An Introduction to In-app Messaging

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Partner Post - Apptentive Listen to, engage with, & retain your mobile customers

Posted: April 21, 2016

Ashley Sefferman is Head of Content at Apptentive. A mobile marketing and content strategy enthusiast, she writes about mobile apps, loyalty, inbound marketing, and making the mobile world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter @ashseff.


Many marketers believe the key to customer engagement is messaging, with push messaging being the most commonly used practice in mobile. Although messaging is important, it all too often manifests itself in the form of an endless barrage of poorly placed push notifications, and the harsh reality is that being pushy with push may be harming your app’s retention rates.

Diving into in-app messaging without a full understanding of what works and what doesn’t may result in unwittingly leading customers to opt out, or to even uninstall your app simply to get a break from the unwanted messages. According to an Appiterate survey, the number one reason people uninstall mobile apps is due to annoying notifications.

Top 7 Reasons People Uninstall Mobile Apps


In-app messaging is an ongoing journey as you learn about your mobile customers’ likes and dislikes, but there are a few best practices you can start with to set yourself up for success. In today’s post, we discuss some in-app messaging basics, along with five tips for crafting in-app messages that will delight and educate your mobile customers. Let’s go!

Well-timed in-app messages help drive retention

When it comes to retention, how you message your customers matters just as much as what you message them. As a best practice, we’ve found the best way to engage customers is to offer them events (rating prompts, messages, surveys, etc.) at key ‘mobile moments’ throughout the customer journey. These moments are typically tied to the completion of an in-app task, such as after a customer has made a purchase or watched a video. In contrast, attempting to engage customers before or during a specific task can be seen as intrusive and leads to higher exit rates and lower response rates.

Your customer opened the app with a goal or task in mind—let them accomplish this goal before sending them a message linking to another part of the app or distracting them from the task at hand. When customers are engaged in an intelligent manner, the results speak for themselves.

The chart below shows average retention rates for mobile apps over time and the boost in retention that you can expect to see as a result of interacting with your customers in an intelligent, timely, and contextually relevant way.

App Retention Based on Proactive Interaction


Contextually-relevant messages are key

Customers no longer have to be mysteries. They’re constantly sending signals of who they are, and how they want to be engaged within the app. Every time they dismiss a dialog prompt, bypass the customer service call line for in-app chat, or exit an app once shown a survey, they are providing all the clues we need to create a personalized messaging strategy—one that engages them on their terms.

Our job as marketers is, simply, to listen to their cues. Once we listen in order to learn what our customers expect in-app, the easier it is to create in-app messages that are contextually relevant and helpful to their overall mobile experience.

There are five points to implement into your in-app messages in order to ensure their relevancy:

What you message

What message do you want to send to your customers? Are you making an ask, setting up a conversation, promoting a sale, announcing an available upgrade, or just saying ‘welcome back?’ Regardless of the message, it’s important to cater it to your intended audience and test the performance of different messages.

For example, we’ve found that starting with a simple qualifying question before asking for an app store rating makes a big difference in performance. At Apptentive, we ask “Do You Love This App?” before we ask for a rating to (a) further segment our audience for delivering context-dependent content (only those who declare love for the app will be asked to leave a rating), and (b) gauge customer satisfaction in a manner that only takes a second and sees virtually no opt-out, as opposed to jumping straight into the more time-consuming process of leaving a rating or review.

In working with hundreds of large enterprise apps, we’ve seen that starting a conversation about whether or not the customer is happy with their experience is 5 to 10 times more effective than just asking them to rate the app. Likewise, we’ve tested asking for a rating against asking for a five-star rating. The result? Asking specifically for five-star ratings can be seen as presumptuous and actually lead to fewer ratings, and a lower average rating. In fact, rating prompts perceived as irritating or presumptuous have even led to rating boycotts.

Whom you message

In the process of crafting your message, you should have begun to think about a use case and target audience persona: Is your message specific to what version of the app the customer is using? Should Android users be messaged differently than iOS users? Is your message aimed at your loyal customers, first-time users, customers who have just made a purchase, or users returning to the app after a prolonged absence?

With the power of modern analytics, marketers can define their intended audience as narrowly as desired to deliver that perfect message to the perfect person. For example, if our intended audience consists of English-speaking mobile customers in the United States using an Android device upgraded to 5.0 Lollipop who have opened the current version of the app three times and have not been shown a survey prompt in the last 30 days, we can create audience segmentation rules in a matter of seconds, as seen below in the Apptentive dashboard:

Apptentive Dashboard


How you message

Next, ask yourself what medium would be most effective at delivering your message. Is your message something that can be enhanced with two-way communication, in the form of chat, a feedback form, or a survey? Or is your message more of a news blast or alert that your customers can see and either dismiss or click a link to learn more?

Your choice of medium dictates the extent to which customers can engage with your content, and should be tied directly to your messaging strategy—is your content a vehicle for collecting customer insights and sparking a conversation, or are you looking to deliver a quick alert that customers can read and immediately get back to their task at hand?

Where you message

Now that you have your message crafted, your audience identified, and your medium chosen, the next step is defining where, within the app, to deliver the message. Do you want to communicate with your customers as soon as they launch the app, prompt a how-to message at the start of the first time they’ve entered a new area of the app, or request their feedback after they’ve just completed a task (say successfully booking a reservation at a restaurant) within the app?

While the ‘right place’ is dependent on the message, it’s a good start to look for key moments of engagement within the app or suspected customer pain points. Moments of engagement are milestone steps in the customer’s journey that can often be enhanced with simple messages—welcoming a customer back after a prolonged absence, thanking a customer for leaving feedback, or prompting a two-way message center once the customer has opened a Help menu or cancelled a purchase halfway through checkout. On the other hand, pain points can be leveraged to improve the customer journey—by soliciting feedback around those shortcomings in the app and using those customer insights to create a frictionless experience.

When you message

Lastly, when and how often do you want to deliver your message? Is your message something that customers need to see multiple times, or will once suffice? Should you deliver that ratings prompt for each version of the app the customer experiences, at consistent time intervals, or just once throughout the customer lifecycle?

As a matter of best practices, we’d suggest delivering messages or rating prompts once per customer so as to avoid unnecessary interruptions or soliciting a rating from someone who has already rated your app.

The exception, however, is requesting customer insights in the form of open-ended feedback forms or in-app surveys. In these scenarios, it is important to prompt the same requests for feedback more than once to capture the effect of incremental data-driven changes to the app over time. Ideally, you’ll see the same customers giving more positive feedback with each survey—revealing the effectiveness of your investments in improving the customer experience

Wrapping it up

In-app messages are an incredible method for communicating with your mobile customers, but only if the message is crafted for the right person, at the right place, and at the right time. At the end of the day, impactful in-app messages are created by listening to customers’ needs by watching how they interact with your app.