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SMS marketing vs. email marketing: The ultimate comparison

Alia Paavola
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In today's digital age, businesses have a plethora of marketing channels to choose from to connect with their target audience. Two of the most popular channels are email marketing and SMS marketing. Both channels have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and businesses must carefully consider which one to use to achieve their marketing goals.

Email marketing has been around for decades and is a tried-and-true method for communicating with customers via email. SMS marketing, on the other hand, is a newer channel that uses text messages to deliver marketing messages to customers' mobile phones.

In this article, we'll compare email marketing and SMS marketing in detail, exploring the best use cases for each channel, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to use them effectively.

<h2 id="whatisemail">What is email marketing?</h2>

Email marketing is a form of digital marketing that involves sending commercial content via email to a group of people i.e. subscribers.. It’s used by businesses to distribute newsletters, promotional offers, product announcements, event invitations, and more. The purpose of email marketing is to build relationships with customers or prospects, generate leads, and increase sales.

<h2 id="smsdefinition">What is SMS marketing?</h2>

SMS marketing is another form of digital marketing that involves sending promotional content to contacts, only via text message. Like email marketing, businesses use SMS to send time-sensitive promotions, appointment reminders, flash sale alerts, customer service messages, and more. SMS marketing helps companies reach customers quickly and directly on their mobile devices. 

<h2 id="prosemail">Pros and cons of email marketing</h2>

Every marketing channel has its advantages and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at some of them for email marketing. 

Pros of email marketing

  • Large reach. With 4 billion people using email worldwide, businesses have access to a vast pool of potential customers. In addition, email marketing campaigns can be sent to many people simultaneously, making it a highly efficient way to distribute marketing messages.

  • Easy tracking and analysis. Email marketing platforms have robust metrics in place, letting you easily track the performance of your campaigns. You can view critical KPIs like open rate, bounce rate, conversion rate, and unsubscribe rate. Measuring these metrics helps businesses improve email campaigns and get to know their audiences better.

  • Targeted messaging. Email marketing platforms allow you to segment contact lists and send targeted messages to specific groups based on their interests, preferences, and behavior. This helps boost engagement and, ultimately, conversions.

  • Cost-effective. Compared to other marketing methods like paid ads or direct mail, email marketing is a low-cost tool to reach customers. This affordable channel allows businesses to send bulk emails at low rates.

  • Brand customization options. Businesses can add flare and personality to emails. It’s easy to customize emails with designs that reflect the brand.

  • Personalization at scale. One benefit of email marketing is the ability to personalize marketing messages at scale. Businesses can personalize their messages with the recipient's name, location, and other details, making them more engaging and relevant.

Cons of email marketing

  • Over-saturation. Customers’ inboxes are flooded with emails. The average person gets more than 100 emails daily, most of which are promotional. This leads to email fatigue and reduced engagement, leaving companies to vie for customers' attention.

  • Deliverability issues. Email deliverability is the number of emails placed in an inbox. The delivery rate is 81 percent, meaning one in five emails never gets to an inbox. Deliverability can be affected by the email service provider, company domain, quality of an email list, email frequency, and more

  • Spam filters. Email providers like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail have spam filters to protect users from unsolicited messaging. Sometimes email marketing messages can get blocked by spam filters and never seen.

  • Limited attention spans. The reality is that the human attention span is limited. A 2023 Insider Intelligence report found that Gen Z loses attention to ads after 1.3 seconds. This means that the lengthier format of emails may not be the best at capturing attention.

  • Lower open rates. Despite efforts to personalize and target email messages, the average email open rate is 21 percent, making it challenging to capture the attention of recipients.

<h2 id="prosandconsSMS">Pros and cons of SMS marketing</h2>

Now, let’s look at the benefits and disadvantages of SMS marketing.

Pros of SMS marketing

  • High open rates. The average open rate for text messages is 98 percent, almost five times higher than email. Moreover, text messages are read within minutes of receiving them.

  • Instant delivery. SMS messages are sent and read in real-time. SMS messages take seconds to send, and the average person reads a text within 5 minutes of receiving it.

  • Short and concise messaging. SMS was built for exchanging 160-character messages. This makes messages delivered via SMS easy to digest and quick to read.

