Improving Customer Engagement: Empathy and Authenticity in App(lication)

This piece of content has been written by our friends at Iterable, a cross-channel marketing platform that enables you to create, optimise and measure every interaction across the entire customer journey.

We’ve heard it before: Today’s customers want more from brands. They are tired of purely-transactional messaging. They want to feel connected, individual, and special and app businesses need to listen if they want to boost customer engagement.

But that’s only half the story.

Here’s the other half: The rules of customer engagement have changed since the start of the pandemic. Consumers’ reactions to 2020 events have permanently altered buying behavior. Consumption decreased, purchase of essentials increased, and the need for flashy corporate culture was replaced by a need for sweatpants and sports bras.

Buyers have been in survival mode, and they deserve brands that communicate from a place of understanding and compassion. Customer engagement is no longer characterized by conversions. Instead, the goal is long-term loyalty and relationship building.

So how do app businesses deliver on this new KPI: customer connection?

By standing for something.

Marketing with a Purpose

Early this year, Iterable and Yodel Mobile partnered together with our friends at Home Exchange and My Theory Test by James May to discuss marketing in the new year. Of course, we ran through our Top 10 Marketing Predictions for 2021. But in the case of so many webinars, the most important conversations come from audience inquiries. From those members brave enough to actually engage our experts! And the narrative around this oh-so-important-post-webinar conversation sounded a little like this:

We KNOW that customers want us to be authentic and empathetic. Authentic brand experiences drive greater customer engagement.

But what does that actually mean in application? 

Rather than tell you, we’re going to show you. Take a look at 4 app businesses that connect with customers through purpose-driven marketing.

Warby helps customers “see” the value of virtual during the pandemic.

Warby Parker knows that keeping their mission front and center is a great way to keep their target demographic engaged and dedicated.

Throughout their digital marketing strategy, Warby stays laser-focused on setting themselves apart from less human eyewear companies. They drive a community that attracts fans, converts fans into customers, and keeps them engaged throughout the year. When customers are ready to buy new specs, Warby is waiting.

How do you sell sunglasses or glasses to a user base that can’t (or won’t) travel in-store? You give them a resource to boost creativity, collaboration, and conversions.

Empathy through education

Warby fulfills their mission – of providing affordable eye care through education not just in-app, but over email and web too.

Warby Parker anticipates their customers’ frustration – particularly in regards to insurance and FSA purchases – and lends a helping hand long before their customers begin to feel disheartened.

The educational content they promote in-app and online makes us want a blurb for taxes, home buying, and budgeting, too!

Improving customer engagement in app(lication)

The pandemic encouraged marketers to think uniquely about ways to connect with customers who want to stay safe and inside. So Warby got creative, funny, and empathetic with their in-app messaging and push notifications.

Going further, Warby leaned on customer data to connect during the pandemic, customers are on their phones for over 3 hours a day. This means more opportunities to build a relationship with customers on mobile. Warby saw this as an opportunity to connect with the at-home customer; a solution they found was AR marketing, which helped their target market get a feel of owning the glasses even without seeing it personally.

And Warby isn’t alone! In fact, almost 90% of B2C brands will have an app by the end of 2021.

Gucci’s unapproachable price tag, but approachable app marketing.

What is a luxury brand doing on our list of brand empaths?

In the last three years, Gucci has been ramping up their omnichannel strategy, going all-in for Gen Z and millennials (the demographic that has visibly championed the brand). And in 2020, they ramped up their mobile app, with an emphasis on augmented reality, live streaming, and smartphone shopping, and pivoted to virtual runway shows and presentations. Gucci excels at “capturing imaginations and generating conversation” through traditional means of marketing as well as creative digital solutions such as #GucciFest, the brand’s fashion and film festival. The fest tapped several famous faces including Gucci muse, LGBTQI advocate, and Gen Z icon, Harry Styles.

Within the Gucci app, users pick the sneakers of their choice and point their phone’s camera at their feet, after which they’re prompted to try the shoes on virtually. A built-in photo feature lets them capture themselves “wearing” the models that speak to them and share their snaps via text, email, or social media. That way, users can shop (and share) in the safety and comfort of their own homes during the pandemic.

Hinge: Designed to be Deleted

Watch their rebrand strategy in action!

Needless to say, the dating pool shrunk a bit as a result of the pandemic. So it should be no surprise that 24% of eligible bachelors—and bachelorettes—are downloading dating apps. Gone are the good ol’ days of picking up people at restaurants and bars (which are closed for indoor dining).

But with so many apps to consider – Hinge, Tinder, Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, to name a few – what makes a dating app stand-out?

Customer experience. And Hinge is taking the lead.

