Use Cases

How Sunnyside Uses 2-Way SMS to Support Healthier Drinking Habits

Nick Allen By Nick Allen Jun 17, 2020

We're bringing you an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at how forward-looking marketers and brands are leveraging Braze to drive brilliant, innovative customer experience. In this ongoing series, we’ll be spotlighting Nick Allen—the first lifecycle marketer at Lyft and former Director of Retention at IPSY—as he uses Braze to power communications for his latest startup, Sunnyside (formerly Cutback Coach).

This project focuses on leveraging two-way SMS messages to help anyone who regularly drinks alcohol build healthier habits around their drinking, and Nick will be sharing customer engagement strategies and technical insights gleaned from his journey. (Interested in seeing the experience for yourself? Braze users and Perspectives readers can skip the waitlist and sign up for the beta here.)

We’re consuming more alcohol than ever before. 25% of US adults—or around 82 million people—engage in binge drinking a least once a month; 6.6% do it more than five times a month. And with the rise of COVID-19, we saw alcohol sales jump as much as 55% YoY this March, highlighting how important it is for all of us to think about our alcohol consumption and its impact on overall health and wellbeing. But while reducing alcohol intake can do a lot to promote wellness, fewer than 0.5% of drinkers currently receive assistance to reduce or stop drinking and most of the programs/therapies/apps out there are focused on helping heavy drinkers stop entirely.

For the millions of people who enjoy drinking and have no desire to quit (but who could benefit from more awareness around their drinking), there’s a gap in the market. That’s where Sunnyside comes in. We believe that tracking drinks should be as common (and socially acceptable) as tracking calories or steps. Our mission is to help anyone who regularly drinks alcohol—whether it’s just a little or kind of a lot—build healthier habits around their drinking.

The Challenge: Changing Habits Is Really Hard

Building, breaking, or altering habits—think starting a new exercise routine, cutting out junk food, or reducing caffeine consumption—tends to be difficult. And the early days of making that change can be among the most difficult. After all, early progress is often difficult to detect, making it easy for people to become discouraged and quit before they’ve even really begun.

At Sunnyside, we leverage daily, personalized engagement to help members set targets, monitor consumption, and modify their drinking habits as needed to achieve their health goals. To meet the inherent challenge that comes with helping members change ingrained habits, we considered a variety of approaches and technologies. After a lot of research, we came to the conclusion that SMS is the dream channel for the job, and that Braze is the dream technology to orchestrate the experience. Here’s why.

How SMS Can Change the Game When It Comes to Habit Formation

With SMS open rates of nearly 100% (and 99% of these opens happening within 90 seconds of receipt), the case for SMS as a means to build daily engagement is hard to deny. But despite these jaw-dropping numbers, killer use cases for the channel—beyond obvious (though extremely useful) transactional uses cases for travel and delivery brands—remain surprisingly hard to come by.

At Sunnyside, we’re making a big bet on SMS as the core delivery method for our member experience. SMS is an incredibly sensitive messaging channel, so accessing its full value takes the right mindset and a focus on advance preparation. For us, our philosophy around SMS hinges on two key tenets:

  1. Deliver deep personalization of every message, no exceptions
  2. Build a relationship with every one of our members through rich, two-way engagement

But having the right philosophy for SMS is just the start. To deliver on these principles, you need a flexible system that pushes beyond the capabilities of traditional marketing automation.

Why Braze is the Right Tool for the Job

For the Sunnyside beta, Braze serves as the brain powering most aspects of the core member experience. By using a combination of out-of-the-box features and the extended capabilities unlocked by the Braze platform’s webhook functionality, we’ve built an experience that’s 100% tailored to each member’s unique goals, progress, and needs. And while I’ll be writing in greater depth about how we built out the beta in future pieces, let’s take a quick look right now at what’s going on under the hood.

With Braze, it’s simple to automate timely, personalized messages on a schedule—or in response to a user action (for instance, tracking a drink). With Braze Intelligent Delivery, we’ve customized the send time of every message to make sure it lands at the right time and in the right context.

For multi-touch flows that require data processing in real time, Braze Canvas, the platform’s customer journey tool, allows us to sequence messages and send users down different experience branches based on their individual responses.

Finally, with Braze native SMS, we’ve created rules to handle custom SMS responses, creating targeted, personalized two-way engagement that wouldn’t be possible in most marketing tools.

Thanks to Braze, we’ve been able to launch the Sunnyside beta with minimal engineering hours. Instead of creating a completely custom backend to process user data, we’ve used webhooks in Braze to generate events based on user interactions, increment data, and store progress to inform our personalization efforts. We process this data using Liquid, organizing and interpreting hundreds of events and attributes, then repackaging them into rich, personalized messages that adapt based on each user’s daily goal, actual consumption, and progress so far.

Bringing It All Together

We’re still in the early days, but we’ve already come a long way when it comes to building out a deeply personalized, two-way SMS experience on Braze. Here’s what that flow looks like, from the moment new users provide their explicit opt-in to receive SMS messages to the customized reminders they receive once they start engaging regularly:

What Comes Next?

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing more about what we’re building at Sunnyside and how we’re using Braze to create these rich experiences, as well as guidance on how you and your brand can leverage the tools and tactics we’re using to support brilliant customer messaging. I invite you to test out the experience for yourself and to provide feedback, share ideas, and join AMAs with me on the Braze Bonfire customer community.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is Founder and CEO of Sunnyside (formerly Cutback Coach), where he’s focused on helping anyone who regularly drinks alcohol build healthier habits around their drinking. He’s a long-time Braze power user with more than 10 years of experience in retention-focused growth, spanning product and marketing.

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