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Driving App Engagement With Personalization Techniques

Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, people considered websites to be a prime indication of how users’ attention was brief and unforgiving. Remember the dreaded bounce rate? Remember the numerous times you worried that your content and graphics might not be 100% clear to users? That was nothing. Compared to mobile, engaging users on the web is a piece of cake.

Researchers claim that we humans can no longer brag about being able to concentrate for a full 12 seconds on a coherent thought, thanks to the digitization of our lives. We now lose concentration after about 8 seconds1, which, sadly, is 1 second less than the attention span of a goldfish. This is the attention-deficit state of mobile users that you need to overcome in order to successfully engage with them. Mobile users don’t just have brief attention spans — they also expect immediate satisfaction when interacting with your app, otherwise they might be quick to close or even uninstall it.

Further Reading on SmashingMag:

So, what should you do when tasked with “improving app engagement”? There are several actions you should take, but one of the most crucial is to get up close and personal with users. If you don’t segment and personalize your users’ journeys, then you should expect lower rates of conversion and retention.

Whether your product is a bookstore, baby supplies store or retail app, your users expect you to know who they are, what they want to get from your app and how they prefer to receive it. This means that only using your users’ first names in messages is not enough.

(View large version7)

Here are the three fundamentals you should follow:

  • Show that you understand them.
    To become personal with your app’s users, you have to truly know who they are and what they want. Segment your audiences, understand their activity patterns in your app, and respond appropriately to their interests and preferences. Several tools on the market8 enable you to analyze your users’ in-app behavior, and you can also connect the app to your CRM for deeper segmentation.
  • Communicate with users at the right mobile moment.
    Analyzing your users’ general usage and past behavior is just one step. You also have to track their real-time interaction with the app9 and act upon it. People open your app to perform a particular action. Make sure to interact with them using mobile-engagement features such as surveys, messages and banners in a way that respects the reason they opened your app in the first place and that adds value to what they were planning to do.
  • Provide meaningful content.
    Mobile engagement needs to be done in context. You need to know the point a user has reached in their journey, their demographics, their physical location, and information about their overall app usage. All of these should be taken into account for optimal personalization.

To better explain these three points, here are five examples of using personalization to drive mobile engagement.

Gamified In-App Messages Link

The first step towards personalization is to segment your users. Collecting data on users’ past interactions with your app will enable you to segment them by how active they are (visit frequency, time in app, actual usage, etc.).

Each and every app has its power users — the people who are most active and loyal. According to Capgemini Consulting, a customer who is loyal to a brand delivers a 23% premium10 in share of wallet, revenue and profitability compared to the average customer. Loyal users should receive a totally different type of in-app message than less active or dormant users, who might feel harassed by gamified messages.

At the right time and in the relevant context, power users should receive in-app messages that are gamified and that drive them to perform a certain action.

In the example below, a frequent user of a bookstore app is asked to recommend a book to a friend to gain 15 points to become a “Super Reader.” This is a great example of how gamified messages give users the feeling that they are an integral part of your app’s community. In addition, they will be thrilled to be recognized for their commitment to your app and to know that you appreciate them.

When users feel this way, they are more likely to rate the app or share it with their friends and connections, helping to create a community of readers who use the app.

Encourage your users to engage with gamified incentives. (View large version12)

Gamified in-app messages can be as simple as this one or more complex. You might choose to give your power users credits, points, access to special features and offers, and more.

Whatever type of gamified in-app message you choose, make it fun and make it personal.

Video Messages Link

Let’s say you want to drive users to learn more about one of your products and to purchase it. Understanding how the product works and its value is a strong motivator for consumers to purchase it, and even to learn about more products that they might purchase in the future.

If you’ve already used banners or in-app messages (triggered at the right time, of course) to promote this particular product, but your users aren’t converting as much as you’d like, then a video could be a great way to improve your conversion rates. In the example below, an explainer video is triggered when users who have already engaged with items such as baby food and baby clothes in past sessions are now visiting your toys section for the first time. The video drives purchasing intent by explaining how the baby toy would nurture their baby’s development.

Use videos to trigger an emotional reaction to your brand among your segmented users. (View large version14)

Combining the right video with the right mobile moment could lead to better engagement results.

Don’t forget, too, that video is increasingly popular among mobile users. According to an IAB study15, video is on the rise, with 35% of respondents viewing content on mobile devices (in the US, it’s almost 50%). Using mobile video messages is a great way to communicate with users to convey a message that requires a more detailed explanation, or to deliver an emotional message that connects retail buyers to your brand.

Reminder Push Notifications Link

It is not uncommon for a user to add items to their shopping cart but then suddenly not continue with the purchasing process. You want the user to complete the action as soon as possible, though. Push notifications are the ideal solution in this type of scenario, because they can be highly personalized and can contain a deep link that takes the user to exactly where they left off. Push notifications without personalization can drive users insane, whereas one small personalized message — triggered at the right mobile moment — can push (pun intended) users in the right direction.

When possible, add new information to push notifications that can help drive conversion decisions. For example, receiving an offer for free shipping after having added products to their shopping cart could persuade a user to take the next step and finalize the order. Just like the gamification example in our first point, push notifications serve to recognize and reward past activity in the app.

Push notifications can drive users to complete actions. You can also use in-app messages after a certain amount of time has passed since a user started a transaction and didn’t complete it.

Use Surveys To Ask And Respond To User Feedback Link

You can’t only talk to your users; you need to listen, too. Whereas tracking their “digital body language” can help you understand what users feel about your app, surveys are more about listening to them and taking the conversation to the next level.