  • Easy opt-in and opt-out options. Compliant SMS marketing campaigns will make it simple for customers to opt-in and out. For example, most brands include opt-out instructions in the text message and generate opt-in via website, checkout, or QR codes. This improves the user experience and establishes trust.

  • Greater engagement potential. With SMS, there’s the potential to increase engagement with customers. That’s because text messages are read, and businesses must collect explicit opt-in from customers before sending a promotional text message. This ensures your SMS contact list is comprised of customers who want to get marketing messages from your brand.

  • Conversational. Texting is built for back-and-forth communication. That makes SMS messaging a good option if you want it to be casual and conversational. 

Cons of SMS marketing

  • Restricted character count. Text messages have 160 character limit. And even MMS messages only allow for up to 1,600 characters, leaving you with little room for complex or detailed information.
  • Limited visual options. You can only attach images up to 500KB and use one image at a time. This may impose limits on the creativity of your campaigns.

  • Higher cost per message. While it costs pennies to send and receive text messages, it does cost more per message than an email.

  • Regulations and compliance issues. SMS is highly regulated. You must comply with robust texting laws like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Some requirements include getting an opt-in from customers, always allowing opt-outs, and not messaging outside of business hours.

  • Potential for annoying customers. Since texting is a personal channel many of your customers use to message friends and family, you can annoy them if you reach out with marketing messages too frequently.

<h2 id="emailvssms">Email marketing vs. SMS marketing</h2>

Let’s compare some best use cases and statistics for email and SMS marketing. 

Best use cases of email vs. SMS marketing: 

Email marketing SMS marketing
Newsletters Limited-time discounts or offers
Promote multiple products Promote one product
Company news or press Request reviews
Not-time sensitive updates Time-sensitive updates or alerts
B2B campaigns with technical information B2C campaigns
Highly visual announcements Donation requests
Long-form content (educational or other) Appointment reminders and confirmations
One-way communication Two-way communication

Key comparison stats between email and SMS: 

Open rate Click-through rate Response time Spam rate
SMS 98% 20% to 35% 90 seconds 3%
Email 20% 1% to 10% 90 minutes 85%

<h2 id="howtodecide">How to decide between email and SMS marketing</h2>

Email and SMS are both great marketing strategies – one is not better than the other. The decision will depend on your business needs, budget, abilities, and use cases. Here are a few ways to help you pick when to use SMS vs. email marketing.

Understand your audience

Understanding your target audience is the first step to executing an effective marketing strategy. The same concept is true when deciding between SMS and email. You need to learn what communication channels your target buyers prefer to use to communicate with your business and understand what devices they use to make purchases. 

You may have some customers who prefer promotional text messages and some who prefer email. That’s OK! Segment your contact lists and use both channels for the best results. 

Know your marketing goals

Before you send an email or SMS message, you should define your marketing goals. For example, are you looking to: 

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Educate customers or leads
  • Boost attendance at an event
  • Gain more high-quality leads
  • Generate more conversions and revenue
  • Grow website traffic
  • Improve customer lifetime value

Identifying your goals can help you decide what channel to use to reach your audience. 

Consider the type of message

You should also factor in the message content and type. Are you sending an educational, promotional, or transactional message?

The message type and content will help you determine the channel to use. Here are a few other questions to consider about message type:

  • Is the message time-sensitive?
  • Do you want to engage in two-way communication?
  • Will the message need high-quality visuals?
  • Is your message B2B or B2C?
  • What is the length of your message?

Evaluate budget and resources

Your budget, existing tools, and available personnel can help you decide what marketing channel to use. Since email is cheaper per message than SMS, you may consider using email for larger mass marketing campaigns. On the other hand, you may opt to use SMS for highly targeted promotional offers. 

Test and analyze results

Track your email and SMS marketing campaign performance. This will allow you to compare results and understand the ROI for each channel. Testing and analyzing the results will help you know which channel performs best for your business. You should continually monitor and tweak campaigns.

Jumpstart your SMS marketing with Textline

The jury’s out: SMS marketing is an effective way to reach customers. It’s especially powerful when used in conjunction with email. Do you want to add SMS to your existing marketing strategy? Try Textline’s SMS marketing platform for free for 14 days. Take advantage of Textline’s robust and secure platform with features like bulk SMS, metrics, MMS, and more. Sign up today.

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