Push notifications – In app messaging or SMS?

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Alek Jeziorek Staff writer
Push notifications – In app messaging or SMS?

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Push notifications powered by an in app chat and messaging platform are often compared to SMS. But comparing them directly is like comparing apples to oranges. This article discusses SMS and its drawbacks, and how in app messaging can provide both push notifications and a messaging experience that can create a powerful engagement, retention, and conversion tool for your mobile or web applications.

This article covers:

  •  SMS notifications and their drawbacks:
    • SMS is sent from an anonymous phone number
    • SMS is a one-way message
    • SMS forces users to leave your apps
  • In app messaging and push notifications
    • Can help you engage, retain (3.5x ) and convert (21% sales conversion in one case) your mobile and web app users
    • Can send rich multimedia messages, whether video, audio, images, or structured or templated messages, coupons, etc.
    • Allows you to brand your user’s messaging experience
    • Provides rich data, allowing you to track logistics or other critical info

Enhance your notifications strategy with in app messaging

What is SMS?

SMS is an acronym for short message service and it is often synonymous with text message. It’s “short” because it is limited to only 160 characters. It was a protocol developed in the 80s to send text over mobile networks. The transmission of an SMS over a mobile network is actually quite complicated and involves around 7 steps before it reaches the receiving phone. But since it is based on the largest 3 mobile network infrastructures, an SMS is able to reach any mobile phone.

A related service is the MMS, short for multimedia message service. It sends pictures, video, voice, etc. but mobile carriers limit the size of the service’s data, typically to around 300KB.

Text notifications using SMS

A text notification is a message sent to a mobile phone and can be used by businesses and applications to reach mobile phone users. Twilio popularized the SMS and MMS for marketing notifications by creating an API for developers to integrate various SMS functionality into their software or apps.

You can imagine the appeal of the text notification. As long as you know the phone number of a user and have their permission, you can essentially reach them anytime.

And, yet, over time the SMS is proving to be useful in only a narrow set of use-cases, like two-factor authentication and reaching users outside your application.

Problems with text notification using SMS

Problem 1: SMS is sent from an anonymous phone number

First, the text notification is sent to the mobile phone from an anonymous phone number, creating two related problems.

Problem 1.1: SMS looks like SPAM

More and more, SMS marketing appears to be SPAM because the user doesn’t recognize the number from which it is sent – like the phone calls from your area code that turn out to be a SPAM phone call. As this older marketing tactic becomes saturated and as phone bots increasingly SPAM mobile phone users, it could be the Twilight of the SMS for marketing because of increasing mistrust.

Problem 1.2: SMS is Data Poor

Since the message is anonymous and sent through mobile carriers, it is extremely difficult to track and cannot be attached to a unique ID.

This creates difficult logistics. Who is communicating with whom? When and why are they behaving as they do?

Despite being used frequently for logistics, SMS does logistics poorly.

Problem 2: SMS is a one-way message

Despite having a 29% reply-rate, SMS is essentially a one-way message because your ability to respond is limited and clunky. How else can you follow up except by a bot and what happens on the next interaction? And where is the response stored and how do you follow up?

Since SMS is almost entirely a one-way message, it cannot coordinate between multiple parties or support complex interactions.


Problem 3: SMS forces users to leave your app

With SMS, the user must leave your app to check the message.

Check the message

If SMS read-rates are north of 90%, then your user leaves your app over 90% of the time it receives an SMS  while in your application. And, so, SMS actually decreases the time users spend in your applications.

Still, an old SMS knows its tricks

Still, text notification is still necessary for two-factor authentication through the phone, user invitations to phone contacts, one-way marketing blasts, etc.

But it might be time for app-makers and marketers to stop making due with older technology and start building out a notification and messaging experience that engages your users.

What is in app messaging?

In app messaging is a way to send messages and support user chat and messaging within the ecosystem of your application using Internet Protocol (IP). It is also called IP messaging or native messaging, but each name has slightly different connotations. Since in app messaging uses IP, it requires an internet connection either through WiFi or a mobile internet connection. It also requires a user to download and use your app.

