marketing, please reach out. We’ll be happy to discuss this important topic in detail with you.

*2015 Stats in Mobile Advertising

Title: Omnichannel 101: Integrating SMS with an Existing Email Program
About: Integrating Email and SMS
Audience: Email Marketers
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