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Beyond Plain Text: Demystifying Rich Communication Services (RCS)

The future is here: Learn about RCS, including its current and future impact on marketing and communication strategies

Illustration of a smartphone displaying a RCS message
March 12, 2024
Kathleen Crampton
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Reading time about 8 min

Have you heard the term “RCS” thrown around recently but not quite sure what it means? RCS is the new kid on the marketing block — who’s here to stay.

Welcome to our overview of RCS: rich communication services. We’ll answer all your pressing questions, including what is rich communication services, how it is different from other types of messages, and how it can benefit your business.

What Is Rich Communication Services?

Rich communication services (RCS) is a messaging protocol that upgrades the messaging experience, providing richer (hence the name) and more engaging formats than MMS and SMS messages. With RCS messages, you can send high-quality photos and videos, share location pins, provide easy access to external apps, get read receipts, and much more — all within your native messaging app.

What does a “rich communication services message” mean? If your message says “rich communication services message,” this indicates that it will be sent using the RCS protocol. This message might appear differently on different devices (some might shorten it to “RCS message”), but it means you’re getting richer content beyond plain text or limited multimedia.

RCS vs. Other Types of Messages

To further describe RCS, or rich communication services, messages, let’s explore how they’re similar to and different from other types of messages.

 

RCS vs. SMS

Sample RCS vs SMS messages

The biggest difference between RCS and SMS messages is the amount of text. Whereas SMS texts are limited to 160 characters, RCS messages allow up to 8,000 characters (yes, you read that right!).

Here are some other differences to note:

  • Read receipts: RCS messages provide the option for read receipts, whereas SMS messages do not.
  • Security: While SMS messages are secure, they don’t have end-to-end encryption like RCS messages have. Plus, RCS messaging allows for verified sender identification, reducing fraud risk.
  • Typing indicators: See when people are typing in real-time with RCS messages.

RCS vs. MMS

What’s the difference between RCS and MMS? RCS and MMS differ because users can send high-resolution graphics, videos, and other media types, plus interactive elements like buttons, suggested replies, and more.

While MMS is an upgraded version of SMS, RCS goes even further, providing interactive experiences that move well beyond basic picture messaging.

Learn more about the differences between SMS and MMS and how to use MMS in your text message marketing.

 

RCS vs. Google Messages

Google is currently the biggest RCS adopter, using the messaging protocol for Google Messages. Users of Google, Samsung, and Android smartphones can enjoy the features of RCS.

 

RCS vs. iMessage

What about RCS vs. iMessage? The main thing to remember with RCS vs. iMessage is that iMessage is Apple’s proprietary messaging service. You’re probably aware of the notorious blue-bubble-versus-green-bubble debate between iPhone users and just about everyone else. Well, that’s because iMessage is solely for Apple products.

iMessage has similar features to rich communication services messages, like read/delivery receipts, typing indications, and end-to-end encryption, users have the ability to edit and unsend messages. However, RCS one-ups iMessage with its capacity for high-resolution multimedia and robust group messaging features.

Apple initially resisted RCS messaging, claiming its messaging service was just as good, if not better. But in November 2023, the company announced that it would adopt RCS messaging features within its iMessage service, hopefully easing future green-blue frustration.

 

RCS vs. Messaging Apps

Apps like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and WhatsApp are called over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps, meaning they operate “over the top” of mobile networks. So, whereas SMS uses a mobile network to send messages, OTT messages are sent via an internet or WiFi connection.

While OTT messaging apps are very popular, with billions of active users, people must use a separate app to send texts, multimedia, and group chats. The biggest benefit of RCS versus OTT messaging is that it doesn’t require a separate app — everything is sent from your phone’s messaging service.

Booming Benefits for Businesses: What RCS Brings to the Table

Next stop in your journey to discover what is rich communication services: how it can help businesses.

What are the benefits of RCS for businesses? The benefits of RCS for businesses include boosting engagement, increasing conversions, and providing more security and insights. Let’s dive into each benefit.

 

More Engagement

With richer features come more engagement from your contacts. With RCS business messaging, you can send branded messages — not just with your brand voice but also with logos, colors, and other elements that help to set your brand apart. This element, paired with the ability to send high-res branded graphics, images, and videos, enhances your brand marketing efforts and helps to create a seamless experience for your contacts.

