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Face it: We live on our phones. By one estimate, we check our screens on average once every four minutes (that we admit, anyway). 

In fact, more than half of Americans have never gone longer than 24 hours without their cell phones, nearly half say their phone is their most valuable possession — and more than a third would even choose their phone over their pets. 

It’s no doubt that we’re in a mobile-first world. So, it’s critical that brands be proactive and tactical in reaching them via the channel they most use — and prefer, said Andrew Boni, CEO and founder of cross-channel marketing platform, Iterable

To help marketers reach and engage with customers through their phones, Iterable today released a suite of new features, including Iterable SMS, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered channel optimization and custom send control. 

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“SMS is incredibly effective as a channel for certain use cases,” said Boni. “The future is definitely going to involve SMS.” 

Automation: The future of marketing

AI-powered customer engagement platforms like Iterable are greatly growing in popularity. The global market for retail omnichannel commerce platforms will reach $16.9 billion by 2027, as forecasted by ReportLinker. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.4% from 2020. The growth has been largely propelled by the COVID-19 crisis, according to the firm. 

All told, according to Markets and Markets, the global customer engagement solutions market will grow to $32.2 billion by 2027, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 11%. The primary driver for this is reducing churn rates, the firm reports. 

Companies competing for that market share include Adobe Marketo Engage, HubSpot Marketing Hub, Pega, Blueshift, Braze and MoEngage. 

As Boni put it, automation is where customer communication platforms are headed. 

“Brands want to be able to engage customers wherever customers are, on whatever channel customers prefer and respond to,” he said. When leveraging SMS in particular, “from a consumer standpoint, it’s just a better experience.” 

The power of SMS

SMS has been shown to have a surprising 98% open rate. On top of that, this year, 70% of consumers subscribe to SMS marketing, indicating a 12% year-over-year growth in opt-in rates. 

The majority of consumers (55%) are subscribed to receive texts from between one and five businesses, largely for shipping notifications, appointment/reservation reminders, special offers and promo codes. 

All this makes it seem a no-brainer for marketers to connect with customers, said Boni. Still, due to the cost, complexity and limited data capabilities of the mobile channel, many have been slow to add SMS to their strategies.

He pointed out that email programs are “the easiest to get going with, the oldest channel” and have high ROI. 

But SMS are highly interactive, simply for the fact that consumers are on their phones for multiple hours a day (if not all day). 

“The direct nature of SMS is really exciting for brands, very straightforward for them to leverage,” said Boni. “It’s really just seeing this tremendous rise in popularity over the last couple of years.”

Automating away tedious tasks

The new capabilities announced today will be part of Iterable’s existing AI optimization suite. Using predictive analytics based on historical data and patterns will help brands determine in real time what communication channel is best to reach customers, when they should reach out, and how they can tailor channels, said Boni. 

For instance, they can alert them to when an item they follow or favorited is back in stock. 

“It can automate away a lot of the tedious work, a lot of the lower level minutiae that our practitioners have to do,” he said. For instance, “brands no longer need to think about picking a specific time or specific day to send an SMS.”

It is also important to be thoughtful about just how much to send, and not be “bombarding customers with various messaging,” he said. For example, if a user is a huge takeout and delivery fan, they probably won’t mind a lot of messages about promos and deals; but if it’s a mom that only used Doordash (an Iterable customer) one or two times, it makes more sense to sporadically message her. 

Iterable is currently working on a future AI/ML-powered feature to help solve that particularly vexing problem, said Boni. 

Ultimately, he noted, automation frees brands and marketers up to focus on higher-level goals, initiatives, strategies and campaigns, and instead focus on questions such as: “What high-level APIs do we need to be setting for Q4?”

Fishing for success

In the case of the Georgia Aquarium, using SMS helped to work out kinks in ticketing, thus greatly increasing customer satisfaction. 

Previously, ticket delivery relied on an old email service provider (ESP). However, the aquarium ran into issues with delays or tickets not arriving in inboxes at all. Also, content was sometimes flat and disjointed from in-person brand experiences, said Boni. 

“If you buy tickets and don’t receive them for a couple of hours, that really hampers your experience,” he said. 

Now, tickets are sent via Iterable SMS, delivering tickets via a QR code. Since implementation, customer satisfaction has significantly improved: There’s been a 96% decrease in issues tracked during call center interactions and social media monitoring. Also, the venue has seen close to a 4% increase in customer transactions and a 2.5% increase in average order value.

“The power of providing an SMS channel for our guests is immense,” said Josh Cherfoli, senior director of marketing and digital engagement at Georgia Aquarium. “It allows us to engage the guests when and how they would like to receive information, while providing a seamless experience for them to enjoy the aquarium without having to navigate through multiple channels.”

Enhanced capabilities

Iterable’s full suite of new capabilities include: 

  • AI-powered channel optimization: Allows marketers to determine which channel will drive the highest performance for each user. This is based on predictive analysis of past response data, recent behavior signals and historical data and trends. 
  • In-browser messaging: Helps direct and navigate website visitors. This incorporates actual user data into the call to action, delivering individualized messages to customers at every stage. 
  • Silent push notifications: Instead of displaying a standard push notification, iOS or Android devices pass JSON data, allowing marketers to reach customers with messages even when notifications are off. 
  • Quiet hours: Allows marketers to configure delayed campaign sends during overnight hours or a designated window of time to help comply with SMS regulations and retain brand trust. 
  • Custom send control: With Last-Mile Control, Iterable sends message payloads to a customer-defined endpoint, mitigating security and privacy risk by allowing customers to send messages through their own internally managed message transfer agent (MTA). 
  • UserID-based projects: Marketers can use their own unique identifiers for customers when designing a Journey, consolidate multiple UserIDs under a single user, and manage users anonymously. 
  • Exit rules and hold tiles: Instead of manual searching at every step of the customer journey or user profile for a change or update, this feature can be applied to either delay a customer event, or exit a customer, when an event occurs or when there is an update to a user profile. 
  • Version history: This allows marketers to view a historical log of all customer journeys that have been published within Iterable, including when they were published, who published them, a log of the changes between versions, and a view of each of the versions. This feature also allows users to revert to previous published versions. 

The journey to a new customer journey

Boni founded Iterable in 2013 after working for Google. He came up with the idea while working at its Mountain View, CA., headquarters and seeing the tech giant grapple with sending out marketing, messaging, product notifications, emails — and particularly SMS. 

“They really struggled with sending notifications and executing on that well,” said Boni, calling it a “clunky process” with “a lot of friction, a lot of red tape.”

And, he explained, he figured that if a company like Google was experiencing issues, many other organizations must be as well. 

Now, the 9-year-old series E “centaur” company has more than 1,000 customers. These include retailers, streaming services, sports leagues, ticketing services, financial services, online banks, cryptocurrency, software companies such as Zillow, Doordash, Fender, Bombas, Seat Geek, Curology and Calm.

“This release is really important and critical in a number of different ways,” said Boni. Notably, “it furthers our AI capabilities and our AI story.”

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