SMS marketing platforms: How to choose the best one for your business
Nearly 90% of today’s consumers would much rather read a text than open an email or answer their phone. Marketers across industries are taking note, and expanding their strategies to reach customers over text.
SMS marketing offers countless benefits — it’s cost effective, has high open rates, and offers strong engagement rates. But there are also countless platforms on the market. With so many options available with different features, pricing models, and integrations, it’s challenging to know which one is best for your business’s specific needs.
Additionally, with SMS security and compliance becoming more top-of-mind for businesses, it’s essential to choose SMS marketing software that will help you text compliantly and build trust with your customers. But knowing what compliance features to look for adds another layer of complexity.
We created this guide to give you all the resources you need to choose the best SMS marketing platform for your business. We’ll cover:
- The different types of SMS marketing software available
- Reviews of the best types of software
- What essential features to look for in a text marketing platform
- Compliance features to consider
Before we start, you might be wondering how Heymarket fits into this. We’re an SMS marketing platform that covers a wide range of needs and we’ll explain how below. But with so many types of businesses and marketing software out there, there’s a chance a different kind of platform might be a better fit. We’ll explore all of that and more.
What is an SMS marketing platform?
An SMS marketing platform (also called a text marketing platform, SMS marketing software, or SMS marketing solution) empowers businesses to connect with their leads and customers at scale, primarily by sending one-to-many texts.
Traditionally, SMS marketing platforms just allowed for sending SMS, but nowadays SMS marketing software supports a variety of channels, including SMS, MMS, Facebook Messenger, Apple Messages for Businesses, WhatsApp, and more. Some SMS marketing platforms also incorporate email and app-based push notifications for a comprehensive approach to mobile marketing.
SMS marketing benefits
Businesses across industries use SMS marketing because it offers a scalable and cost-effective way to reach customers on their preferred channels. Eighty-five percent of smartphone users prefer messages to emails or calls, and text messages have a 98% open rate (email, on the other hand, has an average 20% open rate).
But beyond just reaching more people, texting allows marketers to engage and nurture their audience into loyal customers. Consumers are 4.5x more likely to respond to an SMS marketing message than an email. And people who get a marketing text are 40% more likely to convert than those who don’t.
Types of text marketing platforms
While nearly every type of business can benefit from SMS marketing, there are a variety of platforms serving different business sizes and needs. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of SMS marketing software:
Outbound focused: For businesses that mainly want to send texts to lists
Outbound-focused texting platforms are geared toward helping businesses reach large numbers of people at once. They primarily allow for sending 1-way text messages to lists of contacts, also known as a text blast or mass text message. They may have some 2-way texting features, but most of their functionality focuses on outbound texting.
Pros of outbound-focused platforms:
- Easy to set up: Because these platforms focus on sending texts to lists, they’re usually easy to start using.
- Large list sizes: These platforms typically allow you to send texts to large groups of people with minimal restrictions. (When this is the case, be mindful that you’re texting compliantly by only massaging those who have agreed to receive your texts – more on this below.)
Cons of outbound-focused platforms:
- Limited functionality: Even outbound-focused platforms tend to offer basic 2-way texting, but this can restrict how much your contacts can respond to your texts or ask questions about your products and services.
- Marketing-only: If you need to use texting outside of your marketing team, outbound-focused platforms offer few features that your customer service, sales, and other teams can get value from.
- SMS-only: Many of these platforms just support SMS (some also support MMS). But with 90% of internet users trying other chat apps, supporting other messaging channels is becoming increasingly essential for businesses.
- Compliance considerations: As mentioned above, these platforms allow you to send texts to large list sizes, but that may come at the cost of compliance features that help ensure you’re only texting opted in customers.
The bottom line
Outbound-focused platforms are helpful for businesses that mainly need to send large scale 1-way announcements and promotions. But if you have to manage 2-way conversations, you need a platform with more robust conversational features.
Conversational marketing: For 1-way and 2-way texting across the full lifecycle
Conversational marketing platforms offer the ease of use of outbound-focused platforms, but have powerful features that support both 1-way and 2-way texting. They also have personalization capabilities and compliance features that help businesses form strong, trusting relationships with their customers.
Pros of conversational marketing platforms:
- Intuitive: These platforms are quick to set up to start having conversations in minutes.
- Multi-directional: Conversational marketing platforms allow for both outbound and inbound texting, so customers can respond to any text and have a 1-on-1 conversation.
- Business-wide uses: Because they’re multi-directional, conversational marketing platforms are useful across the customer lifecycle. They offer features to use across your business, from customer service to sales and internal operations.
