For how long has your business been investing in digital marketing? If you've been marketing your business on online platforms for a significant period of time, you must know what to expect from each campaign you send out.

Two important digital marketing channels are SMS and email. The former is more focused on mobile marketing. At the same time, the latter can be targeted towards both mobile and PC.

In this article, we will compare SMS marketing vs email marketing and explore the different areas where one performs better than the other.

What is SMS marketing?

SMS marketing, also known as text marketing, uses text messages to deliver marketing material to new and old customers. These messages are delivered directly to the SMS inbox on the recipient's cell phone.

SMS is used to deliver two main types of marketing messages, promotional and transactional.

Promotional SMS messages

Promotional text messages are focused solely on selling a product or service by actively promoting and advertising it and increasing brand awareness. Examples include SMS campaigns about new products or special offers to attract customers' attention and generate customer engagement.

Transactional SMS messages

Transactional text messages are more informational in nature and aim to improve the overall customer experience and boost satisfaction rates. Such SMS marketing messages have more to do with customers already using your services or buying your products and focus on making the buyer experience better. Examples include text messages about appointment reminders, payment receipts, and two-factor authentication codes.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing involves running direct digital marketing campaigns via electronic mail (email). The purpose is the same – to promote and sell a business's products and services and improve the customers' experiences. But there can be vast differences between SMS versus email marketing channel and their associated pros and cons.

Comparing SMS marketing vs email marketing campaigns

1. Delivery channel

A fundamental difference when comparing SMS vs email marketing is the channel they utilise to deliver messages and updates.

Sending an SMS requires a smartphone or feature phone with an activated cell connection. As long as your customer is present in an area with cell reception, they can receive your text message.

On the other hand, sending an email requires an internet connection through WiFi or mobile data, which might not always be available to the customer. Additionally, emails cannot be accessed on a feature phone, which is another downside of email marketing.

So in terms of the viability of the delivery channels for text vs email marketing, the first one wins.

2. Opt-in regulations

Another significant difference between text and email marketing lies in the legal requirements of having customers opt into receiving each channel's marketing campaigns.

SMS marketing campaigns require explicit opt-in from customers. Many laws in various parts of the world state that you can face legal action if you text someone who has not permitted you to send them marketing materials via SMS.

For emails, on the other hand, there is some flexibility regarding opt-ins, depending on the region. For example, cold emails are legally allowed in the United States, while other regions, such as the UK, require prior consent.

Between email and text message marketing, you could get some relief in terms of opt-in with the former, but what about opt-outs?

The regulations surrounding both SMS and email marketing are strict about providing opt-out options to customers. Every message you send should offer the customer the option and instructions to unsubscribe. You could be penalised if you continue to text or email customers even after they've opted out.

Here's how you can offer customers the opt-out option for email vs text marketing.

Email: Add a line such as "Click here to unsubscribe." or "Click here if you want to stop receiving promotional emails from us." at the bottom of each email, and link it directly to your unsubscription form.

Text: At the end of your SMS message, add a phrase such as "Text STOP to unsubscribe" or "Reply NO to opt out.", providing clear directions to the recipient.

3. Visibility

People's mail inboxes are usually inundated with all sorts of emails, from personal exchanges to work-related communication. It is very easy for your message to get lost in this slew of threads. Your email could go unnoticed, ignored, or automatically forwarded to a separate folder where your recipient hoards all the promotional emails and never has the time to go through them.

In contrast, SMS messages are more likely to get noticed since they go directly into a consolidated text inbox on your recipient's phone. This inbox is generally offered by the phone's in-built text messaging app, which most users use for all their texting needs. Most people generally don't bother creating folders or tags for their SMS inboxes. Thus, each one of your text messages will move right to the top of the list of SMSes on your user's app, giving them maximum visibility until they receive the next text message.

In terms of the visibility of SMS versus email, the first one clearly wins.

4. Versatility

SMS messages offer very limited space for formulating your message: 160 characters. Going beyond the limit could either split your message into multiple pieces, increasing the cost, or cut off the message past the allowed length, causing you to lose the part where you have added your CTA.

SMS is also limited by its text-only restriction. You can't send media such as images or videos via SMS. You can turn this into a pro by being thoughtful about what you write in your SMS copy. Catchy, creative text can easily have a more significant impact than irrelevant media or walls of text.

