SMS vs MMS: What's the Difference?

  BONUS MATERIAL: The Psychology of SMS Marketing

Still widely used, Short Message Service (SMS) is a text-only messaging system that operates using cellular networks and has revolutionized the way we communicate with a variety of audiences.

Sending SMS messages allows you to get in touch with anyone, wherever they are in the world. As a result, many businesses use SMS to conduct surveys, issue mobile coupons, and generally spread the word about their brand far and wide.

There is also another form of messaging system - MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service). The MMS system adds a ton of functionality to texting, such as enabling the sender to distribute images, videos, and audio clips.

Today, we're going to delve into the main difference between MMS and SMS marketing and let you know which system is going to be best for you and your business.

The core difference between MMS and SMS

MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service and is different from the SMS texting strategy, mainly because MMS is an extension of the SMS protocol.

MMS exponentially improved the capacity of text messages and, as a result, they changed the ball game in mobile marketing. Whoever is considering SMS marketing should compare the difference between these two text messaging strategies.

You need to know which one is more suitable for your business, and to do so, you need to discover more about these messaging services. Although some use the terms interchangeably, these two messaging services are definitely not the same and don’t work in the same capacity.

Even the names of these messaging services say it all, SMS has the purpose of sending short text messages while MMS does more than just that. The following are more of the intricate differences between SMS and MMS.

MMS gives more space but is expensive

SMS messages limit the characters you can send to 160; anything more than that is split into two messages or automatically converted to an MMS message. If you have short marketing content to send, it might be beneficial to use SMS. A lot of businesses use SMS messages in various stages of the customer journey to draw potential clients in and retain them.

The additional space offered by MMS messages helps more content to be sent. The typical character limit of an MMS message is 1600, which is ten times more than SMS.

If you can't use that space, then you're probably taking on an unnecessary cost. Your best bet is to try and cut down your messages to fit into an SMS.

MMS allows sending media

Another key difference between SMS vs MMS is that the former doesn’t support sending media files or embedding them. Although the SMS message system allows sending links that will direct you to the media, it doesn’t show what the multimedia content is in the message.

MMS allows senders to embed different media on their messages that will make the content more appealing. You can embed and send images, audio files, GIFs, and short video clips. It is this versatility that has given the message system its name - Multimedia Messaging Service.

Sending multimedia messages is a great way to enrich the content that your recipients are receiving. For this reason, MMS messages often produce more engagement, with users being attracted by lively visual and audible content. This idea has been used in many mobile marketing strategies to engage the audience meaningfully and effectively.

You can embed product images, podcasts, or short videos for marketing purposes. Not all businesses need to embed media in their content though, and you should take some time to decide whether or not you really need MMS messages before making the investment.

Pricing of MMS and SMS

Costs also significantly differ due to the way that messaging systems work. Sending multimedia content always takes up more kilobytes or megabytes; meaning sending MMS messages will use more SMS credit or airtime.

Sending one MMS message can use up to 3 SMS credits, which are quite costly. For some people, this expense will be justified, thanks to the increased message size and ability to send media to potential clients.

One of the biggest advantages of SMS messages is that they can reach a wider audience for the same price. Sending SMS uses fewer credits, which means you can add more numbers to the list of recipients you have.

The pricing of SMS has affected the decisions of many businesses regarding their mobile marketing strategy. The majority of businesses have chosen to use SMS because of their affordability, it’s at your discretion if you choose to ride the wave or come with something unique.

In this case, the uniqueness lies in the strategy you use - and when it comes to SMS vs MMS, sending MMS messages will definitely make you stand out.

MMS and SMS are sent using different protocols

The pricing of MMS and SMS messages are primarily affected by the delivery method that is involved in sending it to the recipient. SMS messages are transmitted using a traditional process that involves passing through various base stations and different servers.

MMS messages are sent using sophisticated communication methods, which is what allows the user to distribute images and media. An MMS message also uses TCP/IP technology to encode and decode the message from the sender to the recipient.

That makes it easier for MMS to entail media files embedded in the message and has a significantly higher limit of characters. The many different factors that make MMS peculiar are due to this major difference in the delivery system.

That is why MMS will give the recipient an option to download the media entailed by the message. TCP/IP messaging works through the internet protocol, so in essence, the sender uploads the content and the recipient downloads it when receiving it.

Difference between SMS and MMS use in marketing

Since SMS and MMS have different formatting and are sent using different protocols, it is important to know the difference between these messaging systems from a marketing perspective.

The use of SMS has been widespread because of the open rates of these texts. It may be easy to ignore an email but not a message that constantly shows an unread notification. Emails can be used for different purposes in marketing, like reminding customers that you are still there when they are starting to grow cold.

They can also be used for location-based messaging as well as time-sensitive texts. MMS messages have more success than bland emails since you can enter more characters, add images, and create a descriptive, informative message.

Visual content sells because people often prefer to watch, observe or listen to marketing material. Because of that, MMS gets a higher engagement rate while reaching more customers.

SMS vs MMS compatibility

If you would like your text message to reach a wider audience, you need to choose a messaging system carefully. In that case, it is worthy to note that MMS is not compatible with all devices that the target audience might be using.

MMS is far more suitable for smartphones and other digital devices like tablets and smartwatches, while other devices such as analog cellphones don’t support this text messaging system.

You need to fully understand the audience you are targeting to know which one will be most effective. Individuals who prefer traditional technology or are inclined to use older phones better receive an SMS campaign.