- Robust: In addition to mass texting, conversational marketing platforms offer advanced marketing features. You can segment contacts into targeted lists, schedule texts, create automations, send text templates, and use custom fields that automatically personalize your texts.
- Omnichannel: Conversational marketing platforms offer SMS and MMS, plus popular messaging channels like Facebook, Instagram, Google Business Messages, Apple Messages for Business, and WhatsApp.
- Opt-in management and security: These platforms help you track customers’ opt-in and integrate texting with your CRM and other business apps, giving you full control of your data.
Cons of conversational marketing platforms:
- Cost: Conversational marketing platforms can sometimes be more expensive than outbound-only platforms, but they also allow you to use one centralized texting platform for all of your customer messaging. Plus, sending personalized and targeted texting campaigns has an ROI of 4x.
The bottom line
Conversational marketing platforms are ideal for a wide range of businesses, especially if usability and compliance are a priority. They’re great for businesses who want to text across their customer journey, for marketing as well as sales, support, operations, and more. Because they offer a robust set of features that support multiple use cases, they are a bigger investment than some platforms that just send mass texts, but the ROI makes it worth it.
Combined email and texting platforms: For brands with email-heavy strategies
As the name suggests, these platforms bring texting and email into one place, allowing businesses to manage their communications from multiple channels together.
Pros of combined email and texting platforms:
- Fewer tools: If your marketing strategy focuses on email, using a platform that combines it with messaging allows you to add functionality without increasing the number of tools you use.
- Centralized messaging: Connecting your email and messaging strategies in one platform helps you create consistent customer segments and messaging journeys.
- Automation capabilities: These platforms allow you to automate your text messaging and your email communications rather than creating automations in separate platforms, or needing to connect them through a CRM integration.
- Reporting: Combined email and SMS marketing platforms tend to offer insightful reports about how these channels are driving revenue.
Cons of combined email and texting platforms:
- Less robust SMS functionality: Text messaging and email are inherently different technologies, and these platforms tend to offer stronger functionality in one while leaving the other lacking. Some of these providers started as email-only vendors and then added on SMS later on, so SMS is more of an added feature than a central one like it is for conversational texting platforms (which often integrate with email platforms).
- Higher costs: Because these platforms combine multiple channels, they tend to come at a higher price relative to conversational and outbound-focused SMS marketing platforms. Businesses should weigh this cost against the cost of their current email platform that they would be migrating from (combined with their current texting platform, if they have one).
The bottom line
Combined email and SMS marketing platforms are great for businesses that are heavily invested in email and also want to send marketing texts as an add-on. They might not offer full flexibility for SMS marketing, but can streamline operations by bringing the two channels together.
Build-you-own texting platforms: For enterprises that want to create custom solutions
Build-your-own texting platforms are geared toward businesses invested in customizing their own SMS marketing solution. They offer near endless features, and often require businesses to develop their own applications. Some offer low- and no-code solutions requiring basic technical knowledge.
Pros of build-your-own texting platforms:
- Flexible: These platforms can perform a wide variety of functions as long as your business invests the time and resources to set them up.
- Powerful: These platforms allow brands to build robust messaging experiences, from automated campaigns to workflows for your call center.
- Omnichannel: These platforms allow you to connect with a wide variety of other messaging channels.
- APIs and integrations: These platforms include robust APIs and integrations, so you can connect SMS to your website and other tools.
Cons of build-your-own texting platforms:
- Resource intensive: These solutions base their costs on the number of messages you send, so they can be costly for businesses sending higher message volumes. They also require internal time and resources, including development costs for setup and maintenance.
- Technical setup: Build-your-own solutions are technical, so your team will need a developer or someone who’s familiar with coding to implement them.
- Complex interface: Once you’re set up, it takes time and training to get your team up and running on the platform.
- Intensive to maintain: Because these solutions are so programmable, they can also be more difficult to maintain.
The bottom line
Build-your-own solutions are advantageous for businesses with custom messaging needs that are prepared to invest time and resources into building them. But they require intensive setup and learning to use, and considerable resources to maintain.
Comparing the best SMS marketing platforms for different business needs
Contact for pricing
Offers a 30-day free trial
$23-$71 per user per month, plus $30 per 1000 messages
Offers 14-day free trial
$35-$1,970/month, based on list size
Offers a free trial
|Combined email and texting
Starting from $0.0079/text plus carrier fees of ~$0.003/text
Phone numbers from $1.15/month
SMS marketing pricing: How it works and key considerations
As you can see from the table above, SMS marketing platforms are priced in a variety of different ways. Some platforms publish their pricing on their website and have straightforward monthly plans. Some base their pricing on the number of users, while others base it on your number of contacts. Most SMS marketing platforms charge an additional fee for how many messages you send, and these fees are relatively standard depending on which carrier you use (about $0.003/text for T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T).
