SMS vs. Email: Pros, Cons and an Integrated Approach

While these channels work on their own, here's why an integrated approach to SMS and email marketing can provide significant benefits in boosting customer engagement.

Mara Miller
Director of Marketing
SMS marketing vs email marketing graphic
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Digital marketing has proliferated at lightning speed over the last 10 years, leaving companies with a lot of options to choose from. As our customers develop their digital engagement strategies to help them stand out from the competition, improve their customer relationships, and enhance their bottom lines, they are often asking us: 

  • Should we be using SMS in order to reach consumers faster on a mobile device they carry 24/7? 
  • Would an email that has extra screen “real estate” to provide more promotional details a better choice? 
  • Or, can we combine the two and get an even bigger bang for our marketing dollars?

The good news is that the SMS vs. email debate won’t force you to choose one path over the other. These two channels work well - arguably even better - together, with each pulling its respective weight and filling in where the other left off. 

Read on as we explore the SMS vs. email debate in depth, identify pros and cons of each approach, and discuss the value of blending the two to help you refine your digital marketing strategies.

SMS vs. Email Marketing: What’s the Big Difference?

SMS text messages reach consumers instantly - far more so than email whose open rates and click-thru rates have been plummeting for years. They also offer a more personalized consumer experience which helps grow customer loyalty and inspire repeat purchases. Conversely, email can give you more to work with in terms of more design and space to promote more content within a single email campaign.

Under the digital marketing umbrella, SMS and email are two of the most popular ways to reach consumers, but for some very different reasons. Companies that favor SMS know that 98% of texts are opened, or five times that of email, which is opened only about 20% of the time.

Also, the average SMS response rate is 3 minutes, which is much less than email’s response time of 90 minutes. However, with a total of 4.4 billion people around the world sending and receiving about 306 billion emails daily, the latter is a marketing channel that we are not about to recommend ignoring.

One of the strengths of both SMS and email is how well they can complement each other. For example, SMS can be an effective way to reach your customers who may not always check their email throughout the day. And, email can serve as a viable reinforcement tool for SMS by providing extra room for longer messaging and calls to action. These complementary advantages can be used to engage with a wider audience and reap better overall results from your digital marketing campaigns.

What is SMS Marketing?

SMS marketing is an interactive and highly personalized messaging channel that enables brands to instantly engage with their consumers. Given it is a highly regulated, permission-based market that protects consumers from being spammed, you can be confident that the customers you're reaching via SMS truly want to hear from you.

Americans spend 5 hours and 24 minutes on their mobile devices daily, checking their phones an average of every 10 minutes or nearly 100 times per day. These statistics highlight how SMS marketing is an attractive opportunity for companies across all industries. But the true scale behind these stats paints a larger picture. 

Multiply the 5 hours and 24 minutes that people spend on their phones each day across the 6.8 billion smartphones currently in use worldwide—roughly 85% of the global population of 8 billion people—and SMS marketing’s proposition becomes even stronger. Specific to the U.S., Pew Research says 97% of Americans now own a cell phone of some kind and 85% are using smartphones, up from just 35% in 2011.

When it comes to SMS text messaging as a marketing channel, companies are also seeing the impact SMS can have on their bottom line: for every $1 spent, SMS marketers worldwide generate $71 in revenue.

Clearly, the SMS channel has become increasingly important for organizations that want to engage with their customers in new ways beyond “high-reach, low engagement” email and “low-reach, high-engagement” mobile apps. SMS reaches your customers where they actually are, via their mobile phones, and in a way that feels convenient and natural to them.

SMS helps you to cut through the clutter and have a direct relationship with consumers. It drives consumers to specific destinations in helpful ways that boosts in-store traffic and online revenue, getting the best of both the physical and digital worlds.

As a leader in the mobile engagement industry and the only independent mobile engagement platform with Tier 1 direct carrier connections, Vibes ensures the privacy and on-time delivery of billions of SMS and MMS messages a year.

