Mobile Marketing Basics: SMS vs. Push Notifications

Throughout the customer lifecycle journey, there are times when marketers can use push and other times when outreach campaigns deliver better results using SMS.

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Mobile Marketing Basics: SMS vs. Push Notifications

This is a guest article written by Joyce Solano who is Vice President of Global Marketing at Leanplum, the mobile marketing platform built for engagement.

There’s a time and place for every messaging channel including SMS, push notifications, email, in-app messages, and more. Each channel adds up to become more than the sum of its parts.

As mobile teams, it’s important to view user communication as a holistic entity. It's not only the message that matters to the end user, but also the ability to communicate with them on channels they prefer. In the real world, there’s no such thing as a person who exclusively uses email or exclusively opens push notifications. We all opt for different channels at different times, and businesses should start doing the same.

In fact, according to recent research by Twilio, nearly seven out of 10 businesses think they’re communicating with their customers effectively, while only two out of 10 customers agree. One clear way that customers want to be reached is messaging. Whether it’s in-app chat, push notifications, SMS, or other channels, messaging ranks among the top three prefered channels for customer service around the world.

It’s all too tempting for marketers to lose sight of this truth and experience tunnel vision with a particular channel. But a single-channel strategy will never deliver the long-term engagement and retention of a multi-channel strategy. Each scenario is different. Throughout the customer lifecycle journey, there are times when marketers can use push and other times when outreach campaigns deliver better results using SMS. Only by understanding the relative strengths and weaknesses of each channel can mobile teams optimize their campaigns.

In this post, we’ll outline the scenarios when it’s best to leverage SMS and alternatively, when it’s best to lean on push.

SMS vs. Push Notifications: What’s the Difference?

Push notifications and text messages might look similar to the end user, but they’re delivered in a completely different way.

Push notifications are sent from the app developer to an Operating System Push Notification Service (OSPNS). The most popular push notification services are Google’s Firebase Cloud Messaging and the Apple Push Notification Service. These push services process the message and deliver it to each user’s device, as requested.

Short Message Service (SMS) is the text messaging service that we’ve been using on mobile devices since the 90s. While many texts are sent from peer to peer, it’s possible for businesses to send messages directly to customers, provided that they have the recipient’s opt-in and phone number. Previously, developers sent texts to a Short Message Service Center (SMSC), which processed and forwarded the content through cell towers and into the user’s device. The modern way to send SMS is to a REST API like Twilio.

The fundamental technology behind push and SMS is different, but both channels let businesses reach out directly to their customers.

When to Use Push Notifications

When to use push notifications

Push notifications boast several features that make them a valuable marketing channel. One such perk is rich push notifications. With these messages, apps can add gifs, buttons, audio, and more to their messages, regardless of the underlying carrier.

Secondly, push campaigns can fit in right beside other channels, like email or in-app messages. If your push provider is an integrated marketing platform, you’ll be able to track downstream conversions rather than just surface metrics like click through rates. Metrics like open rates are easily trackable through push notifications, making them a good fit for intricate campaigns.

Finally, push notifications enjoy fewer technical and legal limitations than SMS. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission regulates mass promotional messages on email and SMS. Companies must tread carefully when delivering text messages to users who haven’t opted in. SMS content is also limited to 160 characters. Neither limitation is applicable to push notifications, making it a good channel for promotional messages.

When to use SMS

When to use SMS

Text messaging is universal. Unlike push notifications, text messages don’t require app installs and notification permissions. The universality of texting means your message will reach every user with the same level of urgency as a text from a friend.

Indeed, urgency is a key benefit for text messages. Most texts are opened within three minutes of delivery, while push notifications range from seven to 48 minutes.

Many industries, from healthcare to non-profits, use text messaging in their marketing. Using messaging APIs, retail companies like Nike and Nordstrom send messages to inform their customers about new campaigns or products. Walmart sends promotional texts to millions of customers about their “deal of the day”.

It’s possible to automate your messaging campaigns using an API like Twilio Notify, which lets you send notifications over SMS, push, and messaging apps.

Balancing Between Push Notifications and SMS

There’s no clear-cut winner between push and SMS, but for marketers, that’s a good thing. Each channel adds its own value to campaigns.

In practice, SMS campaigns can seem daunting. The technology is fundamentally different and the pricing varies from country to country. Twilio simplifies this problem by providing a web API for text messages. To optimize deliverability, Twilio Copilot queues outbound messages to the carriers on your behalf. Using Notify, you can send many notifications with one API request. Send to a list of users or use segments and tags to select the audience.

Once SMS functionality is implemented, the best way to get started with cross-channel messaging campaigns is with a mobile marketing platform like Leanplum. Trusted by top brands like NBC, Tinder, Grab, TED, and Zynga, Leanplum helps brands orchestrate multi-channel campaigns — from messaging to the in-app experience — all from a single, integrated platform.

With the right tools in place, it’s easier to incorporate different channels into a comprehensive strategy. Use comprehensive analytics to capture details about your audience’s likes and dislikes, segment your users based on where they are in the customer journey, and deliver personalized messages across multiple channels. In the end, a combination of channels is the best way to keep users engaged and encourage long-term retention.

Adding messaging to your customer engagement strategy?

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To find out more about what you can do with messaging, click here. To learn more about bulk SMS, click here.