The amount of time spent on mobile phones is continually increasing as people tend to keep their devices close by throughout the day and check them regularly. Case in point: tech care company Asurion reported back in 2019 that the average U.S. mobile phone user checks their device a whopping 96 times daily. A new study by has revealed that this number has jumped to 144 times a day in 2023.

Being able to reach a captive audience directly is one of many reasons why 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 instant messaging apps (particularly WhatsApp) and SMS messaging equal in terms of features, engagement, and cost? Or is an instant messaging vs texting comparison fair and necessary? Why use WhatsApp instead of text, and vice versa? How safe are WhatsApp messages and SMS texts?

To answer all these questions, we cover six main factors when exploring the difference between WhatsApp and regular texting. Our in-depth comparison of WhatsApp vs texting below will give you an idea of what these channels are best used for and why.

But first, let's start with the basics and understand the inner workings of SMS vs WhatsApp.

How SMS text messages work

SMS is an abbreviation for Short Message Service, 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 especially download a third-party messaging app. Most SMS-enabled smartphones come with an SMS messaging app pre-installed, such as Google Messages or Samsung Messages.

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

There is a sort of extension of the SMS protocol called the MMS (multimedia messaging service), which allows sharing of media and graphics along with slightly longer versions of text. It has different character limits from SMS but also comes with file size limitations.

How the WhatsApp platform works

Does WhatsApp use SMS? Absolutely not. Both platforms are not connected in any way. WhatsApp is an independent messaging app that requires an internet connection to send messages and receive them.

Another key difference between SMS and WhatsApp is that for the latter, mobile users need to download the designated 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. With WhatsApp, you can send media files as well as text-based content.

Is there a difference between texting and messaging?

Even though the terms texting and messaging are used interchangeably today, there is technically a slight difference between the two, in terms of the platform used for each.

Texting often refers to communication via SMS, particularly. Usually, when people ask each other to "text me XYZ" or "drop me a text", it's assumed they're talking about SMS.

Messaging refers to communicating through all sorts of instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger. Note how it's part of the phrases "instant messaging" and "OTT messaging", both of which involve the use of internet-based messaging apps. Because the word "messaging" can sound a bit awkward and unclear on its own, many people tend to just say, "WhatsApping you the XYZ" or "Drop me a message on WhatsApp".

WhatsApp vs texting: How the 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 or automated messages

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 who 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.

Another one of the major benefits of WhatsApp vs text is that you can use it to send all sorts of media, including images, audio clips, voice notes, videos, GIFs, and files like important documents, receipts, etc., directly as attachments.

Woman leaving a voice note

3. Group messaging

Group messaging is a key feature for engaging with audiences.

While SMS allows for messages to be sent to multiple recipients at once, you can't have them reply in a single thread. The closest you can come to group chats with SMS is if you switch to RCS or iMessage, depending on your recipients' phone type, and then add the members to a group. Otherwise, you can't get the dynamic interaction you might want in the form of a group chat just by using SMS.

On WhatsApp, you can easily form groups of up to 256 members who can see your messages altogether and each respond as they wish. With the right admin controls, you can also restrict replies and utilise other features to manage the group chat. WhatsApp also offers Communities and Channels for a larger reach for you and greater anonymity and privacy for the members.

4. Security and end-to-end encryption

The debate about SMS vs. WhatsApp security is a tricky one. Let's talk about how safe WhatsApp messages are compared to SMS.

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 safer 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.

5. 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 branded profile, targeted advertising campaigns, portfolios, and product/service catalogues complete with images, descriptions, and prices. 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.

6. 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. You may be charged extra for sending text messages to certain parts of the world.

Personal, non-commercial WhatsApp messages are free internationally. However, 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. Charges for international texts may vary depending on which country your recipient lives in.

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 or 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. Here's a quick rundown of SMS texting vs WhatsApp business messages.

Why would you use WhatsApp instead of texting?

There are several reasons why WhatsApp is better than 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. You can share as many photos, videos, and other visually appealing content as you like, even stickers, GIFs, and such.

You'll also get read receipts, typing indicators, and other rich messaging features. You can also post statuses to update your followers without spamming their inboxes.

WhatsApp can be great for one-on-one conversations with your customers where no bulk messaging is involved. It's also good for broadcasting messages via groups, unlike SMS.

Why would you want to use SMS over WhatsApp?

There are many reasons why, despite all the lucrative features WhatsApp offers, businesses and customers still choose SMS.

For starters, with WhatsApp, mass text campaigns are not a good idea. You cannot send bulk messages with WhatsApp at all, so it's not the best solution for blanket marketing campaigns. SMS, on the other hand, is ideal for such campaigns where you want widespread reach with maximum deliverability without breaking any rules set up by any third-party apps. SMS also works best for mass marketing messages as you can be more creative and spontaneous with your campaigns. While SMS supports only text-based content, 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).

You'll also have to bank on your customers' willingness to download and install WhatsApp's mobile app on their devices if you want to approach them via that platform. Some customers might not be able to do that despite wanting to due to owning feature phones. Others who don't already have the app might not want to install it just to communicate with your business. SMS wins this battle: all smart- and feature phones typically come SMS-enabled, with some sort of SMS messaging app preloaded.

Whether you choose WhatsApp or text message, remember that both channels aren't fail-safe 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.