Email Marketing VS Social Media Marketing VS SMS Marketing

Micheli , Invited guest @ Mailrelay

Let’s start with a tough (even for 2021) question: should you prefer email marketing, social media promotion, or short message tactics?

Understanding that it’s impossible to solve an over-a-decade-long controversy in a single post, we will not attempt to break the tie between emails, social media, and SMS. Instead, we’ll outline the objective benefits and drawbacks of these digital marketing strategies and describe what types of businesses would benefit from each of them more than from others.

Let’s dive right into it.

Email Marketing Overview

Email marketing has matured into a communication medium with goals much broader than spamming cold sales right and left. Right now, business owners use emails for a wide range of purposes:

  • Connecting with website visitors by getting their emails via a sign-up form and sharing converting content consistently.
  • Getting in touch with industry experts, running outreach and public relations campaigns.
  • Supporting regular customers and app users with welcome messages, thank-you notes, and other transactional messages.
  • Ensuring the security of app users by sending sign-up confirmation messages via email.

With such a wide range of applications, email marketing has a lot to offer business owners. Let’s take a look at the medium’s top advantages:



Many specialists believe email marketing to be the pinnacle of personalization. They are not wrong. Email service providers (ESPs) allow marketers to segment audiences by a set of surgically precise criteria:

Location. Depending on where subscribers live, they’ll get emails with relevant blog content to the local area, with prices in a local currency, at a convenient time for their time zone.

Demographics. Creating custom emails for subscribers of different ages, genders, and occupations helps the target audience with relevant offers.

Behavior. Email marketing allows business owners to develop appealing, relevant offers based on a subscriber’s on-site behavior. This Adidas email is an excellent example of behavior-based segmentation.

Customer journey.  This type of segmentation allows marketers to create different communication strategies for subscribers depending on the stage of a customer journey they are currently on.


‘’You can’t manage what you can’t measure” – the saying goes. Luckily, email marketers don’t have to worry about putting time and effort down the drain.

There are dozens of metrics and statistics that give teams a clear understanding of how well a campaign performs. Most ESP tools automatically track:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Bounces
  • Spam complaints
  • Unsubscribes

This is not a complete list of email marketing metrics, which business owners can get their hands on. The range of data a team can gather after running a few campaigns is next to unlimited. Later, marketers use these insights to improve the following campaigns. For example, you can use such data to reduce bounce rates and more.


Teams normally don’t get a second shot at making a killer first impression. That’s why marketers walk the extra mile when approving the designs and content of promotional materials.

Email marketing is one of the easiest mediums to work with in terms of A/B testing. With a wide range of testing tools, marketers can fully eliminate guesswork from decision-making.

Here are the most common types of email tests teams run before launching a campaign:

Sender information. Evaluating whether subscribers respond better to seeing a sender’s name, first and last name, first name, and the name of a company, or just the brand’s name.

Subject lines. Marketers run tests to determine how long the email subject should be, whether adding emojis or upper-case characters improves the open rate, etc.

Personalization. How a letter should address a reader (Mr. Smith, John, John Smith, etc.).

Email design. Tests help marketers decide between a single or double-column layout, HTML or plain-text style, etc.

Media. How many pictures a message should include, what size and quality subscribers respond better to. Or should you experiment with video email marketing.

Other than ensuring a business owner gets the highest conversion possible after launching a campaign, testing prevents reputational damage as well.

After sharing a letter with a test group, the marketing team will know how readers see the email and are confident in its look and feel.

High return on investment

Email marketing is one of the most converting promotion activities out there. Since there’s a lot of personalization potential and flexibility, business owners typically get about 44$ earned for every dollar spent on an email marketing campaign.

For the sake of comparison, let’s take a look at the return on investment for other channels:

  • Affiliate marketing – 36%
  • Webinars – 25%
  • Social media – 19%
  • Content marketing – 17%
  • Video advertising – 11%

Email marketing is a promising field for lead generation and customer retention management. However, if you plan on launching a campaign, make sure you understand the challenges your team might face along the way.


Time-consuming activity

If your marketing team can’t keep up with the activities the company has already invested in, throwing email marketing into the mix might not be the best idea. At least, creating a new campaign is highly time-consuming. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how many hours your team will need:

  • Campaign planning and designing a strategy – 4-8 hours.
  • Creating the design and content — 8-10 hours.
  • Optimizing emails for smartphones — 2-4 hours.
  • Campaign testing, launch, reporting — up to 6 hours.

