In today’s ultra-connected world, it is easier to reach your customers than ever—but it’s also harder to hold their attention.
When deciding how to market to your audience, determining the best method can be challenging. You’ll probably face a common question: is email marketing or SMS marketing a smarter choice for your brand?
To help you determine the best way to reach and engage your customers, let’s look at the pros and cons of SMS and email marketing.
What are the differences between email and SMS marketing?
Beyond the delivery method, there are several important distinctions between email and SMS marketing that will determine which option is best for your needs.
Let’s explore some of the main differences you should know:
Starting with the basics, it can be much easier to build your email marketing list than your SMS marketing list. Remember that you need explicit permission to contact your customers through either channel, so both of your lists will start with zero contacts.
Customers are often more willing to provide their emails than their phone numbers, as email is generally considered to be less invasive. So, you will likely have an easier time building your email marketing program first and can use that channel to promote your SMS program once you’ve earned your audience’s trust.
Per message, email marketing is usually cheaper than SMS. But, depending on your needs, SMS marketing might be more cost-effective overall. Large-scale SMS solutions typically charge between one and five cents per individual SMS.
That said, there are some premium costs associated with SMS marketing such as keywords (e.g. “text LOVE for 14% off”), short codes (5- to 6-digit phone number used by brands), and monthly fees associated with your provider of choice.
That said, determining if you should prioritize email or SMS marketing will depend on your budget and the overall quality of your outreach lists. If your email list is higher quality and more engaged than your SMS list, it is probably best to prioritize email, given the lower cost.
However, if the opposite is true and your SMS lead list is high quality—and most are, as customers are more selective about giving away their cell phone number than they are about their email address—then the higher cost per message may ultimately result in a more cost-effective campaign.
Another key difference between email and SMS marketing is the style of your content.
SMS texts should ideally be just 160 characters and get straight to the point—or else the content might be broken up across several messages when delivered to subscribers.
On the other hand, emails can be much longer and address various points. With email, you need an enticing subject line to grab your reader. Then, you need to keep them reading long enough to take the intended action.
Design elements like bold text, bullet points, and color or highlights can help individual email elements stand out. But. text messages are limited to basic characters and emojis (unless you send an MMS message).
How often you connect with your customers also varies between email and SMS.
Most of your customers have a mobile phone in their pocket all day, every day, and check it frequently.
This makes SMS a great way to connect. But if you send too many messages, your customers will feel spammed and likely disconnect. You need to find the right balance between staying top of mind and not being intrusive.
This will likely require some trial and error, while keeping a close eye on your opt-out rate to see when the inflection point occurs.
With email, you can do the same, working to set a cadence that allows you to create value for your customers.
For both channels, a preference center is a great way to let customers choose the frequency and type of communications they receive from you.
Since your customers frequently check their phones, SMS marketing can be a smarter option for timely customer communications, such as sharing a delivery confirmation or announcing a two-hour flash sale.
Email messages can sit for hours or days before they are read, making text messages more efficient for time-sensitive needs.
Customization and personalization
Both email and SMS marketing offer opportunities to customize and personalize your messaging to your audience.
You can respond to site visits, abandoned carts, recent purchases, and more with either approach, but there are some differences to note. Namely, SMS regulations and email regulations are not interchangeable.
Be sure to bone up on these laws to ensure your SMS campaigns are compliant.
The sooner you can get in touch with your customers, the sooner you can prompt them to take action.
SMS is the most immediate marketing channel available. Studies show that 98 percent of text messages are opened and read. Most are read within the first three minutes. Additionally, even people who don’t own a smartphone can send and receive text messages. These messages are typically delivered within 10 seconds––that’s not usually the case with emails.
Once delivered to the receiving end’s email server, there is still a path your email message must take before it ends up actually in front of your customer’s eyeballs. It may end up getting filtered into the spam or junk folders, only to be deleted without ever being opened or even seen.
SMS on the other hand is far more likely to end up in the SMS inbox, so long as you are following best practices. In fact, only three percent of text messages are reported as spam compared to email’s whopping 85 percent.
