What is SMS vs MMS and why it matters?

In today’s world, nearly everyone sends text messages regularly, both individuals and businesses. Businesses commonly use texting as part of their marketing, support, scheduling, and more. To see why businesses use texting in marketing, consider open rates. SMS open rates can be up to 98%. Perhaps more importantly, 54% of consumers say they want to receive marketing texts. The consumer preference for texting is nothing new. In 2014, a poll found that 38% of customers preferred to check their order status by text, 32% preferred to change or schedule appointments by text, and 31% preferred to confirm reservations by text.

Despite that, around 61% of marketing teams still haven’t harnessed the advantages of texting. 

Even if you are already using text messages for your business, you want to ensure that you make the most of them. Part of maximizing your texting strategy is understanding the difference between SMS and MMS.

What is SMS – What is SMS vs MMS?

SMS stands for “Short Message Service” and is the original method of texting. It is among the oldest texting-related technology and was invented during the 1980s. 

There are some very important features of an SMS, including that it cannot include videos, pictures, or other media. It can only include text. Additionally, it must have 160 characters or fewer.

infographic of what SMS means

What is MMS – Major trends influencing SMS vs MMS.

MMS stands for Multimedia Message Service. As the name implies, this type of message lets you include multimedia, such as audio, video, and photos. 

Importantly, you can have more than 160 characters in a message as well. The limit for MMS is 1,600 characters.

infographic on what MMS means

SMS vs MMS: How they are different – the individual pieces of SMS vs MMS.

two phones side by side. one with MMS message one with SMS message

Given the above definitions, there are a few key differences between SMS vs MMS. The most obvious differences involve what you can and cannot send. 

  • Message Length: SMS texts have to have 160 characters or fewer. By contrast, MMS texting lets you include up to 1,600 characters. This reduces the need to break up your message into multiple texts.
  • Media Included: You cannot include any multimedia in an SMS. You cannot include photos, audio, GIFS, or video. There is nothing but text. By contrast, you can include all of those types of embedded media in an MMS.
  • Cost: Because MMS requires sending more data than SMS, you can expect it to cost more. Your carrier or messaging provider will charge for the extra data sent. Some recipients may also have to pay to receive MMS messages, depending on their plan. In most plans, you can expect an MMS to cost several times as much as an SMS. Or, if a plan offers a certain number of SMS messages, each MMS will likely count as two or three.
  • Who Can Send and Receive: Every phone should be able to send and receive SMS messages. By contrast, most phones but not all will be able to receive MMS messages. Specifically, MMS messages will not work for people without smartphones.

SMS vs MMS business examples.

 To get a better idea of SMS vs MMS, consider the following business situations and what works best for each:

  • Scheduling an appointment or reservation over text: Either SMS or MMS would work well for this. If you wanted to embed an image of the calendar, then you would need MMS.
  • Answering a question about hours: This could be done over SMS or MMS.
  • Answering a question about a product: If you answered over SMS, you would be limited to text. If you answered with MMS messaging, you could also send a photo of the product or similar options.
  • Answering a question about the menu: If you only use SMS, you will have to type out and explain everything. If you use MMS, you could send an image of the menu or finished dish.

Should I use SMS or MMS? SMS vs MMS in the business.

Once you understand SMS and MMS, you have to decide what type of text messages to use when contacting clients. To help you decide, consider the following pros and cons of each.

Pros of SMS Messages

  • You can keep the message short and sweet, so it doesn’t require much effort.
  • Your customers likely won’t have to pay to receive the text since unlimited SMS messaging is a common part of any phone plan.
  • Reduced costs for you.
  • You can include images or videos as links.

Cons of SMS Messages

  • You can easily run out of characters in your message.
  • You cannot include any type of multimedia. This means no GIFs, emojis, pictures, videos, or audio files.
  • The lack of multimedia makes it harder to grab attention.

Pros of MMS Messages

  •   You are unlikely to reach the 1,600-character limit.
  •   You can incorporate multimedia, including GIFs, pictures, videos, audio, and emojis,
  •   Multimedia makes your messages more engaging.
  •   They are proven to have a higher engagement rate. Some estimates even say that MMS messaging can boost your engagement rate by 250%. There is also 10 times the chance that an MMS will be shared with others.

Cons of MMS Messages

  • Not all of your customers will be able to receive MMS messages. Those without smartphones will not be able to.
  • Some clients won’t have MMS messaging in their phone plans, so they may have to pay to receive your text. This would reflect poorly on you.
  • You will have to pay more to send MMS messages.
  • The higher character limit makes it easier to ramble or create a message that is hard to read.
  • If you want to include graphics or videos, you will need to either create them yourself or hire someone to do so.  

A Closer look at how to choose between SMS and MMS

In our experience at Podium, customers tend to appreciate the ability to sound more personable in MMS messages. This makes them particularly appealing when asking a customer to complete a review or sending a promotion.

By contrast, SMS messages tend to be better for quick reminders or follow-ups.

Most companies will want to consider sending SMS messages for: 

  •   Short calls to action
  •   Customer support
  •   Collecting feedback
  •   Sending reminders
  •   Confirming orders
  •   Tracking deliveries
  •   Two-factor authentication
  •   Resetting passwords
  •   Time-sensitive messages
  •   Text-to-join campaigns

By contrast, you will want to send MMS messages for: 

  •   Messages that have more information or details
  •   Sharing instructional videos or audio clips
  •   Grabbing attention
  •   Highlighting products or services with multimedia
  •   Offering coupons
  •   Running competitions
  •   Inviting customers to events
  •   Sharing holiday greetings with images
  •   Including a QR code in the message
  •   Times you want to customize the appearance of the message itself

Of course, there are exceptions, and you should pay attention to your customer base and figure out which type of message they prefer in each situation. 

You will have to take the time to decide what types of messages your target audience wants. For example, if you are targeting people in nursing homes, you may want to stick to SMS, with the occasional MMS, as they may not all have smartphones. But, if you are targeting millennials, you would want to use a combination of SMS and MMS messaging depending on the situation that leans more heavily towards MMS.

How do I switch from SMS to MMS?

Based on the differences between SMS vs MMS, there will be some situations where you want to use SMS and somewhere you want to use MMS. But what do you do if you start with an SMS but realize you need the extra characters or multimedia capabilities of an MMS? 

The exact process will depend on the phone or program you are using. With an Android smartphone, for example, you would do the following. Keep in mind that it only works for undelivered messages.

  1. Open the app for Messages.
  2. Tap on the conversation in question.
  3. Tap on the message’s timestamp.
  4. You will see the option to “Switch to text (SMS/MMS).” Click on it.

For most businesses, however, the best choice is to choose a messaging service that offers both SMS and MMS as well as the ability to seamlessly transition between the two. Podium, for example, offers the flexibility of both options. Even better, Podium is free, making it the best free option. You can use Podium to send out multimedia, including audio, pictures, coupons, and more.

Conclusion: Why you should care about SMS vs MMS.

Understanding the difference between SMS and MMS can seem simple initially but deciding when to use each is more complex. By understanding SMS vs MMS, you will find it easier to make an informed decision about which works best in a given scenario. This way, you can balance out your budget with the information you want to include and your customer’s preference.

Podium Starter offers a convenient way to take advantage of both SMS and MMS. As a bonus, you also get other helpful features for your business, such as the ability to encourage reviews and Webchat.

Matt Boyce
Matt Boyce Head of SMB Marketing

Matt Boyce is a marketing and business professional at Podium, the premiere messaging platform that connects local businesses with their customers.

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