The Pros and Cons of SMS Marketing

Here are just a handful of ways you can benefit from the power of SMS as well as a few limitations that should be considered:


  • Text is a preferred communication channel for most people due to its immediate, personalized feel. With an open rate of 98% - 95% of which are opened within an average of 3 minutes - it’s virtually guaranteed that SMS subscribers will view your text messages. 
  • SMS has the flexibility to be automated, which makes it easier to scale up and send more messages to more of your customers.
  • Texting is how people build relationships. The same can be said for brands and their customers. SMS gives you the ability to send personalized messages for offers, promotions, time-sensitive communication, and other types of messages - all based on unique customer behaviors, location and attributes. 
  • SMS marketing campaigns can be easily tracked and measured. You can see how well they’re performing and use that data to make better decisions on future campaigns.


  • Legally it is required to keep the delivery of SMS marketing messages within commercial texting times (8am to 9pm based on the recipient’s time zone).
  • Neglecting to properly get a customer's prior express written consent (PEWC), which is clear and conspicuous written disclosure that they consent to a set of terms before you can begin sending them SMS marketing messages, can also result in penalties such as fines or other legal action.
  • A single SMS messages only allows up to 160 characters.

What is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is one of the most popular forms of direct digital marketing that is used by companies to encourage recipients to take action, such as shop to make a purchase, sign up for a program, download an item, etc. The first email marketing campaign went out to 400 recipients back in 1978, yet much like the U.S. mail system, email has been able to hold its own as faster, more targeted and more advanced digital marketing methods have been introduced.

The Pros and Cons of Email Marketing

Here are a few reasons why email can still be a good choice for some marketing campaigns as well as a few downsides (particularly if it’s your only or main way for reaching out to your customers):


  • 4.4 billion people around the world send and receive about 306 billion emails daily, so it’s still a viable connection point for organizations.
  • The average email response time is about 12 hours—while that may seem like a long time, it’s still better than direct mail and other more “traditional” marketing strategies.
  • Email is one of the most affordable marketing channels that you can use.


  • Email has lower engagement rates than SMS, which means your email message has a much lower chance of getting through to your recipients (the retail industry, for instance, has dipped to an average 17.1% email open rate and an anemic 0.7% click-through rate).
  • Your email may be automatically flagged and quarantined by spam filters, effectively reducing your deliverability rates.
  • And, your recipient may scan the subject line and relegate it to their own spam filter without even looking at the message.
  • Email might have some reach, but with crowded inboxes and consumer inertia, it can be difficult to build engagement in a timely and relevant manner.
  • Getting your emails to stand out requires some creative arts skills (fonts, design, graphics, etc.) that aren’t as necessary when you’re using SMS.

SMS vs. Email: Which is Better?

Your company’s goals, audience, and messaging should come into play when you’re deciding on a digital marketing strategy. Put simply, one channel may be a better fit than another, depending on what you want to accomplish and of course, the “digital behaviors” of your target audience.

For example, knowing that SMS has higher engagement rates than email, you should use SMS for time-sensitive offers, promotions, reminders, and other alerts that require action to be taken quickly. Email, on the other hand, can be useful for sharing promotions that have longer timelines, monthly newsletters, and announcements that aren’t time-sensitive.

Here are some examples and which channel may be a better choice for a specific situation:

  • A last-minute Valentine’s Day dinner offer to help get empty tables filled. When your message must be simple, needs to get to the recipient quickly, and requires immediate attention, we recommend SMS.
  • An announcement about an upcoming fundraising event and all of the event’s details. If you’re sending a message about something that has a longer timeline and you need more space to include graphics and text describing the event, you may want to consider sending an email.
  • An upcoming appointment reminder. If scheduling appointments is part of your business offering and you want to be efficient with your operations (i.e. relieving a physical employee from manually making phone calls to confirm appointments) and ensure appointment reminders are seen, we recommend using SMS.

However, what if we told you that the SMS vs. email debate is one of those situations where you can have your cake and eat it, too? It’s true: rather than just choosing one over the other, you can maximize your digital marketing by using both channels’ strengths in a fully integrated manner.

