SMS vs. Instant Message App Marketing

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mobile marketing

It seems there’s a new messaging app popping up every month. Maybe even more frequently than that. It’s hard to keep track of them all, but it’s also hard to ignore them if you’re looking to use mobile marketing. When you’ve got limited marketing resources, should you spend them advertising on the latest instant message (IM) app, or go with SMS marketing?

It’s a good question to ask, so lets look at them both first before making a decision.

In the UK in 2013, Whatsapp, closely followed by Facebook messaging, dominated the mobile IM market according to Statista (Facebook bought Whatsapp earlier this year). The next closest are Twitter and Apple’s iMessage.  Statista also reports that 33% of Brits are interested in free or low cost instant messaging, but 37% were not interested at all (the rest didn’t even know there were options!).

Clearly people like their IM apps (even if they aren’t free). International Business Times (IBT) reported in January of this year that more IMs were sent in 2013 than SMS messages. They predict the trend will continue through 2014 and beyond. So does it make sense to jump right into IM marketing before the SMS boat sinks?

Not so fast.

The IBT article also said that SMS will continue to generate more revenue than IM apps. And the ultimate objective of all marketing is to bring in revenue by generating more web site traffic, in store sales, or other activity.

There are lots of reasons SMS will continue to do this better than IM apps, but here are the main ones:

  • SMS is the only universal solution. Anyone with a mobile phone can receive a SMS message. If you market using an IM app, you’ll have to repeat or recreate the campaign for each app you target. If there ever is an app that everyone uses, then this may change.  But for now it looks like  SMS is the only way to reach anyone and everyone on their mobile phone.
  • Open and read rates for SMS are very high and fast. It’s hard to find any solid data on how often and fast messages sent via IM are read, but for marketers you may not be using the message feature of an IM app anyway. For some apps the only option may be to use mobile banner or video ads. Others are more like social networks where you can collect followers and share your brand or products via messages. In either case, you’re not going to see the immediate response you may get with SMS.
  • No hoops to jump through. SMS marketing has a legally defined opt-in process. But when you start looking at using mobile IM apps, the way to reach your customers (or potential customers) can be totally different. You may have to go through the process of getting people to “like”,  “follow”, or connect with you before you can message them directly the way you can with SMS. There are undoubtedly as many methods as there are IM apps out there. In comparison, running an opt-in campaign for SMS is simple.
  • SMS provides a pre-qualified list. When you think about it, people that opt in to receive SMS messages really want to hear from you. SMS is, or can be, a very intrusive and personal form of communication. You’re contacting them on their private mobile number after all. There’s much more trust and expectation involved in a SMS opt in than just having someone follow you or see your ad while using their IM app. These people will be much easier to sell to than a casual connection in an app.

It’s no wonder why IBT predicts SMS will continue to generate more revenue than IM apps – about 50 times the revenue generated by all the IM apps combined. So if you can only pick one channel – SMS or IM app – my bet would be on SMS. Do you agree?

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