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SMS vs MMS: the important differences you need to know

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SMS and MMS are both messaging services with slight differences, especially when used as channels for mobile commerce. However, the distinctions between SMS vs MMS are crucial to note before using them as part of your marketing strategy. 

Many e-commerce businesses don’t understand the difference between text messages and MMS as marketing tools.

Your communication with your e-commerce customers and their response are crucial to your business. You want to make sure you use your customer’s preferred channel of communication. Or better yet, the most impactful method.

But which one is it? Is it MMS or SMS? This will depend on several factors, including your marketing goals.

Here’s a deeper dive into how to use SMS and MMS messages for your e-commerce marketing.

SMS vs MMS overview

SMS and MMS are both texting channels or services that businesses use to communicate with their customers or subscribers. But what’s the difference between MMS and SMS?

The main difference between SMS and MMS is that SMS only contains alphanumeric characters while MMS supports other multimedia files. 

This means that with SMS you can only send texts while with an MMS you can include images, videos, GIFs, and audio.

Another notable SMS vs MMS difference is that SMS has a limit of 160 characters while an MMS has a higher limit, sometimes up to 1600 characters.

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What is SMS?

SMS means Short Message Service. Just like the name suggests, the messages you can send via SMS are short. It’s a service that lets you send up to 160 characters of plain text to customers. 

SMS is one of the simplest, yet most personal ways to communicate with your audience.

You don’t need mobile data or WiFi to send an SMS. You don’t have to worry about your reach either as every mobile device can send and receive an SMS. It’s among the oldest messaging technologies. The first SMS ever sent was in 1992.

Despite the dynamic nature of communication technologies, and the invention of the internet, SMS messaging has remained popular. 

As a marketing tool, you’ll be reaching people directly through SMS. This makes SMS marketing both personal and timeless.

Here’s an example of an SMS.

example of SMS message for ecommerce

What is MMS?

MMS stands for Multimedia Message Service and is used to send both text and other media like videos, pictures, GIFs, and audio. MMS messaging lets you send longer texts, unlike SMS messaging. The limit is not standard but much longer.

With MMS marketing, you’ll require a cellular data connection for most devices and an internet connection with others. This is in contrast to an SMS. 

This is because of the extra functions it supports. Your recipient would need to download the media files that come with the MMS message.

Here’s what an MMS looks like.

example of MMS message for ecommerce

SMS vs MMS: the main differences

It may seem impertinent to want to know these differences, especially given how easy it can be to switch between MMS and SMS on mobile devices. 

However, these differences are crucial for businesses if you want to make your marketing campaigns impactful.

Here are the main differences between these two messaging media in detail.

Ability to send media

As mentioned earlier, this is the most obvious difference between SMS and MMS. MMS allows you to send media such as GIFs, videos, audio, and pictures. This makes them a more engaging mode of messaging compared to SMS.

This functionality also gives you the freedom to get creative with your text message marketing campaigns. 

SMS lets you send plain text, and sometimes emojis, depending on your device. However, when you use emojis in an SMS, they take up too many characters, limiting the length of your message.

While MMS may appear as a better messaging mode due to its capabilities, it’s not always the best option, especially if your audience uses feature phones. Depending on your use case, an SMS message can be preferable. 

Simply put, each method has its perks and shortcomings.

Character limit

Another MMS vs SMS comparison is their character limit. SMS messaging lets you send up to 160 characters, including letters, symbols, words, and spaces. 

Conversely, MMS messages mostly have a character limit of 1600 for text and 3.75 MB for media. This could be lower in some devices and carriers.

Some devices also have a limit on how many MMS messages you can send in a day, as sending MMS messages takes up a lot of resources. This may be particularly inconvenient if you’re sending thousands of MMS messages at once.

Pricing

As it uses fewer resources, SMS is cheaper than MMS. The cost varies by service provider although most of them charge between $0.01 to $0.05 per SMS message. 

Most SMS providers have subscription plans for free SMS, so sometimes users don’t have to pay much. 

Sending an MMS message with additional media costs as much as sending four SMS messages or more. For instance, a user on a subscription plan of say 5,000 SMS a month, they’d get about 1250 MMS messages from the same plan.

The difference in pricing isn’t much if you’re doing small-scale messaging. However, if you’re sending numerous MMS messages with visual content, then the cost difference becomes significant.

Another factor that can affect your pricing with SMS and MMS messaging is if you’re using short codes. An SMS short code is a shorter phone number, compared to your regular ten-digit numbers, used to send messages to many people at once. 

A shortcode can send 500 messages or more at a go. They’re more expensive and mostly used by businesses for commercial purposes. Most SMS marketing software use shortcodes for automated text messaging campaigns.

Deliverability

Every mobile device supports SMS messaging, without cellular data or an internet connection. You needn’t worry about the type of device your subscriber uses. 

This makes it a reliable messaging method for all your customers. This, in turn, increases your deliverability rates.

This is as opposed to the MMS format, which is only supported by Android or iOS phones. Therefore, if your recipient has a feature phone, your MMS message may not get delivered to them.

