Mobile Marketing Deep Dive: Using In-App Messaging to Boost Retention

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The mobile experience is no longer a novelty. It’s an ingrained part of everyday life. And since the advent of the app store, most of that everyday life is spent within apps. With multiple hours spent on mobile devices per day, almost 90% of that is interacting with an app. All of this time spent offers a sustained opportunity for mobile marketers to reach their audience members. So, when considering the ways in which to market to users via in-app messaging, retention has to be top of mind. 

Put another way, the user has found enough value in your brand offerings to download the app and interact with it. Now, it’s a mobile marketer’s job to extend that interaction, keep them coming back, and hopefully convert those interactions into transactions.

In our recently-published report on cross-channel engagement, The Inside Look at Mobile Marketing, we analysed the strategies modern marketers are using to interact with their customers. Acting as mobile-first users, over the course of three weeks we completed various activities to mimic the behavior of a highly-engaged consumer. 

The results showed how 30 brands across six industries incorporate mobile behavior into their marketing campaigns. With the help of Yodel Mobile, we identified how companies like Food & Wine and Nike Run Club are using in-app messaging. Below we cover case studies of what worked, and what marketers should consider if they’re looking to bring their in-app marketing to the next level.

The State of In-App Messaging

What is In-App Messaging?

Before we dive in, it might be helpful to provide a small refresher. In this instance, we’re using the term “in-app messaging” to refer to notifications that appear within the mobile app. Occasionally, companies will use “in-app” for notifications from the browser on desktop as well, but we’re focusing on mobile here. 

The mobile in-app message is about customer engagement and retention within the app. The user has found their way into your app, offering you an opportunity to interact. Whether you’re promoting the benefits of a subscription upgrade or educating the user on new features to utilize, the in-app message is essential to driving consistent app engagement. 

What In-App Messaging Looked Like

From a design perspective, our research showed two common styles for in-app messages. The first encompasses the full screen of the app and requires user interaction for continued access to the rest of the app features and functions. Whether that’s by clicking an “X” or choosing one of the options within the app, the user has to engage.

Popular running and hiking app, AllTrails, uses fullscreen in-app messaging to explain the benefits of upgrading. 

The second style is a bit more subtle in execution. This style integrates the in-app message into the natural environment of the app. Users naturally come across these notifications as they scroll through the app’s features, often not realizing it’s a specific, targeted marketing message. These messages don’t require any interaction for continued use of the app. 

Food & Wine puts their in-app message at the top so users can’t miss it, but it doesn’t stop them from using the app. 

Both styles have their perks and drawbacks. Fullscreen messages ensure your intent is noticed and made clear, but can be off-putting if used too frequently as users likely just want to get the app. Integrated messages may be overlooked as a normal part of the app, causing your message to be missed, but these types of messages allow users to first glean value from the app before going back to interact with the in-app messaging. In this situation, the app sells itself while your in-app message provides a direct link to something new they might need. 

What In-App Messaging Is Used For

The results of our study showed one overwhelming use case for in-app messaging: upgrades. From premium subscriptions to VIP memberships and beyond, of the 33% of brands that used in-app messaging at all, a vast majority used it to promote the benefits of upgrading. 

As shown in the AllTrails example above, these messages often broke down the value of an upgrade by utilizing the space within the app screen to its fullest. Others like Food & Wine still promoted a subscription, but let brand recognition and app features speak louder than the in-app message. 

That said, we did see a few alternative use cases that focused more on building a relationship with users. Dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, for example, used its in-app messaging to promote content that users might find helpful in building their own lasting relationships. 

Chances of retention grow substantially when you create a relationship with users. 

Meanwhile, the Nike Run Club app used in-app messaging to motivate users while also subtly promoting app features. 

Put users in charge of their journey by giving them the freedom to choose. 

Where Do Marketers Go From Here?

The question marketers looking to incorporate in-app messaging into their campaigns—or those looking to improve current practices—have to ask themselves is, “What about my app keeps users coming back?” As we said above, retention is key, so when crafting an in-app campaign, long-term value has to be a priority. 

This happens in three ways: 

  1. Specificity. In-app messaging, especially if presented in fullscreen, can slow users’ progress to parts of the app they had intended to visit when opening it. Make sure you are specific in your messaging by identifying the value of the notification right away. 
  2. Timeliness. Unlike SMS or mobile inbox messages, in-app messages only appear for a short period, often disappearing entirely when users interact. Avoid sending time-sensitive messages through this channel. 
  3. Flexibility. Much like everything in marketing, you have to be flexible in your in-app marketing. Test styles. Test content. Test timing. Test everything until you have found the right system for each user. 

As Yodel Mobile points out in the report, you also have to test use cases. The value of app reviews cannot be overstated. Try prompting users to review your app. Further, use in-app to prime users for a cross-channel experience by setting up a custom prompt that clearly explains the benefits of opting into other channels like push or SMS. 

If users are interested in your app, you’ve likely done something right. But, apps open up a world of possibilities for you and your users to make the most of what you have to offer. In-app notifications are excellent chances to nudge your users in the right direction that is mutually beneficial. Create a welcoming, helpful, valuable app environment and you’ll see just how much users can integrate your app into their mobile routines. 

To learn more about in-app messaging and mobile marketing, download Iterable’s full report The Inside Look at Mobile Marketing

Author: Michael Huard, Content Marketing Manager, Iterable

Michael Huard is a Content Marketing Manager at Iterable. He is an experienced multimedia content creator having produced written, video, and photographic content for leading companies in technology and entertainment. Michael has a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics from UC Berkeley and a Master’s degree in Specialized Journalism from the University of Southern California.

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