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MMS vs SMS: How Are These Messaging Services Different?

SMS and MMS are widely used acronyms in mobile marketing, even by those who only vaguely understand what they stand for.

You have likely heard the term SMS, possibly even MMS, and are likely to have received an MMS or SMS notification. But what do these terms actually mean?

In this article, we cover what MMS and SMS mean and how they are integral to the strategy of any mobile marketing team.

What Does MMS Stand for?

what does mms mean

MMS stands for “Multimedia Messaging Service,” — a service that allows you to share media attachments including videos, images, documents, audio files, and more between devices. If you have ever sent or received a photo via a messaging platform, you have first-hand experience with MMS.

It’s possible that you have sent multimedia messages on platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, and many other applications, but this is not the same functionality as MMS sent from your mobile service provider.

Traditionally, MMS does not work over wifi. Instead, it is sent between two cellular data plans. But technically, the wifi-enabled messaging platforms we know and love are capable of sending multimedia messages.

MMS is not limited to peer-to-peer messaging platforms, and in fact, can be used in one-way communication tools like push notifications and in-app messaging.  

What Does SMS Stand for?

what does sms mean

SMS is your basic text message. But what does that even mean?

SMS, meaning “Short Message Service,” offers the ability to send short-form messages, typically 160 characters in length. While SMS providers may combine lengthier messages to appear as one within the text stream, a service fee will be incurred for every set of 160 characters.

Text messages sent as SMS go through a labyrinth of base stations (cell towers), controllers, servers, location registers, more servers, more base stations, and finally the recipient’s phone.

Although both MMS and SMS are similar in delivery method, they are very different in format. By looking at the two acronyms, you might think the difference is trivial. So, what is the difference between MMS and SMS?

MMS vs SMS: What’s the Difference?

mms example compared to sms example

Although they seem to be interchangeable terms, there are some areas of distinction. One key difference, which may already be clear by the definition of SMS, is message length.

Again, SMS stands for Short Message Service, the benchmark for “short” being 160 characters. MMS can include up to 1,600 characters in a single message, a 10x increase.

Platforms such as Twitter and WhatsApp have looser guidelines about message length. Twitter increased their character limit from 140 to 280 characters. WhatsApp has a seemingly arbitrary limit of 65,536 characters.1

Another difference in MMS and SMS is how these messages are delivered. SMS predates the internet and still functions similarly to how it did at its genesis. Although the process for sending and receiving text messages is very complex and involves many more acronyms, SMS texts are transmitted via cell towers.

MMS, on the other hand, utilize the TCP/IP or the Transmission Communication Protocol/Internet Protocol. This means MMS actually uses the internet to request the encoding and decoding of the data, in this case, the MMS content.2

SMS Marketing Advantages

sms marketing advantages

Text messages have the best engagement of any marketing channel, by a long shot.

83% of millennials open text messages within 90 seconds of receipt, and the rest of us open texts shortly thereafter.3 With the rapid adoption of mobile devices globally, SMS marketing is essential for any growing business.

Many SMS providers offer plans with unlimited text messaging. Otherwise, service providers like Verizon can charge up to $0.20 per text message.4

Even if it wasn’t required by law for customers to explicitly opt in to receive SMS marketing (which it is), customers won’t appreciate messages of unknown origin. For customers who do not have unlimited texting plans or do not wish to receive SMS marketing, it’s important you receive opt-in confirmation.

SMS marketing, like welcome messages and push notifications, is yet another opportunity to personalize communication. A personalized message brings a human element to marketing and has been found to convert 10 times better than non-personalized messages.5

Including emojis within your SMS campaign will further personalize the message. Emojis may increase the open rate of SMS as it did push notifications in our study of click-through rate when using emojis in marketing.

Advances in mobile technology using beacons and geofencing have allowed for location-based marketing using SMS. If a customer is in close proximity to your business, a time-sensitive SMS touchpoint can be enough to convert a purchase for your product or service.

SMS also offers speed. Although the technical process behind SMS is very complicated, it is often accomplished in minutes, if not seconds. In fact, it’s been found that 98% of text messages are read within 2 minutes of receipt.6

To summarize, the main advantages of SMS marketing are:

  • Highest engagement of any marketing channel
  • Opportunity for a personal connection between the company and the customer
  • Location-based messaging
  • Perfect for time-sensitive messaging

MMS Marketing Advantages

list of advantages of mms marketing

Today, many providers bundle MMS capabilities within a standard SMS plan. In other words, cellular providers often view SMS and MMS as the same thing. But when customers opt to pay for individual messages, MMS can cost up to $0.25 per message.7

The price can be prohibitive to many customers around the world if they are not equipped with unlimited texting plans through their mobile service providers. Service providers typically charge for both incoming and outgoing text messages, which is why opt-in confirmation is so important.

All of the advantages associated with SMS marketing also apply to MMS marketing, plus more.

Multimedia messages have been found to have even higher engagement with their rich media capabilities, offering more immediate value for users. In fact, MMS campaigns were found to have 20% higher opt-in rates than a basic SMS campaign.8

MMS vs SMS: Which is Best for Mobile Marketing?

mms vs sms compared on two phones

Having a strong omnichannel marketing presence is essential to remaining top of mind for customers. Deciding whether to implement SMS or MMS into your marketing communication strategy should not be black and white, but more yin and yang.

A combination of both SMS and MMS can be the most effective and cost-efficient strategy, depending on the scenario.

For example, if you are trying to increase engagement with an onboarding video, it would be best to include a thumbnail and interactive video player via MMS. If you want a triggered response to a customer’s action, a simple SMS would suffice.

Of course, as with any marketing tool, the decision to implement it boils down to where the cost fits into the marketing budget. SMS are less expensive than MMS, making them more prevalent in marketing, which gives you the opportunity to stand out with MMS.

At CleverTap, we use Clever Campaigns to send triggered SMS notifications based on real-time customer events. Learn how CleverTap can make your app marketing more intelligent through automated mobile marketing.

See how today’s top brands use CleverTap to drive long-term growth and retention

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