Using Branch Email Links to Trigger SMS Referrals

This blog post was originally published in 2016. You can also read one of our newer posts to learn the best app promotion strategies.

Did you know that you can generate a pre-populated referral SMS (text message) directly from an email link? For instance, if User A clicks this email link, a SMS draft will open with a message and custom link containing a unique promo code to share with their contacts. This simulates an in-app “refer-a-friend” button, but in email. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Attach Attribution Data to a New User’s Branch Link

In the Quick Links section of the Branch Dashboard, marketing teams can create shortened URL links containing information about the channel, campaign, etc. These shortened links are then used to track where new user app downloads originally came from. This information (ex., “channel” = “Email” ; “campaign” = “Direct SMS”, etc.) is packaged into the link’s data dictionary through the Branch Marketing Dashboard’s Tags tab.

email to text message

A snapshot displaying the Tags tab inside the Branch Dashboard’s quick link creation tool.

Branch will then process the channel and campaign tags into a short link, such as, which will enable SMS link clicks to be associated with the original “Direct SMS” campaign we defined earlier.

Step 2: Append Branch Link, Message & Promo Inside E-mail

In order to generate the pre-populated SMS draft from the link in Step 1, we will need to configure the email link to 1) open the Messages app and 2) insert a custom link and message in the draft for the user to send.

For the first, you’ll want to append the query parameters $iOS_url=sms: and/or $android_url=sms: to the end of the email link.

For the second, you’ll want to append body=MESSAGE TEXT and promo_code=PROMOCODE. Your ESP should be able to pre-populate the variables between the brackets {{ }} to make each email link and promo code unique to the user.

After completing these steps, your email link should look something like this:$iOS_url=sms:&$android_url=sms:?&body=MESSAGETEXT&?promo_code=PROMOCODE

Step 3: What Happens Upon Link Click

What does the user see when he/she receives an SMS containing a Branch-activated link?

Using the $iOS_url or $android_url values appended onto our example link, Branch triggers iOS or Android mobile devices to open their respective Messages app containing the message our example defined earlier as MESSAGETEXT, along with a promo code that was customized for each email (in this case, promo_code=austinhay). As a reminder, the link contained in this SMS comes packaged with the other predefined variables that we attached in Step 1.


Step 4: Better User Onboarding, Better Marketing Analytics

This unique type of link not only equips marketers with a new method for prompting user referrals, but also provides them with valuable attribution data on who their top referring users are.  

Branch Dashboard

Because Branch gives flexibility as to how marketers can append data onto links, it can enable new users to be deep linked into an app from a text message generated by an email, all while retaining critical attribution and analytics for marketing teams. Seamlessly generating deep linked SMS referrals.