SMS vs. MMS: How They Differ, and How to Choose Between the Two

November 23, 2020

SMS vs. MMS: How They Differ, and How to Choose Between the Two

With the DTC industry growing at a faster rate each year, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and maintain the attention of consumers. 

As more brands make the shift to conducting business online, competition is fiercer than ever when it comes to engaging with your audience.

Smart marketers are taking the necessary steps to invest in new channels, one of the most effective right now being text marketing.

In this post we’ll be defining the two fundamental types of text marketing: SMS and MMS. We’ll explain the pros and cons of each type, as well as how to determine which approach will best suit the needs of your DTC business.

What is SMS?

SMS is likely the first thing that comes to mind when you think of text marketing. It stands for Short Message Service, and refers to a message that only contains plain text and emoji characters. 

The first SMS text advertisement was sent in the year 2000 and has since grown to be one of the most popular methods of mobile marketing. 

The key characteristics of SMS texts are that a single SMS message is limited to 160 characters, although you can include more for a higher cost and they typically cost less to send out than MMS texts. 

What is MMS? 

MMS is an abbreviation for Multimedia Message Service, and is essentially an extension of what SMS is capable of. 

The key characteristics of MMS texts are that they can be up to 1,600 characters in length (or more depending on the wireless carrier you’re using), and can embed rich media–such as pictures, GIFs, and short audio or video files. 

Although MMS technology was developed around the same time as SMS, it didn’t become a viable text marketing channel until the late-2000’s when smartphones were made widely available to consumers. 

Pros and cons of SMS

The primary benefit to SMS is that it costs less to send a message, allowing you to send to a larger contact list without draining your marketing budget. 

Additionally, with an SMS message you’re guaranteed that the text will be received by all the recipients on your list, as long as you’re sending to a valid phone number.

The disadvantage to SMS is that you’re significantly limited in how you can personalize the messages that are being sent. 

While you can still segment via customer attributes, not having the ability to include photo and video content will have an impact on the conversion rate of your campaigns, and the character limit can often hinder how creative you’re able to be with the marketing copy. 

Pros and cons of MMS

The main benefit to MMS is that you have more freedom to personalize the messages that are being sent to recipients. Because MMS offers a 1,600 character count limit, messages can be significantly longer than the typical SMS communication. 

In addition to the extended character limit, MMS offers the capability to embed multimedia content to attract the attention of consumers, which often results in higher customer engagement by a significant margin over SMS. 

The primary disadvantage to MMS is the cost. If your brand has a limited marketing budget, you may need to restrict how often you’re sending out MMS campaigns. 

Another issue to consider is the deliverability of MMS messages, particularly in foreign countries. Not every mobile device can receive MMS texts, and while a growing percentage of the population owns a smartphone, not every cellular plan allows people to send and receive messages that contain embedded media.

Which should you choose for your DTC brand?

So, between SMS and MMS, how do you decide which option is right for your DTC brand? As is the answer to most marketing-related questions: It depends. 

The decision comes down to the specific goals you’re seeking to achieve by investing in text marketing. If you anticipate sending short messages–such as sale reminders or discount codes–to a high volume of contacts, SMS would make the most sense. The only downside is that you’re limited by how much information you can include in the message. 

If you plan to create a more personalized campaign that targets a smaller list of contacts, you’ll see better results with MMS. 

There’s no clear answer to the debate over SMS vs. MMS. It comes down to your marketing goals and how you want to communicate with your audience. 

It’s very common for companies to employ a combination of both SMS and MMS depending on the campaign or automated sequence they’re planning to send.

At Conversmart, we often use MMS because images are effective in helping your consumers imagine themselves with your product. But both options can be a worthwhile effort as long as they’re employed correctly. 

Here’s a prime example of how Kopari–a DTC skincare brand–uses SMS to recapture lost sales with an abandoned cart message (see screenshot below). There are a few reasons why this simple text is so effective: 

  1. It’s personalized: The brand includes the name of the recipient in the first sentence of the text to catch their attention. Personalization is essential for increasing customer engagement and open rates.

  2. It’s direct: With the limited character count of SMS messages, you need to be as direct as possible with what action you want the recipient to take. This message reminds them that they left an item in their cart and provides a short URL that directs them to the checkout page to complete the purchase. 

Another great use of SMS is sending transactional messages related to a customer’s recent order. Amazon uses a highly effective automated text sequence to communicate shipping information to their customers. They send a text when the order has shipped, when it’s arriving, and when it’s been delivered, and they even include a short URL for customers to view detailed tracking information on their order. 

If you want to have the freedom to send longer, more personalized messages to your customers, you may want to consider using MMS. 

This is a great example of how a DTC skincare brand, Oars + Alps, uses MMS to give recipients early-access to purchase a new line of lip balm. 

In the message, they include a small image of the product to catch your eye, then they add an element of exclusivity by mentioning that the product doesn’t “technically” launch until the following day. 

The message ends with an embedded link that brings users directly to the product page to purchase the item. 


Whether you choose to go with SMS, MMS, or a combination of the two, you should be able to confidently understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. 

You know your customers better than anyone else, so make sure your messaging and approach is tailored to meet their needs and expectations.

Here’s the bottom line: The customer experience needs to be at the center of any text marketing campaign you create. 

As long as you’re providing a great experience for the customer, both SMS and MMS can be incredibly effective ways of communicating with your audience. 

If you’re on the fence about which approach to text marketing best suits your eCommerce business, book a free consultation so we can learn more about your brand and the goals you hope to achieve with text marketing.

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