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MMS vs. SMS: How do they differ?

Discover the differences between the two mobile messaging channels and how they can enhance your communication strategy when paired together.

What’s the difference between SMS and MMS?

What is SMS?

Short Message Service (SMS), or a text, is exactly that – a short message made of only text. It allows you to send and receive messages of maximum 160 characters and over a mobile network. 

What is MMS?

Multimedia Message Service (MMS) is the next level of SMS. It uses multimedia like images and videos, along with text making for richer communication between users.

A side-by-side comparison of SMS and MMS

160 character limitHigher limit than SMS- dependent on provider
Send text onlySend text, videos, images
InexpensiveMore expensive than SMS
Any mobile phone can receive SMSNot all mobile phones can receive MMS
Ideal for immediate communication (ie. reminders, announcements, updates, 2FA)Ideal for creative messages (ie. promotions, coupons, QR codes)

Pros and cons of SMS and MMS

SMS and MMS are both mobile messaging channels but carry their own advantages and weaknesses that are important to note: 

ProsAvailable on all devices 
Reliable delivery 
Simple to use 
Cost Effective 
Send multimedia messages 
Compatible on a wide range of phones 
Enriches communication 
High character limit
ConsCharacter limit of 160 characters 
No multimedia 
Prone to spam and scam attacks
Limited file size  
Higher chance of undelivered messages 

MMS and SMS: The perfect combination

When we look at the bigger picture, we shouldn’t be limited to thinking that it’s always SMS vs. MMS. 

In fact, because of their differences and individual pros and cons, using both channels in combination can make your communication and marketing efforts much more effective. 

In an effective omnichannel communication strategy you don’t have to choose between the two, but can use both, leveraging each’s best features depending on the context. 

This has been highlighted by a number of our clients in the healthcare sector who use the SMS and MMS channels very effectively to fulfill prescriptions, for example for contact lenses: 

Use cases for SMS and MMS

So using both channels together, depending on the use case, can improve customer engagement, loyalty and responsiveness to your marketing messages. Take a look at ideal use cases for SMS and MMS:


Tips for using MMS and SMS

Testing your SMS and MMS messages

With MMS messages that include carefully crafted creatives and CTAs you might find that the recipient doesn’t see exactly what you intended. This is because the same message may appear differently on different handsets and even on different OS versions on the same handset.

Some people will still have old non-smart phones that don’t support MMS. It is best to test using a range of devices and OS versions so that you can get it just right.

Message size for MMS

As we have mentioned before, 300KB is often mentioned as an upper size limit for MMS messages. Practically, if you are sending a lot of messages and you want to get the optimum delivery rates, then the limit will be far lower than this.

Through experience we have found that 150KB is a good balance between ensuring deliverability and being able to include the rich media that makes MMS messages so compelling.

Message throttling

Service providers handle hundreds of millions of both SMS and MMS messages through their infrastructure every day. At times of peak usage, they will use throttling to manage the flow of messages through their network so that hardware limits are not reached.

This can cause a delay to some messages being delivered, or when you are sending a set of messages in a particular order, it may mean that the messages are actually delivered to recipients in the wrong order.

You can mitigate this with MMS by using SMIL Format to ensure that messages are received by users in the correct order. You can also use it to make sure that images and associated text are displayed in the required order within the messages.

Use sender names

Recipients don’t react well to messages from unknown numbers. They are unlikely to have your number stored in their phone so with SMS and MMS messages use the option to include sender name so that the person will recognize that the message is from a trusted brand.

Sender name is slightly different to alphanumeric sender IDs as it can be used in two-way conversations whereas alphanumeric sender IDs are used to send messages that can’t be replied to.

Customer payment plans

Be aware that your customers will have a range of mobile plans, and some may not cover MMS. Some people may actually have to pay to receive an MMS message from you – so SMS becomes a great alternative to send your customers messages and avoid any unexpected charges.

Use reporting to guide strategy

With both MMS and SMS you can create in-depth reports to track key stats, including:

  • Total Messages Sent
  • Delivery Rate: (Delivered Messages / Total Messages Sent) * 100%
  • Unique Click-Through Rate: (Unique Clicks / Delivered) * 100%
  • Conversion Rate: (Converted / Delivered Links) * 100
  • Revenue Per Message: Total Revenue / Total Messages Delivered

Use these stats to optimize your messaging for particular campaigns, territories, and network providers to maximize your ROI.