While mobile providers are starting to deploy more SMS spam filtering tools, high-quality messages still have a strong likelihood of landing where you want them.
As with everything in marketing, you need to be able to measure your results to justify the costs and identify room for improvement.
As email has been around for much longer than SMS, email marketing measurement capabilities are typically more robust. Analytics tools can provide detailed insights about your open rate, unsubscribe rate, click-throughs, and conversion. Text measurement is less mature, but you can still access key metrics like open rate and click-throughs.
We recommend you share unique discount codes and trackable links for email and text to more easily track the total sales generated through either channel.
Email marketing advantages
Email marketing has numerous advantages. At a relatively low cost, it offers a decent bang for your buck (depending on your email list quality, of course!). Most email providers offer free plans for small businesses with limited contacts. And, unlike with SMS marketing, there are no network fees associated with sending and receiving emails.
Email also offers the ability to delight your audience with beautiful, eye-catching content for that extra wow factor that grabs their attention. Beyond visuals, while emails should be concise, you have more real estate with which to communicate. And thanks to email marketing’s maturity, the strategies for leveraging it are highly evolved (check out some great email marketing examples here).
Another benefit of email marketing is that customers are generally very comfortable engaging with brands via their inboxes.
You have a greater margin of error with your email marketing as customers can be more forgiving (whereas it is hard to re-earn a text subscriber). Also, email marketing has a greater array of tools and tracking capabilities that make it incredibly easy to manage your campaigns and measure your results.
Email marketing disadvantages
On the flip side, email marketing also has disadvantages that cannot be ignored. The email marketing space is extremely saturated and it is harder than ever to stand out in the inbox to maintain customer interest.
Global email volumes have increased by 82 percent in the past two years alone.
In response to these increased volumes, mailbox providers are tightening up their filtering algorithms and diverting more marketing content to consumers’ spam folders. This reduces the chance of even getting in front of your customer, much less getting them to take action.
In the worst case scenario, your emails could be blocked entirely if your sender reputation is damaged. To top off the deliverability challenge, mailbox providers like Gmail prompt users to unsubscribe from an email program after 30 days of inactivity, making it easier than ever for customers to disengage entirely.
SMS marketing advantages
Newer to the marketing scene than email, SMS marketing has some distinct advantages that make it a useful tool in your marketing arsenal. The SMS marketing space is far less saturated than email, meaning your audience is more likely to actually read your message.
While SMS marketing has a slightly higher cost, its extremely high open rate (up to 98 percent!) makes it one of the most effective approaches to customer engagement. And since most customers are avid mobile phone users, SMS message notifications are attention-grabbing. Add in personalization (get inspired with these SMS marketing examples) and you have a perfect recipe for customer engagement.
SMS marketing is also arguably easier to optimize than email marketing, given the ideal brevity of text messages. With shorter copy and fewer message elements, you can easily A/B test your SMS marketing messages and more quickly identify issues than you can with your email marketing campaigns.
SMS marketing disadvantages
SMS marketing has some disadvantages of its own. First and foremost, SMS marketing is constrained by far more regulations than email, and senders must tread lightly to avoid fines
And while SMS marketing can be much more intimate than email, you are far more likely to make your customers feel encroached upon if you message too frequently or send irrelevant messages.
That said, SMS marketing costs––from network provider fees to keywords and shortcodes––can definitely rack up. Ultimately, the most cost-effective solution for you will vary based on your business’ goals, audience, geography, and budget.
Can’t decide between email and SMS marketing? Use both!
So truly, which is better in the showdown between email marketing vs SMS marketing? The answer is—drumroll please—use BOTH!
Blending an SMS and email marketing strategy can provide complementary elements of a cohesive marketing strategy. For example, promoting your text club for extra special discounts and offers via email.
You can target different segments and demographics, use distinct personalization approaches, and connect with your audience in unique ways. Together, email and SMS are a match made in marketing heaven!
Need some help planning your email and SMS messages? Sign up for a free MailCharts account to find inspiration for your next email and SMS marketing campaign.