SMS vs. Push Notifications

SMS vs. Push Notifications: Which Is Best For Your Marketing Strategy?


What if, instead of reaching your audience through marketing channels, you could just reach each user directly?

It would be like having your brand right in their pocket… and it’s actually a lot easier than you might think.

Social media, blog posts, print ads... they’re all good strategies and all effective for growing your business. But they all require your audience to put in at least a little effort to meet you halfway—either on your marketing channels or out in the world.

That’s where two popular strategies can make a big difference, and they’re tools you’re probably already well familiar with: push notifications, and SMS (text messages).

Why Use Either, To Begin With?

For marketers, SMS messages and push notifications both offer unique benefits that should really put them near the top of your strategy for the 2020s.

These days, basically everyone you’ll be trying to target is already using a smartphone—and this is actually pretty crucial, especially as more and more shoppers and casual users turn to their phones more than their desktops to engage with brands, make purchases, and just generally keep their day-to-day lives running smoothly.

Using either of these strategies, businesses can:

  • Quickly alert users to flash sales, new offers, and limited space, and
  • Reach users right where they’re already (probably) looking: their smartphones

“Well wait,” you might be thinking, “I’ve been getting text messages for, like, 20 years… why are they a good tool for marketers to use now?”

Simply put: SMS and push notifications have recently had something of a renaissance, and are generating high engagement across the board, even compared to other marketing channels. That’s why these two channels might just deserve top spots in your marketing strategy as the 20’s really get underway.

SMS graphic

The Upsides of SMS…

Unless you’ve been, maybe, living at the bottom of an ocean for the past few decades—or you’re just a true luddite—you almost certainly know a thing or two about SMS, or text messages. Chances are, you’re probably already using SMS for personal messaging, and you’ve likely already received some kind of marketing outreach through this channel.

That’s because SMS offers a few truly unique benefits for reaching contacts and spreading your message that other media just can’t match, including:

Send links right to your landing pages

Unlike push notifications (or even some social media channels), SMS allows for easy sharing of direct links to your website, landing pages, or wherever else you want to bring users. As long as they’re on a smartphone, your users should be able to click the link right from their message and reach the intended destination.

Create unique conversations with individual users

A text message chain is a pretty easy way to create distinct, 1-on-1 communication chains with your users that both you and the user can reference over the course of your relationship. That way, you can reference past conversations to keep your messaging relevant and meaningful for each individual. (There is a small chance that users may delete prior messages, but, let’s be honest… when was the last time you deleted old text messages?)

Easy to track prior points of contact & engagement

By keeping chains of messages running with individual audience members, you can quickly and accurately look through your existing conversation history and see which messages have been effective at generating responses and engagements—and see if there are any weak points in your message chain that are more likely to elicit a “STOP” response. On that topic…

Allows for easy opt-out

Sometimes, SMS just isn’t the right medium for communicating with your favorite brands. Just like email, SMS offers a fairly simple “Unsubscribe” option: simply have your users text back with a code like “STOP” or “UNSUBSCRIBE” and you can make sure they’re opted-out, fast.

Internet connection not needed to receive (but cell service is)

Worried about reaching audiences in areas with spotty broadband service? Want to reach users who are likely to be on the road, when internet connectivity might not be a sure thing? SMS sends via cell networks, which allows for a fairly reliable connection even when the internet is down. That could put you ahead of the competition relying on users to log on to get messages.

...And Common SMS Pitfalls

As exciting and innovative as SMS marketing may be, it might not always be the right fit for your brand… or your audience. It’s important to keep these common SMS pitfalls in mind before you go jumping into this new channel—you may just save yourself some unpleasant surprises along the way.

May cost $ per SMS

Typically, SMS marketing plans are structured by a “how many you send” model… meaning the more contacts you plan to send to, the higher your overall cost for messaging could rise. When you start looking at lists in the thousands, this could represent a pretty significant investment.

Can be annoying if used improperly

Let’s face it, there might be nothing more annoying than receiving a flood of texts from even a close friend—let aone a brand. That’s why timing and frequency are crucial considerations for any SMS campaign. Make your messaging a little too frequent, and you might actually end up turning off more people than you bring in.

Requires a slightly higher opt-in from users

To even get onto your SMS marketing list, users need to 1) provide their mobile phone number, and 2) consent to being contacted electronically. While that mght not seem much different from an email list, today’s users might be a little less likely to provide their cell number. That could complicate your efforts.

Push notification graphic

The Benefits of Push Notifications…

While SMS may have the advantage of reaching users right through their phone number, it has a serious contender for the “force you to look at your phone” crown: push notifications.

You probably know push notifications as the little icons on the top bar of your phone that alert you of breaking news, messages from Facebook Messenger or other apps, and other app-based updates. Therein lies the major benefit of push notifications: they speak directly to the apps your users already have installed, which can open up some unique benefits for marketers.

Direct users right to in-app events

Because push notifications are delivered through smartphone apps, they offer marketers a unique ability to drive users directly to specific content or in-app events. Want to push a flash sale or limited offer? Send out a push notification and your users are just a tap away—plus, with tools like the Facebook SDK, you can track all that in-app action for superior reporting.

Geofencing features in-app allow for highly targeted messaging

Want to reach a very specific set of users during a live event, or living in a certain area? Push notifications allow for some pretty robust geo-targeting in-app to target those super-niche messages, right to those who are most likely to engage.

Only require internet connection, no cell service

One of the biggest pitfalls of SMS is that your users need cell service to receive your message. For push notifications, all they need is an internet connection—meaning you may be more likely to reach users

...And When Push Notifications Are Really Pushing It

As useful as they may be for driving users back to your app (and getting the word out to your most dedicated fans), push notifications do sometimes run into a few roadblocks.

Can be pretty annoying if used too frequently

I thought of something that might be even more annoying than too many SMS texts: too many push notifications. If an app is sending way too many notifications, chances are your users might turn off notifications from the app, which would basically make your efforts moot. Worse, they might even just decide to delete your app altogether—so use your push notifications sparingly!

Require app download to reach users

It might seem obvious, but one of the biggest hurdles for any marketer looking at push notifications to get over is app download itself You can’t exactly send push notifications to users if they don’t have your app already… meaning you might need to put a little energy behind those app downloads before you dive into a push notification strategy.

How To Get Started

Whether you’re looking to bolster your app with on-the-money push notifications or you’re looking to add SMS to your marketing toolbelt, getting started is as easy as finding your strategy, setting up your tools, and launching.

If youre looking to ramp up your SMS marketing efforts quickly and with relatively little complications, our friends at Zapier have a great list of apps to try. Notable among these are tools like TextMagic and SimpleTexting, which can make setup and launch easy.

If you’re leaning more in the direction of push notifications, you’ll probably find a fairly wide variety of tools to run with—the most notable being Amazon Simple Notification Service (which also includes SMS functionality) or OneSignal, among others.

But before you go diving intot he tools, it probably wouldn’t hurt to grab your marketing team (and your partners) and plan your strategy...

Let’s Strategize

Here are a few reminders on each of these marketing options to help guide your strategy:

SMS is good for:

  • Urgent or timely notifications
  • Transactional messages & confirmation

Push Notifications are a smart choice for:

  • Offers, discounts, and deals
  • Recommended content & updates

These channels may just be the major players in marketing in the 2020s, and with the right strategy and the right tools you could be poised to lead the charge. When you’re ready to get going, get in touch—we’d love to start building your strategy.