The time spent on mobiles is continually increasing as people tend to keep their devices close by throughout the day and check them regularly. Case in point – the average U.S. mobile phone user checks their device a whopping 96 times daily.

Being able to reach a captive audience directly is just one of the reasons you should consider adopting mobile marketing for your business. SMS and instant messaging apps (such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) are two of the most popular mobile marketing strategies. Both allow you to reach your audience quickly and reliably.

But are SMS and instant messaging apps equal in terms of features, engagement and cost? Why use WhatsApp instead of text – and vice versa? Our comparison of WhatsApp vs texting below will give you an idea of what these channels are best used for. But first, let’s start with the basics...

How SMS text messages work

SMS is an abbreviation for Short Message Service, and it’s the familiar texting functionality installed as a default app on every mobile phone (not just smartphones but also feature phones). SMS messages are sent over cellular networks directly to the native messaging app – mobile users don’t need to download a third-party messaging app.

With SMS, you can send text messages of up to 160 characters consisting of text, numbers, some special symbols and emojis. The latter is dependent on whether the mobile carrier supports them.

How the WhatsApp platform works

WhatsApp requires an internet connection to send messages (and receive them). Unlike SMS, mobile users need to download this app to their devices. WhatsApp messages can’t be delivered to people who don’t have the app.

There’s no official character limit to worry about in a single WhatsApp message. And you can send media files as well as text-based content.

WhatsApp vs texting: how these two top mobile marketing channels compare

So, SMS is a native app that everyone with a mobile can access. And WhatsApp is a more flexible messaging app that relies on the internet. Here’s what else you need to know if you’re considering one of these two communication channels for marketing.

1. Bulk messaging

Mass messaging is essential for broadcasting promotional content to a wide audience. For example, if you need to generate awareness about a new product or promote a flash sale, creating a single message that gets sent to your entire marketing database is the most effective way of doing this. However, not all mobile channels support or allow bulk messaging, and WhatsApp is one of them.

WhatsApp has threatened legal action against businesses that use the app to send bulk or automated messages. This is a significant problem for those that need this feature to raise awareness and engagement quickly.

However, there are workarounds, such as using pre-approved templates, which you can use to send the same type of notifications to contacts over and over again. But these don’t allow for much creativity. There are also limits on the number of conversations you can initiate with new contacts each day, plus other restrictions. So getting to grips with WhatsApp for mass marketing purposes is somewhat complex.

On the other hand, SMS is ideal for mass texting, although you need to use an SMS marketing platform to carry out this activity. Many providers offer mass texting services as part of their suite of solutions.

With Messente, for instance, you can create a single SMS marketing campaign, personalise your message with the recipients’ name and send it to everyone on your list. To each recipient, it looks like you’ve sent a one-to-one, personal text message.

2. Attaching image, video, or audio files

As mentioned earlier, SMS only allows for text-based content. Attaching media files is only possible if converting the texts into MMS, but this costs extra, and not all SMS marketing platforms support MMS. However, you can use emojis and include URLs with regular SMS messages. Anything with a URL can be shared, from webpages and survey forms to images and videos already hosted online.

With WhatsApp, you can send all sorts of media, including images, audio clips, voice notes, videos, GIFs and files like important documents, receipts, etc.

Woman leaving a voice note

3. Security and end-to-end encryption

SMS often comes under fire for lacking in security. There is a risk that texts could be intercepted during transmission over cellular networks, and scams like SIM swapping (a type of identity theft) can occur if mobile phone users aren’t careful with their data. From a business point of view, though, there are several ways to ensure SMS message security.

So, is WhatsApp more secure than texting? Well, WhatsApp uses the latest end-to-end encryption protocols – so in theory, all messages sent via WhatsApp can only be seen by the sender and recipient(s). We say this theoretically because many people have raised concerns about WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption and the company’s privacy claims in general.

4. Effectiveness for businesses

SMS is a powerful tool for advertising purposes. It allows you to send bulk messages and have quick back-and-forth conversations, which is helpful when following up on sales enquiries or administering customer support.

WhatsApp has strict restrictions on bulk texting and automated messaging. If you fall foul of the rules, your business profile can get banned. So WhatsApp isn’t great in this respect.

However, a WhatsApp Business account offers other benefits, such as the ability to build a verified, targeted advertising campaigns, branded profile, portfolios, and product/service catalogues complete with images and descriptions. Customers or prospects can view all this within WhatsApp; there’s no need to leave the app (although you can add external links if you like).

You can achieve something similar with SMS through Verified SMS (which allows you to add branding to your sender profile). Rather than setting up product catalogues for easy viewing within the app, you can add an external link to your website product pages, portfolio or other landing pages.

5. Cost

For both channels, it’s best to partner with a service that can help you with technical aspects or integration into your existing business systems.

Costwise, with SMS, the price varies depending on your chosen provider. Some charge a monthly subscription fee, while others charge per text message sent. The pricing can also depend on the features offered, the types and volumes of texts sent and the destinations you need to reach via SMS.

WhatsApp Business isn’t completely free (although the app itself is). You’ll have to pay per message; the cost varies depending on whether your messages are user or business-initiated.

Generally, WhatsApp messaging is more cost-effective if a customer initiates a conversation – so it’s perhaps best to use this app for support-related messages rather than marketing purposes. You’ll also need to use an approved platform/partner for WhatsApp’s Business API.

Smartphone screen showing Messages app

Choosing the right mobile marketing channel for your business

SMS and instant messaging apps like WhatsApp are popular channels to consider for mobile marketing. If you want to send out mass marketing messages, SMS works best, as you can be more creative and spontaneous with your campaigns. However, SMS supports only text-based content, although you can add emojis and web links to your message to engage your audience.

Out of the two channels, SMS is better for deliverability as messages are transmitted over a cellular network (mobile users don’t need an internet connection to receive your content).

Why would you use WhatsApp instead of texting?

A WhatsApp Business account is ideal if you need flexibility for media content or want to show off your products or services via an in-app catalogue. But you can’t easily send bulk messages with WhatsApp – it’s not the best solution for blanket marketing campaigns.

Remember that both channels aren’t failsafe in terms of security. But there are steps you can take to protect your recipients’ data (and your business) from being subject to cybercriminal activities.

Think SMS is the best option for your mobile marketing strategy? Get started sending SMS marketing with Messente.