Push vs. SMS

Many of our clients are asking whether they should focus on push or SMS for their short-form digital messaging channel. Here are several things to consider as you ponder this decision.

First, the advantages of each:

Push Advantages

  • Not regulated. Push isn’t regulated by the FCC, the FTC, or the telecos. Since user permission is required, there is significantly less bureaucracy and regulation complexity.
  • Persistent inbox. An inbox can be created in your app that holds all notifications. Starbucks provides a great example of how to use it well. Its download-of-the-week doesn’t interrupt customers’ home screens; instead, a nice reward awaits those who visit the app. The persistent inbox allows you to choose whether to use push as an interrupter, an in-app communication, or both.
  • No-cost rich media. Unlike MMS, which may incur a cost to the user as well as the sender, push can employ rich media. This means that motion, sound, forms, and all the goodies we would like to include in email or SMS are viable.

SMS Advantages

  • No “list” needed. Text-to-get campaigns can be launched without a user base or the level of engagement that an app download requires. You can demonstrate the value of your SMS program without a commitment from the user. Examples include text-to-get a whitepaper at a conference and text-to-get a coupon in a store. Deliver the desired information plus an invitation to subscribe.
  • Any content, anywhere. SMS messages can point to any place on the web, while push’s primary function is to drive users to apps. This makes SMS a better means to promote social content and landing pages or microsites developed for special programs outside of carefully honed app content.
  • Everyone does it. Texting is the second most-common activity (after talking) of cellphone users. It is a common and habitual activity, unlike scanning a code, and can deliver the same types of content.

Now let’s consider some side-by-side match-ups:

  • Reach. Push requires an app download and acceptance of notifications, which means your push messages will reach a smaller but more engaged audience. SMS subscriptions likewise require a commitment, but a text-to-get SMS program is limited only by your ability to supply enticing content. Push is for smartphones only. SMS can be received on virtually any phone, but linking to web content is also limited to smartphones. Advantage: SMS.
  • Format. Push is not limited in character length or format and rich push overcomes barriers email marketers only dream of. SMS is limited to 160 characters, including spaces. Advantage: push.
  • Aggravation. Both are personal and intrusive but can be mitigated by requesting time zone or allowing users to set quiet times. Push’s persistent inbox can deliver content without interrupting the user. SMS text-to-get puts the customer in control. SMS/MMS may incur a cost to the subscriber. Slight advantage: push.

While both push and SMS deliver short-format content for mobile phones, there are significant differences in user experience, purpose, and strategy. Which should you use? In my 100 percent partial view, the answer is easy: both!

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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