Customer Communications

SMS vs WhatsApp: Which Wins the Messaging Wars?

By Chris Wallbank 4 July 2024

In the quest to connect with customers effectively, there are many different messaging platforms to choose from.

In this second article in our ‘messaging wars’ series, we look at SMS and WhatsApp. (Read the first article comparing SMS and Rich Communication Services here).

What’s the difference between SMS and WhatsApp?

What is SMS?

SMS, or Short Message Service, is a text messaging service used globally. It allows users to send messages of up to 160 characters and is compatible with all mobile phones, regardless of their carrier or model. Its simplicity and reliability have made it a staple of both personal communication and marketing.

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp, owned by Meta, is a messaging app that has revolutionised how people communicate. It goes beyond basic text messaging, supporting multimedia messages, voice and video calls, and group chats. With over 2 billion active users worldwide, WhatsApp offers a rich platform for businesses to engage with a wide global audience.

How do SMS and WhatsApp compare?

Now let’s compare the headline capabilities that are important to marketers.

  • SMS – Is incredibly straightforward and supported by all mobile devices. It doesn’t require an internet connection. Its simplicity, however, limits its capabilities to plain text messaging.
  • WhatsApp – Offers a user-friendly interface with a wide range of features, including multimedia messaging, business directory, voice notes and status updates. It requires an internet connection, but its rich functionality provides a more engaging user experience.
  • SMS – Has universal reach as it works on all mobile phones, making it accessible to anyone with a mobile number regardless of internet access or device type.
  • WhatsApp – Has a vast user base, but its reach is limited to those who have installed the app and have an internet connection. There are clear geographic trends around its penetration, making it a better platform in some markets than others.
  • SMS – Is limited to text and doesn’t support multimedia natively. To send images, videos or other media, you have to use MMS, which can be more expensive and less reliable.
  • WhatsApp – Excels in media capabilities, allowing you to send images, videos, audio files, documents and even location information. This makes for more engaging and interactive campaigns.
  • SMS – Messages typically have high open rates due to their simplicity and the fact that they are delivered directly to the recipient’s phone. However, the lack of interactive features can limit deeper engagement.
  • WhatsApp – Benefits from read receipts, instant delivery and the ability to engage in two-way conversations, making it a powerful tool for real-time engagement.
  • SMS – Offers minimal branding opportunities, typically confined to the text content itself. There’s no support for branded templates or media.
  • WhatsApp – Allows you to create a more branded experience through the use of logos, send IDs and multimedia content. Coupled with verified business profiles, this helps with brand recognition.
  • SMS – The cost of marketing varies by region and carrier but generally involves a fee per message sent. This can add up quickly, especially for large campaigns.
  • WhatsApp – WhatsApp Business API pricing is typically based on a tiered structure, where you pay per session or conversation. This can be more cost-effective for ongoing customer interactions but may require initial setup investment. Recently, it has been announced that Meta is continuing to update their pricing to make it more competitive with SMS. For example, they will be updating the pricing of the Utility templates in August and Marketing in October, this year.

Which should you choose for your next marketing campaign?

On balance, WhatsApp offers advantages over traditional SMS:

  1. Rich media capabilities – WhatsApp allows you to send images, videos and other multimedia content, creating more engaging and visually appealing campaigns.
  2. Higher engagement – WhatsApp’s interactive nature, including features like read receipts and instant replies, leads to higher engagement rates than SMS.
  3. Real-time communication – WhatsApp facilitates real-time, two-way communication, making it ideal for instant feedback and user-generated content.
  4. Branding opportunities – With the ability to use logos, multimedia content and personalised messages, WhatsApp helps you create a strong brand presence.
  5. Cost-effective for ongoing engagement – WhatsApp’s pricing model can be more economical for businesses looking to maintain ongoing customer interactions.

While SMS remains a reliable and universally accessible, WhatsApp offers advanced features

WhatsApp is a compelling choice if you’re looking to create more engaging, interactive and visually appealing campaigns.

However, the choice between SMS and WhatsApp will ultimately depend on:

  • The specific campaign goals
  • Your audience’s preferences
  • The regions you are targeting

A combined approach, leveraging SMS’ universal reach and WhatsApp’s rich capabilities, may provide the best results for a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Maximise customer contact by using Engage Hub’s Waterfall technology

Working across all channels – SMS, email, WhatsApp, and more – you can ensure the highest rate of contact on the customers desired channel, based on their preferences and previous interaction.

The service allows you to automatically select the most appropriate communication channel then, it automatically moves through other available channels until a successful contact has been made.

Learn more about delivering effective cross-channel campaigns here.

See other posts by Chris Wallbank

Product Manager

As a Product Manager, Chris is responsible for the business management of Engage Hub’s product and its commercial success. With over 5 years of experience working within the customer engagement space, Chris is perfectly placed to help evolve a vision for the product that not only meet customer needs but also drive innovation to fulfill their future demands. Working alongside the Product team, Chris helps to translate business strategy into a product vision, whilst working closely with the Marketing Team to plan and carry out product launches to deliver innovative services for our customers.

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