In total, a marketing team needs up to 30 hours to launch an email campaign. Managers need to carefully consider whether they are ready to invest that much time in email marketing.

It takes experience and practice

There are plenty of hoops a marketing team needs to jump through before cracking the secret of #NoFailEmail. Many factors affect email deliverability and other metrics. Thus, when working on email campaigns, you should avoid spam-words, “Promotions” tab, set email authentication correctly (DMARC and other methods), test HTML, work on content,  and dozens of actions.

Getting the hang of these and other factors influencing email marketing campaigns’ performance takes time and experience. Success in email marketing takes a lot of trial and error.

Complicated workflow

Here’s a set of steps you need to take on average when running email marketing campaigns:

  • Building a subscriber list.
  • Segment the subscriber base
  • Infrastructure optimization
  • Create several versions of email designs to test
  • Run A/B testing.
  • Analyze the results of email testing and tweak the designs.
  • Launch a campaign
  • Manage feedback (answering users’ emails)
  • Track campaign metrics.

There are a lot of steps to complete before you can reach the goal of building a successful campaign. On top of that, most of these require investing in design or email marketing tools. Thus, running an email campaign without a well-defined objective and engaged audience can be a waste of your team’s time and efforts.

Social Media Marketing Overview

It’s no surprise that more business owners are eager to explore the potential of social media marketing and advertising. We use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and other platforms all the time.

The potential of social media platforms is enormous, mainly thanks to their high sharing potential. In digital marketing, social media platforms are the most effective substitution for word-of-mouth promotion. You have enormous opportunities to build your SMM strategy. Even competitors can help with that, like in the example below.


However, multiple challenges come with multi-million audiences, high content virality, and flexible target settings.


Huge audiences

There’s no beating around the bush because social media platforms own our time and attention. Let’s assume that an average Internet user spends at least 2 hours a day scrolling Facebook, Instagram, and other feeds.

Compared to email and SMS marketing, social media promotion wins in audience reach by huge numbers. Statistically, ads on Instagram alone can reach over 928 million people worldwide.

Constant engagement

Promoting your business on social media is a powerful way to build a long-lasting connection with prospects and recurrent clients. By consistently sharing valuable and qualitative content with social media subscribers, business owners make sure brand followers keep track of promotions, product updates, or important announcements.

Here is some example of how social media offers business owners high audience engagement:

  • By sharing branded posts with their social circles, your followers will improve brand awareness and organic word-of-mouth advertising.
  • Seeing posts a company shares in their news feed encourages reluctant followers to consider choosing your product over alternatives when shopping.
  • Social media page followers get to choose the most comfortable way to express their attitude towards the brands, be it by liking, sharing, commenting on a post, or filling a shared in a post QR code survey.



As marketers run social media campaigns, they get a lot of audience-related data in the process. Having a better understanding of how much time users spend interacting with the ad, which posting time they prefer, as well as the types of content people share eagerly helps business managers make thought-out, data-driven decisions.

Other than that, unlike email marketing and SMS promotion, social media marketers don’t have to gather the audience’s contact data manually to start a campaign.

With a range of flexible algorithms, social media platforms show the ads of your brand to millions of people. There’s no need to set up the infrastructure from scratch or get every follower’s consent to start sharing brand-related content.

Social media promotion is an important part of brand identity.

The majority of customers rely on these platforms when making buying decisions. It’s not surprising that, for many businesses, having the brand’s Instagram page or Facebook store is the insightful way to learn their customers’ behavior and preferences.


Expensive implementation

Prospective shoppers and app users might be happy to click on your ad, as long as they get to see it.

Getting people to see your message takes a lot of time, effort, and resources.

On average, the management of social media accounts may require thousands of U.S. dollars per month. Scaling your social media activities requires using special tools.

It would be helpful to set a social media management tool, such as Buffer, Sprout Social, ContentStudio, Social Pilot, or any other available. Indeed, it depends on the business size and content.  Some of the services are free, but to get most advantages, you should purchase paid plans. Throw social media campaigns into the mix, and the spend will blow up!

