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Andrea Serventi
25 July 2017
Reading time: 5 min

How To Use SMS Messages To Re-Engage Inactive Customers

This is a great opportunity for brands: thanks to average opening rates of 98%, SMS is a very useful channel for regaining customer loyalty and directing customers towards making new purchases.

For brands, the game of digital marketing isn’t just played while customers are actively searching for products., that phase of the customer journey before making a purchase choice when users search for information, guides, and reviews.

Beyond the great digital marketing playing field, there’s an equally important moment that’s often overlooked by brand strategies: we’re talking about inactivity, that phase when the customer no longer makes purchases or interacts with your communications.

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Re-engagement is a fundamental activity for any business, and today we’ll tell you how to do it through an even more immediate channel: SMS.

Re-engagement with SMS messages

SMSs often succeed where emails can’t: text messages have average opening rates that exceed 98%. This means that you can be sure that the recipients will open the message and view the content. It is up to the bravura of the brand, then, to make the content of the 160 available characters effective and persuasive.

One of the unique advantages of the SMS channel is its versatilitybrevity, and the ability to practically always reach the recipient. This translates into a fundamental chance for brands to regain customers’ loyalty and direct them towards making new purchases.

Inactivity can be identified with several parameters: if e-commerce sites can set an inactivity threshold that’s based on visits to the site or the last purchase date, retailers can do the same by analyzing the precious data recorded in the loyalty cards of each customer.

What is the first sign of customer inactivity? Their lack of interaction with brand communications, above all with emails. The same users who were once interested in our communications stop opening emails or clicking on our calls-to-action at some point. Inactivity is a phenomenon that affects all brands, without exception.

A study conducted by Return Path estimates that on average, every database has a percentage of inactive customers that is equal to or greater than 25% of total subscribers.

This is a high number, but it has great conversion potential, especially if we consider that recovering a person who’s already enrolled in the database is much less costly than acquiring a new one. For this reason, SMS messages can also be crucial for supporting an Email Marketing strategy.

The 3-step re-engagement strategy

If a customer has become inactive, it means that he already subscribed in the past, has made one or more purchases, and has shown interest in our company and our catalog of products and services; it may be that at some point our offer became less attractive. But this is not the end, just a distancing. Just as in the past we were useful because we had a certain product at a certain price, we can similarly re-engage his interest with targeted communications.

Far from being a sophisticated and naive solution for involving users, the SMS re-engagement strategy is a very effective technique for increasing interest in an inactive contact. But let’s go through the steps in order to understand how to re-engage customers through text messages, and with what tools.

1. Identify inactive customers and synchronize the data

E-commerce sites and retailers can easily query their customer management systems to locate inactive customers and convert them into a delivery group. There are two key elements for doing this: a professional mailing platform such as MailUp, and a connector that allows the delivery system to be integrated with that of customer management (whether it is a CRM, e-commerce, business system or any other external application).

The integration of the different systems allows the synchronization of data, which lets all the user’s information be transferred to the delivery platform, thereby creating segments and profiles of recipients to direct personalized communications to that are in line with each customer’s interests and purchasing behaviors.

With MailUp you can integrate virtually any system and application. Our dynamic catalog lets you view the connectors and filter them by category, price, and keywords, not to mention the possibility of developing a custom connector that is personalized to the most specific needs.

Before creating the inactive user group, e-commerce websites and retailers must identify the inactive time threshold. As anticipated, if e-commerce sites can base this choice on the last purchase or visit to their online store, retailers can find valuable information about individual customer behavior in their loyalty card data.

If brands want to instead tie their SMSs to a re-activation strategy with their email database, it’s just as simple: all they have to do is create an activity filter and apply it to the contact database, thus creating a group that contains all the recipients who haven’t opened emails for a certain period of time. Three factors should be kept in mind when establishing the period of inactivity:

  • Behavior. In addition to not opening and clicking on emails, it is important to consider the time that has elapsed since a customer’s last purchase or last access to their personal area.
  • Frequency. If sending is daily, the downtime will necessarily be different than with a once-a-month sending: in the former the downtime could be around 90 days, in the latter the downtime could be between six and twelve months.
  • Customer lifecycle. Every brand, as well as every business sector, envisages a different customer lifecycle: a car dealership inevitably has a long one, while that of daily consumer products is limited to a few days or weeks.

