What are SMS and MMS?

sales meeting
Understanding text message marketing options.

SMS (short message service) and MMS (multimedia messaging service) are both abbreviations for types of text messages. SMS is the original text message format, only allows you to send plain text messages, and has a maximum of 160 characters. MMS, the next-generation version of text messaging, allows you to send multimedia content including photos, videos, audio files, and so on. It represents a huge leap forward in text message marketing possibilities – you can think of it as the difference between placing an ad in the newspaper and running a commercial on TV.

Thus far most mobile marketing in the US has been through SMS, with MMS representing a fairly small percentage of the whole. But as smart phones have become a much bigger percentage of the total cellphone market, MMS marketing has become more and more useful. It's still more expensive than the equivalent SMS campaign so it's best reserved for projects for which you expect a high rate of return.

In the US, multimedia messaging is most often used to send photos back and forth between consumers, but it has been used for marketing campaigns by some fairly major businesses. For example, a few years ago Samsung sent out an MMS ad offering a free demo of a new game. According to WirelessWeek, the ad received a 15% response rate and a 2% conversion rate. In Germany, BMW launched an even more successful MMS campaign selling snow tires. The company sent customers a photo, culled from CRM data, of how their existing car would look with the new tires installed.

A significant hitch for MMS marketing occurred when Apple released the iPhone lacking the capability to send or receive MMS messages. However, due to popular demand, Apple added MMS to its iPhone OS in 2009, and iPhone owners now account for a large percentage of total MMS use.

Because MMS marketing is relatively expensive compared to SMS marketing, and because only mobile devices with color screens can receive MMS messages, multimedia messaging is best used as just one aspect of your total mobile marketing program.

One option would be to use SMS to make contact with cold leads and then switch to MMS once they confirm that they want to hear from your company (and have an MMS-capable device). Or you could promote only high-end products and services with MMS, since the potential return on each message you send would be higher.

Of course, you aren't limited to just sending MMS messages – you can also make it part of your campaign receive them from your customers. Businesses have generated tons of excitement and interest with picture-to-screen campaigns to their existing customers, in which the company asks customers to send in a particular photo (say, one of the customer using their product) and the company then displays this photo on their website. Some retailers, such as Walmart, display the customer photos on TV screens at their retail locations. On a smaller scale, you can hold contests offering prizes to customers who send in specific images – again, this is often a photo of someone using one of your products.

Another common use of MMS is to send animated greeting cards to customers. This is a great campaign to hold during the holidays, but it's even more effective to send an e-card on your customer's birthday or the anniversary of her first purchase from you.

You can also include a special offer with the card, such as a coupon for her next purchase.

If you use photos and other images into your mobile marketing, be very careful to use only images for which you hold the full rights. Using unlicensed photos in a marketing campaign can launch you into a legal nightmare of epic proportions. If you don't snap the photos yourself, stick with fully licensed images.