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Digital marketing practices are in constant flux between what works at the moment and what might work better tomorrow. Email, it seems, is the latest tactic to come under scrutiny. After about a decade of refinement, the average email campaign hovers around a 20 percent open rate and a three percent click rate. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding higher standards: 43 percent want less frequent emails, and 48 percent want more personalized and informative content.
Some marketers, fearing email is no longer the best way to directly communicate with an audience, are considering text message campaigns as a new option. While no one’s suggesting that text messages could entirely replace email, some believe it’s more effective at capturing and holding reader interest.
But is that really true? Is a text message a better way to connect with your prospects, leads, and customers? Should you reallocate your budget to mobile campaigns and mobile-optimized landing pages?
As a marketing channel, text messaging offers some distinct advantages, but it’s not cut out to be an email alternative. Email and text messaging are best employed as a complementary solutions that address different types of communication at different stages of the customer relationship. Before we compare the two, let’s define them.
Text message marketing
The growing interest in text message campaigns is predicated on the near-universal adoption of mobile technology. According to the Pew Research Center, about 90 percent of U.S. adults own a mobile phone, and 64 percent own a smartphone. This presents an attractive new medium for marketers to engage leads and customers on. Since text messages are only sent to subscribers who’ve made a clear opt-in, they’re highly targeted and almost always read, or at least seen.
Some examples might include:
- Offers, discounts
- “Text-to-get” (automated communication based on specific input queries; e.g. “check account balance”)
Email marketing has been the workhorse of B2B and B2C companies for long enough to be called “traditional” in the still-nascent marketing automation space. It’s a strong vehicle for many different types of content at almost any stage in the buying journey, from nurturing new leads to engaging long-time customers. Even as analysts weigh the merits of email vs. text message marketing, the lines between email and mobile have already blurred. Over half all emails are now opened on a mobile device.
Here are some examples of email marketing messages:
- Newsletters/blog subscriptions
- Transactional emails
- Nurture emails (educational or informative)
How they impact engagement
If you’re going to ask the question, “Which is more engaging?” You need to consider all of the different factors that qualify a message as engaging. Do people see it? Do they read it? Interact with it? How does it make them feel? What action does it cause them to take, if any?
For the sake of this article, we’ll use content, reach, open rate, and return to evaluate engagement with email and text message marketing.
There are some distinct differences between text messages and email when it comes to content.
(Like the one-day free rental messages that RedBox sends to members of its mobile text club). This immediate pertinence means readers are more likely to engage with a text message, but it’s important to remember that text message content is limited to plain text and 160 characters (or multiple broken apart messages). It’ll only hold a reader’s attention for a few seconds.
Email content is less immediately actionable, but allows for longer length and customization. Marketers have more space to write compelling copy, and they can use html editors and templates to add eye-catching graphics (but be careful with this). When a reader does engage with an email, it’s likely to hold their attention for a longer period of time.
Email marketing programs tend to have a much higher number of subscribers on their list than text message programs. This is partly because of seniority (email has been around as a business tool a lot longer than text messaging), and partly because of the medium itself.
Prospects usually don’t have reservations about giving out their email address. A mobile number, on the other hand, is a direct connection to the prospect’s personal life, and thus requires a more deliberate commitment. Some experts say you can expect your text message list to be about 10 percent of the size of your email list.
Open rates for email vary by industry and company size, but most organizations see about one in five of their emails opened. In 2013, Silverpop reported the overall average at 19.7 percent, but when it comes a specific industry (e.g. the public sector) it can rise to almost 35%.
Text message campaigns are still a new concept, so a lot of their performance data is speculative or based on small sample sizes, but some sources tout average open rates above 90 percent. Even if that’s only partially true, it signals a purity of consent and relevance that other channels have yet to achieve.
Engagement is pointless, of course, unless it yields a return. That could be an instant, financial return (selling an item), or an eventual, qualitative return (gaining a brand advocate). Text message and email are designed to bring different kinds of returns at different times.
A text message could cause the recipient to make an in-store purchase or take action the same day, but the return might be low. A series of emails over a long period of time — while not directly actionable on their own — can encourage a lead to make a much larger purchase or commitment in the long run. For that reason, email is very unlikely to fall into disuse, especially for B2B companies.
It’s easy to be mislead by media hype, or by software vendors that provide dedicated services, but email and text messaging aren’t in opposition; they’re two sides of the same coin. Whether or not you bring text messaging into your existing marketing strategy will depend on your audience, the nature of your products and services, and if you can justify the investment with positive returns.