What is in app messaging?

There can be many message types. The messages can be 1-to-1:

  • Business to user
  • User to user
  • Service provider to user
  • Buyer to seller
  • Customer to support
  • Admin to user

The messages can also occur in private group chats between 3 or 300 or more users, or in large-scale public channels in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of users.

In app messaging also supports push notifications for users that opt-in. And it can send any multimedia of much larger data sizes, but the speed will vary by the mobile phone’s internet connection.

Push notifications using IP messaging

Push notifications are the SMS of IP messaging, except they can include rich features like images, video, sound, calls-to-action or templated messages. They send messages directly to your user’s home screen.

As you can see from the above definition, comparing in app messaging to SMS text notifications is like comparing apples to oranges. SMS is only text notification and uses a phone number, whereas in app messaging is many types of messaging and functionality, of which push notifications are only a small part.

To narrow our comparison moving forward, let’s only consider push notifications using in app messaging.

If text notification using SMS, e-mail or social media is a good tool for acquiring users, then push notifications using in app messaging is a great tool for reaching the people already using your application – to engage and retain them, to increase their Lifetime Value for your application and business. Our guide to mobile push notifications has everything you need to know about push notifications, their benefits, and how they can be used.

In app messaging keeps your user, well, in your app

This is the value of in app messaging’s namesake. In app messaging keeps your user in your application. It retains them longer.

In app messages drive 3.5X higher user retention.” (Source: Localytics)

  1. Push notifications combined with in app messaging are a potent retention method because you can use in-app messages from friends or other users to draw app-users back into your application.
  2. You can send notifications to highlight certain content by sending video or audio.
  3. You can send targeted offers, coupons, or shopping suggestions.
  4. You can send real-time updates about live events.

If your in-app messaging notifications send updates about any app related event (i.e. a delivery, ride hailing, or any other service) these notifications already offer an extremely high value to your user.

SMS forces your user to leave your application. Even for a moment, this risks losing your user to the many apps and stimuli competing for your user’s attention.


In app messaging allows you to send Multimedia, structured or templated messages, and more

With in app messaging you can send structured or templated messages – messages that include photos, calls to action, other buttons, or other aspects – to your users as a notification or simply in a message or group chat.

In app messaging allows you to send Multimedia, structured or templated messages, and more

This works well for sales, coupons, or nudging your customer, especially when it is personalized according to their buying or messaging patterns.

In one case, TMON achieved 21% sales conversion through live-commerce – a combination of live video and live chat.

Your brand, your In app push notification

The best in app messaging APIs will allow your business to customize your messaging UI to your brand. This is not the case with the Facebook Messenger API or, for gaming, the Discord API. In both cases, the in app messaging each provides is branded with Facebook and Discord. This is great for Facebook and Discord, but not for your business.

With in app push notification, your user knows they’re receiving a message from your application and your business. And since they’ve downloaded your app and you provide a service they love, they will not consider it anonymous spam.

Your brand, your In app push notification

Your brand, your In app push notification

In app push notifications are data rich

For in app messaging, the best services will assign any message, group channel or open channel a unique ID and will allow them to accept any additional layers of metadata.

That means that you can understand how your users message or chat and personalize the experience to better meet their needs. For logistics, it can help you ensure a complete communication between two parties because you may be able to notice, for example, when a Lyft, Uber, Grab, or GO-JEK driver has not responded to a customer’s message and send them a push notification reminding them to complete the communication.

If your in app messaging vendor has set up continuous logging, like SendBird, then you would be able to understand why your users talk, track messaging habits, track which conversations are complete, and basically any metadata you and your developers want to track.

Conclusion: In app messaging and push notifications

In app messages from friends and other users combined with well-targeted push notifications are a great strategy to engage, retain, convert, and excite your app users. SendBird’s complete chat solution can bring both to your application and build out your chat and messaging features, customized to your industry and application’s use-case.

Categories: Insights

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