SMS, push, or email: Is one better than the others?

Nexmo sponsored post for Venture Beat

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 1.50.48 PMIf you’re like most businesses, you’re likely planning a mobile strategy for engaging with customers. Depending on the type of message you’re sending, you’ll want to communicate in a way that makes the most sense. Push notifications, SMS, and email are three effective ways to reach customer on their phones. But it’s important to understand the differences between each of those channels — what they can do, and what they can’t.

SMS is instant, direct, and global

If you want to reach customers anywhere in the world, SMS text messaging is your best bet. SMS, which stands for short message service, allows you to send messages of up to 160 characters through wireless telecom networks.

That said, you should reserve SMS for communicating business-critical information, such as two-factor authentication, banking notifications, and fraud alerts. Anything a customer needs to know right away is perfect for SMS — as long as you can condense the message into a few concise words.

The advantages of SMS are many. For starters, SMS has a global reach. The technology works with practically any type of handset, allowing you to reach 4 billion phones in more than 200 countries. SMS is particularly useful in areas where Internet access is spotty.

SMS is also instant. And the read rate is extremely high — approximately 90 percent of SMS messages are read within the first three minutes of delivery. What’s more, you will always get confirmation of delivery.

A few things to keep in mind: When sending SMS, make sure any links you include are mobile friendly. Understand the guidelines and regulations for SMS in the countries you are sending to. And finally, choose an SMS provider who can help you reach global customers without delay.

Push notifications require apps

Similar to SMS, push notifications are short and instantaneous. But while SMS messages are sent directly to the mobile phone user, push notifications are sent to the mobile app the user has downloaded.

This means the user has to download the mobile app and accept an invitation from the app to send notifications. One that is done, messages show up as alerts even when the app is inactive or when the device’s screen is locked.

Push notifications are all about driving traffic to the app. For instance, an airline application might alert a user of flight delays or last-minute gate changes to increase engagement with the app. The same app might also notify users of last-minute flight deals to increase sales.

Note that push notifications only work for people who have smartphones.   Also, a user can easily turn push notifications on or off. Most people have dozens of apps on their phone, so they’re likely to turn notifications off on a few — or many — of those simply to avoid being inundated with messages.

When pushing message through apps, look for ways to be creative or put a smile on someone’s face: “Aloha! Tired of the snow? Take a look at our specials on flights to Hawaii.” And make sure your alerts are relevant, otherwise, the reader will see them as intrusive and turn off notifications.

Email: slow but it’ll get you there

When sending notifications that are not time-sensitive, email is your best option. These notifications could include changes to account information, newsletters, product updates, and any long-form messages in general.

Email is unique in that it provides a written record. Users can centrally store emails and maintain a history of replies and forwards. So use email to send anything you want a user to be able to archive, refer back to, and read again.

But since email is the new snail mail — it’s not uncommon for people to neglect their email for hours at a time — avoid using it for communicating any type of urgent information.

A couple of tips: When sending an email, make sure your company is properly labeled as the sender so users don’t mistake your email for spam. And if your email contains links, make sure those are viewable on a mobile device.

As with any mobile strategy — whether it’s SMS, push, or email — pay attention to the frequency of the messages you’re sending so you don’t annoy your customer. An effective mobile strategy requires striking a balance between relevant content and timing, and selecting the right channel for your customers.

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