Lesson 7

Improve Engagement Through Marketing

Now that you know best practices for updating app features and design, responding to user feedback, and other internal sources of improvements, it’s time to look at some outreach options.

Here we’ll examine ways to reach out to new and existing users, and give them reasons to come back to your app.

Pursue New Users With Personalized Outreach

Personalization: Why It Matters

For a user, spending time in an app is a very personal experience. For many people, their phones are integral to their lives. Therefore, the more personalized you can make your engagement strategy, the higher your chance of success.

Want to send an email? It can work, as can direct messages to followers on Facebook. But no matter what channel you use, you must know your user and reflect that knowledge in useful ways. Here are ways to personalize the app experience based on the context:

  • Geo-targeting: When a user is approaching a brick-and-mortar store, a retail app can offer special services such as augmented reality features (like Ikea), or a dating app could highlight other nearby users.
  • Rewards: Encourage more active users with surprise rewards; this can be particularly effective for retail with the use of coupons, but games can offer special level-ups or bonuses every time users play.
  • In-app messages: Alert users to updates, features or news about your app that they may find interesting; every message should have a clear engagement goal.

In all the different channels that follow, always try to reach out to users with a personal touch. They’ll appreciate it.

Airbnb recognizes a user’s location and then displays guidebooks and recommend nearby activities, prompting users to open the app for more than just a booking. This strategy inspires engagement and loyalty by providing genuinely useful, personalized content.

App Marketing: Multi-Channel Messaging

Engaging users deeply means reaching them wherever they are, even when they’re not on their smartphones. It’s important to make sure you’re striking a balance; not enough messages and users won’t engage, too many messages may annoy users to the point where they will uninstall your app.

At all points in your app marketing, and especially when you’re looking to drive engagement, consider using deep links. Deep linking allows a highly personalized experience that recognizes a user even across mediums and devices.

Starbucks, for example, offers users a free drink on their birthday and will remind them of the reward or bonus via email. That reminder email includes a deep link that, when clicked, automatically launches the app and lands the user on the page with the birthday offer. It’s easy for the user to claim their reward — and become an active app user at the same time.

By contrast, if Starbucks used a normal link instead of a deep link, the user would click, have to login to their app, then navigate within the app to their reward —a much less efficient and enjoyable process.

In this lesson, we’ll look at several channels you can use to drive user engagement and improve retention.

In-App Messages

The most effective time to deepen a user’s engagement is when they’re already inside your app; some studies have shown in-app messages to be approximately 8 times as effective as push notifications. Here are a few considerations when choosing to use in-app messaging to drive engagement:

  • Consider the context. What’s the reason for speaking to your user at this moment? The most effective messages understand the user’s past and current context. For example, a retail app could offer a “buy it again” discount on a previously purchased product, or a travel app could offer hotel deals for users booking flights to a certain city.
  • Select an appropriate message type. The most common types of in-app messages are banners across the top of a mobile device or full-screen interstitials. You may need to test to find out which type works best. Remember to include a call-to-action button that allows the user to easily perform the task you want them to.
  • Plan for common use cases. In-app messages are great for spreading messages during the on-boarding process, in coordination with feature updates, for customer service announcements and for special promotions (Cyber Monday, holiday sales, etc.).

The Google Maps app alerts a user when a faster route has become available, which is highly personalized, adds real value to the user’s experience and prompts direct engagement.

Push Notifications

A push notification is a message that appears on top of everything else on a user’s mobile device, and it can appear even if the app is closed. A well-executed push notification keeps the app top-of-mind, and can be a very effective way to drive action. Because push notifications are so difficult to ignore, they are best deployed with expert timing and strategy.

Right now, multiple studies have shown that approximately 50% of iPhone and Android users allow push notifications, so while this can be an effective user retention tactic, it won’t necessarily reach a majority of your users. You can help increase the number of users you reach by asking to allow push notifications during the onboarding process.

There are two types of push notifications —one is based on timing and the other is based on user actions or triggers. Here are some guidelines:

  • Time push notifications for when a user is likely to respond. For example, if your users frequently read lifestyle articles on the morning commute, a push strategy would be to alert that user of new information during the optimal time (say, at 9 a.m.).
  • Customize notifications to a specific event. One of the most common triggers is when a user places items in a mobile shopping cart, but no purchase is made. Send a notice to let them know the items are waiting — and that any special discount or sale could end soon.
  • Make it personal. For users who haven’t uninstalled your app but have lapsed in engagement, make it worth their time to come back:.Send a personalized push notification with an incentive for their return. Discounts, coupons, exclusive content — they can all help entice them to come back.
  • Experiment with rich notifications. This could include location-aware alerts (“you’re right around the corner from a possible match!”), an animated message, or a large interstitial. These are more disruptive, so use them with caution.

Waze sends a push notification to users when they need to leave for a trip, which is customized, personalized and particularly useful as a push notification versus an in-app message. Users may not be in the app tracking when they need to leave.


Email can be a highly effective way of reaching users, particularly for older demographics who are more likely to use and click through emails.

For users who have uninstalled the app or have lapsed for larger amounts of time, email can bring them back in the fold as resurrected users. In both cases, personalization and incentives can make the difference between resurrection and a user turning away.

Here are a few reasons to send emails:

  • Offer a special discount, coupon or a personalized reward
  • Share the news of a major update
  • Notify a user of in-app activity such as a direct message
  • Build out a lifecycle email messaging strategy to answer questions, introduce case studies and inspire activity

Remember: Too many emails, too soon, can drive users away (far, far away). You’ll need to experiment with how often you reach out to users via email, and make sure users don’t feel so inundated they begin to ignore emails from you. Less is definitely more.

Social Media

Building a rich relationship with your app users on social media can be an effective way to inspire a loyal and engaged following. Social media offers the perfect opportunity to engage directly with existing and potential new users — but you’ll want to have a strategy in place first.

  • Make friends while sharing the best of your app. Let everyone know what’s going on with your app, while following and encouraging (and even partnering with) other apps in the social space.
  • Work within your brand’s overarching social strategy. If your app is part of a larger brand with a social footprint, your app’s social presence can fit neatly into the larger social world for your brand. Just mirror the mix of social media posts while highlighting issues and content that are exclusive to your app.
  • Use deep links. That way, your app will automatically launch when a user clicks.
  • Bring in influencers. Find trusted influencers who connect with your ideal user and let them promote your app to a wider audience.
  • Track and analyze user segments by social media channels. If you notice, for example, that users who arrive via Facebook tend to engage at a higher rate than those who arrive via Twitter, you can adjust your media spend so that you're investing in the most effective channels.

Tinder uses its highly popular social media channels to engage users outside the app itself. In particular, its charitable campaigns have extended its brand and deeply engaged both users and non-users.


User forums may seem like unorganized, slightly chaotic spaces where users interact with like-minded souls, but these spaces are very popular, especially with the gaming community. If you can make your presence known in forums, you can connect with some of the most passionate members of a community.

However, be aware. Forums can be highly guarded spaces. If a member suspects overt marketing or untrustworthy content in your messages you can end up doing more harm than good. These are savvy users who deserve respect. If you go this route, be authentic and transparent about what you have to offer.

Tell the Same Story Across All Channels

It pays to coordinate messages across all of your channels as much as possible. A user is more likely to visit and engage with your app if they hear the same story via email, social, in-app messages and push notifications. A multi-channel approach will require more coordination on the backend, but the payoff can be huge.


Keep Learning

Next up let's figure out what's the best engagement strategy for your app.

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