Table of Contents
Mobile App Marketing : Best Activation and Retention Strategies
The 2 Best Activation and Retention Strategies for 2020 are definitely In-app and Email Onboarding.
What is Mobile App onboarding?
Mobile app onboarding is the process of getting new users to understand and engage with your app enough to keep using it, instead of abandoning it after the first use. Thoughtful onboarding increases engagement and builds trust, which in turn makes it easier to ask your user for permission to send notifications and other messages.
There are 2 main tools that, combined, make for a great Mobile App onboarding : In-App Onboarding and Email Onboarding.
What is In-App Onboarding?
In-App Onboarding is most commonly used in the form of a multiple screen tutorial that triggers as soon as the App is installed and opened for the first time. Often a succession of 3 or more app screens, it guarantees that the message will be seen unlike push notifications, Message Center, Emails or Video tutorials channels that the user can disable or simply ignore.
The 5 Best In-App Onboarding flow Strategies
The best flow onboarding strategies will depend on your goal as well as industry.
They usually share a few common practices though :
- An attempt to register to collect phone number or email address. This will help with cross-channel marketing efforts, and will also give you another channel to engage or re-engage with your user.
- An upfront conversion incentive to get the user in the habit of using the app right away.
- Use of various monetization tactics
The Features Approach
The features approach to in-app onboarding focuses on the core functionality and features of your app.
The purpose of this approach is to avoid any confusion new users might face regarding your app.
Communicating features upfront can effectively help users understand how your app works.
The Benefits Approach
Contrary to the features approach, the benefits approach to in-app onboarding ignores features and focuses on emphasizing the core value or specific benefits to new users the first time they open your app.
Instead of telling people how the app works, it helps them understand why they need to use it and how it integrates into their lives.
Account Setup Approach
The account setup onboarding flow focuses on getting new users to register and set up an account before they proceed to use your app.
This is regularly used for apps such as, social media or messaging apps, that require users to make an account if they want to access app features.
The action-oriented approach makes people use your app during onboarding instead of just telling them about its value or features.
It is a powerful strategy widely used today due to its effectiveness
This is simply a combination of 2 or more of the above mentioned techniques.
Although more complex, it is also more refined and effective and often complemented with an Email Onboarding flow
We will review later on the case of Evernote that used this combination approach
What is Email Onboarding?
Email Onboarding is a series of emails sent within 24 hours of the initial install of an app and its’ acquisition of the user email address. It is a proven approach that first starts by a welcome message, followed by the reinforcement of the app core value proposition and/or by the introduction of major features or benefits.
Greeting new users is one of the first steps to turning them into loyal customers. And, a well-designed email onboarding sequence can make a great first impression and show that you’re dedicated to building a long-term relationship that isn’t solely transactional.
Why is Email Onboarding so important?
It engages new subscribers.
The “Email Statistics Report, 2019-2023” by the Radicati Group Inc shows that 4.3 billion people will use it email by 2023 and will continue to grow at a faster pace than the world population.
According to the Direct Marketing Association (Source : Marketer email tracker 2019), at least 75% of Marketers report both an increase in open rates and a higher Click-Through rate (CTR) in the past 12 months.
It increases retention by reducing churn rate
Customer churn rate is the percentage of your customers or subscribers who cancel or don’t renew their subscriptions during a given time period.
Email reduces the churn rate.
A proof of this is that the Lifetime value (LTV) of each individual email address has also risen sharply by 33% year-on-year, proof of lower churn rate generated by Email.
There are at least another 40 reasons why Email is so important
I would refer you to a couple of very good articles you may want to check out:
Now that we’ve established the importance of email onboarding, let’s look into some best practices that you can use to create your flow.
The Best Email Onboarding Flow in 7 steps
This is the first thing to do when a user installs your app to ensure that your subscribers are real people with legitimate email addresses.
No need to be fancy, but you need to have a clear call-to-action that helps your users confirm their email address.
Also, to make sure your subscribers complete the confirmation process, sending a follow-up email to remind any absent-minded subscribers about the signup process is not a bad idea.
Make sure it is compliant with the latest GRPD regulations.