The most important factors to consider when looking at SMS marketing pricing are how transparent the cost is, how many messages are included in your plan, and what fees they charge for sending additional messages.
The best outbound-focused SMS marketing software: Attentive
Attentive is an SMS marketing platform that focuses on eCommerce brands. While it also supports email, Attentive emphasizes that it’s an SMS-first platform.
Strengths 💪 Attentive provides all of the crucial features marketers need for sending outbound SMS at scale. It offers customizable opt-in tools that help with compliance, which is especially helpful if you’re focused on sending texts to large list sizes. You can also build customer profiles based on their actions and segment them based on behaviors to create campaigns.
Attentive’s biggest strength is in its customizable reports, which allow you to analyze revenue data from your messaging campaigns. While Attentive focuses on outbound marketing, it also allows recipients to text keywords or numbers to trigger an auto-reply.
Drawbacks 🚩 With Attentive’s focus on outbound texting, it has limited options for answering customers’ questions or having two-way conversations with them. To forward messages to your customer service team, you would need to integrate Attentive with your customer service platform. Attentive has the integration to allow this, but it complicates the experience for your team and potentially your customers.
- Attentive does not list its pricing on its website, but other sites have estimated it to be around $300/month
- Attentive offers a 30-day free trial to test its features
- SMS, MMS, and email
- List building
- List sends
- Scheduled messages
- Customer profiles
- Compliance tools
- Keyword auto-replies
- 100+ integrations with primarily eCommerce and martech tools
Attentive is a good option for large businesses that want to send scaled outbound campaigns, but is not an all-in-one solution for brands that want to have 2-way conversations with customers directly within the platform.
The best conversational SMS marketing software: Heymarket
Heymarket is a conversational SMS marketing software that provides both outbound (1-way) and 2-way texting. It allows businesses to send and receive SMS, MMS, and messages from popular channels including Facebook and Instagram Messenger, Apple Messages for Businesses, and Google Business Manager through a unified dashboard. It also offers web chat that can transfer conversations into texts.
Strengths 💪 Heymarket offers robust features for texting across the full customer lifecycle, so it’s ideal for marketing teams that work closely with the rest of the organization to nurture leads into customers. Its marketing-specific features cover all of the needs of an SMS marketing strategy: you can capture leads from incoming messages, keywords, forms, and web chats. All contact information is stored in unified customer profiles, which you can use to segment lists based on customer behavior and any custom fields you capture. You can send personalized list messages and create drip campaigns as well as dynamic automations.
One of Heymarket’s standout strengths is its powerful integrations, notably for Salesforce, HubSpot, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Shopify. You can use them to create texting workflows in your CRM system and apps without switching between platforms. Heymarket also has industry-leading security and compliance features. Customers can opt in and opt out by texting simple keywords, and your team has multiple options for managing opt in and opt out within the platform.
Drawbacks 🚩 Heymarket allows businesses to text throughout the full customer lifecycle, so it’s for businesses that need robust yet intuitive tools for both 1-way and 2-way texting. If you have very simple marketing texting needs, Heymarket may offer more capabilities than you would use.
- Heymarket offers annual and monthly plans starting at $19/month
- Businesses then purchase messaging bundles for $30/1000 messages
- Heymarket offers a 14-day free trial
- SMS, MMS, web chat, omnichannel messaging (Apple Messages for Business, Google’s Business Messages, Facebook and Instagram Messenger, WhatsApp)
- List building
- List sends
- Scheduled messages
- Drip campaigns
- Automations (including CRM automations)
- Customer profiles
- Compliance tools including opt-in management
- Compliance certifications including HIPAA and SOC 2 Type 2
- Security tools including SAML SSO, 2FA, and
- Advanced 2-way SMS with a shared inbox, message routing, assignments, and private comments
- Personalization with reusable templates and custom fields
- Robust integrations including Salesforce, HubSpot, Microsoft Teams, Shopify, Slack, and more
Heymarket is an intuitive and secure SMS marketing solution for teams that use texting across the customer journey. It’s easy to create scaled automated text messaging campaigns to grow engagement and revenue. It also offers robust 2-way texting features, so is most useful to teams that both want to send outbound texts and have conversations.
