With hundreds of millions of new apps launched every year, you might think publishers have mobile development down to a fine art. Unfortunately, in many cases apps crash and burn. They generate some publicity, even a rush of downloads, before disappearing without a trace.

Be wary of high download numbers, they can mislead. What matters is whether customers continue to use an app again and again. This metric illustrates something much more important: engagement.

Application development should be about user interaction as much as its code. To compete for attention, the app must be constantly initiating its next interaction. It has to cleverly pull a user back time after time, otherwise it will languish unused before being deleted.

There are several golden rules to drive engagement. First, ensure the user understands the app’s purpose. Fully explain the available functionality before sending any communication. If the publisher immediately requests permission for push notifications, user location and other sensitive information, this will be an instant turn-off. Definitely ask for permission when relevant, but in a timely manner.

Make the user feel comfortable with how the app works, then contact. For example, in retail, our data indicates that one week is the average time between download and first purchase. Publishers should factor this in before reaching out through email or in-app messages.

Another point to analyse is whether the user chooses a mobile website over an app. If so, this is a clear indicator something is amiss between the two. Try to unify the experience. One option could be to offer perks to increase the app’s appeal or to run a dedicated campaign with rewards for people who have lapsed with their usage.

Engagement in retrospect

The above relates to an app’s development cycle, however if the app has gone live, there are still ways to improve usage. Below is some data that can help planning and prioritisation:

• 50% of user visits result in 5-10 viewed items –browsing different products must be simple
• 75% of active users share an item on social media – make sure platforms are integrated
• 75% of registered app users are receiving promotional emails – ensure a unified user experience
• 50% of active users have placed an item in a shopping cart – what is happening with the other 50%?
• 5% of users complete a purchase – measure against this benchmark when analysing campaign performance

Use these stats to set campaign goals. They also help with automation where content and timings are crucial. For apps still in the design stage, this approach is integrated easily into development and user testing processes.

Delivering a remarkable experience

So, what marketing tools help user engagement and how can developers help? It starts with defining the business-critical paths of the app - turning anonymous users to known users, and leveraging data from anonymous users such as: operating system, time zone, browsing habits etc.

The developer could build in a trigger for in-app messages that encourages push notifications and opt-in at an appropriate time. This data can be integrated with the relevant marketing automation platform to target individual users on a more personal level. Social media can support engagement campaigns by driving people to create accounts.

Finally, unify mobile app data with existing email clients. Consider targeted push notifications that show the benefits of repeat purchasing, new products and additional promotions. Of course, rewarding and encouraging the engagement of premium users will also bring loyalty.

Smartphones and tablets give retailers and brands an incredible opportunity to connect closer with customers, regardless of age, location or socioeconomic boundaries. From a business perspective, app developers must deliver an experience that will be memorable and remarkable. The power of word-of-mouth is not to be underestimated, and a lot of time, money and lost customers can be saved if engagement is built into the app from the start.


By David Galante, Vice President of Mobile Products at Emarsys

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