MMS vs. SMS: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters


Published: July 27, 2020 Author: Jason Holicky - Hometown Design Studio Inc.
MMS vs. SMS: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

Using text messaging as a marketing delivery channel is slowly but steadily becoming a popular way for brands to communicate with their customers. In fact, these messages have a 98 percent open rate—90 percent of those within the first three minutes—and 75 percent of all consumers welcome messages from brands, provided they’ve opted-in to receive them. There’s a lot of potential in marketing directly to your customers’ smartphones, but there are a few details to keep in mind before jumping in.

MMS vs. SMS: What’s the Difference?

What is an MMS text? We’ve all used the word “text” to describe an image we’ve received from a friend and even to describe the process of sending an image (i.e., “texted a photo”) even though that’s clearly not very accurate. In everyday use, there’s no need to be so specific about what’s what, but when you’re working on a campaign for your customers, it’s essential.

SMS stands for “short message service,” and MMS is a “multimedia messaging service.” SMS came first as the text messaging we all are familiar with, and MMS took that technology and expanded it to allow people to send messages longer than the 160-character limit of SMS and to allow pictures, audio, gifs, and video. Virtually all mobile devices in the U.S. are equipped to receive both SMS and MMS messages.

One More Vocabulary Word: Push Message

Push messages are notifications that are tied to an app that’s installed on a smartphone. For example, if you have the Starbucks app installed, you may occasionally see offers in your notification bar. Or, if you have a weather app installed, you may see the day’s forecast pop up in your notifications. Many of us wear fitness-tracking devices linked to an app on our smartphones and are very familiar with the push notifications reminding us that it’s time to get moving.

Push notifications can make use of a host of data collected by the device, including location information. Some brick-and-mortar shops use this to send a message when a user is physically nearby to invite them for a visit.

In a nutshell: marketers can send plain-text messages via SMS to any mobile device. Rich formats via SMS require a link that would then be opened with a web browser on the device. MMS messages can contain a variety of formats beyond plain text, but they require an app to view them. Most of us use a messaging app to view MMS and SMS messages (i.e., iMessage) sent directly to us, and have a few other apps (i.e., weather, fitness, shopping apps) that receive MMS messages in the form of a push notification.

Why Does It Matter?

There’s a bit more hair-splitting that can be done to compare and contrast SMS, MMS, and push notifications, but we think you’d rather focus on WHY these details matter rather than splitting hairs over defining what they are. In other words, it’s time to cut to the chase:

  • Although push messages use MMS technology, because the messages are tied to an app that you installed, there are fewer rules, regulations, and restrictions that apply because the act of installing and using the app is the same as opt-in consent. There’s also usually language in the app’s terms that cover push-notification consent as well as a place within the app to disable such notifications.

  • SMS messaging offers the highest potential reach because it doesn’t require a smartphone and a data plan. However, for those users whose providers offer a limited number of texts or charge on a per-text basis, an SMS message will “count.”

  • MMS messaging does not require the recipient to have a data plan, and most providers include the cost of MMS messaging in mobile and data plans. However, for those that pay per-message, a standard messaging rate may apply.

  • Customers must give specific consent (opt-in) before receiving SMS or MMS messages from brands. This can be as simple as entering a phone number into a form and clicking a box acknowledging consent, but it must be clear and conspicuous to the user and not a requirement to make a purchase. The first SMS or MMS message must be a confirmation of the opt-in and include a method to opt-out.

Which Should You Use?

If your company has a popular app, utilizing push messages is a great way to send information to your customers about specials, sales, coupons, or other important alerts. If you’re choosing between MMS and SMS, there’s plenty of science out there that shows the effectiveness of images in marketing, especially in terms of what people find engaging and memorable. Still, it really boils down to what you are communicating.

For example, if you’re using messaging for transactional information such as an order confirmation, appointment reminder, or a shipping notification, plain text is preferred in most cases. If the messaging is part of a broad campaign aimed at a large group, then including some more exiting elements might be appropriate.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

No matter which type of messaging you choose for your marketing campaign, all of them are necessarily going to be disruptive to the recipient. Unlike email, push notifications, SMS, and MMS messages carry a sense of urgency, and most people will stop and check their notifications right away. For that reason, timing is everything or you’ll end up with a long list of opt-outs.

It’s also important for all messaging of this type to be kept extremely short and to the point. Try to say everything you need to say in just a few words, and offer a link to more information. Lastly, it’s important not to send too many messages, especially those that are tied to campaigns and are not transactional.

As with every aspect of marketing, what works will look a little different for every brand and every customer set. It’s important to test a few different formats and measure the results so you can be sure you’re delivering the messaging that will work best for your audience. To learn more about using messaging to amplify your marketing messages, contact us today!

About the Author

Creative Director Jason co-founded Hometown Design Studio of New Lenox, IL in 2013. He spends his days guiding and consulting industrial clients and small businesses owners on their marketing strategy and projects. Jason enables everyone to be successful and grow their business by sharing his knowledge and experience.
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