Another difference between MMS and SMS messages is that you can send an MMS message on a group chat. Sending automated SMS to multiple customers, however, will mean that each of them receives an individual message on their device.

Drive more sales with SMS campaigns using Omnisend’s features for free! Explore SMS features

Which one should be used: SMS or MMS?

Even with the SMS vs MMS comparison, each mode has its advantages and disadvantages in marketing. Choosing MMS or SMS mainly depends on your business goals and the type of content you want to send to your customers.

Other factors that also affect this decision include:

  • Your budget: How much money do you want to spend on a particular campaign? SMS is great for marketing on a tight budget.
  • The type of information you’re sending: Is it promotional or informational? MMS messages are suitable for informational content, as you can embed links and send short videos. You can use both SMS and MMS for promotional purposes.
  • The length of your content: Are you keeping your text short and sweet? Do you need to do some explaining?

So when should you use MMS vs SMS? Here’s a deeper dive.

When to use SMS?

When you need to send a short but important text message, an SMS becomes the ideal choice. SMS messages have higher deliverability and open rate due to their simple nature. 

Your customers will most likely see the message, making it the most effective way to communicate with them.

If you’re looking to acquire new customers, SMS is also best as it gives you a wider reach. You can send a quick message with a link they can click on for more information.

SMS is also ideal for a budget-sensitive marketing strategy.

When to use MMS?

As mentioned, using MMS messages provides you with multimedia elements such as high-quality graphics, short videos, logos, and audio.

Unlike SMS messages, MMS marketing tends to be more engaging. 

The reason?

They give you a lot more to work with and an opportunity to impress your customers. 

You can take advantage of this to customize your messages with artwork, colors, and funny GIFs. Another way would be to include logos or graphics in your message like this example with the Avenue brand logo.

The best time to use MMS messages is when you are sending:

  • Discounts, promotions, and coupons: Using your text marketing campaigns for promotions is most effective via MMS. You can share personalized images and banners for discounts and coupons too.

    For instance, for holiday promotions and cross-sells use MMS. However, for things like shipping, use SMS.
  • Videos: With MMS messages, you can share short videos. This helps especially if you want to share instructions or something informative with your customers.
  • Animated cards: These could be in the form of a delightful happy birthday message or thank you note. It would feel more personalized and thoughtful to your customers and help with your marketing campaigns.

SMS and MMS use cases

With their distinct advantages and disadvantages, MMS and SMS messages each have a wide variety of use cases. In marketing, you can use them interchangeably to communicate with your customers whenever they’re best suited.

Here are some of the use cases within which SMS and MMS are ideal.

Use cases for SMS

In these listed events, you’ll find yourself leaning more towards SMS than MMS messages.

  • Flash sales: Flash sales are a good way to sprinkle urgency into your email campaigns. Doing so via text means high open rates and a quick response from customers.
  • Launching a new product: When bringing a new product into the market, you want your customers to know immediately. This is especially if you’re looking to give your loyal subscribers and customers a shot at a new feature before it’s launched. SMS messages are ideal, again, due to their high open rates.
  • Two-way messaging: With two-way SMS marketing, your marketing team can have back and forth conversations with your customers directly and in real-time. This makes them more personalized.

It gives your customers the freedom to make inquiries or lodge complaints. This helps them feel heard, which sets SMS messaging apart.

  • Lead nurturing campaigns: You can use personalized text messages to generate leads. Automated SMS marketing campaigns reaching a wide audience can get you more prospective customers. 

Use cases of MMS

Some popular use cases for MMS marketing include:

  • Collection or product introductions: Just like SMS messaging, you can use MMS to introduce new products. With MMS marketing, however, you can get a little more creative. However, you’d need to make it engaging for maximum impact. Luckily, you can easily do so using its various multimedia options.
  • Welcome messages: MMS messages are ideal for friendly, personalized messages to your new subscribers. Here’s one such example.
  • Cart abandonment messages: MMS is also ideal for sending reminders to your clients about their cart abandonment. You could embed links to redirect them back to their cart. Take a look at the illustration on the template below.
  • Birthday or anniversary messages: MMS lets you send custom birthday cards, anniversary images, or visuals for any other special occasion. This helps build a more personalized relationship with your customers. 

SMS, MMS, or both?

You don’t have to choose. With the distinct differences between MMS and SMS, you can use each interchangeably where they’re the most impactful. You want to align your marketing goals with the right messaging channel.

If you’re looking to impress your subscribers, engage them, or even entertain them, MMS is the most ideal channel. But if you want quick, brief, budget-friendly, yet impactful messages, SMS should be your go-to option.

Most text marketing software solutions provide your business with both options making it easy for you to use both. Omnisend is one such service, and it enables automated SMS and MMS campaigns that can help you reach your audience. 

With Omnisend, you can reach multiple people at once, and send personalized omnichannel messages.

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Bernard Meyer
Article by
Bernard Meyer

Bernard is the Director of Content at Omnisend, with a passion for good research, helping ecommerce businesses with their marketing automation needs, and beating absolutely everyone in Mario Kart 64.


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