Skip to content

Push Notifications vs Text Messages: The Ultimate Showdown

As a digital technology expert, I‘ve seen countless trends and tactics come and go in the world of mobile marketing. But two channels that have stood the test of time and only seem to be getting stronger are push notifications and text messages (SMS/MMS).

In this ultimate guide, we‘ll dive deep into the push notification vs SMS debate, exploring the unique strengths and ideal use cases of each. I‘ll share the latest statistics, real-world examples, and best practices gleaned from over a decade in the industry. By the end, you‘ll know exactly how to wield these powerful weapons in your mobile engagement arsenal.

Push Notifications: The App Engagement Powerhouse

What are push notifications?

Push notifications are clickable pop-up messages sent from an app or website directly to a user‘s device, even if the user is not actively using the app at that moment. They appear on the device‘s lock screen and in the notification center until acted upon.

Key characteristics of push notifications include:

  • Sent from an app/website, not another user
  • Require explicit user opt-in
  • Support rich media (images, video, buttons, etc.)
  • Highly customizable based on user behaviors/preferences
  • Delivered in real-time over internet connection
  • Free for sender and recipient

Push notification statistics

The numbers don‘t lie – push notifications are incredibly effective at boosting app engagement and conversions:

  • Global push notification market to hit $64.5 billion by 2026 (Statista)
  • 50%+ of users find push notifications useful (Localytics)
  • 7.8% average click-through rate (Accengage)
  • 3x higher retention for users who receive push notifications (Leanplum)
  • 3-10x higher open rates compared to email (Invespcro)

Push notification best practices

To make the most of push notifications, keep these guidelines in mind:

  1. Nail the opt-in prompt
  • Clearly communicate value prop
  • Time it right (not too soon)
  • Easy to opt back out
  1. Craft compelling content
  • Urgent, actionable copy
  • Engaging rich media
  • 40-60 characters ideal
  1. Get personal
  • Segment based on user attributes/actions
  • Dynamically insert user name, preferences
  • Optimize timing for individual
  1. Provide real value
  • New content/features
  • Exclusive promotions
  • Helpful reminders
  1. Mind your metrics
  • Track delivery, open, and conversion rates
  • A/B test variations
  • Monitor opt-outs and adjust if needed

Push notification examples

Let‘s look at a few brands that have absolutely crushed it with push notification campaigns:

  • Netflix – highly targeted new content announcements based on viewing history, achieving 60%+ open rates.
  • Starbucks – location-triggered offers and incentives resulting in 3x higher response compared to average, with 40% of mobile orders coming from push.
  • Wayfair – abandoned cart reminders for high-intent shoppers generating 40%+ open rates and 12% CTR.

Text Messages (SMS/MMS): The 1:1 Communication Champion

What are text messages?

Text messages, or SMS (short message service), are brief electronic messages sent from one phone number to another over a cellular network. MMS (multimedia messaging service) extends SMS with support for longer messages and media attachments.

Key characteristics of text messages include:

  • Sent between individual phone numbers
  • No opt-in required (but can be blocked)
  • Typically plain text, some media via MMS
  • Less customization compared to push
  • Delivered over cellular network
  • May incur small fees depending on plan

Text message statistics

Text messages boast some of the most jaw-dropping engagement rates of any marketing channel:

  • 98% average open rate (Mobile Marketing Watch)
  • 209% higher response rate than phone, email, or Facebook (HubSpot)
  • 90% read within 3 minutes (Connect Mogul)
  • 75% of consumers are comfortable receiving SMS from brands (HighTable)
  • 56% of customers would rather message a business than call (Twilio)

Text message best practices

Follow these tips for sending text messages that truly delight:

  1. Get permission
  • Legally required in many regions
  • Set expectations for content and frequency
  1. Keep it concise
  • Aim for 160 characters or less
  • Front-load the important info
  1. Make it actionable
  • Have a clear call-to-action
  • Include shortened links
  1. Show your human side
  • Infuse personality in your copy
  • Use conversational tone
  1. Time it right
  • Respect preferences and quiet hours
  • Tap into immediacy when needed
  1. Analyze and optimize
  • Track open, response, and conversion rates
  • Experiment with copy, timing, frequency

Text message examples

Check out these brands winning big with SMS/MMS campaigns:

  • Schwan‘s Home Delivery – 17% CTR and 35% coupon redemption rate on flash sale SMS blasts
  • Purity Products – 33% CTR driving traffic to personalized supplement recommendation engine
  • Drybar – 15% conversion rate on two-way booking SMS with 30,000 appointments set

Comparing Push Notifications and Text Messages


Push notifications are sent over the internet from an app/website backend to a user‘s device. Text messages are sent between mobile phone numbers over the cellular network.


Apps must get a user‘s explicit permission to send them push notifications. Text messages do not require formal opt-in, but users may block unwanted senders.


Push notifications support rich media and advanced personalization based on in-app behaviors. Text messages are more limited, with MMS allowing some media capabilities.


There are no direct costs for apps to send push notifications or for users to receive them. Text messages may incur small fees depending on the sender‘s and recipient‘s mobile plan.

User Experience

Push notifications appear as interactive pop-ups that can be expanded or actioned. Text messages are static and accessed through the phone‘s native SMS inbox.

The Future of Push and SMS

Some key trends I‘m following in the mobile messaging space:

AI-powered optimization – Machine learning models will increasingly be used to automate and optimize delivery time, frequency, and content of push notifications and SMS. We‘ll see hyper-personalization at scale.

Richer experiences – The line between push notifications and in-app content will continue to blur as notifications become mini-apps unto themselves, with more advanced layouts and interactive capabilities.

Texting gets an upgrade – RCS (rich communication services) will bring iMessage-like functionality to SMS/MMS, with features like read receipts, real-time typing indicators, high-res media, and suggested replies.

Omnichannel coordination – Rather than viewing push and SMS as separate silos, savvy marketers will orchestrate seamless journeys across channels, using data to pick the optimal touchpoint for each interaction.

Stricter regulation – As consumers demand more privacy and control over their data, laws like GDPR and CCPA will place greater restrictions on mobile messaging. Marketers will need to be extra cautious about opt-ins and compliance.


There you have it – the past, present, and future of push notifications vs text messages. Both channels are immensely powerful tools for connecting with mobile audiences, with unique superpowers that make them indispensable to any digital marketer.

Push notifications excel at delivering rich, personalized content to drive app engagement and conversions. Text messages are unrivaled for urgent, 1:1 communication and driving response.

The winning approach is a strategic combination of both, harnessing the strengths of each in service of a seamless customer experience. That means using push for engagement and SMS for service, with smart orchestration and strict adherence to best practices.

As technologies like AI and RCS continue to evolve, the possibilities for amazingly effective mobile messaging will only multiply. It‘s an exciting time, but the fundamentals still apply – give your audience tremendous value, earn their trust, and use push notifications and SMS responsibly to build meaningful, mutually beneficial long-term relationships.

If you‘re not using push notifications or SMS in your mobile marketing, you‘re missing out on a massive opportunity. And if you are, I hope this guide has given you some ideas to seriously level up your game.

Now if you‘ll excuse me, I need to go respond to some push notifications from my favorite brands!