The best combined texting and email platform: Klaviyo
Klaviyo allows businesses to connect with their customers through SMS marketing, email, push notifications, and embedded forms on landing pages. It’s primarily focused on eCommerce, and integrates directly with Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and Wix, among others.
Strengths 💪 Klaviyo offers all of the core functionality SMS marketers need. You can segment customers based on their past behavior as well as their future lifetime value, which the system can calculate. You can build dynamic flows (drip campaigns) with both email and SMS, and personalize your texts and emails with a few clicks. Klaviyo’s standout feature is its reporting, which allows marketers to analyze revenue and ROI from both SMS and email.
Drawbacks 🚩 While customers can respond to outbound texts you send in Klaviyo, the platform does not offer a shared inbox or a central place to manage inbound requests. If you’re expecting to receive many inbound messages, you may want a platform geared toward managing those texts at scale.
- Klaviyo bases its pricing on your number of contacts. Plans range from $35/month for 500 contacts or less, to $1,970/month for 145,000 – 150,000 contacts. Custom plans are available for larger list sizes
- Free trials are available for up to 500 emails/month and 150 SMS credits/month
- SMS, MMS, email marketing, push notifications, and forms
- List building
- List sends
- Scheduled messages
- Drip campaigns
- Customer profiles
- Compliance tools and consent management
- 2-way SMS
- Out-of-the-box integrations with Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and Wix
- 300+ other eCommerce integrations
If your business is heavily invested in email and wants to expand into texting, Klaviyo can help you do both without paying for multiple platforms. It covers most of the functionality of an outbound SMS marketing platform, but is limited to SMS and MMS and does not have a shared inbox for managing inbound requests.
The best build-your-own SMS marketing software: Twilio
Twilio is a comprehensive solution for SMS marketing. With the right resources in place, businesses can use it to support nearly any marketing strategy. While many of Twilio’s tools are built for developers, it offers plenty of no-code features that just require basic technical skills to set up.
Strengths 💪 Twilio is a flexible SMS marketing solution because you’re essentially building from scratch. It has powerful APIs that allow you to build SMS marketing into your website and existing apps. It also offers robust capabilities for segmenting your contacts and building automated campaigns to nurture them through their full customer journey using their Studio feature. Additionally, Twilio can be cost effective since you’re primarily paying for how many messages you send, your carrier fees, and your phone line(s).
Drawbacks 🚩 Twilio offers no-code features and an extensive code library, but its setup requires enough technical knowledge to know where to copy and paste the code. If you don’t have that skill set on your team, you may be better off looking for an out-of-the-box solution that you can get up and running within hours.
- Messages from $0.0079/text plus carrier fees of ~$0.003/text
- Phone numbers from $1.15/month
- SMS, MMS, Facebook Messenger, Google’s Business Messages, WhatsApp, and web chat
- List building
- List sends
- Scheduled messages
- 2-way SMS
- Link shortening
- Campaign tracking
- APIs to connect with a wide variety of platforms
Twilio offers features to support SMS marketing plus texting throughout the entire customer lifecycle. It’s a fitting option for businesses with some technical resources who are willing to dedicate time to setting up, customizing, and maintaining their solution. However, it is not an out-of-the box solution and requires both time and basic coding familiarity to get up and running with.
How to choose the best SMS marketing platform for your business’s needs
With a wide variety of platforms on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your business’s specific SMS marketing needs. Here are the most important questions to ask and factors to consider:
1. Do I just need to send texts for marketing, or throughout the customer journey?
Your answer to this question will determine if you can go with an outbound-focused solution (like Attentive) or a conversational marketing solution that allows you to connect texting to the rest of your customer lifecycle (like Heymarket).
2. What channels are my leads and customers on?
Send out a survey or poll your customers to understand which communications channels they prefer to use. If it’s primarily SMS, you can choose an SMS-first solution. If email ranks highly, consider a combined texting and email platform like Klaviyo. If they want to reach you on a variety of messaging channels, like SMS, Facebook and Instagram Messenger or Google’s Business Messages, then an omnichannel solution like Heymarket or Twilio will better support your needs (and chances are, your customers like having multiple messaging channels – 76% of customers prefer different channels depending on a message’s context).
3. What are your crucial CRMs and apps?
Most SMS marketing platforms offer integrations and APIs to connect texting to the business apps you use every day. But not all integrations offer the same capabilities and depth of features. Evaluate how important it is for your team to send texts from your main platforms. If, for example, you need to be able to build SMS campaigns and send text blasts from HubSpot, you should choose the platform with a HubSpot integration like Heymarket that allows you to add texts to HubSpot Workflows and send list messages directly from your CRM.
