It’s Time to Put SMS Out of Its Misery

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Justin Lee
Justin Lee



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That was an actual SMS I received earlier this week.

Unidentified number? There’s the first red flag. Followed up by a link? Red flag number two.

I still have no idea who it was from, what lies beyond that link, or what I did to deserve this.

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Now, that message has been banished the land of deleted SMS along with thousands of other shipping alerts, thinly-veiled scams, and local service providers shouting at me about LAST MINUTE DEALS.

None among them have invited, or inspired, me to engage. In fact, I now almost flinch instinctually at the arrival of a message from an unknown number.

It feels invasive. It is wholly impersonal. It does quite the opposite of connecting with or engage me.

On a messaging platform that invites two-way communication, things could have been different. I could have discovered it was just my friendly, neighborhood Mr. Smiley’s inviting me to use their chatbot to order buy-one-get-one-free burgers today. I could have responded to Amazon’s shipping alert to change my one-time order to a monthly subscription.

What were once built-to-be-ignored SMS messages could have been opportunities to upsell me, retain me, or even just collect more data on me.

With a chatbot on a popular messaging app, these marketing messages could have been contenders.



SMS messages simply can’t contend with chatbots. Their high interaction metrics continue to be a red herring that tells nothing of actual engagement.

Modern marketers who understand that consumers demand valuable and immediate one-on-one engagements are choosing chatbots over SMS for several reasons.

SMS is costly in comparison to, well, everything.


For all intents and purposes, communicating with customers via a chatbot is free.
Sure, there may be a cost associated with developing and maybe manning the bot. But for the chunk of the world that is connected to the internet, the act of sending and receiving messages via chatbot is free.

SMS is not.

Consider spending a cent, which is at the low end for SMS, every time you send a message. Doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?

It doesn’t — until you consider the size of your contact list and how often you want to reach out to them.

Grew your list to 100,000 subscribers? Awesome! That’ll be $1,000 every single time you want to send them a 160-character message.

500,000 subscribers? Now we’re talking $5,000 per mass message.

You get the point.

If you were to share a promotion even every other week, you’d be spending well over $100,000 a year to send a couple dozen sentences to your list.

Many singular chat sessions can get up to that length — and you could have a million of them for free.

The paradox here is that while you want to grow your contact list, the expense of actually communicating with your subscribers via SMS will quickly become prohibitive.


SMS is not the ubiquitous marketing channel it was once believed to be.

Affordable tech and widespread, low-cost internet connectivity draw millions of active users to messaging apps every single month.

SMS is no longer the most far-reaching communication channel that marketers can tap into. Nor was it ever really as ubiquitous as we once believed.

Yes, almost all mobile devices come with some kind of SMS app preloaded. But have you tried shooting a quick text from California to your friend in Germany lately?

“If you’re a brand that wants to message people in US, Canada, Mexico and the UK. That means 4 different SMS setups, 4 different cost structures …

If you launch on FB Messenger in the same four countries, it’s one launch and of course 1 cost structure (free) and the build is to a single API.

SMS suppliers are fragmented by location. Costs are all over the place and marketers will have to set up completely new campaigns according to the regulations of SMS suppliers in every country in which they wish to advertise.

Now that sounds like a great way to spend a week leading up to an exciting new launch.

By contrast, most messaging apps are not fragmented by location. While some apps are certainly more popular than others in different countries, a marketer can set up a single messaging campaign that will function perfectly for any user in that app — regardless of their country of origin or the one they’re in at the time.

Facebook Messenger specifically has the weight of a billion monthly active users all over the globe. The power to piggyback on one of the world’s largest messaging apps is something SMS will never be able to tap into, yet it’s something more and more chatbots do every day.

Yes, SMS interaction is high …

According to the 2016 E-mail Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study, the world average open rate of emails was 21.8 percent. Click-through rate? A dismal 3.3 percent.

On the other hand we have SMS, which Salesforce’s mobile product manager Greg Murphy says has an open rate of 98 percent and a conversion rate of 45 percent.
Way better.

And chatbots are right up there with it.

Email-marketing evangelist Neil Patel has seen chatbots garner 88 percent open rates and a 56 percent click-through rates.

The custom bot-builders at Olyo observed amazing results after sending the same content to users via email and chatbot:

“The results obtained with the chatbot were extraordinary: the CTR (click-through rate) was 12 times higher than the one obtained by e-mail…”

We don’t have to assume that message-based communication like chatbots and SMS are more effective than email marketing. It’s in the numbers.