Here’s an example you get from me when you subscribe to receiving my emails :
2.Welcome email : 8 critical components for success
The welcome email follows the confirmation email and is, by far, the most important part of the email onboarding flow.
In fact, according to an Experian Marketing Services survey, welcome emails are opened 4X more frequently than normal promotional emails.
Welcome email also generates a 33% increase in engagement vs traditional email. (source : invespcro)
It’s therefore a unique opportunity to open up the communication channels and start building trust right from the start.
But beyond a positive first impression, a welcome email also serves to :
- Increase your brand awareness with your user.
- Reinforce the value of your App.
- Set your user up for success
Failure to create a strong impression trigger will result in low open and click-through rates and a higher churn rate.
So how do you write a powerful welcome email?
Here are the 8 Critical Components to a Powerful Welcome Email:
1.Write a catchy subject line.
Although most of us would naturally expect to receive a welcome email when we subscribe to a company, only 50% of us actually open it.
It is therefore critical to carefully craft that subject line.
The subject line needs to be short to be able to be seen in the preview and include what your email is promoting and how it will benefit your customer.
A subject line used quite often once you download an app is:
“Welcome to [name of the APP]!”
2.Focus on benefits, not features.
Just as you want to reinforce your app’s value, highlighting what users will ultimately gain from using your app is a powerful way to get them on board.
3.Restate your Core Value Proposition.
I know, it sounds redundant to do so but it is a great way to reassure your users that they made the right decision downloading your app.
It reminds them why they did it and also clarifies if needed what they can expect to achieve with it.
It is also a good opportunity to start introducing additional features in the case where your app is rather complex
4.Show the next onboarding steps.
Now that you’ve reminded them why they signed up, get them fully set up with your Mobile App.
And this usually requires them to take the next step that you must state clearly like asking them to complete their profile for example.
5.Generate the “A-ha” Moment.
Made famous by Facebook, the “a-ha moment,” is when the customer understands how they benefit from using your product or service.
The goal is to get the user to this “a-ha moment” as quickly as possible so your user achieves success as soon as possible.
To do this, first identify your app “core value” and the CTA (Call to action) your user must take to receive this value.
At the same time, an image will make the message easier to digest and lead them one step closer to clicking on your content.
This is how Evernote achieved this :
In-case your App is for an ecommerce related activity, it is also the right place to offer a coupon to incentivize them to take the action like a $10 discount on a first order.
6.Add resource Links and Tips
This is how Evernote did this :
7.Include your customer contact details.
By doing do, you continue to establish a foundation of trust by guaranteeing your user that you are available to help at any time.
8.Close with the Original Call-to-Action.
It is also the second reinforcement to your users that they made a great choice downloading your app.
As we discussed during the acquisitions phase, there are so many ways to acquire a new users since not two users are alike.
They will also differ by their Device, Profile, Preferences, Behavioral and External data.
Make sure you have all the analytics in place so that you can use segmentation to personalize the welcome email on the information available and this for each email of the email flow.
To Truly be efficient at this exercise, I highly recommend you use a Segmentation and Automation software, since automated emails have a CTR 152% higher than regular email ( Source Epsilon research)
Some softwares combine both Segmentation and Automation although I would recommend to use separate ones as Automation software sometimes only specialize in certain areas ( Email, Push notifications etc.)
You can find comprehensive lists of both Segmentation and Automation applications here.
By doing so, you’ll see up to 100.95% higher click-through rates and 18x more revenue. (Sources : Illumen Media, Juniper research)
Consider leveraging both simple and advanced personalization techniques.
For example, in my onboarding sequence I use the new subscriber first name to make the email more personal and friendly.
According to a survey by Wistia, personalizing your email flow it can potentially increase your CTR by 300%.
I also personalized the onboarding sequence by using a unique onboarding video message that is accessible through a screen shot on my email with a Play button as a CTA.
I saw tremendous improvement in doing so.
4. Create different Email Flows for Active and Inactive users
The users of your app will vary widely in their engagement levels.
Some will try all the features right away whereas on the other end of the spectrum some users will remain inactive right after the install.
These individuals must be approached differently which means you’ll need different flows for active and inactive users.
