What SMS and WhatsApp Marketers Can Learn From Email (from the 5 trillion emails Bird has analyzed)

What SMS and WhatsApp Marketers Can Learn From Email (from the 5 trillion emails Bird has analyzed)

What SMS and WhatsApp Marketers Can Learn From Email (from the 5 trillion emails Bird has analyzed)

Find out how to adapt your email marketing best practices to improve performance for SMS and WhatsApp campaigns.


There’s safety in the status quo, which helps explain why mobile-first messaging channels like SMS and WhatsApp trail far behind email’s popularity as a digital marketing channel. But playing it safe is risky in its own right. Consider the stunning results Bird customers have seen from their SMS and WhatsApp campaigns:

  • A 98% open rate for SMS messages;

  • 90% of SMS messages are read within the first three minutes;

  • A baseline open rate of 58% for WhatsApp messages.

This level of engagement is practically unheard of across other marketing channels, but SMS and WhatsApp continue to be overlooked and underutilized by digital marketers. 

And it’s not like driving ROI from customer messaging is a new concept. Email has been doing this for decades, and most marketers still rank it among their top three most effective marketing channels

The nuts-and-bolts differences between mobile-first and email messaging don’t make for an easy apples-to-apples comparison. But for marketers who want to create and enhance mobile SMS and WhatsApp campaigns, email marketing best practices can offer some instructive lessons to fast-track campaign creation and optimization.

In this guide, we talk to Nicci Joyce, a Bird Deliverability Strategist with a background in SMS, to discuss the top email best practices distilled from more than 5 trillion emails analyzed by Bird — and to explain how marketers can adapt them for SMS and WhatsApp campaigns.

6 email marketing best practices that apply perfectly to SMS and WhatsApp

You can’t copy-and-paste your email marketing strategy into your SMS and WhatsApp campaigns and expect everything to work out.

Each channel requires a marketing strategy tailored to its unique capabilities and limitations. But with a little fine-tuning, you’ll find that many best practices of email marketing can be adopted into your SMS and WhatsApp marketing strategies. 

Here are six examples to get you started:

1. Prioritize confirmed opt-ins and messaging list maintenance

Confirmed opt-ins are just as important for SMS and WhatsApp as they are for email. SMS, in particular, is subject to stringent regulations governing opt-ins and opt-outs, which means your messaging platform needs to offer automated processing to keep your business compliant.

Nicci recommends that all marketers use a double opt-in or confirmed opt-in when adding contacts to their subscriber lists. She also urges marketers to avoid spammy messaging tactics that can undermine their customer engagement efforts. 

The higher cost of sending SMS and WhatsApp messages also means that marketers have a strong financial incentive to keep their messaging lists clean at all times. High numbers of unengaged SMS and WhatsApp subscribers could generate a lot of wasted marketing spend for your company. 

To keep customers engaged, follow the same best practices as email: stick to a regular messaging cadence and tailor messages to individual needs based on preferences and segments. On SMS, you only have 160 characters, so it’s paramount that you also keep your messaging concise. If you go over the limit, your message will get split into two (or more), and you’ll have to pay for each one.

But a confirmed opt-in doesn’t mean a new user should stay on your list forever. Along with including opt-out keywords in your messages and following engagement best practices, remember to perform ongoing list maintenance to filter out unengaged subscribers over time. This improves your open and engagement rates and saves you money.  

2. Engage on a 1-to-1 level 

SMS and WhatsApp have less space to work with than email, but there’s still plenty of room to deliver personalized experiences. These mobile-first campaigns can deliver personalized product promotions based on the user’s purchase history. Messages can include a link to the product page, or they could even feature a product photo or video.

Personalized messages can also mention the subscriber by name, use their location, gender, and other shared information to promote sales, product lines, and local events, or distribute VIP promo codes for online and in-store purchases.

“Any kind of messages that can get your subscribers to take the bait and click on the link — all of those email tactics apply to SMS,” Nicci says.

For example, Nicci says she’s been won over multiple times by the personalized email experience curated by Sephora.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want that,’ and clicked on the product and bought it,” Nicci says. “Just because they’ve tracked all of my shopping behavior."

You can provide a similar level of personalization on mobile. For example, if a customer has bought a certain product in the past, you can send them a message when a new collection has arrived.

Matahari, the largest retail platform in Indonesia, used this exact tactic to keep customers informed about new offers and saw a 2.5x increase in sales and conversions

3. Share and collect user-generated content

SMS is an easy way to link to product reviews and star ratings. Marketers can distribute UGC photos and videos on WhatsApp as part of various promotional campaigns. But SMS and WhatsApp might be even better served as channels to collect user-generated content from your subscriber list.

