To text or not to text: that is the question

Like I’m sure many people feel, I have quite the love-hate relationship with text messaging. While it is so convenient to just shoot a quick note rather than getting caught in a phone conversation or disturbing a friend with a call at the wrong time, texting has also caused a lot of confusion. Tone has been taken out of context; I’ve texted the wrong person; auto-correct wants my friends to think I can’t type; and I could probably write an entire post about the joys of texting and dating…

But despite these #firstworldissues, text remains my #1 preferred communications channel. I read every text as soon as I can (whether I respond right away is another story). It’s how I stay in touch with my friends and family. It’s how I’ve learned about several friends’ engagements and baby announcements. The Messaging app is the most important one on my phone.

And the stats back this up for not just me, but for society as a whole. For instance, did you know…?

  • 98% of text messages are read – and 83% of those within 3(!) minutes according to Techipedia? (Keep that in mind next time someone says they didn’t see your text.)
  • The average adult spends a total of 23 hours a week texting (USA Today)
  • Over 350 BILLION texts are sent each month around the world (Open University)


With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that brands – including my own – have been trying to use this channel to connect with their customers and potential customers. While it may be consumers’ favorite channel in their personal life, I don’t believe the same is true for texting with brands…in most cases. According to a study from Forrester, email remains consumers’ #1 preferred channel for communication with brands. And from my own experience, I tend to agree. Why?

Story 1: One time, I went to an event at an unnamed club in Boston that required me to sign up ahead of time. One of the required fields was my phone number; there was nothing about opting in for text messaging from the company running the event or the club. Three plus years later, I am still getting text messages about DJ-Whoever playing at the club – and there’s no option for me to opt out. Grr. Never going there again.

Story 2: I think Grub Hub and Door Dash are the greatest apps ever created because not only am I too lazy to make food at home sometimes, I’m also too lazy to pick it up at a restaurant. So when I use these services, I receive text messages about where my food is in its journey to me. Super convenient. Allows me to prepare for my food angel’s arrival.

Texting is so personal; so for me to allow a brand into the same app that I’m using with my friends and family, there better be a really good reason. And if I do think there’s a good reason, I want to have control on whether and how that brand gets let in. In the case of the club, 1)I didn’t give them permission to text me and 2) they are sending me blast messages that have nothing to do with my interests. Compare that with Grub Hub, I gave them permission to message me and the texts are super relevant to my life because they are keeping me up to date on a service that I have purchased.

Now, if Grub Hub starting sending me text messages about deals or promotions, then I would start to get annoyed. For me, that’s what my email is for. I love promotional emails from Banana, Panera, really any brand. It may be filtered to the promo category when I’m on Gmail on my work computer, but on my phone, the email comes in the same as my emails from my friends.

If brands want to go down the path of adding text messages to their channel mix, they should really consider the content that they are looking to push out. I think where texting messaging should come into play is with those transactional messages from brands that I want to know immediately: reminders about an appointment, shipping information, alerts that your deposit was made. Dominos has also done something really cool with texting where you can text them the pizza emoji and your favorite pizza will be delivered right to your door. Super convenient especially late night on the weekend.

Domino's to roll out tweet-a-pizza

What about marketing messages and promotions? Think about using email instead. I don’t believe the rumor that email is dead. I just think that marketers need to be smarter about how they use it. Have snappy subject lines; give me real value in the email based on what you already know about me as a consumer.

So what are your thoughts? Have you received text messages from brands? If so, what were they and what did you like/dislike about it?



  1. Great post and really relatable material! One brand that I receive text messages from is the American Red Cross. This organization is notorious for emailing, calling, and texting individuals every few weeks when they are eligible to donate blood. As you mentioned, it is helpful to receive texts to remind me about my donation appointments, but it is annoying to receive other messages. I think you brought up a great point as to why brands should only use texting in very specific circumstances. For me, texting should be done when the matter needs immediate attention or action. Email is less immediate – if the content is extremely important and time sensitive, maybe texting should be used; otherwise, companies (and people) should use email.

  2. Great article! It reminds me of the research I did for my first blog post. The power of messaging apps and texts is quite incredible (6 of the top 10 most used apps globally are messaging apps) yet companies don’t really know how to use this potential because it’s used in the “private sphere” only for now. I think your point is very interesting in this regard, because it shows how consumers don’t want to be overflown with ads in something they consider as private/personal. I find this article: very insightful, as it insists on the necessity for brands to adjust the content they share and also gives examples of brands who’ve made it successfully (Absolut Vodka, McDonald’s). Your article also makes me think about the online clothing retailer Everlane which is one of the first to use Facebook Messenger to engage with consumers (e-commerce support: updates, delivery info.) This article from Facebook also talks a bit about what the company has done to bring businesses to Messenger and is quite interesting in this sense:

  3. I’m not going to lie, I am relatively unfamiliar with texts from brands. I have seen the commercial with the Dominos delivery with the emoji, but besides that I have never heard of brands texting you. Maybe I’m just old school, but I agree with you, I think email is what should be used for promotions and messages. Also, since this post is about text messages I just want to say how much it bothers me when people are on their phone 24/7 texting people. It’s almost as if their phone is glued to their hand, so the stats about texts doesn’t surprise me at all. You know it’s crazy when people even talk into their phone to send a text because they have gotten tired of typing so much. Sorry for my rant, but it is one of my pet peeves. Thank you for the awesome post and insight!

