The Truth About SMS Marketing vs Email Marketing

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A hefty title to live up to but let’s give it a go.

What’s “Marketing”!?

Probably one of the most misused terms in business is my first reaction! But, seriously, for the purposes of this article I mainly mean ‘communication’. Business people often say things like, “we need to DO some marketing”. What they mean is they want to blast out something which will get new business. That’s better described as ‘advertising’ really.

In any event. Semantics aside. What we want to look at is SMS Marketing vs Email Marketing. Or, put more succinctly, which of these communication methods is best for your business?

Truth 1: Customers are fickle

No, really. One minute they like your emails, then they subscribe to your twitter feed, then they want a call. The next week, they’re not into email or twitter because they’ve gone off the idea!

OK, this is possibly a person with an extremely short attention span but the point it is true. Any list of people is exactly that, a list of ‘people’. It’s obvious but it’s something that’s often overlooked. Companies segment people into groups to make their communications more relevant and (hopefully) more effective. That’s no bad thing, it’s the right thing to do (in fact, I wrote an article about database segmentation in 2009).
BUT (and here’s the first nugget of the truth) … ‘Customers ARE fickle‘.

Truth 2: Emails & SMS’s are very different in your customers’ eyes

We’re back into ‘human emotion’ here (starting to feel like a psychology article!). This point is important though. I only look at my emails when I choose to. I open up Outlook, hit send and receive and browse the messages I want to. If I get a text message, maybe when I’m out biking, my phone beeps and vibrates in my pocket and I’ll pull over, take off my gloves, get my phone out of my pocket and read the text.

One is passive and one is active. My phone is fundamentally a personal device of mine. If you’re going to send a message to my phone, it had better be relevant. The lesson here is, “does the message I’m going to send out fit with the channel I’m using from my customer’s point of view?”.

Truth 3: SMS’s are opened more than emails

Well, yes, of course. Stat’s vary wildly on email open rates but globally it is said that just 22% of all emails sent are opened vs 98.7% of all text messages.


(Forgive the shouting) … If there is a person out there that likes SPAM, I apologise. But I don’t think many people will fall into this category!?

The Mobile Marketing Association in 2009 did a study. They found that 90% of all emails received were SPAM! Wow. What about SMS? That was just 1% of messages received.

Because of the incredibly strict laws and controls now in place in SMS Marketing, there is basically next to no SMS SPAM.

I hope you’re thinking what I’m thinking!? ….. The lesson here is the same as in Truth 2 …. “if you’re gonna send a message to my phone, it had better be relevant …. and I had better not think it’s SPAM!” (I hope you weren’t thinking, “cool, plenty of room for spamming then!”)

So, come one then. Which one is best!?

Hold your horses. We haven’t got to the best bit yet.

Let’s roll all these ‘truths’ into a perfectly executed example of ‘marketing communication’

  • I buy my groceries online at Sainsburys. Usually it’s a few days ahead of when it’s due to be delivered. After I have gone through the checkout they email me with a receipt of my purchase and confirmation of delivery times. Fair enough, it’s usually quite a bit of shopping and that list wouldn’t fit in an SMS. Furthermore, I actually look for the email to make sure the order went through fine.
  • Sainsburys allow you to amend your order up to 9pm the night before delivery day. At 5pm I get a text. “Just to confirm your shopping will be delivered between 3-5pm tomorrow. Don’t forget you can amend your order online up until 9pm this evening”.
  • Actually I did need a few other things. Off I go to give them some more of my hard earned.

Spot on Sainsburys.

You emailed me when it was relevant, after the order and because it contained a lot of information.

You texted me when it was relevant because it was a short message to confirm my delivery (sometimes I forget!) and contained a timely piece of information about amending my order by 9pm if I wanted to (I probably would have missed the email).

So, is there a conclusion anywhere in the offing!?

The ‘truth‘ is that SMS is ‘bestAND Email is ‘best‘ (collective groan!). What can that possibly mean?

Do I not understand you can only have one ‘best‘!?

Well, each is ‘best‘ when it is most relevant to the communication in question:

  • I’m happy to get a monthly email newsletter from my local restaurant but I’d need a text if they had a special deal on tonight
  • I’m happy to get my train tickets in the post but I’d need a text to confirm an order code if I’m travelling in 2 hours time
  • Email me confirmation of my entire order but please send a text if anything’s urgent about my delivery
  • …. and so on

As with a lot of things the answer is then, “it depends”. An SMS will hit the phone instantly. It is almost guaranteed it will be read. Just make sure it’s relevant. An email is going to be an altogether more hit or miss affair (with only around 22% getting read).

When deciding which to use, I always ask myself, “would I like to receive this on my phone”, “is the time of the day relevant” and “does it come across ‘spammy’ at all”.

If you want to find out if you’re customers are happy to receive text alerts, try a bit of Customer Research by SMS first.

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