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SMS vs MMS - What are the Key Differences?

SMS vs MMS – What Are The Key Differences?

Nearly everyone with a cell phone sends text messages. It is a simple, yet important, part of our daily lives. So much is accomplished with text messaging. However, like most everyday conveniences, many people often don’t think about how it works or why it works. As long as it works, most people are happy enough.

However, understanding our text messages, and specifically, the types (SMS & MMS), allows us to best reach our intended audiences. This is going to be most relevant to businesses who are considering messaging marketing through business texting services.

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What is the difference between SMS and MMS?

The most simple explanation of the difference is that SMS are messages sent with just text whereas MMS are messages sent with multimedia such as images. However, it does get more complicated than that, which we will explain in more detail.

What is SMS messaging?

SMS is the abbreviation for text messages. It means short message service, which is just the official name of what we call a text message.

Not every message sent from your iPhone or Android is an SMS. Traditional SMS messages are limited to 160 characters. If you’re a millennial or older, you might remember being charged per message and racking up a bill from texting a new friend all month.

These types of messages do not include images, videos, or audio. They are just simple 160 character text messages.

Most service providers include unlimited SMS messaging nowadays.

What is MMS messaging?

MMS is an abbreviation for multimedia messaging service, which means you’re sending more than just text in your messages. This includes images, videos, audio, as well as larger blocks of text. MMS allows for messages that are up to 1600 characters.

It’s simple; MMS are messages that include media other than just text by itself.

What is iMessage? (and Others)

MMS and SMS are not the only forms of sending text messages. For example, Apple has their iMessage feature. iMessage aligns more closely with MMS than SMS as it allows for much longer messages and any type of media to be sent through it. However, it makes more sense to think of iMessage as a messaging service instead of as an SMS or MMS. It just so happens that it can also support both SMS and MMS messages.

Pretty much every social media platform offers direct messaging, but there are apps designed specifically for text messaging. Apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat, and Line all offer digital messaging.

The difference is that these services all use data rather than cell service as an SMS does.

Why the difference matters

To most texters, you won’t really notice a difference. Apple and Android phones will work with both MMS and SMS. It comes down to the messages being sent. Some plans might not include MMS, but the vast majority of smartphone users will have a plan that includes both. Those using a regular cell phone might not have MMS as part of their plan.

The real difference matters for those running a business and looking to reach more customers through message marketing.

MMS and SMS marketing

Nearly every potential customer will have a cell phone equipped to receive text messages. This means you have an opportunity to reach out to them through the device they keep on their person all the time.

Comparison of MMS and SMS

Abbreviation Short Message Service Multimedia Messaging Service
Text character maximum 160 1600
Available Media Text only and external links Images, videos, thumbnails for links, and other visual media directly in message
Cost Typically a minimum price Typically double or triple the price of SMS
Top Highlights Cheaper and simpler. Can reach all SMS equipped phones More engaging and visually appealing


Using SMS Marketing

In the digital marketing space, SMS messaging can be a simple and effective way to reach your customers. For simple and effective messages, SMS is a prime choice. SMS messages are a wonderful selection for messages like order confirmations/tracking information and easy to use two-factor authentication.

The benefits

  • Allows for direct and personalized communication with customers. Most people have their phones on them, meaning it is a quick and easy way to establish communication.
  • The short messages allow for short and easy to digest messages. The 160 character limit means customers get exactly what they need.
  • There is likely no cost for your subscribers because nearly all phone plans now include unlimited texting.
  • Customers are able to respond, allowing you to get real time feedback.
  • Can be linked with other channels for advertising.
  • It’s the cheaper option.

The drawbacks

  • Unable to send anything other than text, so no images or videos. This means the messages will appear less visually appealing.
  • Sometimes emojis are unable to be utilized.
  • The 160 character limit will constrain how much information you can give, which in some cases can render the message hard to understand.

Using MMS Marketing

There are seemingly endless ways to reach potential customers; however, one of the easiest ways to reach potential customers is through MMS marketing and advertising. MMS marketing is going to be closely related to SMS marketing, but there are a few key differences that might make it more or less desirable to you.

The benefits

  • Being able to include images or eye-catching thumbnails, which will prompt more interaction from your target audience. Some business text services claim that there is 15% to 20% more engagement with MMS over SMS and even higher when an image is used.
  • Not being limited to 160 characters allows you to write longer and more detailed messages. The 1600 character limit gives you the opportunity to say everything you want.
  • Nearly all mobile phones are able to receive MMS.
  • Allows for two-way communication with customers.

The drawbacks

  • Higher cost. Depending on the service used, the price can be anywhere from double to triple the price per message.
  • It’s possible that some of your customers will be unable to receive MMS messages if their plan isn’t open to it. This is a small percentage of mobile users.
  • You have to consider the cost for any graphic or visual element that you use in the message. If you do not own the copyright, it can lead to lawsuits.

Choosing SMS or MMS Business Text Services

Most business text services will allow for flexible plans that let you send both SMS and MMS messages. Cost is going to be the biggest factor between the two, but you should consider the purpose of the messages you send when choosing between SMS or MMS.

SMS Best Use

SMS messages are the most useful for short messages. That means messages less than 160 characters long. There are many cases where this is optimal:

  • Order confirmations
  • Delivery tracking
  • Appointment reminders and confirmations
  • Simple updates
  • Password reset and two-factor authentication
  • Text-to-join campaigns. Opt-in or opt-out options.
  • Simple marketing and promotions

SMS allows for keyword recognition such as prompts like “Txt MORE to learn more” or “Txt STOP to stop receiving alerts.” This allows simple and quick communication for your customers. Because you will typically pay per message, SMS is great for keeping costs down when you expect to receive a large number of responses from customers.

MMS Best Use

As has been mentioned above, MMS benefit from being able to send visual media along with longer messages. Now this is unnecessary for many of the key uses of SMS, but when it comes to advertising and promotion, visual aids make a big difference. SimpleTexting reports 50% more consumer engagement with MMS when they include images.

When you want to advertise a new product or run a promotional campaign, MMS will tend to be more effective in achieving your goal. MMS is the best choice for the following:

  • Showcasing your product
  • Sharing digital coupons
  • Inviting subscribers to events
  • Sending out birthday or anniversary messages. (This is a good way to show your customers that you care about them.)
  • Running competitions

Simply put, people respond well to visual stimuli, so including images, gifs, or short videos with your messages can be the difference between a customer engaging and forgetting about you. When it makes sense both promotionally and cost-wise, MMS is a great option.

Companies Who Provide Business Text Services

There are various companies that provide SMS and MMS messaging services.


SMS Marketing Software - SimpleTexting

SimpleTexting is one of the larger companies providing this service. Some of their customers are Starbucks©, LegoLand©, Samsung©, and many others.

They have packages as low as $25 a month to $625 a month. They also have customizable options beyond that pricing.