Leading a business to success in the middle of the digital revolution is no easy task. New methods of reaching your target audience emerge almost as quickly as they disappear, and staying on top of the most effective marketing techniques is a challenge in itself.

In recent years, social media has been by far the biggest trend in modern marketing. Networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ allow companies to build valuable bridges with customers, in a way that doesn’t require them to spend copious amounts of money. When it comes to reaching huge numbers of people, though, is this approach really more effective than trusty SMS marketing?

Overwhelming popularity

Few technologies have been as enthusiastically embraced by the global population as the mobile phone. In the UK alone there are thought to be more than 75 million handsets in use; that’s 122 devices for every 100 people – not bad considering the first British call was made less than 30 years ago (by comedian Ernie Wise, no less). Across the whole world, this figure currently stands at around 6.8 billion, technically enough to keep 97 per cent of the planet’s population connected via SMS.

The rise of the smartphone has no doubt pushed these figures even higher. This wave of web-connected and feature-packed devices has changed the lives of people across the globe. That said, it’s important to remember that feature phones – those without internet capabilities, apps and touchscreens – still have significant shares in certain markets. Data from ComScore, for example, shows that half of all feature phones in the US are owned by people over the age of 55. The smartphone’s arrival has also driven feature phone prices down, helping to boost adoption in emerging markets like Africa, South America and certain parts of Asia.

Despite Facebook – the most widely used social network – claiming to have more than 1.2 billion active users per month, it simply can’t match up to the reach of SMS. Just like Google, Mark Zuckerberg’s firm is trying innovative new ways to bring Wi-Fi to people in remote areas, but even as the internet is made more accessible and smartphones become cheaper, the prominence of texting as a simple and convenient form of communication is unlikely to falter.

Received, loud and clear

When it comes to marketing, the size of your audience will mean nothing if your messages aren’t making it through to the intended recipients. This is where social media, just like email marketing, can fall down. A study carried out by Canadian social analytics firm Sysomos found that more than two-thirds of tweets (71 per cent) go completely ignored, while the same is true for an even higher number of Facebook News Feed posts (83 per cent). Bear in mind that these two examples are the most widely used social networks on the web too; the stats for smaller sites (like Google+) are even less encouraging.

For any company hoping to be heard loudly and clearly, then, SMS has to be the way to go. The same study found that 98 per cent of all text messages are opened and read at the user’s end. It doesn’t take long either; 90 per cent of messages are read within three minutes of arriving. It seems that consumers simply can’t stay away from their mobile phones.

What’s the hold-up?

Despite all of the statistics pointing to SMS being one of the most powerful methods of marketing communication, too many businesses are still focusing their efforts solely on social media. Research also shows that 80 per cent of consumers claim to have not been targeted by an SMS marketing campaign before, despite 90 per cent of those who have saying they gained value from the messages they received.

Just a few years ago, albeit for a short period of time, adopting social media as a marketing tool was enough to set businesses aside from their competitors. Its benefits are plentiful and still there for all to see, but the hype has grown to such a level that some firms are ignoring some of the more effective strategies – such as SMS. Dropping one for the other isn’t necessarily the way forward; it’s best to use both in harmony, but when you’re trying to reach huge numbers of people without losing any of the personal touch, it’s hard to beat the humble text message.