The Difference Between SMS and MMS

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Overview

SMS marketing is the generic term most people use for marketing using text messages. Under the hood, there are actually two different formats that have distinct capabilities: SMS (short messaging services) and MMS (multimedia messaging services).

This article goes over the similarities and differences between these types of text messages and when to use them.

The Same: Price and Consent

MMS and SMS are alike in two important ways:

  • Consent
  • Cost per message

MMS marketing falls under the same consent guidelines as SMS. This means that you don’t need to re-gather consent from your current SMS subscribers for MMS marketing. If you already have someone’s permission for SMS marketing, you can start sending them MMS messages immediately.

Another similarity is the price. In Klaviyo, MMS and SMS messages cost exactly the same. This makes it simple to understand and manage your text marketing costs. Further, since the cost per message is the same, you can decide on whether to send an SMS or MMS based on which is better suited to a specific purpose.

Difference: Images/GIFs

The main difference between the two types is that MMS can include media besides just text (e.g., images), while SMS messages can only include text.

In Klaviyo, all text messages start out as an SMS message. You are able to add an image or GIF during the content creation stage. Once an image is added, the message will automatically be converted to an MMS. You will see the image appear in the preview. Any message that does not include an image or GIF will remain as an SMS.

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With MMS, you can send subscribers texts with branded images. You can show a product, your logo, an ad, a coupon, a graphic design, etc. Using an image or GIF can help your message stand out as well as make it feel more human.

You will not always want to include an image. Text-only messages are more direct and better for messages where you want to go straight to the point or the message is time-sensitive. For instance, with a transactional message, your goal is to keep the user updated about the status of their order/delivery, which doesn’t require an accompanying image or GIF.

Difference: Character Limit

Another thing separating MMS and SMS is the character count. SMS messages can have up to 160 characters — 70 with an emoji. As for MMS messages, they can have 1600 characters. This allows you more space to explain your brand to recipients, include key details about events or product launches, or provide updates as you would in an email newsletter.

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While MMS allows for longer messages, we recommend to still aim for around 160 characters. A best practice when creating content for text messages is to be as concise and personal as possible. SMS naturally has this limit, and are the best choice to quickly convey important information. 

Difference: Sending Numbers

You can send an SMS message from any type of number:

  • Short/vanity codes
  • Long numbers
  • Toll-free numbers

MMS can be sent from short codes, vanity codes, and long numbers but not from toll-free numbers due to technology limitations. If you are using a toll-free number to increase throughput, expect longer send times with MMS messages than with SMS. While there are no differences in sending throughput per long number or short code, there is a limit of 25 MMS messages per second per account, regardless of how many sending numbers you have. When sending large campaigns, using MMS can lead to longer sending times.

When to Use SMS vs. MMS

Use MMS when sending an image or GIF will enhance the message, such as to make it more personal by showing more of your brand. MMS can also be useful for sending out information about a new product, giving you a stage to showcase it visually.

Do not include media for the sole purpose of writing a longer message — most customers do not want to read longer messages or see irrelevant visuals. In these cases, it is better to use an SMS and shorten the content to make it fit into one message.

SMS messages are also better when you want to convey information as quickly as possible. This can be the case if you’re having a flash sale or even for the first message in your welcome series.

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