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Sending Out an SOS to SMS Marketing Companies

Sep 26, 2023 by John Forberger, Founder, Forberger Communications

Indiscernible. Overcapitalized. Saturated. Welcome to the 2023 graduating class of SMS marketing software providers. A one-time quiet category, SMS marketing blew up before and during the early part of the pandemic. Today there are 89-plus SMS providers that failed to build brands by updating their messaging, putting them at risk of looking the same — and fighting a race to the bottom price war in an increasingly commoditized environment.

 

How can buyers distinguish between nearly 100 companies with no differentiation? Maybe if lookalike text delivery companies created narratives, evolved their messaging, and segmented their audiences, CMOs could discern the different directions that vendors are going in their category.

 

Layoffs across SMS providers

Marketing platform Klaviyo laid off 140 workers in March, months after moving to a new Boston HQ and two years following a $320M Series D funding round that lifted its valuation to $9.5 billion. After raising a whopping $866 million in total funding from the usual suspects including Tiger Global and Bain Capital Ventures, Attentive cut roughly 195 people in January. Emotive reduced its staff by 18% (30 people) last July. LA-based SMS startup Voyage SMS cut 10% of its 60-person staff last June. The same month, PostScript slashed 43 people one week after closing $65 million in a Series C round. To the credit of company co-founder Alex Beller, he explained the timing in a Twitter thread

 

 

PostScript Co-Founder Alex Beller tweeted about the June layoffs of 43 employees

 

The job cuts have meant smaller marketing, customer success, sales, product, and engineering teams, which translates to letting competitors capture sales, less brand-building, more short-term acquisition strategies (i.e. gated ebooks, webinars), poor customer experiences, and slower feature development. If leaders at SMS providers took a break from hugging their piles of VC cash, they'd easily see why brands and analysts don't know what makes them unique.

 

Ttyl, text message providers skip messaging

Potential customers who visit the sites of text marketing platforms are walking a digital hall of dusty mirrors. Headers with nearly the same ROI promises. Indistinguishable value props. Stock photos with people only too happy to be holding phones. And a version of this overused, outdated stat from 2016: “texts have an open rate of 98%.”

 

After scanning the website homepages, LinkedIn company pages, and press releases of 44 SMS marketing providers, ‘leading’, a meaningless word adored by B2B marketers and founders, was seen 12 times. Almost 30% of SMS providers use an empty word to describe their company. Generic homepage header copy that likely clicked with buyers pre-pandemic is still lingering. Few have original or creative value prop copy. 

 

The failure to explicitly mention their target customers in their marketing communications is a typical error committed by SMS providers and B2B tech businesses in general. In fact, most messaging used by SMS/text platforms does not mention who their solution is for because they don’t have ICPs nailed down. The remedy is to narrow targets down to particular groups that people immediately identify with like ‘BigCommerce brands’ or ‘sales teams of one’. Going one step further, the exact words shared by customers during interviews has to live foremost in messaging. 

Vague header (and a bottom of the funnel CTA) found on an SMS provider’s homepage. Who is this service for?

 

Embrace steady minimum viable positioning….but adapt messaging 

To evolve messaging, vendors should begin with a minimum viable positioning exercise.. The first — and unavoidable — task is to broadcast to the market two things people easily think of when they recall a company: the problem that’s solved and the distinct group of customers it helps. These two items should not only be communicated at in-person events and online, but they should also be in investor decks, boilerplate content, analyst decks, and sales and partnerships materials.

 

 

Are you sure about that?

 

When SMS hit the scene, claims from vendors like the one above were eye-opening,  informing brands about the potential revenue impact. Today, the benefits of SMS and push marketing are known but both consumer and marketer fatigue risks are creeping in.  It’s time this category updated its messaging like it updates its features, or today’s buyers will click X and “unsubscribe.”