Email Vs SMS
What a co-incidence – I’m sitting at my coffee shop of choice just about to start writing this article on the difference between SMS and Email and I receive an SMS notifying me that ABSA Insurance phone lines are down due to the storm in Gauteng yesterday.
Now, Im aware that there is some irony in the fact that there has probably been an increase in insurance claims (and therefore attempted phone calls) due to the storm and the fact that the insurance lines are down due to the storm, but the fact that I have just received this SMS highlights for me the need to be clear of when, how and why different communication methods are used.
In the “old days” I’m sure the questions facing business owners when it came to sending communications would have been things like, do I fax or do I phone or do I send a letter via the post office. These days, however, the question is more “Do I Email or SMS, or do I communicate via Social Media?” For this exercise I’m not really going to discuss much detail (if any) about social media because I really want to take a look at SMS and Email messaging, which although they have been around for quite some time, still seem to be quite prevalent despite the competition from social media.
What’s the difference?
Probably the most obvious difference between SMS and Email is the content. With SMS messaging you are limited to text only and a limited number of characters, ie 160 characters per SMS. Now you might argue that it is now possible to type messages longer than 160 characters and our smart phones intelligently handle these as one message but the truth is that you are being billed for two messages if you use more than 160 characters.
With Email on the other hand your content can be very rich, ie images, longer messages, different fonts and layouts etc.
A major difference between email and SMS is the fact that SMS is instant and pops up on your phone screen almost immediately, whereas email is usually downloaded either via your computer or via your phone periodically. Although it is possible to change the settings of your phone to alert you when you receive a new email this setting is often turned off by users because they prefer to not use their cell phone network to download mails due to the cost and would rather wait until they are on a wireless network at home or work to do so.
Although it is possible to track how many messages were delivered for an SMS batch, Email has far greater reporting capabilities due to the fact that you can use tools like Google Analytics. The Email is very much like a web page and you are able to tell how recipients engage with your email, ie how many were delivered, how many opened the emails, how many clicked on links, the locations of the recipients who interacted with your emails and so on.
Cost is always a factor and most of us are used to the idea that you have to pay for SMS but the idea that you may have to pay for email is sometimes a foreign idea because of the fact that you don’t pay for the individual emails that you send out each day for personal and business reasons through your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
However, for bulk business emailing, there is usually a cost involved for delivering the message. This is because a bulk emailing company is required between you and the recipient to manage delivery of content and the providing of stats and for this they charge a fee. If you send through your ISP you won’t incur any other costs but you will encounter other problems (see SPAM) and you won’t get any stats of who opened and interacted with your messages.
Therefore, there is cost for both bulk SMS and bulk Email but the cost for SMS is usually higher – usually because of the fact that the cell phone network companies themselves charge a minimum fee for delivery and these are marked up by the third party SMS providers. (Note that you cannot under normal circumstances deliver your bulk SMS messages directly through your own cell phone network company).
Another potential cost worth mentioning is the design of the message itself. Because you cannot change the layout of an SMS message there will be no cost involved in creating the message content itself. However, Emails often require the help of a design agency, because of the fact that they are basically web pages that are being sent to your clients. Some providers offer you templates as part of their services but if you want something that is unique to you and meets all of your brand requirements then you will most likely end up paying someone to assist you with the design.
SPAM (Junk Mail)
In order to prevent SPAM being sent through their servers your ISP (ie the company that you have your email account with) will generally not allow you to send bulk emails through your normal business account and can even blacklist you for doing so and can block your email account for a period of time as a consequence.
Therefore you would need to use a bulk emailing service that is set up for sending large volumes of emails and there is usually a cost for this, but as already mentioned above there are many other benefits, ie the delivery and engagement stats.
SMS works in much the same way, ie you will set up an account with a Wireless Application Service Provider (WASP) and you will send your bulk SMS messages through them and there will be a cost involved.
You will generally find a lot more SPAM in Email than you will in SMS and perhaps this is self regulated due to the costs involved in sending SMS messages as well as the fact that through email you can advertise a lot more or disguise a scam more effectively.
When to use what?
Transactional vs Bulk
The first step in deciding which medium to use is to first understand the nature of the communication. Identifying whether your messages are transactional or bulk is part the process.
Transactional messages are usually in response to an event (ie a booking confirmation, loyalty notification etc). Transactional messages are usually sent on an individual basis as events (transactions occur) and are more informational than promotional. Hence, recipients tend to be far more tolerant of them by virtue of the fact that they must have recently engaged with your business.
Bulk Messaging for Information Purposes
Bulk messaging can be used for both promotions and for information. For example, you may need to advise your entire database that your trading hours during the festive season have changed, or you may need to advise them that there is a problem with your telephone lines and that if they need to call your salon then they need to use an alternative number.
Bulk Messaging for Promotions
Bulk messaging for promotions is usually where you invite the most colourful responses from your clients – language of the likes that you will not find anywhere near a Concise Oxford English Dictionary – and it is here where you need to be most careful (see the section below on “Whats your story?”).
Urgency VS Content
Keeping in mind all of the above – choosing between SMS and Email will most commonly be determined by the nature of the content and the urgency of the message.
If it is urgent, then it should be via an SMS. The recipients will get their notification immediately and the chances of them actually viewing the message are greater via SMS.
If the message can wait and has more content then it should be via Email.
What’s your story?
Because of the damage that can be done in sending unsolicited messages to your clients you need to do as much as you can within your own power to get their permission to communicate with them via SMS and Email.
This starts at the very beginning – you need to sell them the reason why you want their cell numbers and email addresses and they need to buy into it.
For example, if you say to them that on their birthday they get a free service then they will be more likely to give you their details and allow you to communicate with them. Also, if you say to them that you always send SMS appointment reminders or notifications that a free loyalty service has been awarded then they are more likely to respond positively.
All too often you hear receptionists saying that clients do not want to give out their details and you can’t expect receptionists to force clients to do so.
Opt Outs (Unsubscribes)
Depending on how you deliver your bulk messaging will affect how you manage your opt outs, ie clients who do not want to receive any further messages from you.
Your database should have separate options for SMS and Email opt outs in case the client wishes to receive SMS notifications but not Email.
Keep in mind that your source database should be kept up to date with clients that have opted out in case you choose to use a different email / sms provider as the new provider will not have the opt out list that the old provider has and you may end up sending messages again to your unsubscribed clients.