Is the mobile revolution the death of SMS?

If you read my last blog, Should You Be Thinking About Mobile Marketing, you’ll know that mobile is one of the biggest platforms available to marketers today, and one that definitely shouldn’t be ignored. But as the mobile platform has developed, do old-school channels like SMS still have a place in the modern marketing mix?

Much of the buzz surrounding mobile marketing has focused on new, innovative applications like apps and beacons, or on adapting things which already existed on computers, like email and websites – not on stalwarts like SMS and voice.


Beacons allow advertisers to trigger location-based actions on a users’ mobile device, typically as a push notification. There is potential to launch some very creative and sophisticated campaigns, such as this offering from Pimm’s, but there are a number of catches. Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which only allows for one-way communication, the individual must have supporting apps installed on their smartphone, as well as having push notifications enabled.

Mobile advertising

Mobile advertising is an example of an existing channel being adapted for the mobile platform. Implementing a mobile advertising strategy allows you to show your banner ads on websites displayed on a mobile device, broadening your potential reach at a point where the majority of internet browsing has shifted to mobile for the first time.

The rise of mobile advertising has, however, led to an inevitable increase in mobile ad-blocking apps, with a wide range of options available to android users and Apple approving the first ad-blocking software for iOS9. People can’t actively opt-in to see banner ads, so they’re often perceived as intrusive and annoying – probably not the image you’re aiming for with your brand.

App development

More and more businesses are developing their own apps to promote their brand and add value for their customers. They provide a great opportunity for cultivating engagement and loyalty among your customer base, and mean you are always present on your customers’ phones.

Except it’s no small battle to get your customers to download your app. First they need to find it among all the competing apps in the store, assuming it’s available for their operating system. Developing an app for just one OS is expensive, never mind three. Then they’ve got to be interested enough in your business to warrant downloading it, and they’ve got to have enough space on their phone for it.

Once they have downloaded it though, all you have to do is get them to use it. Easy. Except 20% of apps are only used once, and the longer the gap between first and second use, the more likely it is that they’re never going to open it again. Of course, this is where push notifications come in.

Push notifications

Great for triggering immediate action, push notifications are sent from apps to pop up directly on your customers’ mobile screens. Reports vary on how often these are read – but typically push notifications from business apps take lower priority than those from social apps, or unread emails and text messages. What’s more, when people have lots of apps on their phones, they’re going to start disabling push notifications on the less important ones so they’re not being pestered all day!

Text messages

Text messages are the oldest and arguably the least sexy medium of all of those discussed so far. They’ve been around for over twenty years, so they don’t exactly fit in with the exciting new developments that have been making up the mobile revolution. Despite this, the A2P messaging market is still growing. Why? Because unlike all these other options, SMS is universally available – every mobile handset in the world can receive it, regardless of operating system or internet access.

In fact, as more and more developers create solutions for mobile platforms, I believe that the audiences for these solutions will only become more fragmented, meaning that the opportunities to reach your target audiences are going to diminish.

Text messages are typically delivered within five seconds, and on average they are read within ninety seconds of receipt. By including links in the message, you can drive traffic to your mobile websites, or add attachments to give recipients more detailed information. It’s still a low cost medium too, with prices between 2.9 and 4.9p per message, so there’s no big development costs and you’re not wasting money on unseen adverts.

As managers and marketers, we can all be guilty of being seduced by the hype around new developments and channels, but perhaps it’s time to take a step back and look at the mobile revolution objectively. There are new channels and solutions appearing from every corner, but only one channel works on every mobile handset in existence – SMS.

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