Text Message Marketing and Beyond: What’s the Difference Between SMS, MMS, and RCS?
Text message marketing and SMS marketing are often used interchangeably, but SMS (short message service) is just one of the main text messaging channels in use today. In addition to SMS, MMS (multimedia messaging service) and RCS (rich communication service) are two other popular ways to text. So what is SMS marketing, anyway? And how about MMS messaging and RCS, for that matter? Let's dive into the key differences between each.
3 Main Text Message Marketing Channels: SMS vs. MMS vs. RCS
You may already have an understanding of the top channels within the broader umbrella of mobile marketing, like mobile push notifications, mobile web push notifications, in-app messaging, mobile email marketing, and messaging apps. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here are some more channels you'll want to add to the list, all of which fall into the category of text message marketing (also known as SMS marketing).
The first is one you're likely the most familiar with, while the other two are growing in popularity. Here's an overview of each:
#1: SMS (Short Message Service)
Call them texts, text messages, or SMS—more than 9 trillion of these short messages are sent via mobile devices per year in the U.S. alone. These messages are often used by individuals for direct messaging with friends and family, but they’re also a key communication channel for brands and their customers.
What You Need to Know about SMS
Any phone anywhere in the world can send and receive SMS. That reach distinguishes SMS both from text messaging channels like MMS and RCS, which are not available across all devices and carriers, as well as other mobile messaging channels, such as app push notifications and in-app messages (which require specific apps to be installed).
Texts support 1:1 (or two-way) interactions. Unlike email and push, which generally involve messages from a given brand to groups of consumers and usually lack a direct response mechanism, texts can facilitate back-and-forth dialog between companies and their customers.
Plain-text SMS don't support rich media, like high-resolution images, GIFs, videos, and more.
SMS sends are billed based on the number of 160-character “message segments” sent, rather than the number of actual SMS messages. While modern smartphones can support messages that are longer than 160 characters, making it possible to send outreach that contains multiple segments, on non-smartphone devices you'll sometimes see longer messages literally split up (for instance, a 200-character message might get delivered to these devices as one 160-character SMS and a second 40-character one). However, this means that, say, a 320-character message will be billed for two message segments (i.e. effectively double-billed), potentially leading to sticker shock for marketers who don't understand how SMS message segments work.
There are many SMS marketing compliance requirements brands must adhere to, including obtaining explicit opt-ins to start messaging customers via text.
#2: MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service)
If you've ever sent or received a text with a GIF, photo, or video, then you've most likely experienced MMS, also known as multimedia messaging service. (That is, texts with visuals.) And they're more than just a fun tool for sharing pictures with friends—as digitally-savvy brands have discovered, MMS is a great outreach tool that livens up any SMS marketing campaign.
What You Need to Know About MMS
Offer a richer, more engaging experience than plain-text messages. Sometimes your messaging campaigns need a highly visual, eye-catching touch, which MMS is built to deliver.
Not all cell phone carriers are able to send and receive MMS. In these cases, your multimedia message will be sent as a regular SMS message with an image link the recipient can click to view.
Although it is widely used in the US, not all regions support MMS messages. Before you start building out a global MMS strategy, take the time to assess whether each market you’re looking to reach can support this message type.
Short codes that have not been enabled for MMS must go through a provisioning process, which can take as long as the process of applying for a short code (8 to 12 weeks).
Certain SMS phone number types, including alphanumeric sender IDs and SMS-enabled toll-free phone numbers, are unable to send MMS texts. So make sure you choose your sending numbers carefully!
Even in regions where MMS is supported, similar to SMS campaigns, there are prohibited content types that are strictly regulated by the carriers.
#3: RCS (Rich Communication Services)
Think of it as iMessage for Android users. Rich communication services (RCS), is a messaging alternative to SMS that's now available for all U.S. Android device owners and is also available in other countries, including the UK, France, and Mexico, and includes similar features that Apple has offered with its iMessage and that are available on other popular messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, such as the ability to let someone know you've read their message and to send—as the name suggests—rich media, such as high-resolution pictures and videos, as well as GIFs and files, such as PDFs.
For businesses, this means the potential to send rich visuals, such as photos of menu items to accompany text descriptions. In the future, businesses may even be able to allow customers to make their airplane seat selections directly within their RCS messages.
In theory, RCS is supposed to replace SMS—per an agreement that leading worldwide mobile carriers forged over a decade ago—but that hasn't happened yet and it's unclear when it will as Apple doesn't seem motivated to supplant its iMessage.
What You Need to Know About RCS
Allows those with Android devices in select countries to send and receive rich messages, as available via other popular messaging channels, like iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.
Only available for Android users in select countries, including the US, UK, and France. If you’re looking to leverage text messaging marketing more broadly, you will likely need to use SMS to reach customers outside of these markets (or customers using Apple devices).
As with regular SMS campaigns, there are regulatory requirements to follow. So make sure to talk to your legal team before beginning to send messaging in this emerging communications channel.
Considering adding text messages to your customer engagement mix? Here's what you need to know about adding SMS to your cross-channel strategy, alongside other popular messaging channels.