This requires the use of a nurturing campaign which, unlike a more traditional drip campaign relies on behavioral data and therefore a good effort in segmentation we as discussed in the previous chapter.
Active Users Nurturing Email Flow
The purpose of this flow is first to promote the regular use of the app before leading the users towards a purchase, and ultimately turning them into brand evangelists.
Pro Tips: Prioritize the development of your Active user flow first. Active users are already motivated my nature and excited about your app and will be easier and quicker to monetize
Encouragement Next steps Emails
A milestone can take many different form depending on your App.
It could be trying out a key feature, consuming some content, adding a friend, creating a profile or finishing the first lesson of a learning App.
Recognize and congratulate on the accomplishment, and immediately suggest to take the next step to start building a daily habit.
For every new step you should craft a different email message to nurture the habit of the using the app and reinforce an emotional connection with your user.
In addition to congratulatory part of the email, adding another section to your message to reinforce the key features of your app ( like the Welcome email) might not be a bad idea.
As the user continues through the various steps, be aware of the level of maturity and experience of the user and adapt this section accordingly.
For example, for a training app, the first message might be coupled with a basic feature section at step #1 but with more “support tutorials” by Step #10 to help the users overcome some challenges they might be facing.
Here’s an example of hoe Headspace (A mediation app) addresses this :
Pro tip : Experiment with various option where Next Steps Emails include or not mention of Features to maximize your conversion.
Highlight key Features Emails
Here’s an example from Litmus
Prompt a Premium feature
This is one of the areas where you can start monetizing your app, although there are many other ways.
At this stage your user is in habit of using your app and a good amount of trust has already been established.
In the same way to introduce your users to additional benefits of your app, you can now do the same thing by focusing on Features that will require a purchase.
The best way is probably trying to convince your user to upgrade by offering a free trial for a limited time so that they get a taste for additional feature.
You can also offer them a discount a great discount making sure to show off how generous it is versus the regular price.
And why not combining both? Offering a special price at the end of a free trail to close the deal?
Here’s how Skillshare approached it:
Upsell Happy Customers
At this stage, this requires additional understanding of your customer and their aspirations.
This is even more valuable that the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70% versus 5-20% phe probability of selling to a new prospect.( source : Marketing Metrics)
Consumers trust their friends more than the brands that advertise to them.
In fact, according to Nielsen, 77% of consumers are more likely to buy a new product when learning about it from friends or family.
And the new acquired referral customers also have a 16% longer LTV (Source : Wharton School of Business)
So, at this stage, you managed to turn your happy customers into brand evangelists that are more inclined to refer their friends and get you more business.
The way to incentivize your brand evangelists is simply to thank you for their loyalty and recurring use of your App.
See how Duolingo reaches more teachers by using referral from existing premium users :
Inactive Users Nurturing Email Flow
The inactive user nurturing email flow is complicated is another area where the knowledge of your user is even more critical as you need to know why users would not be using your app after install in order for you to overcome the objections and help solve the problem.
If you do not know, spend time surveying instead of writing the first email, it will save you a lot of time in the long run.
Reinforce Value Emails
This first round of plays a similar role to the welcome email : reinforcing the core value of the App as well as some key benefits.
Obviously, the title would differ and concentrate instead of some reasons that you believe your user has been inactive without being negative.
Do not select randomly but instead use a know problem that you would have identified during your pre-launch phase.
Here’s an example from Asana:
Since the goal is to encourage inactive users to log in, offering a limited-time access to paid features to encourage inactive users to explore the app and get hooked on premium features remains an effective strategy.
Let’s face it, how does not like Free Stuff?
Some of the most common types of incentives that brands use in emails include:
- Bonus reward points
- Buy one, get one
- Discount codes
- Free shipping
- Gift with purchase
- A month of subscription at no cost
- Referral codes
Here’s an example from Birchbox
Problem solving Email
This is where using the friction points of using your app you identified during your pre-launch phase gets particularly useful.
If you have a customer service, it is also an amazing source for you to know what key issues are.
The purpose of these email is to address them one by one through a series of problem solving emails.
The first part should clearly identify the issue and the rest of the email combine some tips to try to unlock the situation.
