When it comes to running successful SMS campaigns, there are several key points to consider. On this 109th episode of The E-Comm Show, Andrew interviews Sara Varni, CMO of Attentive – a leading text message marketing platform that helps businesses drive revenue and improve customer loyalty.
Sara will discuss how to create effective SMS campaigns, the best practices for segmenting your customer base, and the tips and tricks that will help you engage your customers. Tune in to this episode if you want to learn more about running effective SMS campaigns!
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Andrew Maff and Sara Varni
Sara is the CMO of Attentive, leading Strategic Global Marketing to further build the Attentive brand to reinvent business-to-consumer communication and commerce in the mobile age. With deep experience in the marketing and e-commerce industry, Sara has a strong background in scaling marketing teams in a fast-growth environment and driving demand for expanding markets and products. Most recently she was CMO at Twilio, responsible for growing the community of developers and bringing the company into the enterprise market. Previously, she led go-to-market strategy and positioning at Salesforce for over 10 years in various roles, including SVP of Product Marketing for its leading sales platform, Sales Cloud. She holds a BS in Business Administration from Bucknell University and an MBA from The Anderson School of Management at UCLA.
Sara Varni 00:00
Over the phone is like a very kind of intimate space to connect with your consumers and you want to make sure that you earn their trust and you maintain that trust over the lifecycle of their engagement with you
Andrew Maff 00:20
I want to show
Sara Varni 00:28
you an awesome Yes.
Andrew Maff 00:50
Another episode of the show Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm show. As usual, I'm your host, Andrew MAFF. And today I'm joined by the amazing Sara Varni, who is the CMO of attentive one of the leading SMS companies. Sara, how're you doing? You ready for good show?
Sara Varni 01:19
I am Yes. Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited.
Andrew Maff 01:22
I'm also super excited. I have a love hate relationship with SMS marketing. We do it all the time here. But as a consumer, I also get a lot of them. And so I see pros and cons on both sides. So super excited to dig into this one. And obviously I know to get those answers, you're going to be perfect for this. Great, typical approach. Love to hear a little bit about your background and tell us a little bit about attentive. We'll pretend no one knows who you guys are. As if, and then we'll take it from there. Sounds good?
Sara Varni 01:51
Yeah, sounds great. Yeah. So I'm Sara Varni. I'm the Chief Marketing Officer at attentive, as you mentioned, prior to attentive, I was the CMO at Twilio for a number of years and then started my career in software at Salesforce for over a decade. So I spend a lot of time in the customer experience space. And attentive is a super exciting company to be at right now. I really believe that SMS is the the future of marketing. And we are to boil down to really the essence of what attentive is we are a conversational commerce platform, we deliver both SMS and email across the entire retail journey. And we want to make sure that we're creating the most engaging customer experiences so that people engage with your brand, continue to buy and become, you know, lifelong customers of of your products. And so we try to always be thinking about what is the most engaging way to really get that customer hooked and excited about your products? Or your services?
Andrew Maff 02:59
Beautiful question, the immediate thing that comes to mind, SMS is it's kind of like the wild west where like it, it's doing really well. It's still one of those things like marketers haven't ruined it just yet, which is great. But I know that there are there's basically some areas where you can definitely put in some suggestions for us about like, how often is too often? How few how little is too little like what are your when you start bringing people on you have these people really leveraging the platform, and they're just killing it with the platform, what do you see as making sure that they're not overusing it and abusing the, you know, kind of the privilege they've been given from these users? And how do you make sure that they're also using it enough that all of a sudden someone is going to text one day and be like, I have no idea? This is?
