Jack in the Box with Door Dash co-founder and CEO Tony Xu. Jack in the Box uses text messaging to drive delivery orders via Door Dash.
Using location information based on text-messaging sign-ups, Jack in the Box now sends customers offers that are both timely and geographically relevant. — Jack in the Box/DoorDash

Text-based marketing and commerce are enjoying a surge thanks to consumers’ increasing reliance on shopping via their smartphones during the pandemic.

As consumers’ email inboxes overflow with more marketing pitches than they will ever care to read, text-based messaging remains a less-cluttered platform that marketers can use to reach consumers wherever they are.

“Even before COVID, we saw just a huge increase in time spent on mobile phones,” said Brian Long, CEO of Attentive, a provider of text-based messaging services. “That has accelerated with people being at home during COVID-19, and with people increasingly buying with their smartphones.”

Beverage company Iris Nova has been at the forefront of text-based commerce since it introduced its first brand, Dirty Lemon, in 2015. The Dirty Lemon line of wellness beverages became known for their direct-to-consumer availability and their use of a text-based ordering platform. [See CO—’s feature on the brand here.]

“We built our text-to-order platform with the goal of providing the most efficient, streamlined way to order and reorder products,” said Zak Normandin, founder and CEO, Iris Nova. “When you are on your last bottle or can of your favorite beverage, reordering should be as simple as sending a text message.”

The cell phone has become an extension of the individual, he said, citing the frequent use of texting among friends and family.

Having a text-based relationship with its customers allows Iris Nova to glean data and insights that enable it to continually improve the customer experience, develop products based on demand, and enhance its direct-to-consumer sales platform, Normandin said.

It’s a very unconventional relationship between customer and brand that we believe drives brand loyalty.

Zak Normandin, founder and CEO, Iris Nova


Companies like Iris Nova and Jack in the Box offer text messages as a way to communicate with customers. Read on for more customer communication tools.

Increased investment in text-based marketing: Cutting through ‘the noise’ for consumers’ attention

Veronika Sonsev, co-founder of CommerceNext, said businesses are increasingly asking for customers’ phone numbers rather than their email addresses when they make a transaction. This clears a path to text-based communications, which can then lead to increased opportunities for text-based sales.

A survey of retailers by CommerceNext found that while retailers overall were trimming their forecasts for marketing investments in 2020, text-based marketing was one of the few channels where projected spending was increasing. Retailers surveyed in June said they expected their investment in text-based communications to increase by more than 50% in 2020, up slightly from their expected increase in in investment when surveyed in January.

“The biggest benefit is that text is a new channel,” said Sonsev. “It's one that's not yet too crowded, and so there's an opportunity to cut through some of that noise and get a consumers’ attention by using this new channel. I think that's largely why brands and retailers are investing in it right now.”

Retailers such as Burberry, Kenneth Cole, Albertsons and others have been testing the waters with text-based messaging. Burberry, for example, last year partnered with Apple to allow Burberry sales associates to use a proprietary chat platform to communicate with the luxury retailer’s top customers to provide service and help drive omnichannel sales.

Kenneth Cole, meanwhile, texted news about a 65%-off flash sale to its database of customers, according to a report from text messaging platform Attentive.

“Shoppers are always on the lookout for exclusive deals from their favorite brands,” the report stated. “Sharing time-sensitive offers via an instantaneous channel like text messaging is a great way to get customers excited and ensure your brand is top-of-mind.”

Attentive’s Long said one of the keys to successful text-based messaging is building a strong list of customers who have opted in to receive the messages.

“You need to know how to build the list of subscribers,” he told CO—. “There are strict regulations around who you can send text messages to, and that's a good thing, because we don't want texts to become like what has happened to email. You don't want to just start getting a bazillion texts all day.”

 woman holding dirty lemon beverage
Iris Nova's text-to-order platform is intended as a streamlined, simple way for customers to order their favorite beverages, while also fostering a sense of community. — Iris Nova

Location-based targeting

Shannon Murphy, senior CRM (customer relationship management) manager at burger chain Jack in the Box, based in San Diego, said her company worked diligently with Attentive to refine its customer mobile phone list when it began partnering with the platform two years ago, eliminating two-thirds of the numbers through a rigorous opt-in process.

“We were pretty much almost starting over,” she said.

Using location information based on text-messaging sign-ups, Jack in the Box now sends customers offers that are both timely and geographically relevant. It has offered free delivery through third-party services such as DoorDash, based on the delivery company’s service-area map, for example.

“We have done a lot of tailored and targeted messaging to various [markets] where we have restaurants to support our third-party delivery efforts,” said Murphy, noting that the chain has seen strong growth both for its text-messaging service and its mobile app during the pandemic.

Jack in the Box does not offer web-based ordering, instead relying heavily on its app for ordering. “The mobile app and text are two very successful channels in terms of profitability and targeting guests,” said Murphy.

 zak normandin headshot
Zak Normandin, founder and CEO, Iris Nova — Iris Nova

Using a conversational tone and skipping the hard sell

Normandin of Iris Nova cites the relationship that texting creates with its customers as a significant advantage for both parties.

“We’re speaking to them in a conversational manner on a platform typically reserved for friends and family,” he said. “We’re intentional in not using our text platform as an outbound marketing tactic, but rather as a value-added communication tool for customers to use on their terms.”

Iris Nova’s customer experience team focuses on building trust and a sense of community with its customers via text, he said. The relationship is more akin to the relationship people have with friends and family than it is with the relationship they typically have with brands, he said.

“It’s a very unconventional relationship between customer and brand that we believe drives brand loyalty,” Normandin said.

Long of Attentive said marketers should take care in how they use text messaging so that customers don’t develop negative feelings toward the channel or toward the marketer’s brand. Messages should be relevant, and they also should be timely in that they are not causing a ping on a customer’s phone in the middle of the night, for example. It should also be easy for customers to opt out of receiving messages, he said.

It all goes back to having a carefully vetted subscriber list, which takes time and a rigorous process to create, Long explained.

“It's important that you start building that subscriber list as soon as you can, because it will not grow overnight,” he said. “I recommend doing it sooner rather than later, because it can't do much for you if you want it for the holiday season this year and you start doing it the week before Black Friday. You have to start doing it now.”

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