2. Define the types of SMS campaigns

The ways to re-engage a customer, that is, to convince him that your product offer, services, or communications are still of interest to him, can take on the most diverse forms.

Coupon offers and flash sales

This is the most immediate route. Nothing is better than an SMS for informing customers of flash sales or sales with an expiration date: coupons and so-called flash sales require fast delivery and immediate opening in order to bring customers to the online store or to the nearest store.
The more the promotion responds to users’ interests and tastes, the higher the conversion rates.

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Launch surveys

You can use an SMS to invite your recipients to answer some questions that are useful for profiling your database. If you ask the right questions, the results will provide additional information about your inactive users’ interests and you can use this information to get their attention. Knowing recipients’ interestsinclinations, and needs adds a decisive impetus to their engagement. An incentive to fill out the survey lets you exponentially increase the number of participants.

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Involve recipients in a contest

With a simple SMS, you can invite your contacts to take part in online competitions and digital initiatives on your website or social network pages.


In all the cases listed above, there are three basic elements:

  • The dynamic field that establishes a one-on-one relationship with the recipient. A key element for customizing brand communications.
  • The landing page that lets you go beyond the two unquestionable limits of SMS messages: the 160 character limit (expandable with MailUp to 480 characters) and standardized graphics. The landing page serves to make a connection with recipients and urge them to want to know more: it means providing them with a support page that is more visually pleasing, stylistically more in tune with the brand’s identity, and with richer content. Creating it is easy: all you need is a simple drag & drop editor like the one integrated in MailUp. If you want to learn more, this post explains the 5 key elements for optimizing your landing page for mobiles.
  • The landing page’s shortened URL: to save characters in the SMS and lighten up your text. Once you’ve created the landing page, MailUp makes shortening its address easy with its integrated URL shortener.

3. Set up an automation

Once the recipient group is organized and the strategy has been defined, you can automate the delivery of re-engagement SMSs, triggering their sending when certain conditions are met.

Here is one example of an automatic workflow that will help you understand how a re-engagement strategy delivery plan could be set up:

  • 30 days after the last purchase/interaction
    Delivery of the first reactivation message → SMS survey
  • 60 days from the last interaction
    Delivery of the second reactivation message to those who did not open the first → SMS contest
  • 90 days from the last interaction
    Delivery of the third reactivation message to those who did not open either the first or the second → SMS discount/coupon
  • End of workflow: if the user has opened the landing page inserted as a link in the SMS, the contact is moved to the active database. If the user has not clicked on the link, he is automatically moved to the Unsubscribed list.

If the recipient is also inactive after the re-engagement messages have been sent, unsubscribing him is the only thing left to do: this is a fundamental step within both an Email Marketing strategy (to keep the database clean and guarantee the best deliverability) and an SMS Marketing strategy (to avoid using SMS credits for deliveries that won’t bring any results).

To sum up

There are many ways to cultivate relationships with customers thanks to the SMS channel. Re-engagement is a strategic aspect of digital marketing that allows brands to direct inactive users back towards making another purchase. All you have to do is:

  • identify inactive users (or even those who are barely active)
  • define the message that can stimulate re-engagement
  • trigger an automation that does the job for you.

There is no better way! If you already use SMS messages, we recommend learning more about the channel’s tools and potential in our dedicated page; if you still haven’t experienced the potential of text messages, ask for a free 30-day trial of the MailUp platform.

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Andrea Serventi

I was born in 1986 in Milan, where I graduated in Modern Literature and started writing for online newspapers, magazines and TV news programs. Having now converted to marketing and the digital world, I am a Content Editor at MailUp: I read, listen, collect ideas, and write about what email marketing is and how to use it strategically.

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