Emails, in comparison, have no such restrictions. They offer ample space for long-form content. You can be infinitely creative with your marketing copy, adding images, infographics, videos, and even interactive elements such as polls and feedback surveys. In fact, you can fit the contents of entire newsletters into your emails.

This doesn't mean you can't share long-form content via SMS at all. For instance, if you want to share SMS newsletters, one hack to overcome the limitation of message length is to include a link in your text that takes the reader to the full article on your website, blog, or even a social media platform.

5. Open rates

Consumers in today's market are easily distracted. Think about yourself as an example. How often do you find yourself looking at your smartphone while you're watching television? Do you spend time reviewing work emails while a podcast is playing in the background?

To succeed in marketing, it's imperative that you can get your audience's attention in those few seconds that they read your message. And if we're being real, comparing text marketing vs email marketing, the former definitely gets their attention.

An SMS marketing message gets opened and viewed an average of 98% of the time, in contrast to the much lower 20% open rate for emails. On top of that, the average user takes action based on a text message within 90 seconds. That same user takes up to 90 minutes to take further action based on an email message.

There are many SMS vs email statistics that can be used to prove one channel's worth over the other. But to show the impact of email marketing and SMS marketing, open rate and response/conversion rate are key proofs. Both award major bonus points to SMS messaging.

6. Delivery rates

Contrasting email marketing vs text marketing, we've seen the latter face fewer roadblocks and, thus, higher delivery rates.

The average person gets around 120 emails every single day. Most of these are not relevant to the user. However, the average millennial receives less than 70 texts daily, and nearly all of these messages are viewed by the user as important.

A typical SMS marketing list is composed of customers who have actively chosen to opt into your platform. This means that the audience for an SMS marketing campaign is already engaged, curious, and interested in what you have to offer. Additionally, if you're a bit careful, text messages rarely get flagged as spam, guaranteeing their delivery to the target audience.

An email marketing campaign typically caters to larger, less specialised lists. Because of this, it's common for email messages to land in spam folders. This damages your business's reputation and breaks trust with customers. To avoid this, you can use an SPF such as the Freshdesk SPF to ensure email authentication and deliverability.

The risk of being blocked, banned, or filtered via both marketing channels can also be effectively dealt with if you use the right email and SMS marketing platform. Specialised software has built-in measures to protect and optimise all your campaigns.

7. Click-through rates

Click-through rates for email and SMS marketing have the potential to be high. Both marketing strategies require a strong call-to-action that drives a user to take immediate action.

In SMS marketing, you have 160 characters to tell your story. This allows you to create a solid and concise message with a single call-to-action that drives a user to a branded link. Multiple studies suggest that text message marketing campaigns average a CTR of 25% to 35%.

For email marketing, there is no limit on characters. Because of this, many marketers try to stuff too much information into each email and lose the user's interest. Thus, it is very likely that they stop reading before they even get to the CTA. Mailchimp reported an average CTR of 2.62% for email marketing campaigns.

8. Cost-effectiveness

Generally speaking, the cost difference between texting and email marketing can be quite low.

Depending on the SMS API you choose, the cost of each SMS sent can vary slightly based on the message length and the total number of messages sent. But rarely will you spend more than you're used to spending with email marketing. Different email marketing platforms offer different services and subsequent pricing packages.

Traditionally, regardless of the total spend on email vs SMS marketing, it has been seen that the former generates a higher ROI. However, if you employ the right text and email marketing software and strategies, SMS marketing can bear the same, if not better, results.

Combining the powers of SMS and email marketing

There is no difference between email and text marketing strategies in that they are both effective when they're precisely targeted, with clear goals in mind.

Think of email marketing as a way to build a slow burn while you provide detailed information to customers. You can cost-effectively communicate complicated concepts to customers without any limits on length or content type.

On the other hand, SMS marketing can prove super successful when you aim to gain the customers' attention with catchy marketing copy or want them to give quick responses to urgent offers or time-sensitive messages.

However, being a part of the modern digital space, you must explore all available avenues for promoting your business in the best way possible. Therefore, you can't think of email marketing vs SMS marketing as some sort of impossible competition. Instead, it's important to treat it like a partnership, which means the ideal solution would be to use a combination of email and SMS marketing messages in your strategy.