While SMS and chatbots are neck-and-neck when it comes to opens and CTRs, the engagement taking place on either platform couldn’t be more different.


… but what about actual engagement?

“Consumers no longer want to talk to a business by phone or email; they’ve moved to social media and messaging in their personal lives, why not when they’re dealing with a business?

Convenience is winning. People do not want to wait or search for an answer, they want the answer to come to them.”

In 1989, CompuServe made it possible for internet users to send emails back and forth.

Since then, we’ve measured engagement in metrics like opens and clicks. Conversation wasn’t measured because technology didn’t support the exchange of information in real time.

It isn’t the 80s anymore. What if what we’ve been calling “engagement” has really just been “interaction” all along?

Because I don’t know a better word than “engagement” for what people are doing with chatbots today.

Amit Sharma, CEO of post-purchase customer service tool Narvar, found that less than 1 percent of customers engage with the millions of SMS messages his company sends to follow up on transactions.

With chatbots, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Narvar’s chatbots see almost 100% response rates from customers, 65% of whom treat the bot the same way they would treat a human, saying things like ‘Thanks’ or sending emojis and thumbs-ups.”

It’s obvious a shift is happening.

People view chatbots as an opportunity for conversation with a brand; SMS as information being pushed at them from a brand.

And people are interacting with SMS at a high rate, but it’s all in the delivery.

Who among us isn’t quick to respond to a notification in an app where we regularly communicate with friends and family? It’s the exact same reason why bots work, as well.

The interaction rates are very similar, but the engagement is all different.


Engagement is a two-way street.

Bots are able to cross it. SMS waits on the corner. Yeah, a ton of people see him standing there waving his sign and shouting about discounts, but how many slow down and engage?

After years of lead response research, deduced that if you engage with a lead within five minutes of them indicating interest in your offer, you’re 100 times more likely to actually speak with them than if you wait even 30 minutes.
The odds of qualifying that lead are also 21 times higher.

Despite the facts, Drift found uncovered that way too many companies are ignoring this five-minute rule.

“…we found that 93% of companies are ignoring the 5-minute rule. Just 7% of companies responded to sales inquiries in 5 minutes or less, while a whopping 55% of companies took longer than 5 days to respond.”

This just goes to show that immediacy matters.

A chatbot’s engagement time is less than seconds. SMS’s engagement time is…what engagement?

Businesses have unfortunately taught consumers that engaging via many common sales and marketing channels (forms, SMS, emails) is about as effective as leaving a voicemail — don’t even bother.

“I don’t know anyone who likes calling a business. And no one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service that they interact with. We think you should be able to message a business, in the same way you would message a friend.” — Mark Zuckerberg at F8 in 2016.

But chatbots have a way of collecting data in a way that most people don’t even register as marketing.

Sharing some info with a business you’re interested in over Facebook Messenger feels natural. You don’t have to change your habits nor do you go into the conversation half expecting to never hear back.

It’s a win-win situation.


SMS is not scalable.

As I’ve explained in “Why chatbots will change marketing as we know it”:
“Messaging is the new frontier of marketing. Bots give us the opportunity to tap into it by creating scalable, one-on-one interactions directly with consumers.”
Not only is SMS cost prohibitive on a large scale, you’ll rarely leave people thinking “I feel more connected to this brand now.

But that feeling of connection and value at scale is exactly what we’re doing with our bot builder tool, to help people in sales, marketing, and customer success connect with people at scale.

By using conversational messaging platforms like Facebook & Website Live Chat to help people communicate with their prospects & help their customers better, we’re trying to make life easier and give them back precious chunks of time.

People click on links sent to them via SMS. It capitalizes on a learned behavior. But one click does equal engagement, much less a transaction.

People engage in valuable, one-on-one exchanges with chatbots, all inside apps they’re already using, to get shit done.

In Narvar’s case, responses to follow-up notifications increased from 1 percent to nearly 100 percent. The only difference? A shift from SMS to chatbot.
We’re now poised to see that shift happen on a large scale.

Consumers want useful information, not blasts. And they want it in real time. They’ll go where they need to, including your competitors, to get it.

Remember the trusted adage “The customer is always right.”

SMS Templates for Marketing Sales and Service

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