Monday, July 26, 2010

Are Email and SMS Interchangeable?

A colleague of mine forwarded on to me the recent press release from Message Systems announcing their new product Mobile Momemtum™. In case you've not heard of it yet, it is "a single-platform solution that enables multichannel communication by making it possible to send and receive SMS messages, and then dynamically transform these messages to or from email."

Sez Message Systems in their press release:
"Mobile Momentum affords a critical point of difference over competitors in a multichannel era where customers expect to get messages how, where and when they want them. Now with Mobile Momentum, these companies can seamlessly initiate communication across the customers' channel of choice, immediately transform that message into another channel in the e3vent of non-delivery, and keep the dialog alive with follow-on messages in the channel the customer responds through. And they can do all this on a single-highly scalable and flexible platform that saves them money. The net benefits are: higher short-term revenue, greater lifetime value resulting from improved customer satisfaction, and a lower total cost of ownership (TCO)."
For those of you new to email marketing, Message Systems has become the de-facto standard for mail transfer agents (MTAs) that send emails through the Internet to your ISP - or to your company. It would seem that they are taking their expertise in SMTP - the protocol used for email delivery - and extending it to SMPP - the protocol used for SMS (or text message) delivery.

Let's first consider the pros of their new offering:
  1. Makes good technical sense to take a simple message and translate it back and forth between the two protocols. As they mention in their value proposition, it totally makes sense to have a single platform for both email and SMS since cross-channel marketing is emerging as a highly effective marketing strategy.

  2. A good application for simple alerts where the message is simple and transportable between plain text email and SMS (plain text message with 160-character limit). To this point, Mobile Momentum would be good for simple transportable alert messages like flight status updates, broadcast notifications (like "Come pick up your kids," or "Your dry cleaning is ready"), or appointment reminders.

  3. It may be a good way to jumpstart SMS messaging if you are an Email Service Provider (ESP) already using Message Systems to deliver emails on behalf of your clients.
That having been said, I remain dubious regarding their product positioning for the following reasons:
  1. It doesn't make good practical sense because text messages are limited to 160 characters while emails are not. As I mentioned above, the only types of messages that are interchangeable between email and SMS are those types of messages that should be text messages in the first place: short, simple alerts.

  2. Effective promotional emails tend to be graphical whereas SMS is plain text. Once again, this means that the only messages that are good for this type of interchangeabilty are messages that should actually be SMS messages in the first place.

  3. They are missing the point regarding the distinct advantages of email and SMS. The difference between email and SMS is not just the protocol of transmission, as Message Systems seems to imply. Email and SMS are different; each has their own strengths and weaknesses and they are highly complementary - not necessarily interchangeable. I discussed this unique complementary role in a recent blog post.

  4. Rules for promotional SMS messages are very different than those for email. Wireless carriers mandate that certain verbiage be included in all promotional SMS messages. While CAN-SPAM and ISPs do have guidelines as to what can and cannot be said, there is no such thing as mandatory verbiage in a promotional email. Once again, Mobile Momentum's value proposition of interchangeability between email and SMS is relegated to simple text alerts that really should be text messages anyway.
So from my perspective as an online marketer, Mobile Momentum is a non-starter. Email and SMS are not interchangeable. They are, however, highly complementary. Email is a rich platform that marketers use to tell their story. SMS is the perfect platform to remind people of that story.

So how 'bout it? Are email and SMS interchangeable for situations other than the ones I've already mentioned? Leave me a comment. I'd love to hear from you.


  1. As the CMO of Message Systems, I’d like to offer some clarification on Manny's critique of our new SMS capability.

    First I want to highlight where we agree. Manny rightly points out that Message Systems is the industry’s de-facto standard for email technology, though our capabilities extend well beyond those of a traditional MTA. In fact, its our message management platform – now extended to SMS – that’s made us the industry standard and platform of choice for many of the world's largest brands, social networks and service providers.

    Manny is also correct in saying that a single platform solution for email, SMS and other digital channels is critical to effective multi-channel marketing. That’s especially true in leveraging the unique capabilities of each channel and for coordinating their use consistent with customer preferences and behaviors to ensure higher quality (and more profitable) interactions -- all in a more manageable, less costly operating environment.

    And I certainly don’t disagree with Manny’s observations about the relative value and varying characteristics of the different digital channels. Moreover, it’s that single platform solution that will enable marketers to more effectively harness their respective strengths of each channel and use them in tandem to deliver more holistic customer communications.

    My disagreement comes in Manny’s conclusion that our SMS offering, Mobile Momentum, assumes equivalency between email and SMS. That’s simply not true. In dynamically transforming a message from one channel to another, we’re not assuming that email content will simply be shifted ‘as is’ to a text-based medium like SMS – though such text transfers are possible within predefined character limits. Our vision of message transformation is much more expansive than that. With an intelligent rules engine at its core, the product allows marketers to recast the message appropriate to the SMS channel, including a link where a richer message might occur. The scenarios for transformation are infinite and only limited by the marketer’s imagination.

    The key point here is that customer communication is evolving, and marketer strategies and tactics – along with the technology solutions that support them – must evolve too. Manny is right that email will remain the online marketer’s ‘work horse’ for years to come. But online messaging isn’t just about email anymore. We can’t ignore a growing customer segment that prefers non-email channels (text, social) or, more important, an emerging majority of customers who use multiple channels and fluidly move between them.

    In my view, next-generation messaging is about interactive, multi-channel communication. As such, it’s going to require a new breed of technology solutions. Today’s disjointed, siloed point solutions simply won’t do. Marketers need integrated solutions that allow for two-way communication across multiple channels. And, yes, the ability to dynamically transform messages in response to in-the-moment customer preferences is an essential part of it. That’s what our product roadmap at Message Systems is aimed at delivering, and Mobile Momentum is our first product release in that direction. We’d welcome Manny and others to take a closer look.

    --Dave Lewis

  2. Thanks, Dave for posting your clarification to Mobile Momentum. It would appear that it's as much about message transitioning as it is about message transformation - in light of the rules-based engine.

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