In-App Messages: Why Sending Them Is Only Half The Story

Picture the scene. An enthusiastic CMO decides to put some serious funds into a direct mail campaign (at this point I was tempted to make a disparaging comment about a return to the 90s, but the truth is that done right direct mail remains a perfectly valid marketing tactic).

With that decision made, it’s now time to select an agency. But our hero doesn’t go about evaluating each aspect of the agency’s approach and capability, and considering the ideas for content, targeting and timing they introduce within the proposal. Instead they simply ask one question:

“Can you deliver a letter?”

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But that’s the gist of many conversations I have around mobile marketing automation. Take the in-app message. Plenty of organizations (including Swrve of course) provide the ability to deliver such messages within the app. But that ability on its own is completely meaningless, or at least as close to meaningless as to make no material difference.

Why is that? Because as always in marketing, it’s the context and infrastructure around a communications channel that provide the real value. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean in this particular case, in the form of questions you should be asking that go beyond the simple “can I send an in-app message”:

  • When can I trigger the message? This is a big one. There’s not a huge amount of value in a solution that only allows messages to be displayed at certain limited points in the app. The whole power of these campaigns derives from their context - showing them at just the right time. Consider the example of an invitation to rate the app. You want to show that immediately following an ‘inspirational moment’. Not when the user opens the app (which is precisely when you are interrupting them as they try to get something done). Your in-app messaging solution needs to support total flexibility when it comes to display triggering.
    • How can I target the message? Effective marketing is targeted marketing. You wouldn’t send an email to your entire database, so why on earth would you deliver the same offer or creative to your mobile app audience? It needs to be personal. Your in-app messages should be delivered to target groups defined by the frequency and recency of events within the app, demographic data, device, language and local information, and current ‘status’ in terms of engagement or balance for example. Subscription based businesses, that need to convert users from free trials to contracts, need to create in-app messages of infinite variety to ensure that based on the data already gathered, the right offer is put in front of the right person at the right time. Can your in-app messaging service do that?
  • Can I use my own creative? It’s handy to be able to deliver generic messages using somebody else’s design - if you are a generic business who doesn’t really care about mobile experience. For everybody else, you’ll want a solution that supports uploading your own creative to keep the app experience ‘joined up’ and on-brand.
  • Can I define exactly what actions the user can take from the message? It really isn’t much use simply enabling a user to click a button saying “Got It” and move on from there. Marketers want to be able to define (easily) exactly where each button will take the user, whether that’s to another location in the app, or indeed a specific location in the app store, when we’re looking for reviews or cross-promoting other titles.
  • Do messages support two-way communication? Conventional marketing is great. Conversation is even better. In-app messages should allow the recipient to reply to the message, and in the example shown below - and allow the marketer to receive and respond to those replies (and know if the recipient got the message). In fact, let’s go further and support initiating a phone call direct from an in-app message. Great for operational purposes when you really need to speak to the customer.

  • Can you test messages? Easily? If you’re not A/B testing your in-app campaigns, you are ‘marketing in the dark’ and - frankly - deserve everything you get. But let’s be honest, most marketers want to A/B test, it’s just that the products they use sometimes make it near impossible. An in-app messaging platform should support the creation of alternative variants at the touch of a button, and report the results automatically in a way that makes sense.
  • What’s the tracking like? Far, far too many marketers are still measuring in-app message campaigns on click-thru rates, which must be about the dumbest and most meaningless statistic you could apply to the job - and trust me, there’s plenty of competition. What matters is user behavior after seeing the message. Did they go on to make a purchase? Did their overall engagement increase or decline? How about compared to those who saw no message, or a different message? You should be able to view and compare any metric that matters to you, at any time, and across multiple campaigns. Any less and you don’t truly have a handle on what’s going on.
  • How easy is this to use? As you can see above, creating effective in-app messaging campaigns demands a decent amount of sophistication. But that sophistication shouldn’t mean complexity. When it does, marketers find it harder to do their job and make a difference to the business. So check the UI - does it make the process simple and easy to manage? Are there campaign templates that enable the user to tweak existing formats that are known to work? Is it easy?

And that’s just a short list! Trust me, there’s more - if you’re ready to delve deeper, why not check out our Complete Guide to Mobile Marketing Success