Mobile Marketing: SMS, MMS … HUH?

According to the latest in mobile research, 87% of the U.S. population now owns a cell phone, 95% of these cell phones have texting capabilities, and surprisingly enough, people on average read an incoming text messages within four minutes of sending.

Mobile marketing via SMS or MMS still considered a new frontier for US marketers, but has been popular in both Europe and Asia for years. Let’s go through the most popular ways to create mobile marketing messages, what can be included in these messages, and take a look at the rules of the game.

SMS (Short Message Service)

Example of SMS Marketing using a Short Code, from

SMS has been a primary mobile marketing tactic globally since the early 2000s. It first took-off in Europe and Asia – and has been slowly growing in popularity in the U.S. ever since.

Phone carriers and groups such as the Mobile Marketing Association have set guidelines and best practices for the use of SMS. While these rules have been generally followed in North America and Western Europe, mobile SPAM remains an issue in many other parts or the world, partly due to the carriers selling numbers to third parties. Despite the SPAM worries, however, SMS is extremely popular with over 100 million advertising  messages going out per month!

Example of MMS Marketing, from

SMS services typically rely on short codes, a five or six digit number that’s assigned for marketing campaigns or other consumer services. Short codes are pricey – they typically cost between $500 and $1,000 a month! – so sharing these short codes has become a popular business practice.  Marketers who don’t want to use a short code can send SMS via a dedicated phone number or by using an international phone number.

An important requirement for SMS is that you must always allow users to opt-out of the service at any time by replying with the word STOP via SMS. Further, similarly to email marketing, SMS marketers are only permitted to send SMS messages to those who have opted in to receive such communications in the first place.  These guidelines are outlined in the MMA ‘Consumer Best Practices Guidelines,’ which are followed by all mobile marketers in the United States.

MMS (Multimedia Message Services)

MMS is the more high-tech sibling of SMS. Unlike the text-only format of SMS, MMS can contain a wide variety of cool and flashy elements:  images, text, audio and video – you name it, it can probably do it! This type of communication is best delivered to users who possess a smart phones or a phone with a color screen. Due to the complicated elements in MMS messaging, it does typically take a considerable amount of time and money to create and send an MMS versus a simple SMS message.

What to include in SMS and MMS Marketing Messages

We’ve talked a lot about QR code marketing in past blog posts, which is a considered a “pull” marketing tactic – SMS and MMS are considered “push” tactics. The difference? With Pull, the user comes to you (ie, a user has to want to scan a QR code and learn more), with Push, you’re coming to them (in this case, with a text message to their cellphone).

The messaging in SMS and MMS can be consider to be “Push” or “Pull”. A Push message, for example, would be to give users a coupon offer or to let user know about important company news or events. Pull messages require more effort on the user’s part: clicking on a link to respond to a survey or poll, forwarding the offer to a friend, or filling out a form for future Opt-In opportunities. Figuring out what kind of messaging is the most effective in reaching your audience takes time and testing – but that’s what makes marketing fun!

Has your business done an effective SMS or MMS campaign? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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