The good news is that you probably have all of these answers ready in the Tutorial and FAQs section of your pre-launch site.
The user might not have checked them out and it is therefore the role of these emails to bring the solutions to them instead.
Some examples of common issues : lack of time, perceived complexity of the App or anything else that you might have discovered during the soft launch phase of your App.
Here’s an example from Mailchimp :
By offering help, quick tips, or reminders, you can help new users get value out of your app without taking the time to explore every feature. Sometimes, a simple word of encouragement, is all it takes.
Pro Tips : Based on the number of issues identified, consider separate email for each issue and run some tests for optimization.
Popular Content Roundup Emails
Sending your inactive users a roundup of your most popular pieces of content can show the value you provide to them and reignite their interest in your App.
Use social proof to emphasize the popularity of this content. Since people tend to do what other people are doing, it can sometimes nudge your inactive users back onto the right path.
Last chance Emails
The #1 reason users say they return to an app after uninstalling is deals and bonus offers (Source : Think with Google)
Think of this email as your last attempt to get an inactive user to engage with your app.
The rule is simple :
Offer something big, time bound and indicates to users that it will be the last time they hear from the company.
Survey leaving users
If your user has canceled his account or gone inactive for a while, I am afraid, he’s gone.
There will be many users like that that you will not be able to win back.
But this is not the time to give up but instead to attempt to understand why they left.
It’s time to switch gears to research mode.
So, send a survey with only 2 to 3 questions max ensuring that questions can be provided in only a few clicks.
If you attempt to ask for written answer, the rate of answers will be extremely low and difficult to compile as scale.
Ask offboarding questions like:
- How did using our app make you feel?
- Did you find the App easy to use?
- Are you using something else to fix your problem?
It is important that you use empathy to design this email as it can help ensure a user feels comfortable enough to come back if the timing is right.
Also, do not try to win the user back at this stage, as this will a failed attempt.
Instead, truly use this email for gathering valuable feedback to incorporate moving forward
5. Conclude with a Call-to-Action
Each email in your flow should end with a call-to-action that entices customers to continue to the next one in the onboarding process.
6. A/B Test your Emails
What is A/B testing?
A/B testing (AKA bucket testing or split-run testing) is a statistical hypothesis testing process that compares two versions of a single variable. It tests a subject’s response to variant A against variant B, and determines which one is more effective. A/B testing helps marketers observe how one version of a piece of marketing content performs alongside another.
Web pages, emails and Ads as well as all their parts are the most commonly tested by marketers.
Why is A/B testing Important?
There are a three main benefits of A/B testing your emails:
- It is data based : numbers don’t lie and as long as you use significant sample sizes, you’ll know what your users prefer.
- Increased open rates : by looking at this KPI, you can see what email titles and subject lines work best for your emails
- Increased conversion rates : By looking at this KPI, you can see if your users are taking action when the open your email, improve and ultimately increase your conversion rate.
How to run A/B Testing in 11 Easy Steps
1. Pick one variable to test.
The things you might want to test include :
Think about testing the various proportions of a cooking recipe and how they interact with each other to maximize the taste of your dish.
2. Identify your goal.
This is the data you will be looking at to see if the change in the variable affected it or not and if so by how much.
As an example, if you are changing your email title, your performance indicator might be the open rate to see if it gets impacted or not.
3. Create a ‘control’ and a ‘variant’
Now you know what variable you want to change in your email and how you will measure its impact, you can prepare your challenger Email.
4. Split your sample groups equally and randomly
5. Determine your sample size
15% receiving email A
15% receiving email B
6. Select the statistical significance you want from your test.
Statistical significance is a key part of A/B testing process.
It reflects the level of confidence you want to have in the results.
The lower the significance the higher the risk that the results will not mean anything and will lead to making a wrong decision if followed.
In most cases, you’ll want a confidence level of 95% minimum especially if it was a time-intensive experiment to set up.
7. Give the A/B test enough time to produce useful data.
You need let your test run long enough in order to obtain a substantial sample size.
Otherwise, there will not be a statistically significant difference between the two variations.