Requests for hyperlinked feedback surveys, requests for text and video testimonials, and even short responses to text-based questions can help businesses collect UGC to be repurposed across mobile-first messaging and other digital channels. 

Given the high read rates for SMS and WhatsApp messages and the ease of typing a response to a single question, these messaging channels can be a quick, effective way to collect short feedback and other simple UGC to improve customer engagement and your overall marketing strategy.

4. Automate as much as you can

When it comes to personalization, collecting UGC, and many other types of customer engagement, automation is an SMS and WhatsApp marketer’s friend. The more you’re able to automate, the more interactions you can generate across your subscriber list.

“Having a platform that allows for automation — including welcome, abandoned cart, birthday messsages, and other interactions — gives you a better return on your investment,” Nicci says. “You’re going to spend fewer hours sending emails and texts, and you’re going to get a lot more engagement.”

Transaction confirmations, shipping updates, birthday messages, limited-time promotions, requests for feedback, and many other types of messaging can all be facilitated through trigger-based automation. 

The subscriber’s customer profile, browsing history, purchase history, and past SMS and WhatsApp interactions can all provide the trigger points for those actions.

“Automated messages don’t have to be long,” Nicci says. “They can be quick and precise. All of those automated triggers translate really well from email to SMS.”

5. Interactive content

For a more dynamic SMS and WhatsApp experience, marketers can use surveys and multi-step messaging experiences to deliver interactive content to messaging subscribers.

Chatbots can be used through WhatsApp and SMS to power automated conversations that may include brief surveys, product discovery, or other self-service experiences. Bird’s Flows solution makes it easy for marketers to build chatbot workflows and automate interactions on their own — without the help of a developer.

These chatbots can engage users through product recommendations, upselling, lead qualification, and other valuable interactions that occur at the customers’ preferred pace.

“Even something as simple as ‘Enter your name for a chance to win a gift card’ can be a simple, cost-effective tool for building engagement,” Nicci says.

6. A/B test to optimize message performance

With only 160 characters to work with, there are limits to the kind of A/B testing you can conduct on SMS messages. Still, this testing can make a significant impact on your messaging performance. 

Nicci argues that an email subject line can be the most important part of an email “because if they’re not interested in that subject line, they’re not even going to click it in the first place,” she says. 

The same is true for the opening lines of your SMS and WhatsApp messages. Nicci argues that an early placement of an identifier — in most cases, the name of your business — can have a big impact on engagement for your mobile message.

“If your recipient is expecting something from Domino’s and the text doesn’t say Domino’s, they might not even look at it,” Nicci says. “Whether it’s your brand name or an abbreviation or something else, there’s got to be some kind of identifier in those first few lines.”

Along with identifier placement, other elements and variables you can A/B test include:

  • Send times

  • Emojis

  • Link placement

  • Emotional sentiment

  • Text variations

  • Text-only or text with image

  • Call-to-action

A/B tests can be performed by dividing your subscriber list into two separate, equal audience segments. For the most accurate A/B test data, make sure you only alter one element of the message so you can evaluate the impact that change has on your message performance.

We’re only scratching the surface of personalized messaging’s potential

Email, SMS, and WhatsApp messaging already share a lot of connective tissue. As artificial intelligence becomes more widely integrated with digital marketing, the best practices for these distinct messaging channels are likely to become even more intertwined.

“By 2030, SMS, WhatsApp, and email will be incorporating AI to create hyper-personalized experiences for their lists,” Nicci says. “Everything is going to become so hyper-personalized, and it’s going to generate a lot more opens, clicks, and revenue.”

But AI-powered messaging will also introduce new marketing challenges. “Privacy laws and compliance are going to become even more difficult to follow,” Nicci says. “The rules are going to become more strict on what you can and can’t send.”

With user-friendly messaging templates, no-code automation tools, precise audience segmentation capabilities, and built-in compliance controls, Bird’s messaging platform offers everything marketers need to build and optimize a mobile-first messaging strategy.

Our email, SMS, and WhatsApp solutions can help you efficiently build and manage campaigns that deliver better outcomes while making your life easier. See for yourself — request a demo today.

Your new standard in Marketing, Payments & Sales. It's Bird

The right message -> to the right person -> at the right time.

By clicking "See Bird" you agree to Bird's Privacy Notice.

Your new standard in Marketing, Payments & Sales. It's Bird

The right message -> to the right person -> at the right time.

By clicking "See Bird" you agree to Bird's Privacy Notice.