Email Marketing vs SMS Marketing: Which is best to generate more leads?

August 19, 2022 | By Jake Meador
Email Marketing vs SMS Marketing: Which is best to generate more leads?

Most marketing channels are broadcast-based channels, meaning you’re using the channel to broadcast a message to a large and mostly anonymous group. This is true for:

  • Advertising in newspapers
  • Advertising on TV
  • Posting on social media
  • Marketing for SEO

In all cases, you’re sending a message out to an audience that is mostly unknown to you: You don’t know the person opening that magazine. You don’t know the person searching for a keyword on Google that you want to rank for. This isn’t necessarily bad, of course. You have to raise awareness before a person will buy from you and broadcast-based marketing channels are great for that.

That being said, broadcast marketing is also very limited because if you do not know the audience well, you cannot tailor your message to them effectively.

Certainly, you can make educated guesses about the audience. If someone finds you on Google, you know what they were searching and can probably guess at their question or problem based on their search term. But you still don’t have personal information about the recipient of the marketing message.

What sets email and SMS apart from these channels is that both email marketing and SMS marketing are personalized. You’re not broadcasting to a mostly anonymous audience; you’re sending custom, personal messages to a defined audience.

So which of the two personalized marketing channels is best?

We’re going to answer that in this post.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is the old faithful of the online marketing world. It was around before Google, before Facebook, and before LinkedIn. It predates smartphones and smart speakers. And, remarkably, it’s still quite popular.

That being said, what email does well is very different from what SMS does well and where email is weak, SMS tends to be quite strong.

Here is what email does well: It’s a highly customizable format that allows personalized communication.

So if you have a product that requires a lot of education before people really get what you’re doing, email can be great because the email format gives you the space you need to make your case.

Email can also be a great channel for media projects—a number of prominent media companies have turned to email in recent years as a bedrock for their business because email conveys large amounts of information incredibly well.

If you’re familiar with:

  • The Hustle
  • Popular Information
  • The Dispatch
  • Stratechery

...then you know how powerful email can be.

Unfortunately, there are two main problems that marketers run into with email.

Email Problem #1

First, because so many people and brands rely on email to communicate, most of us have inboxes that are bursting at the seams. (Raise your hand ✋ if you have over 100 unread emails sitting in your inbox right now.) This creates what you might call an attention premium in email inboxes: The amount of content demanding our attention dramatically surpasses the actual attention we have to give to our inbox.

As a result, many emails go unopened. According to email marketing software company Mailchimp, open rates hover around 22% on average and are actually 17% for marketing and advertising!

So the first problem is simple: The odds are reasonably high that the vast majority of your email recipients will never read your emails.

Email Problem #2 🤔

Here’s a second problem: Most small businesses, retailers, and online businesses don’t have highly complicated products that require a great deal of education to understand.

If you’re in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space, you probably have to educate customers. But if you sell clothes or run a restaurant or even if you’re a business coach, those are all products most people have some level of familiarity with.

The obstacle to purchasing isn’t about understanding the product. It’s usually about price or trust or overcoming inertia—getting people to change their routine and buy from you instead of your competitor that they already buy from.

And email marketing can work to address these problems, if done well, but most of the time it isn’t done well because doing email marketing well is very difficult.

Effective email marketing that addresses these issues will:

  • Be written by a professional copywriter
  • Come with a hefty price tag
  • Only be opened by 30-40% of your recipients. That’s a huge improvement on the 17% open rate that is more common, but it is still a minority of your readers.

SMS Marketing

SMS marketing is a better way to generate leads.

There are three reasons SMS is usually a better marketing channel than email.

Higher Open Rates

First, SMS open rates are far higher than email. Often they are at 95% or higher, sometimes as high as 98%! This fact alone may be enough to convince many of you that SMS is worth exploring as an alternative personalized marketing channel.

Requires Brevity

Second, SMS excels at the kind of simple communication that most marketing messages ought to be. Because SMS comes with a character limit, you have to get to the point quickly. But that’s a good thing because most of the time you don’t need a long, complicated marketing message; you need something simple and direct. SMS incentivizes precisely that kind of communicating thanks to its character limit.

Allows List Segmentation

Third, you can still retain the customization that makes email so effective. You can segment your list of recipients as much as you want:

  • repeat customers
  • new customers
  • leads

You can also segment by what products a person has purchased, what they’ve said they are looking for or are interested in, and so on.

SMS is just as customizable as email on this point, but with a much higher engagement level and more effective messaging.


If you have a solid list of contacts that you need to help become paying customers, then SMS marketing is the best way to do that.

The combination of remarkably high engagement with a messaging format tailored to short-form marketing communication makes it an unbeatable platform for personalized marketing.

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