Strike the Perfect Balance with an Integrated Approach

An integrated approach to SMS and email marketing allows you to experiment with different approaches that will ultimately lead you to the combination that best fits your organization.

First, make sure your email subscribers are also signed up for SMS marketing messages. The first step in integrating email and SMS is to use the former to encourage recipients to sign up for your SMS marketing program. Do this by promoting a call to action to sign up for SMS (e.g., prompt them to text in a specific keyword to sign up for text messages). Once your email subscribers are part of your SMS program, they can be targeted in both channels based on previous engagement, purchase history, or preferences. 

Here are a few ways that SMS and email can work together that benefit both communication streams:

SMS-First Approach

Utilize a similar call-to-action in both channels, sending an SMS text message before sending an email in order to take advantage of the urgency of the channel. For example, let’s say you have an upcoming sales event and you want to build anticipation and help your customers prep for their shopping experience.

Here’s how SMS and email can work together to achieve this:

  • Start with an SMS about the promotion a couple of days before the email goes out (this approach leans on SMS’s higher open rates to put a promotion on your customer’s radar).
  • On the first day of the sales event, use email to reinforce all that’s included in the promotion with expanded details and imagery.
SMS and email working together

SMS as Reinforcement

While coordinating content with email sends, focus on the timing of SMS delivery so that it supports and reinforces the initial message. 

Using the same example from the SMS-first approach:

  • First send an email about the sales event, ensuring you are closely tracking engagement and sales attributed to the email to determine how you use SMS as the reinforcement channel.
  • Depending on the email’s performance, follow-up with an SMS message promoting the same sales event. For instance, if sales are steady at the beginning you can send an SMS to remind your customers that the promotion is ending soon.
SMS reinforcing an email message

Customized Content

Tailor your content in both channels to tell two parts of the same story, using email to emphasize inspiration and education and using SMS to explicitly call out actionable next steps. For example, let’s say you’re holding a customer appreciation event at the end of the month and you want to get as much traffic as you can into your store for some free food and drinks and an exclusive opportunity to shop your newest products.

Here's how SMS and email can play specific roles for getting people to attend the event:

  • Start with an email that showcases the details of your upcoming event and directions to your store. 
  • Then, in the days leading up to your event, use SMS for “save the date” reminders and to build some additional hype around it.
  • You can then send a follow-up promotional message in either channel based on this simple guideline:
  1. Use email if you want to remind customers about all of the details, i.e. the special savings, details about the types of food you’ll serve, and other fun facts.
  2. Use SMS to highlight a particular, more compelling piece of information, e.g. first 30 event attendees get a free gift.

The list of ways that you can converge SMS and email are virtually endless. Put some creativity into it, don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches, and remember that the end goal is always to build strong, loyal relationships with your customers.

How Vibes Can Help

At Vibes, we have several ways our customers can integrate with us and their existing email tools, helping them test and learn faster so they can quickly optimize their digital messaging strategies and truly maximize their technology investments.

Our open and flexible APIs are available to be integrated into virtually all third-party systems within days, and we have direct integrations into world-class email solution providers including Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Adobe Marketo.

The Vibes integration layer makes it easy to bring SMS text messaging and other mobile messaging channels into the tools companies are already using, helping them message with intentionality and truly maximize every touchpoint with their customers. 

Final Thoughts

Nearly everyone carries around a smartphone these days, which makes SMS text such a great option for marketers who want their messages to show up when people check their phones every 10 minutes. And with an SMS open rate of 98%, you’re assured that your message will be read and responded to quickly—versus languishing in an email inbox that may not be checked for hours or even days.

That said, reaching your customers from different angles, at different junctures, and “where they are” is more important than ever. 

By integrating your SMS and email campaigns, you’ll be able to strengthen your marketing approach with a strategy that engages your customers in the way they want to be engaged with.

Powerful marketing channels on their own that are only more powerful when intentionally used together, SMS and email can help you reach a larger audience, increase engagement, and benefit from a comprehensive marketing strategy that drives results.

Get in touch with us to talk more about how Vibes can help you get the most out of both SMS and email marketing.

Mara Miller
Director of Marketing
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