SMS Vs Email Marketing: Which Channel Should You Choose?

Topic: SMS, SMS Marketing
SMS beats OTT

SMS and email are two popular ways that businesses interact with customers digitally to send marketing messages, reminders and alerts. But which is the most effective way to communicate with your audience? It all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Marketers today have an ever-growing number of communications channels at their disposal – including SMS, email, social media and direct mail just to name a few.

But with fierce competition and so many communications channels to choose from, there’s a danger that your messages will get lost in the noise, leading to a poor ROI on marketing spend. Taking a strategic approach will help you to get the most out of your campaigns, which starts with making sure that you are focused on the right channel. 

One of the most common questions is around SMS vs email marketing, which we explore in more detail in this article. We also explore how these forms of communication stack up against a more traditional approach in the form of direct mail. 

SMS vs email marketing: a quick overview

SMS and email are invaluable marketing tools, and many organisations use both as part of a multichannel marketing strategy.

SMS leads the way on open rates of up to 98% compared to around 20% in email. SMS is also a powerful way to deliver succinct and actionable marketing messages, alerts and reminders direct to customers’ mobile phones. 

Email, on the other hand, lends itself to longer form communications, with useful or inspiring content and imagery that nurtures prospects through the marketing funnel.

What is SMS marketing? 

SMS, which stands for short messaging service, is more commonly known as a text message, which most of us receive from friends and family. Organisations also use them in their marketing activity, often to welcome new customers, or give them access to special offers and deals. With a 160 character limit, texts are necessarily short with a clear call to action. Using a SMS platform, you’re also able to group or segment your contacts so your communications are highly-targeted. 

To learn more, read our in-depth guide: SMS Marketing: Tapping into the Power of SMS 

What is email marketing? 

Marketing emails, like SMS, are also used to welcome customers and offer exclusive subscriber deals. They can be short and snappy – but you can also use them for longer-form content, such as newsletters with a number of articles and photos. The best marketing emails have a strong subject line, interesting content, branding, website links, and imagery. 

Again, like SMS, email contacts are grouped into a central database where it’s easy to manage and segment them. Typically, email is used to nurture leads especially in the B2B world where the buying cycle is longer and customers might need more information and reassurance before making a decision. 

SMS marketing: the pros 

SMS offers a cost-effective, quick and direct way of reaching your customers. Some of the benefits of SMS marketing include: 

Reach: There are around 7.41 billion mobile phone users worldwide in 2024, which gives you a huge potential audience. Many people today keep their phones within close reach, which increases the likelihood of messages being read quickly.

Speed: Time-pressed customers don’t always have time to read long emails or blogs. SMS is direct and economical with words so you can get your message across quickly. You can also speed up the process of sending them out with automation.

High open rate: An extremely high open rate increases the chances of your messages landing, reducing the cost-per-acquisition.

Targeting: It’s easy to segment customers based on demographics, behaviours or preferences so your messaging is effective.

Personalisation: Text messages can already feel exclusive because they are sent to a user’s personal device. But you can further personalise texts by including names and offers that are most likely to resonate with them.

Low cost: SMS is highly-affordable, and the costs come down further when you send more messages.

Email marketing: the pros

Many of the benefits of SMS marketing also apply to email. Here are just a few:

Direct: With many people viewing their emails on a mobile, you can reach people wherever they are.

Segmentation: Your database can be segmented according to demographics, behaviours and preferences.

Personalisation: A personalised subject line, greeting and bespoke offers can drive engagement and action. 

Cost effective: Email marketing pricing is competitive, especially compared to print communications.

Include more detail: With no character limit, you can include more information on a range of subjects. SMS, on the other hand, should only include one message with a single call to action. That said, it’s normally best to keep email communications short otherwise your audience could lose interest. 

SMS marketing: the cons

160 character limit: Sometimes it’s harder to write a short message than a longer one because every word must carry weight. You need to get your point across quickly without being abrupt. Esendex users can choose from a number of templates to make this task easier and even create a bespoke SMS landing page to provide further information. 

Timing it right: You need to get the timing just right to encourage people to act quickly, while also giving them enough time to do so. 

Email marketing: the cons 

Spam: Marketing emails can go into a spam or junk folder which prevents your customers from even seeing it. 

Too much noise: Because it’s so easy to send out emails, yours could be easily lost or ignored even if it’s compelling and relevant. Metrics, such as open and click-through rates, give you valuable insights into which campaigns have performed best so you can optimise them in the future – such as changing the time, day and frequency they are sent, and/or the type of content. 

Resource-intensive: It takes time to craft good emails. You need to come up with ideas, write the copy and design them. Templates can help to speed up this process, while a content calendar helps you map out ideas in plenty of time. 

How to choose between email or SMS marketing

In reality, you will probably choose a mix of email and SMS marketing but you may still be wondering where to invest more of your budget. This ultimately depends on the type of organisation, the products and services you offer, and who your audience is. The good thing is you can track key metrics in both email and SMS to determine, over the short and long-term, what your customers are responding to. 

Email and SMS complement each other and create a joined-up customer experience. While text messages are short, it’s important that you maintain a consistent brand voice adopting the right level of urgency without shouting, and avoiding off-brand emojis and confusing abbreviations.

Click here to learn more about using Emojis In SMS Marketing.

What about direct mail?

It’s essential that every business finds the right way to communicate with their audience. A lot depends on the demographic with which you are trying to connect – a 2015 survey found that over 65% of over 65s welcomed postal communication, compared to less than 30% of 18-34 year olds. The trend reverses on social media, as you might expect, with 89% of 18-24 year olds using Facebook Messenger, compared to 35% of 75+ year olds (source).

Some of this gap comes down to smartphone adoption; while 95% of UK households own a mobile phone (source), whether this device is a smartphone or not depends on your age. 96% of 16-24 year olds have a smartphone, compared to 47% of 55-64 year olds (source).

If your customer base varies in age, and you’re looking for a catch-all communications solution, then, your best option could well be SMS. It’s a bold claim – and here’s why we feel able to make it:

KPIsEmail (averages)Direct mail (averages)SMS (averages)
Message open rate20.9%75%95%
User response time2.5 daysUp to 17 days90 seconds
Link CTR4.2%n/a19%
Messages received each month1,21620178
Proportion that is spam90%57%**1%
*Conversions are measured as someone taking the desired action: a sale, coupon use, form completion etc. The percentage is the proportion of people who clicked who converted, or received the direct mail and converted.
**We’ve defined unsolicited post as spam for the purposes of this comparison – but it’s worth noting that direct mail is not subject to the same regulations as email and SMS.

Data sources: OracleRemarkety | Adobe | EsendexDigital Doughnut | DMN | Compu-Mail | American Express | Royal Mail | Ofcom

What’s missing from this table is, of course, cost: email is virtually free, direct mail is relatively expensive, and text messages cost a few pence each. The material point is that if you want the best chance of catching your customer’s attention, whether that’s for alerts, reminders, promotions or to gather feedback, SMS should be integral to your multichannel strategy.

Author Avatar
Mary Henry

Mary has extensive experience in communication, PR and journalism - most recently across SaaS businesses. A keen researcher and storyteller, Mary is highly skilled in making complex concepts accessible, and in putting customers at the heart of her communication. She has supported all kinds of businesses to tell their brand, product and people stories - from global multinationals to start-ups across retail, travel/leisure, banking/finance, government and educational institutions.