In the red corner, standing 160-characters tall and 27 years of age we have the snappy SMS. And in the blue corner, weighing in at average 75KB and 48 years of age we have the energetic email. Who will win the heavyweight marketing belt of 2019? SMS vs email - let’s get ready to rumble!

SMS vs email is a debate that splits departments and tops agendas, and with good reason. You want to communicate with your audience in the most effective way possible - engaging their attention, achieving the call to action and boosting your ROI. Which is the best platform for achieving these aims? You’re about to find out. 

SMS vs email - the stats

Before we get into counter punches and hooks, let’s take a step back and look at the bareknuckle stats of SMS vs email. 


SMS

Email

Users

6.8 billion

3.8 billion

Characters

160 before going into multiple messages

Unlimited 


Open rate

98%

20%

Response time


45%

6%

Click through rate

19%

3.2%

Cost

From 3.8p per text

Free (but with a huge caveat)


From these stats alone, you’d probably wager on red - more people use SMS, open SMS and respond to SMS. But before placing all of your pocket money on SMS for the win, let’s take a deeper look. 

SMS vs email - audience

Nearly everyone has a mobile phone that is setup to receive text messages. You don’t have to download an app, set up notifications or think of a unique yet professional name that isn’t already taken. Although email requires some audience participation to get set up, it’s something most people have already done personally or through work. 

The clincher is your audience’s preferred style of communication. Older generations, busy audiences and young digital detoxers might not check their email inbox as often as their text messages; whereas office workers, business owner and internet addicts might not check their phone as often as their emails. 

The verdict: it’s a tie, with your audience’s enthusiasm directly influencing the outcome. We recommend backing both to find out which platform works best for you. 

SMS vs email - content

With its unlimited characters, attachment possibilities and ability to customise, email can definitely deliver more when it comes to content. You can insert GIFs, create branded HTML and attach videos and coupons to engage your audience and entice action. In comparison, SMS content is limited to 160-characters, emoticons and MMS images. Or so you thought. 

Coming in with a surprise swipe from the left, SMS platforms are now capable of attaching PDFs, surveys and URL links. Even better, through the use of SMS shortcodes and keywords you can segment your audience to send them relevant SMS content rather than a generic email blast. 

The verdict: when it comes to short sharp messaging about exclusive sales, one-off deals and emergency announcements, SMS takes the lead. For long-form content, branded templates and weighty attachments then email scores high. 

SMS vs email - immediacy

While both SMS and email are delivered instantly (signal and internet connection-dependent), that doesn’t mean they’re both opened and read instantly or at all. 20% of emails are marked as spam and head straight for the junk folder, while 80% of the emails that do get through remain unopened. 

Email inboxes are notoriously full and unruly, making it difficult for your email to stand out and shout “PLEASE READ ME!” SMS messages do exactly this by notifying your audience of their arrival and demanding attention away from Candy Crush, Facebook and the dog cam. It’s why 98% are opened and it’s why SMS appointment reminders, emergency alerts and flash sale notifications are so popular. 

The verdict: SMS is the clear winner for urgent notices, appointment reminders and anything requiring immediate attention or action. 

SMS vs email - personalisation

If you read our article on personalised SMS then you’ll know that personalisation is king when it comes to email and SMS marketing. First names, product recommendations and tailored content are great ways to engage your audience and are easily inserted into emails and SMS using custom fields. 

The showdown comes to your audience’s feelings towards personalisation. In light of GDPR, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the feeling that Alexa is always listening, personalised marketing emails can come across as a little creepy and encroaching. Personalised SMS, however, can be a little less “I know what you did last summer” thanks to the active opt-in and inherent personal nature of text messages. 

The verdict: with less room to personalise, SMS seems like the unlikely winner but we think its friendly nature beats emails and leads to less opt-outs. 

SMS vs email - relationships

Speaking of the personal nature of text messages, it’s time to look at the relationship history of our two contenders. Relationships are important for building trust, encouraging loyalty and fostering customer lifetime value. 

A person’s text message inbox is predominantly reserved for personal communications and relationships. It’s where you speak to your mum and wish your gran a happy birthday. Conversely, a person’s email inbox is predominantly reserved for business emails, renewal reminders and your ASOS email confirmation. 

The verdict: Unless you already have a healthy relationship with your audience, emails are likely to go unread and unloved when compared with SMS. 

SMS vs email - call to action

Now to the all-important call to action. The action that you want your audience to complete affects the effectiveness of your chosen communication method. 

If you want someone to complete a lengthy customer service form, upload images and write a 200-word review, an email read on a laptop or computer is far more appropriate. If you want a customer to complete a super-quick survey on their experience, confirm an appointment reminder or contribute to your poll, SMS is your best bet. 

The verdict: Common sense prevails. 

SMS vs email - cost

And finally, cost. Bulk SMS costs from 3.8p per message compared with emails, which are free. Or are they? 

The hidden cost of SMS is the time involved in crafting 160-characters. The hidden costs of email are the time and fees of design, copywriting, marketing platforms and sending. Not as free as you think. 

The verdict: We’ll let you calculate that one. 

And the winner is...

Both. SMS isn’t necessarily better than email in the same way that email isn’t necessarily better than SMS. It all depends on who you’re trying to reach, what you’re trying to say and the result you are trying to achieve. Plus who said SMS and emails can’t be used together? But more on that another time.