A digital audience of users with smartphones may react better to MMS. As outlined above, MMS uses a TCP/IP delivery method so sending MMS messages to a device that doesn’t support internet protocols will be ineffective.

SMS effectively reaches all types of devices, because they use cell towers, used by both analog cellphones and smartphones.

The goal is to reach the targeted audience effectively and sending incompatible text messages won’t do you any good. That makes it important to study analytical data to reach the perfect decision and ensure that the content you create meaningfully reaches the audience.

SMS vs MMS Summary - Pros and Cons:


SMS messaging

  • Although SMS is one of the oldest texting technologies, that does not mean it will be any less effective in your next marketing campaign.

  • SMS marketing is an affordable alternative to traditional marketing techniques, and many businesses have already taken advantage of its affordability. Sending an SMS message is a cost-effective form of communication, allowing you to send messages directly to the recipient's phone.

  • This short message service also has the benefit of getting straight to the point. SMS only allows for 160 characters in a message, so this helps to ensure concise communication with your customers. Clients are more likely to remember your message if it is kept clear and succinct, and such an approach may also lead to increased client engagement.

  • SMS also has the added advantage of reaching a wider audience. Clients of an older generation may not have access to a smartphone, so by sending text-only messages you can include all clients in your marketing campaign. 

MMS messaging

  • MMS messaging allows brands to send multimedia content to a large audience. It enables them to connect with their clients through a wide range of media, including images, videos, and sometimes audio files.

  • The vast majority of businesses that use text marketing implement MMS campaigns, as their use of multimedia is often seen to be more engaging. Customers are more likely to interact with a message containing an image or video, and the message itself is often enhanced by the inclusion of multimedia.

  • Not only do MMS messages make it possible to embed rich media, but their character limit of 1,600 means that more information can be shared. Sometimes it is necessary to explain information in more detail, and MMS messaging allows you to do this without splitting it into multiple messages.

  • MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service, and this means that MMS can be used to send a wide range of content. Unlike SMS, MMS messages make it possible to share images, videos, and GIFs. Sending a vast range of content is likely to engage a younger target audience, and is also likely to make your business stand out from your competitors.


SMS messaging

  • Sending SMS messages may seem like the best option for your business, due to their affordability and more direct method of communication. However, the tight character limit may not be suitable for some campaigns, particularly if it is necessary to expand on the information.

  • An SMS message may also be less engaging to customers. The short message service does not allow you to send videos or pictures, meaning that you are limited to sending text-only messages.

  • For this reason, it is harder to be creative when sending SMS messages. As they do not contain multimedia, they are less likely to grab the reader's attention. Generally, audiences prefer to watch or listen to marketing content, so a simple block of text can often seem impersonal.

MMS messaging

  • The key difference between SMS vs MMS messaging is the pricing. MMS messages typically cost more than simple text-only messages, so it is important to consider whether your business can afford MMS marketing.

  • It is also worth questioning whether your target audience can receive MMS messages. Not every mobile device is MMS-enabled, so the content you send may only be viewed by a fraction of your audience.

  • Another disadvantage of MMS is that it uses more cellular data. MMS messages are much larger in size due to their higher capacity, which means that they use up more data than standard SMS messages. The recipient's device will likely have monthly data limits, so customers may choose to opt out of such messages in order to free up their data.

So, what is the best way to send messages to people?

Ultimately, this depends on your business and the needs of your target audience. Although there are benefits of using both SMS and MMS messages, it is important to consider which type of message will best reflect the mission of your brand.

How do SMS and MMS compare to Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp?

Messaging applications differ from both SMS and MMS messages as they require an internet connection. Texts sent through a messages app often have no character limit and do not rely on cellular data networks to operate.

WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger may seem similar to MMS at first glance, as they can both send images or audio content to the recipient's phone. A key difference is that messaging apps require registration, while it is not necessary to create an account to send SMS or MMS messages.

It is also possible to send messages through messaging apps on a computer, whereas both SMS and MMS messages can only be viewed on a mobile device. Messaging apps such as WhatsApp are also available with unique features, including reactions and customizations, that can be used to engage the recipient.

How do I switch from MMS to SMS?

It is possible to disable MMS messages on any device, although the method of doing so may vary. Most devices will allow you to access the phone settings, where you can disable the MMS messages function quickly and easily.

What happens if I exceed the SMS character limit?

As SMS stands for Short Message Service - it is limited in its capacity. When the limit is exceeded, the message will often be split into multiple messages, while in some cases it may be converted to an MMS message.

Do all phones support MMS?

Unfortunately not. Many older cell phones do not have the capability to receive MMS messages, which can be an annoying barrier if you're running an MMS marketing campaign. This is why SMS messages are considered to be the best option if you're trying to reach the largest possible audience.

If you know that most of your recipients will be using smartphones and MMS-capable devices, then it's definitely worth considering using multimedia messaging to get the most out of your marketing campaign. 

The bottom line

The truth is that there is really no wrong or right system when it comes to choosing how to send your texts. Each protocol has its advantages and drawbacks, for example, MMS provides more features, like sending multimedia and longer texts, but SMS is more affordable and very concise.

In order to choose the right messaging system for you, take some time to consider how you want to integrate texting into your marketing campaigns and what features you'll need to achieve that. This way, you'll be able to plan your campaigns more effectively, and really get the most out of the system that you choose.

Whichever system you go with, they'll be plenty of opportunities to get creative with your marketing. Experiment, have fun and enjoy spreading the word about your brand with effective text marketing campaigns.

Jaanus Rõõmus
2021-06-21 00:00:00 UTC