Depending on your industry, getting statistically significant results could happen in hours … or days … or weeks.
You need to wait as long as it takes until the significance level is reached to have meaningful data.
8. Measure the significance of your results using our A/B testing calculator.
This is where you determine if you have enough data to make some changes to your next round of emails.
For this, I have in my tool box section, some tools you can use to calculate the significance of your results.
9. Consider qualitative data.
If A/B setting can tell you the WHAT from the user, It will not tell you the WHY they converted or not.
In this case, it might be useful to understand this by surveying them after the test and combine the results of those for the A/B testing.
This might provide you with valuable insights for your next round of A/B testing that can save you considerable time and money.
10. Take action based on your results
If one variation is statistically better than the other, you have a winner.
You can now implement the change to the remaining of the audience ( 70% plus the 15% of the variant group that underperformed)
A/B testing is not a one off activity but a continuous one.
Make sure though, that it is worth the investment in time and calculate your ROI to focus on the elements that truly will make an impact.
Improvement is always possible, the question is to know when to stop testing when the impact becomes marginal.
7. Optimize for mobile.
67% of all emails are opened on mobile, it is essential to create emails that render well on mobile or your onboarding sequence will result in low engagement
First, you need a responsive email template that makes your emails look good regardless of device and screen size.
Also, pay careful attention to :
The subject line and the pre-header text ( teaser just under the Subject line) lengths as most mobile devices will display a limited number of characters.
If you use images, ensure that they are sized properly so that they load fast and do not negatively affect the user experience.
Consider a text only email vs an HTML version as many surveys (Source : Hubspot) confirmed that HTML email version had a 21% lower clickthrough rate.
Always close your Email with a clear CTA and in the shape of a big, easy to press button if you decided to make it a button of course.
App Onboarding Case Study : Evernote
This example follows the combination approach and blends together all the different strategies I just described.
It is also a good example where App onboarding and Email onboarding flows work together to maximize results.
Evernote allows you to write, record, collect information, and present ideas.
It exists both for mobile and desktop, but your files are available across all devices.
Let’s review in details the flow and the Best practices to put in place.
1.In-App Onboarding Flow
From the first screen it requires you to sign in but with ease if you already have a gmail account or not.
Either way, it automatically collects your email to be used by other channels.
It also put the user at ease mentioning that it is Free to sign up
First, you’re taken through a feature/benefit slide before you even make it to the registration form.
The center imagery and Value propositions automatically rotates through the various benefits without having to do anything.
In the previous version, Evernote was requiring you to slide through 4 separate screens, one for each claimed benefit with a progress indicator
The friction is reduced since this combined 4 steps in 1 for the user.
This phase is to inform new users of your core value before the user onboarding flow truly begins.
It should explain very briefly :
- Why the user should use this app.
- what makes it different from the competition.
- How it will make your life better.
All of this should be dictated by a thorough research of your users upfront of course
Since the basic benefits have already been introduced before sign in, it seems a good place to suggest additional feature an assumed the benefit would be understood.
Advertising is cleverly blended during the onboarding flow in a few places which I will point out.
Every time Evernote requires the user to provide any authorizations required to enjoy some features, , it prepares the user by explaining the “why” they will be required in an attempt to reduce frictions from the following screen.
For each feature toggled on, a message would appear to allow access
Evernote push notifications
Evernote photo access
Evernote Camera access
It is a pattern repeated further down the onboarding flow
Evernote to-do trial
After you’ve created an account and selected the authorizations your user wanted, the user is taken through a simple tour of the main features /Key ways to add a note.
The tour combines written instructions, visual examples of and requires the user to take action and create 2 notes using different methods to complete the tutorial
Evernote meeting trial
Evernote meeting trial screen 2
Evernote positive reinforcement 1
As the user complete the first action, Evernote uses positive reinforcement before requiring a second action as part of the tutorial.
It also shows you live the results of the first action by showing the newly created note hence helping you understand further the interface.
The search function when used is the second place where Evernote uses advertising and attempts to upgrade the user to the premium package.
By making it available every at every step in various forms during the onboarding process and thereafter, it capitalizes on an increasing comfortable user that gradually gets a better understanding of the App and simultaneously understanding of the Premium package benefits.