An important step when using surveys is to provide each user with different feedback (such as messages, a secondary survey screen, a video, etc.) and not to use identical “thank you” messages, which are sometimes a turn-off.

In the example below, a user who says that they wouldn’t likely return to a hotel is shown another screen that asks them their main reason for not returning. Meanwhile, those who respond very positively are asked whether they would like to write a short review.

Respond differently to each piece of feedback. Keep the conversation going. (View large version18)

A combo survey personalizes the responses of users and drives them to complete the proper action in the right mobile moment.

Offer Coupons Based On The User’s Journey And Purchasing History Link

Coupons have a better chance of being redeemed if they are relevant to the customer’s purchasing history. But you also need to consider the right moment to present a coupon. Choose a time when the user is most likely to be interested in what the coupon offers.

Let’s say you have a customer who has looked at a particular pair of shoes several times throughout the day but has yet to purchase them. To drive the user to purchase, you could offer a time-limited coupon of 20% off the item the next time they visit the screen.

Targeting the right users at the right moment is key to increasing your conversion rate.

A coupon offer should relate to past behavior and to real-time interaction in the app.

Understanding the individual user’s journey and how they are using the app overall is key to personalizing your mobile app experience. Mobile users have high expectations20 of the mobile experience and brief attention spans, so careful personalization and in-context awareness are crucial for effective communication and engagement with them.

(yk, il, al)

Footnotes Link

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Polly Alluf is the VP of Marketing at Insert and the author of the beginner's playbook to in-app marketing. Polly’s passion is driving revenue with innovative marketing tools.

  1. 1

    Im pretty sure Apple have policies for the push notification system, whereby you’re not allowed to publish advertising content/coupons/deals via their system.

    So you must be careful what you want to send to users as you could end up getting removed from the AppStore in a bad scenario!

    • 2

      I completely agree that you have to be careful – both to avoid Apple’s ire and the ire of your users. That said, sending a push notification triggered by a user’s own in-app behavior and indicated interests is both allowable and effective. It’s going to be interesting to see how app publishers and users respond to iOS 10 rich notifications. The temptation to advertise via push is going to be stronger than ever!

      • 3

        Dmitri Tcherbadji

        September 18, 2016 4:05 am

        Rich ads in push would have them removed by user, not Apple.
        Unless that app is essential or the users are used to be harassed at 3am in the morning with ad alarm clocks.

  2. 4

    From my very personal user perspective, I feel annoyed most of the time when I encounter those kind of popup videos, toaster notifications and survey requests. I instantly feel being part of a advertising and monetization process rather than of a community. Already for my Web Browsing experience, I couldn’t have enough Ad Blockers and Tracking filters enabled, for Mobile it’s no difference (but much harder to accomplish).

    From a web developer perspective, I see the opportunity, but I see I’m not doing anything good for my users really, rather for my revenue.

    • 5

      I see your point Thomas. I agree that once given the power to manage in-app campaigns, marketers and app owners should be careful not to abuse it. They should use capping, they should provide an easy exit from these type of messages but most important they should provide value to their users.
      How? by being personal and contextual. If a message appears out of nowhere, relating to nothing the user did in past sessions (and in current one) then the chances of annoying him/her are high. But what if the opposite takes place? What it the message makes you feel part of the savvy readers community? showing they value your recommendation?
      What if you’re offered to get a discount on a product you checked twice but hesitated if the price makes sense?
      What if the messaging is managed in a way that makes you feel like someone is actually listening to your actions and cares about your feedback?
      As an example, Uber does amazing job with in-app messaging, surveys, etc. and they’re not the only ones. I believe it’s a matter of time before in-app personalization will become a standard in the industry and those implementing it correctly will gain more and more loyal users. Check for more info on that.

      • 6

        Dmitri Tcherbadji

        September 18, 2016 4:22 am

        I wouldn’t downplay design, UX and copy as much as the authors did.

        I think we can all agree that if a message has “bad” design, UX and copy it will not do well.

        The features described are very powerful (I’m talking about personalization). Even the simplest forms of it have brought tremendous advantages with volume to my company’s clients.

        But without good branding and “design before dollars” approach it would be another non-sustainable practice (remember browser pop up ads?)

        • 7

          When speaking of design/UX/Copy, the most important thing is to align it with the app’s overall look & feel. In other words, it should seem like an integral part of the app, even if it was built with an external automated in-app marketing platform.
          This way, users will experience it less as an “ad” and more as personalized messaging.

  3. 8

    Any app doing these things on my phone is likely to find itself uninstalled immediately. This is about as user-hostile as it gets. If you care about the user, you don’t do this.
    This falls along the lines of these “Do you want to review this app?” pop-ups. These just make sure that I don’t do a review – or that if I do it’ll be one or two stars just for being annoying.

    • 9

      I think you’re missing something, Asbjørn.
      In-app messaging can be (and often is) super annoying. The reason is – it is not personalized, nor contextual.

      Say, you spent X amount of time on a toy’s page and you have a history of purchasing related babies products – are you really going to be pissed off if served with a video describing its developmental value?

      As for the app rating example, you’re right. So many apps ask you to rate them on 2nd visit before you even had a chance to do whatever it is you meant to do. But what if they ask you to rate one of your favorite apps? One that you use very often and is smart enough to ask you only after you completed an action? Would that still offend you? I hope not.

      It’s time for apps’ marketing to serve their users with messages they care about. See more examples of in-app messaging done at the right time:


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