Sara Varni 03:46
Yeah, absolutely. So I think it's really important to not just take your email strategy and bring it over to SMS and use it kind of verbatim, I think that SMS is a completely different animal and you get to your point, you really have to be careful about how you use it. The phone is like a very kind of intimate space to connect with your consumers. And you want to make sure that you earn their trust and you maintain that trust over the lifecycle of their engagement with you. I think what's key there's no like one size fits all to say like, Hey, you should only send you know two messages a week or whatever the like, right formula is, I think what is really important is to think about segmentation in a very thoughtful way. I think that there are customers that maybe do only want to hear from you every so often or they do only want to hear about sales, or they only want to hear about new products. But then there are customers that are your biggest fans and they want to know every little detail. They do want to hear from you, you know as often as you have new and relevant content. And so I think it's really important to identify what lanes each of your prospects or customers are in and then market to them in a very one to one personalized way. And that's something that We really pride ourselves on here at attentive. That's why we're investing really heavily in AI to make sure that we can identify early on who is falling in what segment, and you know, what the best kind of advice is to market to those particular users in the way that they want to be communicated to
Andrew Maff 05:18
know. So in terms of frequency on, let's say, just kind of your traditional, like one off push, or you have the things that are more triggered, based, do you have like, do you cater a little bit more towards you think it's best to have a lot of the stuff more triggered based? I know, it's difficult to, for a lot of people when they think like, Okay, I'm gonna get into SMS and similar to like you just mentioned, they want to take their email marketing approach and just duplicate it. And I know that that definitely doesn't work. So from like, a frequency standpoint, for your traditional campaigns, as opposed to your automations. How do you kind of map out like, okay, from an automation side, these are the things that you should have in place. But keep in mind, you know, the frequency your campaigns? Yeah,
Sara Varni 06:03
I mean, I think that it's like, I do think Well, I like I said, I don't think you should take your email strategy and completely apply it to the SMS channel, because I think that that's a mistake. But I do think that some of the broad strokes approach that marketers take when it comes to thinking about your funnel is still applies for SMS. So you're not going to just do top of funnel awareness or, you know, splashy brand stuff all the time, when you're using SMS, you also want to make sure you have that balance of muttering people who have raised their hand and shown interest in something, they're making sure that they continue through the process. So you know, there might be a high level, broader, you know, broad base campaign you do for a Labor Day Sale, let's say. And then when people show interest, you want to make sure you've got those right journeys in place, whether it's cart abandonment, or back in stock, to make sure that anyone that is, you know, raise your hand and shown interest that you're continuing to promote that product in a very relevant way that's keeping, you know, that experience. Top of Mind,
Andrew Maff 07:06
gotcha. I wish I had brought you on a little bit sooner, because as of recording this, we're in a good spot. We're right before q4, however, by the time this goes out, we're gonna be like in the thick of it. So it makes it kind of tough. But during q4, obviously, similar to what you mentioned, about a frequency side want to keep that limited. What about post q4, right? Like, I'm a big believer of q4 is a lot it's better utilized as a customer acquisition time, because a lot of people are willing to try new brands, but then what kind of things can you have in place, especially from an SMS standpoint, to make sure that going into the new year, and obviously throughout the year, that you're retaining those customers, you're extending that lifetime value and making a lot more use of your time from q4.
Sara Varni 07:51
I think it's all about creating experiences that again, are enjoyable and that also continue to build trust. And I think a key component of that trust is building campaigns that feel very personalized to that individual. So I think about someone like guest brands which is a an attentive customer, and I thought they did something really cool in like the February March timeframe last year around spring break and they had a two way campaign that they sent via SMS and they said hey, here are you know, we're gonna curate the perfect spring breakouts with for you pick your favorite cities at Palm Springs? Is it Miami? Is it Scottsdale and based on how the person responded, you know, one for Scottsdale, two for Miami, whatever, they would serve back a curated outfit that matched that location. I thought that was just a really simple, clever way to create an engaging experience that you know, the customer could see oh, this is a cool outfit. I don't have to think about like piecing stuff together and guess what guest gets great information back that they can then go and use in a future quarter to go remarket to that customer so I think in that scenario, we're getting that you know, it's a it's an enjoyable experience. It's like helping the customer or kind of have that personal shopping experience. And it's also building trust with them they know that like all right like in the in the next campaign guest is gonna even be smarter about marketing that particular individual and and serve up even a more relevant image or copy or, you know, whatever it might be, that's going to be like, alright, guest gets me like i Under like they understand kind of what I'm looking for and are not just spamming me.
Andrew Maff 09:32
Yeah. In true gas fashion. I do love that idea. That's a good idea like that. I might have to look into how to do that. So the I know a lot of sellers sometimes they'll just do like a Hey, today we have a sale and like that's it and there's no engagement side of it. So do you consistently see better performing SMS when it's more of a two way thing and you're actually trying to get the user to engage with the message as opposed to just knowing about a sale that's going on?
Sara Varni 09:56
I do think that the more personalized experience is the more like You're gonna get someone to bite and be interested in, in what you're promoting. It's not to say that sales aren't important to and holidays can be huge moments for the brands we work with 100%. But I do think the more that you can get that information from a consumer and be upfront about it, too, that's another way to build trust, like, hey, you know, tell us how much you want to hear from us? Do you want to hear about resortwear? Do you want to hear about, you know, you hats, do you want to hear about whatever, and then you can kind of, you know, play that back to that customer. And again, that's a moment to build trust with them. And, you know, they're, they're going to be less inclined to unsubscribe in that context, because you're not going to be just giving them the same message, whether they're interested in ads, or they're interested in whatever it is. And so, you know, we do definitely see higher performance and higher ROI when people focus on those personalized elements.
Andrew Maff 10:58
Gotcha. Do what's the what would be the best practice for the actual acquisition, right? Like a lot of people giving an email is it here's 10% off and then like, they just do it, and then they go and delete it, SMS, it's definitely a little bit more of a hesitation. So do you have a best practice in mind? Or basically something that you usually say like, Hey, when you're trying to get an asset, trying to get someone's phone number, like, here's an approach that you can do. So it's not too what's the word I want here, not, I guess not too salesy to a certain extent. But then do you also have an idea of what they should be saying, as soon as they sign up?
Sara Varni 11:37
I think that we've definitely seen different signup units have improved performance, for example, our Spin to Win sign up unit that we see a lot of our customers use, you know, it's just a simple spinning wheel, and you people will land on a particular discount. In certain scenarios, we've seen a 2x lift in customer acquisition, just from using that component that's a little bit more engaging. You know, in general, we really, do you think that having a cellphone number at the center of identity is the best path forward in terms of customer acquisition, because to your point earlier, it's easy to go spin up an email, if you really want 20% off and you know, leave and never kind of use that email again. Whereas your cell phone number is something that you don't change often. And so you're gonna have more of a consistent thread with the audience that you're collecting through through SMS. And there's, you know, there's other tricks just generally, in terms of doing like, a full screen on, you know, mobile to do the capture that we see a lift in. But, yeah, I do think like, going back to something I said, you know, a little bit ago, just the more engaging and entertaining that experiences, the more likely the it's kind of marketing one to one, the more likely that consumer is, is going to be willing to play ball.
Andrew Maff 13:00
Yeah. What about that post signup, those, like, once they've signed up, you know, you think from an email perspective, they sign up for a newsletter, traditionally, it's, Hey, you know, here's what you can expect, now that you've subscribed to us? Is that a relatively similar approach? Do you suggest with SMS or does that kind of get a little too lengthy?
Sara Varni 13:17
I do you think that there is a benefit in setting expectations early on, when you're, you're getting that phone number for someone, especially probably, in some ways, even more so in SMS, because to your point, it is like a channel that people do not want, you know, people want to keep pristine in some ways. And so I think that it's important to say, like, again, collecting those preferences is where to weigh can be really interesting, like, Hey, thank you so much for signing up for guests brands, and just get it there's going to be a commercial for guests at the end of it. You know, we, if you let us if you want to hear from us, like weekly press one, monthly press two, you know, set even like being able to have that kind of dialogue is something that you can't really do on email. And I think if you can, like set those parameters up front, you're just, you're going to have that fast track to creating more of that personalized experience with that customer. And, you know, even though there's some investment upfront to do that, I think your performance down the road is
Andrew Maff 14:20
going to be much higher. Yeah. Now that we've given guests plenty of airtime, which you're welcome. I love the idea, actually. So it's a very good idea. Do you have any others off the top of your head that you're like, oh, so and so you know, they did this and it was just a really cool idea that worked out well for him.
Sara Varni 14:39
Um, I I mean, we have plenty of of cool examples in our base I think like, I think a lot of the campaign's that I think are interesting too, are not the like, hey here, give us your cell phone number. We'll give you 20% off and just kind of that transactional campaign around discounts. I love some of the educational camp means I see our customers do supergroup as an example of this, they do a bunch of education with their customers via text on, on the benefits of sunscreen and how to think about skincare and how to think about aging. And you know, they do that in a way that's, again, they're they're careful about how they segment that customer base, and they're going to market that to people that they know are interested. But I think like, again, earning the right to talk to these customers and not just be pushing product constantly isn't important, is an important tactic to have in your your tool set as a marketer. And I think it's something that people sometimes discount because it's not like the like you can't see that turn up in the spreadsheet the next day. And I but I do think there's something to be said for building a longer term relationship with these customers and and not just always kind of hogging the the newest product.
Andrew Maff 15:54
Yeah, I agree. We've definitely solidified that you don't want to repeat your entire email marketing process for SMS. However, do you have another question about that? How do you or at least what is your suggestion in terms of how you get those two to work together? Let's do take your traditional your and your abandoned cart? Do you really want to email them an S and shoot him a text message at the exact same time? Do you think it's better to stagger them? Like how do you keep it from you know, if you've got someone's email and you do have their phone number as well? How do you keep it from bombarding them and just being more of like a nice nudge?
Sara Varni 16:32
I honestly don't know that there's a one size fits all answer for this. And I think that there are some brands where sending an email and then sending them an SMS 24 hours later is the right combination of things, I think it can be pretty brand specific, it can be specific to the price point. And we really tried to work with our customers one to one to see like, alright, what are the patterns we're seeing in your data? And then here, you know, let's figure out the right combination of activities across SMS and email that are that are going to work for you. So you know, I don't it's, it's funny, like, intuitively, you'd say like, oh, bombarding them on both is actually going to be like you're gonna have a high opt out rate, or you're gonna know that there's automatic places your head might go as a marketer, but that's it's honest. Interestingly enough, that's not always the case. And depending on the brand, that combo can actually work really well. So unfortunately, I don't have like a one size fits all answer for it, I do really think it's specific to what you're selling, and what your customer base how your customer base generally responds.
Andrew Maff 17:32
It's a very traditional marketing response, I feel you depends on the brand depends on the product depends on the customer. There's never one solid answer for anything, a B test everything, see what happens. Yes. In terms of implementation stuff. So I know you've got a lot of experience, obviously running marketing departments, scaling marketing departments, from an SMS perspective, who do you typically have overseeing that entire approach? Are you tying it together with your retention and or email marketing team? Are you having a copywriter overseeing it? Who's typically the one that's implementing those practices internally?
Sara Varni 18:08
For attentive in terms of onboarding our own customer base?
Andrew Maff 18:12
Sure, let's go with both let's go with that. And then also, what you usually suggest for your clients internally. Oh,
Sara Varni 18:19
okay, got it. Yes. Um, so, you know, we have a client strategy team that really works closely with all of our customers to make sure that we're taking the best practices that we're learning across the 8000 brands that we service and applying them, you know, wherever it's, it's relevant. And, you know, we want to make sure that from a retention standpoint, that they are thinking about, you know, not just not just marketing the most relevant products, I think that is really critical and making sure that it's a personal experience, but again, also providing content that's gonna add value in different ways. So like the supergroup example, I mentioned where they're offering not just, hey, look, here's our newest product, but also here's some tips about skincare in general. Or trying to think of another example on the Oh, loyalty two is another big component. So if you have a crew of MVP customers and you know that they always want to know about they want to be on the like cutting edge or feel like they're in the insider's club of like what new things are coming out, you know, you're gonna segment them and make sure that they've got kind of that insider scoop, maybe they find out about something, you know, 48 hours early and just feel like they're in part of this special club. You know, that is something that we've seen work in terms of, you know, building your retention in your customer base having people feel like hey, this brand is really gets me this is like one of the you know, brands I want to keep on my phone forever. Because I feel like I really have this this inside track that I've kind of earned over time.
Andrew Maff 19:54
Yeah, yeah, there was a there was a definitely some of the best ways that I've seen it workout, especially kind of like that VIP A group of like, Hey, you're gonna get early access to certain things and stuff like that. That is where I've seen SMS to fantastically question for you. Yes, without saying their name because we're not going to give anyone any love on this show. What's the biggest differentiator between attentive and some of your competitors who we will not name?
Sara Varni 20:20
Yeah, I mean, I think like we were, we were pioneers in SMS marketing. And so we really do truly believe that having been mobile first is critical to creating these personal experiences long term. That's why we like we really value having the cell phone number at the center of identity. I think second, conversational. We believe that the best brand experiences don't feel like like, huge email blasts, where everyone's getting the same thing, but feel very personalized and curated. And you can have a two way conversation with a brand. We are AI powered, we have a massive focus right now on making sure that our marketers that we serve are able to do more with less. I know it sounds trite, but we definitely it's not just about, you know, saving time, but also creating better results by recognizing the patterns in our data serving up better copy serving up better imagery, serving up better segmentation, like we really want to make sure that we're helping marketers make the best choices they can as quickly as they can. And we've been heavily investing in AI to do that. And then the last I'd say is we're enterprise grade, we serve some of the largest retailers in the world. But we also can scale we can scale up and down. We serve some of the most exciting entrepreneurial brands in the DTC space all the way to the Neiman Marx's of the world or Crocs or Dick's Sporting Goods. You know, some of these brands trust us on some of their most critical days. And, you know, we really pride ourselves on understanding customers of all sizes.
Andrew Maff 21:58
Beautiful. Sara, I really appreciate your time. I don't want to take up too much. You're having a new slammed, I would love to give you an opportunity to let everyone know where they can find out more about you and then obviously more about attentive.
Sara Varni 22:09
Sure, absolutely. Please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. My full name is Sara Varni Bright, I'm always happy to chat with people. You can find more about Attentive at attentive.com We'll be in New York, we have an event called our thread World Tour, we were named before threads, I promise. And that's in late September, you can find out more details on our website. And otherwise we're at a lot of the events that many of you probably will be attending in the coming year whether that's interact or shop talk. So stop by our booth and say hi, we'd love to meet you.
Andrew Maff 22:43
Perfect, I will see you there. Thank you for your time everyone who tuned in of course thank you as well please do the usual rate review subscribe all that fun stuff on whichever podcast platform you prefer or head over to theecommshow.com to check out all of our previous episodes but as usual, thank you all for joining us.
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