Evernote Premium advertising
Evernote other options
As the user is prompted to take a second action, a wider range of actions than the original 4 ( idea, to do, Meeting and Blank note) is being presented.
Since the user has already taken one action, he/she is already more comfortable with the App and more receptive to additional options.
Here each other action is introduced in further details and followed whenever required by an Authorization request to the user following the pattern we already described.
Evernote audio recording
Evernote tutorial completion
The final page is simple and to the point and with a very clear Call to action to tell the user what to do next.
Evernote ad attempt 3
It is also here, once the user start using the App on his/her own that the 3rd attempt foe advertising is made until the user closes the Ad.
All in All, the Evernote in-App onboarding flow is a great example of best practices and this is why it is successful.
2.5 Secrets to a Successful in-App Onboarding flow
Asking users to try the app helps them get a feel for the real app vs. a theoretical one.
And it is easily understandable once you know that the visual learning style is preferred by a vast majority of the population hence reducing potential frictions by the use of a visual tutorial.
I would refer you to a great article from Peep Laja on learning styles here for more details.
This is using the proven Foot in the Door technique originally developed in the 60’s by researchers Jonathan L. Freedman and Scott C. Fraser.
This technique has later validated for the digital world and upheld by decades of research since.
It is based on the concept that if you start with a modest request then follow up later with a larger request, you increase your chances of succeeding with the larger request.
In todays’ digital reality, it means convincing users to fill forms and provide information by asking them to take a small step, like creating a note or trying the camera.
This would be the foot-in-the-door. Asking the user to let you in is now easier when trying to get more information or sell the premium version.
It is a clever mix of the various strategies available that allows to maximize its impact no matter what type of audiences you are dealing with
It is user-centric, not product-centric.
This requires that before designing a user in-App onboarding flow know the following:
- The core value you’re trying to deliver to your users
- The steps new users need to take to receive that core value
- The friction that might exist within those steps
- How easy it is to understand your core benefits/functions.
- The actions that your long-lasting users take and how you can encourage new users to take them also.
- The knowledge and familiarity of your new users with similar/competing products.
A good In-app Onboarding flow is rarely successful on its own. Complement it with other holistic and continuous onboarding flows that can take the form of knowledge center docs, blog posts, invitations from a friend, or emails to bring the user to the core value as quickly as possible.
Evernote complemented their in-app Onboarding flow with an e-mail onboarding flow that started like this
3.Evernote Email Onboarding Flow
For inspiration sake and to show how Evernote complemented it’s in-app Onboarding flow, I will share the top 3 emails you would receive from Evernote within a few minutes of Installing the App.
Email #1 :
The subject line is clear and succinct and the beginning of the email reinforces to core Value of the App with a clear CTA for the user to benefit of the cross device Capability available.
It is followed by some insiders’ tips that gives you further insights into the capabilities that we not shown during the In-App onboarding flow.
Finally, the original message is reinforced together with social media sharing options
Note also the advertisement of versatility across all Operating Systems
Key metrics for the Activation and Retention phase
Used to measure success in the activation stage. Depending on your app, this could be creating an account, adding a first friend, making a first purchase etc.
This is the ratio of people that downloaded your app and completed the onboarding sequence.
When users are downloading your app but not using it, it might be necessary to optimize your onboarding process.
Track daily and monthly users to detect who is using your mobile app regularly.
Measure how long a user is active per app session. This information will help to unfold screens or tasks where users often exit the app.
Best User Onboarding Tools
Since there are many ways you could decide to onboard your users, the list of tools available is rather extensive.
I have compiled in my toolbox section a list for you to refer to.
Table of Contents
Do you want more online revenue?
Just enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter and GROW YOUR REVENUE
About Gilles Argivier
He is an International marketing expert and visionary entrepreneur.
For over 20 years, he has been entrusted by world class organizations as a driver of top and bottom line growth through transformational business development, brand’s sustainable strategy, product innovation and powerful online customer centric experiences
He owns and operates his marketing consultancy firm out of the US.
Do you want more online revenue?
Just enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter and GROW YOUR REVENUE