Here’s the breakdown of a minimal daily ad budget for top social media platforms:

Facebook$0.97 per click
Youtube$3.20 per click
Instagram$3.50 per click
LinkedIn$5.25 per click
Twitter$0.40 per click
Pinterest$1.50 per click

High trend-orientedness

Social media platforms and content formats go out of style as quickly as they come. Marketers need to watch new trends and adapt to them carefully. Otherwise, the conversions of your next campaign might take a fall.

The trend-oriented nature of social media requires extra effort and commitment on behalf of the marketing team. To that end, email and SMS marketing campaigns offer more stability.

Social media audiences are sensitive

When Snapchat was promoting their “Who would you rather” feature, the brand used this image for advertising:


Considering that the post directly references the Chris Brown/Rihanna scandal, the web exploded when the ad came out. It had a lot of traction on social media. So much so that Snapchat had to release an apology statement later.

Thus, you need to be extra careful when it comes to launching social media campaigns. It’s easy to come across as insensitive and walk away with reputational damage instead of high conversion rates. You need to consider A/B testing of your campaigns to minimize chances of such a scenario.

SMS Marketing Overview

SMS marketing is still a popular way to acquire and stay in touch with shoppers and app users.

Although using texts as a marketing channel is a decades-old idea, there are billions of cellphone users, so more business owners consider giving SMS marketing a second life.

High deliverability

Unlike emails, texts aren’t as strictly watched over by network companies. That’s why bounces aren’t as common for SMS marketing campaigns unless a subscriber shared a wrong number by mistake.

As for open rates, texts take the cake compared to emails or social media as well. Smartphone users open 98% of SMS they get (compared to 20% for emails). High deliverability and engagement are among the main reasons many marketing teams still rely on SMS marketing instead of choosing trendy digital marketing channels. In fact there are numerous business text messaging platforms like TextUs, for example that have sprung up in recent years.


All the users on your list will get messages from the company. That’s not something you can say about emails or social media.

Besides, people are more likely to answer messages than emails exactly due to high trust. Thus, SMS campaigns typically have higher engagement than other types of ads.



According to statistics, 81% of American adults are active smartphone users. While hanging out on social media or checking emails is optional, carrying a phone around is a necessity in modern society.

Thus, when marketers are looking for an efficient way to directly get in touch with prospects, smartphone texts are a powerful way to solve the problem. So basically, when you’re looking for an SMS marketing tool, you want to make sure it can help you with things like answering questions from potential customers quickly, closing deals and making payments easy.


Opt-in is needed

This explains high deliverability and reliability rates. But before business owners can get in touch with prospects, they need to talk prospective subscribers into sharing mobile phone numbers with the brand. These days, more people are aware of the dangers of sharing private data with third parties. So getting users to opt-in is easier said than done.

High costs

Let’s face the facts, managing SMS marketing is expensive. Even considering that the cost of a single message is about $0.01, it turns out Since there are fewer marketing tools available compared to email and social media, business owners need to create a custom infrastructure for campaign management.

Also, in order to send texts to users, business owners need to invest heavily in acquiring every single contact.

Poor customization

When it comes to content and personalization, SMS marketing is nowhere near as versatile as email and social media.

There are a few ways to come up with appealing and valuable texts. Since SMS messages are typically short, have no images, and don’t offer much room for personalization, marketers mostly use them to send out short discount offers and notifications.

What’s Best For You

Instead of a traditional wrap-up, look at the comparison table of three digital marketing strategies.

EmailSocial mediaSMS
ProsIt’s highly personalized, measurable, and ROI-efficient.It has high engagement rates and coverage. It can tell a lot about user behavior.This strategy’s strong sides are high deliverability, reliability, and trust.
ConsTime-consuming, complex workflow, much expertise is needed.Expensive, fast-changing.The audience is too demanding for the content.Expensive, poor customization, one-sided communication.
When to use●     Newsletters●     App/website transactional emails.

●     Outreach campaigns

●     Brand awareness campaigns●     B2C promotional campaigns●     Notifications●     Location-based updates

Keep in mind that neither of those strategies are standalone. Feel free to use them interchangeably. Take your time to build a custom marketing strategy, taking into account the company’s business objectives, budget, and your team’s skill set.

Author Bio

Dmytro Zaichenko is a Marketing Specialist at Mailtrap, an email sandbox service that helps test emails and improve email deliverability. He has over 6 years of experience in content making. Apart from writing, he’s a passionate NBA fan.

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