  4. This was an interesting post to read because I feel like this is a much discussed area in marketing now with the rise of private messaging apps. With consumers shifting towards one-to-one communication apps (Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, etc.), brands are left out of the conversation. Now they have to be way more innovative about how they input themselves into the conversation. It reminded me of an article I read on AdAge you may find interesting:

  5. Nice post! I used to like getting text from companies I opted into, but as time went on I realized that I wasn’t really interacting with them. Also, I got annoyed that they weren’t texts from actual people with actual news. Honestly, I think if a company has a choice to email or text, they should email. They can send more information in a more stylized way, and there’s less of a chance they could be seen as an annoyance.

  6. I completely agree with you about not wanting random texts from brands. Texts are personal to me, too, considering they are the #1 way my friends and I communicate. I get a little excited when I get a new text message, and if I were to discover that it were some promotion that would bring me down. I’d say over 50% of the emails I get are impersonal, so I like having texts be something different. But I can see why brands want to use them–I ignore most of those impersonal promo emails, so they need another way to reach me.

    PS You can block that number on your phone and that should stop those texts.

  7. Yes, I guess both the pros and cons for marketers is that there really is no “spam filter” for texts. So its in your face regardless of if you want it or not. I do like when my dentist office will allow me to confirm by text, though, much more convenient. Can you not blog the texts from the bar, though? You can tell I’m not a huge texter myself.

  8. Awesome post, Liz! I think this is such an interesting topic. You bring up a ton of great points and insights that make me even more interested to see how this will play out. I totally agree that text messaging is way more personal than email, and I think it’s really important that marketers consider the fact that even though the functions of email and texting can be similar, the characteristics of the channels are so, so different. I also agree with your concerns about the relative lack of control we have over texts. I think the fact that we basically read every text we receive as soon as we can is what really changes the dynamic, as opposed to email, where there are very few times we actually REALLY want to know what an unread email says, especially non-inbox-zero people. The idea of getting the amount of spam in my text inbox as I do in my email inbox is an actual nightmare. I personally haven’t received text messages from brands, but I could see it being much better received in a messaging app like Facebook Messenger– for me that’s like the healthy balance between text and email.

  9. im with nbl on this one, texts from brands is not too common in my life. However, i do think it would be much more effective than email. When ever i receive emails from brands they are instantly deleted. I have no care for whatever they are trying to offer. AT the same time though, I think getting a text from a brand is going a little too far. Texting is a very intimate form of communication, and to have that littered with advertisement would be frustrating.

  10. I really enjoyed this post, and I think text messaging from brands is an issue that we are going to be dealing with a lot more in the near future. I have also been a victim of brand text messaging and very much disliked it (but thankfully I was given the option to opt-out), and since then I have been much more careful about which brands I give out my number to. Lately, I have heard a lot about new marketing tools that allow brands to send customers promotional texts when customers are located geographically close to one of their stores, as a means of targeting customers providing they have their phone numbers. I think we are going to see a lot more of this kind of thing in the next few years.

  11. willybbolton · ·

    Really enjoyed this post. Texting can be so overwhelming. I think it is interesting how brands have started to text. It’s convenient for grubhub or uber. I don’t want to get a text from some random company. This post is especially relevant to me because I have a public phone number that I use as a musical artist. Fans from all over the world text me every day. Not only am I able to keep in touch with my supporters personally, I am also able to update them with new music and new products that I sell! I think people would way rather get a text from a musical artist than any other brand however.

  12. Awesome Post, Good stuff. I totally agree, I read text messages very quickly, whether I respond or not is another thing. Especially having imessage now and being able to see your messages in multiple places.. I think brands using texting is a good idea. I understand your concerns about brands pushing out data that you may not be interested in. If I could opt in to get personalized data from grubhub for example, I would probably do that. For example if grubhub knows that I like to order in at a certain time on a certain day and knows I like a certain kind of food, I would love a text message with suggestions- It should be something you can opt into.

  13. I haven’t received texts from brands previously; however, I think it’s a great concept (provided they’re brands I want to hear from and texts I can opt out of). Brand emails become white noise when family, friend, and school related emails are pouring in, so texts would certainly be more likely to grab my attention. I wonder to what extent there has been an uptick in anxiety since texting launched based on the stresses we go through – why isn’t this person texting me back, oh no I started typing and they saw me typing, I don’t know how to respond and now it’s eating away at me, who is texting me? With all these questions looming and our collective obsession with watching our messages I think brands could really get consumers and potential consumers to take notice and react to their messages.

  14. I have had similar experiences with your story #1. It gets rather frustrating when brands are spamming your iMessage because we use texting for more personal reasons. The one positive aspect of brands sending you texts is that, as your statistics represent, we will open it. When we receive promotional emails it is much easier to click the little box on the side without reading it, and deleting it. The only issue I have when brands text me is that I feel an invasion of privacy and tend to groan when I get the “899**” number on my screen. Times when I have appreciated these type of text messages though are for things that are important to me such as being alerted that there is a delay on the subway or that my food has arrived. I think that brands would have to logically choose what type of advertisements to send out via text message. They would have to think about what would be more important to text than send it via email where we may or may not read it. Wether the customer fills out a survey choosing a few topics they are interested in with that brand to have sent to them via text, I think texting would be a great way to promote a brand if done properly. Great topic to blog about, I really enjoyed reading it!

  15. I don’t think there is a problem on using text as a marketing tool. The problem is using it as it’s used. 100% of the texts that I receive from a number that is not from a person goes directly to the trash. I don’t even stop to read what is the content of the message. In europe sms are not that popular anymore, we use messaging apps as whatsapp or telegram. SMS are hardly used so we don’t really get that many information or spam (not even a 10% of what I get here in the US). When I got my US number I started getting at least 3 or 4 texts a week from different companies. It felt weird, it feels like an email with no spam filter as you said. Really interesting how texting is so different in different regions and it’s used for different purposes as marketing. Great post!

%d bloggers like this: