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SMS vs MMS – how do they differ?

Marissa Brinkman Marissa Brinkman
Marissa Brinkman

No matter how much the sleep experts tell us not to, our first instinct when we wake up (and our last before going to sleep) is to scroll through our phones. We’ve all become a generation of texters. Unsurprisingly, businesses have gotten fully on board. Texting lets businesses connect with their customers more conveniently than ever. And in a post-pandemic era (with much better 5G coverage), people are texting even more. MMS usage has increased by 28% in just the last year.

With both SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) being so popular, it’s essential to know each type of messaging and their differences. Using the right one at the right time can help you create more personalized customer engagements for your business.

What is SMS?

SMS (Short Message Service) is known as “plain text messaging”. It’s the most commonly used form of texting, and best of all, you don’t need mobile data or WiFi to send or receive them! You can also send and receive SMS on any number and device, giving you a lot of coverage for message deliverability. But—an important distinction—you can’t share pictures or recordings with SMS. Only emojis! 😁 

What is MMS?

MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) is “rich media texting.” It allows you to be more creative with the content you send. As the name implies, you can send multimedia formats like video, audio, GIFs, and images. MMS messages can also be much longer than SMS (1600 characters, to be exact!). However, there are more limitations around deliverability, as MMS requires an internet connection to send messages.

What are the differences between MMS vs. SMS? (it’s much more than just a letter!)

But wait, what’s the deal with those mobile messaging apps being “over the top”?

There’s this happy medium between SMS and MMS, and there’s a good chance you’ve heard of them (think Facebook Messenger, iMessage, Wechat, Whatsapp). These applications are called “Over The Top” (OTT) applications.

OTT is a fancy phrase for any message sent over the internet. So, instead of relying on a carrier network for message deliverability, having a stable Wifi (and an app) allows you to do all the same texting capabilities that cellular data has in the app platform. 

Are there significant differences between the major OTT messaging apps? Let’s take a look!


Offers SMS inbox integration, is not compatible with Android, is ad-free, has no personalization, and is compatible with iOS on Apple devices.

Facebook Messenger

Supports widgets, integrates with social networks, 111 Languages supported, not ad-free, compatible with iOS and Android.


Offers “two-way opt-in” to prevent unwanted messages, built-in translator, not ad-free, compatible with iOS and Android, free.


Offers privacy options, temporary images, and texts that will delete over a specified time, specify availability, ad-free, compatible with iOS and Android, free.

Now that there’s more context around what OTT is let’s circle back to SMS and MMS!

What are the advantages of SMS and MMS? 

MMS and SMS both have compelling use cases, and knowing the benefits of each can maximize your messaging campaigns.

The benefits of SMS

Not only do all mobile devices receive SMS, but it can also work in areas with limited data and poor signals. With fewer deliverability barriers, you can easily send bulk messages and reach a broader audience. Additionally, SMS is cheap and effective when your business needs shorter messages—things like important notifications, appointment reminders, or shipping updates.
While SMS does not include multimedia, it allows sending URLs to your customers. So even if you’re using SMS, you still have a way to send brief, information-rich messages to your audience.  But proceed with caution! It’s important that you use the right text message linking practices; otherwise, your messages could get blocked.

The benefits of MMS

MMS messages have a large content capacity. Its high character limit makes long messages more cost-effective than sending SMS over multiple 160-character segments. (Sending one long message is cheaper than sending 4 short messages). But, the best advantage of MMS is its experience. After all, “A picture is worth a thousand words”   – and the video definitely does if you turn up the volume. When a customer is waiting on their order delivery, a quick look at an MMS image sent by the company confirms it’s on their doorstep. If you want to introduce an eye-catching product or bring a reassuring face along with your text messages, MMS will convey your brand’s personality better than SMS.

We respond to images in an incredibly fast time, taking as little as 13 milliseconds to process them. Given our short, scrolling attention spans, MMS can help your business stand out in a crowd of text-only notifications.

How to get the best value out of MMS

MMS works because visuals catch our attention, especially when they move (i.e., GIFs and videos)! In our MMS webinar, we revealed that 67% of respondents were more likely to respond to text message reminders with an image than without one. Another insight was that a delivery notification with a human face increased customer confidence in their safety by 190%.

So what can you do with that attention? Where does it really pay off? 

  • Delivering a promotion with an image of the product (or discount) you’re offering
  • Showing your product or service off in a branded way 
  • Reinforce your brand colors, imagery, and logo
  • Send photo confirmation of service
  • Send photo confirmation of the support person that’s helping a user – make it personal!

 If you’re engaging your audience through texts, you’ve got two solid options in front of you. For more insight on how SMS and MMS can impact your comms strategy read out 2023 State of Messaging report, or talk to one of our experts.