Women’s apparel brand Summersalt Inc. created a new texting experience in March to communicate with its customers as the coronavirus pandemic shut people indoors: People could text the word “Joycast” to a specific number to receive different types of content such as uplifting memes and activities to do during the quarantine.

Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin, co-founder and chief brand and digital officer of Summersalt, said Summersalt’s brand is meant to be joyful and sunny. “We went back to that major brand premise, then began to think about how we could in this difficult time think about bringing joy to our consumer,” she said.

Women’s apparel brand Summersalt is offering to text uplifting content and activities to do during quarantine.



Photo:

Summersalt

Summersalt started texting customers last June with information about limited-edition products and new releases, but the Joycast texts are a separate effort, with a different goal.

With retail stores closed and people wary of spending money in a deeply uncertain economy, companies are scrambling to enhance relationships with customers with all the tools at their disposal—and go beyond emails and websites.

Text messages have an open rate close to 100%, according to companies that use them. Texting also can feel more intimate than websites and emails, they said.

Dirty Lemon, the beverage brand sold by Iris Nova Ltd., has relied on text messaging to take orders since it launched in 2015. Direct sales to consumers so far this month are up 22% over April 2019, it said.

“This is a channel that’s historically been reserved for close friends and family members,” said Zak Normandin, founder and chief executive at Iris Nova. Dirty Lemon has had to build consumers’ trust to operate in that space, he said. The brand tries to come across as personal by using full phone numbers instead of unfamiliar short codes, and to show respect by responding to customers’ texts quickly.

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Attentive Mobile Inc., a mobile messaging platform, said the average daily number of people signing up for texts from Attentive clients from March 30 through April 12 was 53% higher than the average for both January and February. The company declined to disclose the averages but said the number of new weekly subscribers is in the millions.

“Overall, companies are going to prioritize things that drive incremental revenue, because I think that companies are really going to try to reach their consumer, kind of get beyond the noise and fill the gaps where they can,” said Brian Long, Attentive CEO and co-founder. “And I think that, you know, if text was in the backlog for a lot of companies, now it’s kind of making its way to be prioritized.”

But companies are also using texting during the crisis to provide less transactional experiences, Mr. Long said. That could benefit their businesses in the long run, he said.

SwimOutlet, a retailer of swim-related products owned by Spiraledge Inc., recently switched its strategy around text marketing to create a different relationship with its customers. Previously, SwimOutlet used texting as a sales channel to send promotions to customers. SwimOutlet on April 9 began to use text messages to deliver audio and video messages from Olympic athletes such as Ryan Murphy, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming.

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The goal is to lift customers’ spirits during a hard time, said Alexander Sienkiewicz, chief marketing officer for SwimOutlet. “Swim meets have been canceled, pools have been closed,” he said.

Some are using texting to quell anxieties consumers may have about Covid-19 or to address logistics. Judy Prep Inc., an emergency preparedness direct-to-consumer company, sends texts around topics such as preparing for natural disasters, depending on where recipients live, and reducing exposure to Covid-19.

“The biggest learning for me and for the whole team is that [with] SMS, because it is such a personal channel, the messages really do need to be so thoughtful,” said Simon Huck, CEO and co-founder of Judy. “So, it is something unlike emailing or other forms of communication with your customer.”

Giant Eagle Inc., a grocery chain with more than 400 stores across Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states, began texting customers for the first time in March with information related to Covid-19, such as store sanitization procedures. Giant Eagle, which earlier had confirmed positive cases of Covid-19 among its employees, regularly updates the information on its website. Customers can text the supermarket with keywords such as “curbside” for information about how to pick up orders without entering stores or get items delivered. More than 10,000 people have used it, Giant Eagle said.

Simplified, a provider of planners and organizational tools operating under the legal name Emily Ley Paper Inc., started using texting as a form of marketing for its planners and other products in mid-March, sending its first text message on March 20.

It originally planned to use texts to communicate about product launches and send some personalized notes around the business.

But as Covid-19 became a national concern, Emily Ley, Simplified’s founder and CEO, sent a selfie of herself and her daughter to subscribers, with a short message. The company has since used texting to both promote a new product and to send messages about self-care. Within five weeks, its text subscriber list has grown to more than 6,000 numbers.

Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at ann-marie.alcantara@wsj.com

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