Transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS – The overview

If you’re just getting into sending SMS, you know: There are many technical terms in the world of business SMS. In addition to many basic terms, the terms transactional SMS and promotional SMS appear again and again.

What exactly is the difference between these two types of SMS and what does it mean for you? We’ll take a look at it together. Clear the stage for transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS.

Please note:

This article is purely informative. It does not constitute legal advice. We do not assume any liability for the timeliness, completeness and accuracy of the information. Please make sure to educate yourself thoroughly in advance and learn about the regulations in your recipient countries. You may also want to talk to your legal advisor beforehand.

Why is the distinction transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS important?

The distinction transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS is especially important when you send international SMS, but it is useful to know the difference when sending in any country.

Many countries have different rules for sending transactional SMS and promotional SMS.

  • In the U.S., for example, there are different types of numbers that may be used for transactional SMS but not for promotional SMS.
  • In addition, while recipients’ consent must be obtained for both types in the U.S., it must be in writing for promotional SMS.
  • Furthermore, in the USA there is the so-called Do Not Call Registry in which recipients can register. Contacting such a number with promotional SMS without written consent is breaking the law.
  • In other regions, it is forbidden to send promotional text messages during a certain time window, such as between 9 pm and 8 am.

However, you do not have to choose between the two variants. Both SMS types have their raison d’être and both fulfill different goals. The only important thing is that you know how to distinguish between them so that you can follow the appropriate rules.

We recommend that you always thoroughly familiarize yourself with the recipient country’s individual rules for sending SMS. Our blogpost on international communication offers some initial assistance.

What are transactional SMS?

Transactional SMS are SMS messages that you need to send to your customers to enable them to use your service or messages that are directly related to a transaction. They contain information that is important to your recipients and should therefore be worded clearly and concise.

Transactional SMS are requested either indirectly, such as when customers provide their phone number during the order process to be informed about the status of the order, or explicitly, by requesting a password via SMS or similar. Nevertheless, we always recommend that you obtain the consent of your recipients.

As a rule, transaction SMS are also fully automated, although there may of course be exceptions here, depending on the company, and marketing SMS can also be sent automatically.

Best practice note

For transactional SMS, customers can often sign up with an additional click and by providing their phone number.

Make sure you make it unambiguously clear what your customers are signing up for.

Also, always use separate queries for transactional SMS and promotional SMS.

To illustrate, here are some examples of possible contents of a transactional SMS:

  • Code for two-factor authentication
  • Link to reset a password
  • Payment reminders
  • Booking confirmations
  • Alarm messages
  • Appointment reminders
  • Non-promotional updates, for example on a booked flight

An order confirmation is a transactional SMS

What are promotional SMS?

Any type of SMS that aims to increase sales or raise awareness of your brands or business is a promotional SMS. Any type of marketing SMS is also a promotional SMS.

This also means that if you send a transactional SMS and refer to an additional offer in it, it automatically becomes a promotional SMS. This means that different rules apply than for the original transactional SMS.

If you send a promotional SMS, you should always have the written consent of your recipients. It is also good practice to inform recipients how they can unsubscribe from receiving promotional messages.

Some possible contents of a promotional SMS are:

  • Special offers
  • Upselling offers
  • Invitation to store openings
  • Company updates/newsletters
  • Referral marketing


Transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS: Which is which? These three examples should help you get a feel for what each type might look like.

Transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS - examples

Transactional SMS

Two-factor authentication codes and one-time passwords are classic examples of transactional SMS. They are necessary to provide a specific service.


Promotional SMS

Exclusive offers, discount promotions, seasonal sale – all these contents are promotional. They are intended to persuade customers to make a purchase. SMS with invitations to competitions or similar events are also classified as promotional SMS.


Promotional SMS

Even though the beginning of this SMS is based on a transaction, the upselling attempt turns the message into a promotional SMS. It is advisable to strictly separate the two SMS types.

What does this mean for your SMS dispatch?

What can you learn from the comparison of transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS for your SMS strategies?

  • Find out about the rules in the recipient country and comply with them. Otherwise, you may face hefty fines.
  • Make a clear distinction between transactional SMS and promotional SMS, both when getting consent and when sending. Contact numbers only for the purpose for which the recipients gave their consent.
  • Make transactional SMS clear and concise. Promotional SMS can also be creative.
  • Automating the sending process is possible for both types of SMS. In many cases, it is best to use one of our integrations. If your desired integration is not available, you can also find our service on IFTTT and Zapier.

Did you like our comparison of transactional SMS vs. promotional SMS? Are you missing a specific piece of information? Leave us a comment or send us a message – we look forward to hearing from you.

All the best
Your sms77 team

Header picture by Anna Ostanina via iStock

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