The Difference Between SMS Customer Engagement and SMS Marketing

Man at home smiling at phone as he reads SMS customer engagement content

At Heymarket, our teams often remind businesses that they should focus on SMS customer engagement instead of SMS marketing. SMS customer engagement content tends to boost customer retention and satisfaction, while SMS marketing content can decrease your campaign effectiveness. 

But in a lot of cases, companies aren’t sure what the difference between the two strategies is—even if they’re long-time business text messaging users. 

This short guide walks you through the definitions of SMS customer engagement and SMS marketing, explains the differences between the two, and provides 6 tips for using both in your business text messaging strategy. 

What Is SMS Customer Engagement?

SMS customer engagement is a strategy of using business text messaging to reach out to and connect with leads and customers. It encourages two-way, person-to-person conversations. Its purpose is to build a bond between your customers and your business, encouraging their loyalty in the long run. It does not involve direct marketing of any products or services. However, it often involves industry-related content.  

Teams may send the following as part of an SMS customer engagement strategy:

  • Product tips and tricks
  • New product sneak peeks
  • Opinion polls
  • Questionnaires

While the term SMS customer engagement has the word “customer” in it, most businesses send this content to leads who have also opted into their SMS programs, too. 

What Is SMS Marketing?

SMS marketing is the strategy of using business text messaging to promote your brand, products, or services. Its purpose is to increase sign-ups, appointments, and sales. SMS marketing content directly mentions your products and services. 

Teams may send the following as part of an SMS marketing campaign:

  • Coupons
  • Product announcements 
  • Inventory restock updates 

SMS marketing strategies are often directed toward new leads, but can be sent to customers as well. 

How Do SMS Customer Engagement and Marketing Differ?

For both strategies, businesses have to get customers to opt in before they send them related content. Businesses must also offer clear opt-out instructions. But SMS customer engagement and marketing differ in both their purpose and their content. 

SMS customer engagement intends to build and strengthen your brand’s customer relationships, with the indirect, long-term goal of boosting customer loyalty and sales. SMS marketing seeks to immediately boost leads or sales.

The content of SMS customer engagement and SMS marketing differs because of these goals. SMS customer engagement content focuses on entertaining and educating customers. It encourages two-way, person-to-person conversations and earns high reply rates. SMS marketing content focuses on selling products and services. It does not compel (or sometimes even allow) customers to reply. 

What’s Better: SMS Customer Engagement or SMS Marketing?

Today’s customers see too many ads on a daily basis to enjoy them. In fact, 91% of consumers think today’s ads are more intrusive than ever. They want authenticity and brand transparency instead. They want brands that offer an entire experience more than a single product or service. 

SMS customer engagement content is a great way to gain customer trust. It encourages customers’ participation without directly selling them in anything. This, in turn, increases the amount of loyalty they feel toward your brand and, ultimately, encourages them to make purchases in the future.

While some SMS marketing techniques can be modified to be more customer-centric (as we’ll discuss in the next section), brands shouldn’t focus their efforts on them. If customers and leads grow tired of seeing your SMS marketing content, they’re likely unsubscribe from your SMS service. 

3 Tips for SMS Customer Engagement Campaigns

Your team should focus on SMS customer engagement if you want to build lasting customer relationships. Before you start planning your SMS customer engagement campaigns, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

SMS Customer Engagement Tip #1: Keep It Relevant

Your content should not focus on selling your product or services. However, it should still be relevant to your brand. Ensure your content is focused on your industry and is useful for customers. For example, if you run a music store, you may want to host a video-based performance for subscription members. If you run a meal delivery company, you may want to send out the weekly menu.

SMS Customer Engagement Tip #2: Ensure It’s Unique

If you stick to content focused on your industry, it will already be on its way to being unique. You can also add other touches to ensure customers relate your SMS content to your brand. For example, if your brand is youth-focused, add emojis to texts. If your brand is well-known for stellar graphics, create bespoke GIFs to add to the end of content.

SMS Customer Engagement Tip #3: Make It Fun

The point of SMS customer engagement content is to engage your customers. The best way to do that is to create content that’s actually fun. Keep your tips, updates, questionnaires, and other content upbeat and positive. Add a dash of competition and good humor, too, if your brand guidelines allow it. 

3 Tips for SMS Marketing Campaigns

While SMS marketing campaigns aren’t our favorite way to engage customers, sometimes they’re simply part of your business’s overall strategy. If you do choose to send SMS marketing content, there are a few tips to follow. 

SMS Marketing Tip #1: Focus on Customers

Try to focus on customers as much as you can. For example, consider sending customers product inventory restock notifications (if they’ve indicated interest in something) instead of sending coupons. Text leads with special event invitations instead of just asking them to come into your store to purchase items. This marketing content is more likely to encourage purchases than coupons or sale notifications. 

SMS Marketing Tip #2: Offer VIP Service

Consider offering a VIP SMS service for loyal customers who specifically sign up for it. This service could include exclusive invitations and pre-sales. Be sure to let customers know exactly what they’re signing up for if you go this route, so they are aware they’re specifically signing up for coupons. 

SMS Marketing Tip #3: Send It Sparingly

Even customers who love your brand don’t want to receive your content every day. Choose a reasonable schedule for delivering your SMS marketing content, ensuring you don’t overwhelm customers who have opted in. 


Want to get started with an SMS customer engagement campaign? Try our business text messaging platform today. 

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