4. How important is security and compliance?
Most SMS marketing platforms have some compliance features, but if security and compliance are a priority for your business, you should look for platforms that:
- Allow customers to automatically opt in and and out based on simple keywords like STOP
- Allow your team to manage opt in and opt out in your texting platform: from your customer profiles, when you create a contact, when you import contacts, and at scale through APIs
- Security certifications such as SOC 2 and industry-specific standards like HIPAA
Essential features to look for in an SMS marketing platform
Nearly every business that does SMS marketing needs these basic features. Ensure the SMS marketing platform you choose includes:
- Contact segmentation: The ability to filter customers based on their contact details or behavior into lists
- List messaging: The ability to send a mass text to a segmented list of customers
- MMS: Visual messages attract 20% more campaign opt-ins than SMS. Ensure the platform supports sending multimedia messages
- Templates: The ability to save frequently-used messages to use in campaigns, scheduled messages, and automations
- Personalization: You should be able to insert merge tokens into your text templates that populate with customer details the moment they send
- Keyword auto-replies: Customers should be able to text a keyword and automatically trigger a response
- Keyword opt-in and opt-out: Your contacts should be able to subscribe and unsubscribe to your SMS messages by texting a simple keyword like START, STOP, or QUIT
Depending on your business’s specific needs, you might need advanced features to support your SMS marketing strategy. Look for these ones:
- Drip campaigns: You should be able to create a series of messages that send on a specific schedule or number of days apart to engage leads
- Automations: Beyond keyword auto-replies and campaigns, some platforms allow for advanced automations. They can automatically send a text based on the time of day, customer intent, or what messaging channel they’re using. They can also streamline non-messaging tasks like adding a customer to a list or campaigns, or assigning the conversation to a team member.
- Reports: Robust texting platforms offer reports analyzing messaging performance, volume, and campaign metrics
- Advanced opt-in management: Beyond simple keyword opt-in and opt-out, advanced messaging platforms should allow your team to manage customers’ opt-in throughout the platform, including on their contact record, when you upload contacts from a CSV, and through APIs
Best practices for growing your SMS marketing ROI
Now that you know how to choose an SMS marketing platform and the core features you need, here are the key steps to keep in mind as you launch or hone your SMS marketing strategy. These best practices will help you improve engagement while minimizing unsubscribes to grow your overall ROI from SMS marketing.
1. Always get customers’ permission to text them
To stay compliant with telecom regulations like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), all businesses that text must get customers’ opt in before messaging them. There are a variety of ways to do this, such as texting a keyword or filling out a form on your website.
Most importantly, you need to understand opt in and opt out, only text customers who you can demonstrate have agreed to receive your messages, and make it easy for them to unsubscribe. Your business texting platform should make it easy to see your contacts’ opt-in status, and only send texts to opted-in customers.
2. Segment your lists for the most relevant texts
Once you have customers’ permission to text them, don’t go blasting texts to every contact on your list. Segmented messages drive 83% higher engagement on average. Your texting platform should allow you to segment your lists based on audience behaviors and preferences. The smaller the list and the more personalized your messages, the more likely your recipients will engage.
3. Encourage conversations
One of the most unique aspects of texting is how easy it is for customers to reply and start an immediate conversation. Embrace conversational marketing by sending content that provides genuine value, then encouraging your recipients to respond with questions. This approach focuses on the customer’s needs rather than marketing a product, allowing you to improve engagement, build better relationships, and ultimately convert more customers.
4. Personalize every message
Brands that personalize their texts see an average 4x in ROI. You can do this easily by using text templates and adding custom fields that automatically insert each customer’s details when you send the message.
5. Automate and scale
As your SMS marketing strategy grows, chances are that your engagement and list size will grow too. With more messages to send and respond to, automations can help you meet the demand by auto-piloting simple messaging tasks so your team can handle more texts in less time.
More resources on SMS marketing
As your continue your SMS marketing journey, here are some additional best practices to help you create successful campaigns:
- What Is SMS Marketing? Here’s How to Use It to Grow ROI
- SMS Marketing Best Practices: How to Improve Your Text Marketing ROI
- 64 SMS Marketing Templates for Personalized Campaigns that Drive Conversion
By reaching customers on the channels they use most, SMS marketers have the potential to create personalized connections and drive loyalty beyond the possibilities of traditional channels. Your platform is your partner in making that happen. We hope this comparison makes that choice a little bit easier.