In fact, 60% of new users of dating apps during the pandemic chose Hinge for the customer experience. According to app users, Tinder is not serious enough. There is not enough profile information or purpose to attract romantic hopefuls.

And Hinge set itself up for success as a stand-out early on, as “the dating app designed to be deleted”.

Their slogan perfectly tied their interests to consumers’ hearts. That’s exactly what they were looking for. And Hinge handed it to them. On a silver platter.

But the “buck” didn’t stop at their motto alteration. Hinge carried out a complete app redesign to level-up their CX.

Hinge’s latest effort to help streamline the dating journey for members involves a new visual design and features that help avoid those who won’t be compatible and the often awkward small talk that comes with initial conversations.

The new features, titled Standouts, and Roses, help members fill out their profiles by answering questions that reveal more about their personalities.

These features fill the void of what’s missing from dating apps – authenticity. They remind members that thoughtful profiles will gain more traction. And by association with this update, the Hinge app is shown in an authentic light as well.

My Theory Test by James May is Positively Good Marketing

Many of us have used the downtime during COVID-19 lockdown to level-up our game and do something productive. Some take up new hobbies, others become obsessive cleaners, others took up a new instrument. Others took to studying for their driving theory tests. It was a good thing James May had decided to officiate the marriage of education and empowerment by creating a new driving theory test app designed to help learners pass for the first time (we really could have used that app in ‘98, James!).

The launch of My Theory Test by James May coincided with the resumption of theory tests taking place in the UK alongside the ability to take driving lessons.


According to James May, the theory pass rate of U.K. driving tests has been in steady decline for the last decade and half the tests taken in 2019 resulted in failure, with just 45.4% of men and 49% of women passing.

The Theory Test app aims to turn that statistic around.

James May himself is there with users at every step on the way of their driving journey to motivate and commiserate!

Driving can be fun(ny)

What really makes My Theory Test by James May essential apart from, of course, the dire need for some driving theory guidance, is utility. Driving is one of the few things (apart from knitting, of course) that is universally accepted as a sane solo activity. When life gets us down, we drive.

My Theory Test by James May enables and empowers learners to take control of their own driving destiny and hone a skill that will always have utility – during and after the pandemic.

Of course, as many of us know, the driving theory is quite dull (no offense, authors of driving manuals and other essential law makers). From “what to do on an urban clearway” to “proper conduct in a carriageway”, there’s not much room for fun or creativity. Only fundamentals and function. 
May has created his app to help turn the fail statistic around, calling upon four decades of driving experience, and his trademark ability to pass on technical information in an easily digestible way, to help push up the pass rate.

And this is what sets My Theory Test by James May apart. It makes the bland…boisterous. In a 2020 interview, career comedian and content connoisseur James May said it best, “But even if it’s dull, it’s also important because there are lots in it you genuinely need to know if you’re not going to kill yourself or other people once you’re behind the wheel. And you’re going to have to do it. Because if you don’t, you won’t be able to drive. And if you can’t drive, you will be lonely and have no friends.”

Key Outcomes

Focusing on an authentic brand experience is particularly relevant in the current global climate where empathy, vulnerability, and trust have become as important as value-as-price. The missed opportunity for many app businesses is humour – just because we’re stuck indoors doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a laugh! Thanks to James May’s authentic and audacious approach to app marketing, which infused facetime with James and humour at each interval of learning, the My Theory Test by James May app has developed a cult following – of COVID-conscious and safe drivers.

Empathy and authenticity have now taken centre stage in the marketing department. The facts speak for themselves, a key study we did among UK marketing leaders revealed that almost a quarter of companies (24%) shifted to more empathy-driven customer communications last year – only sales (27%) and crisis response (27%) rose more.

The app businesses that win are those that are doubling down on empathy, authenticity, and “purpose” in an effort to stay connected with their users during Covid and beyond.

While your decision to embrace empathy and authenticity in your marketing doesn’t require technical prowess, a friendly chat with one of our Iterable team members might be what you need to bring your idea to application, and pave your way to customer connection.

Make sure to sign up to our newsletter to get notified when we release a new blog post. Want to find out more about optimising your app and incorporating advanced growth metrics? Make sure to subscribe to our Mastering Mobile Marketing video series. You can also get in touch by visiting the Contact Us page. Follow us on LinkedIn, chat with us on Twitter @yodelmobile, and join our #AppMarketingUK LinkedIn group.

About the Author:

Sonia is the Marketing Executive at Yodel Mobile, a leading app marketing company. Assisting the agency growth efforts, Sonia regularly shares insights on the latest app marketing strategies, promoting sustainable and long-term growth.

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