RCS for business also allows your team to have direct conversations with your contacts by sending messages with pre-populated replies, enhancing two-way messaging, and engaging customers every step of the way.

Image of a person interacting with a Peoples’ Bank RCS message, clicking an add to calendar button

 

Increased Conversions

Rich communication services help your business increase conversions with interactive features like action buttons, product carousels, and cross-app connectivity. These features make it easy for customers to take your intended action in the message itself, rather than driving them to your website or another app. (However, remember that in-message shopping requires integration with your e-commerce platform.)

 

Better Security

While many messaging services provide end-to-end encryption, RCS provides even more security with its verified sender identification feature. This might raise the following question for your business: “How do I know if I can use RCS?” Your business can use RCS by getting its sender identity verified before sending messages to your contact list. This extra (and required) step reduces the risk of fraud and boosts customer trust in your brand, increasing the likelihood of them opening and interacting with your messages.

Spam can occur with SMS texts, but RCS helps eliminate that potential risk. Read more about the pros and cons of SMS marketing.

 

Greater Insights

RCS messages provide businesses with more insights than other types of messages. While you can’t track open rates with SMS messages, RCS allows businesses to see if messages are read. This feature might seem small, but it opens up more opportunities for insights into your contacts’ behavior.

How to Craft RCS Marketing Messages

You’re probably wondering, “How can I create RCS marketing messages?” To create RCS marketing messages, you’ll want to follow our best practices for rich communication services messages, many of which overlap with our steps to optimize your texts for success.

 

Personalize

Just as with any marketing message, you need to personalize your RCS messages to make contacts feel like you’re speaking just to them. Rich communication services simplify personalization with location data for tailoring messages and replies to the contact’s location. Include other personal details, like the contact’s first name, and other information, like purchase history, abandoned cart info, and more, to help them along the customer life cycle.

 

Embrace Interactivity

One of the greatest benefits of RCS for business is the element of interactivity. Depending on the marketing message, you’ll want to include features like CTA action buttons, quick reply options, branded videos, and chatbot functions to amp up engagement, speed text message replies, and motivate contacts to take action.

 

Sample Text Message

Stick to Your Brand

Customers want consistent messaging across channels, so make sure to stick to your brand voice. Another way to deliver a seamless experience for your contacts is by using a message template with branded elements, like colors and a logo.

Is RCS Going to Replace SMS?

No, RCS is not going to replace SMS any time soon. RCS messages rely on data connections to send texts, while SMS messages do not. In fact, any phone, regardless of its data plan, can send SMS messages.

RCS messages will likely continue to have SMS as their fallback when WiFi or cellular data aren’t available, meaning that the two will need to coexist. SMS texts are here to stay — at least until RCS can become a universal method for sending and receiving messages.

How to Adopt RCS Messaging for Business

Now that you know what is a rich communication service message, how it works, and its benefits, you’re probably thinking, “Should I start using RCS for my business now?”

To know if you should start using RCS for your business now, first, consider your industry. RCS message features lend themselves to e-commerce, retail, and hospitality industries. However, for industries that use a lot of personal data, like education or healthcare, it might be more difficult to leverage the full features of RCS because of higher regulations in these industries.

Second, start small. Taking a slow approach to adoption will help your business identify what’s working and what isn’t — and give you the time to make adjustments without creating any major hurdles in the customer experience.

The big takeaway is that, even if you start small, don’t wait for everyone else to catch on. Get ahead of competitors and start reaping the benefits of richer, more engaging mobile marketing with RCS.

 

The Future Is Now: Embrace RCS

What’s the future of RCS? The future of RCS is that it’s here to stay. While it’s a relatively new messaging protocol, its features and functionality already show that it can greatly improve communication, surpassing what we thought was possible for mobile marketing.

What is rich communication services going to look like in the future? We’ll probably see more interactive elements, seamless integration with other apps, and potentially even payments and other commerce integrations. Businesses should consider RCS messages' positive impact on customer experiences and sales and incorporate its many features into their marketing strategies.

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