Mobile Ecosystem

Q&A: Mobile Apps and Loyalty

Becky Doles

Mobile apps have proven to be a tool that businesses can use to engage with customers in a variety of ways: providing information, customer relations management, re-engagement, and to build a brand—to name just a few.

We recently interviewed Ashley Tate, Content Manager at BigDoor, to discuss how brands can use mobile apps to spur customer loyalty.

1. Why is loyalty so important for mobile app marketers to think about?

Customer loyalty is important for any marketer to think about. When a marketer focuses on “loyalty,” they are actually focusing on the results that loyal customers deliver, which is increased customer engagement. Increased customer engagement opens doors for the customer to complete incentivized actions, and for the brand to interact with their customers in unique ways.

In the world of apps, increased customer engagement is one of the top metrics app marketers aim for. The cost to acquire a customer (i.e. to get an install) is going up, especially in paid channels. For app marketers, it’s imperative to increase the lifetime value of their customers, and loyalty (read: engagement) is the best way to do it. Increased levels of engagement give the brand more touchpoints to encourage user actions like social referrals and app ratings, which in turn drives downloads and helps push new users through the customer lifecycle. Increased engagement also gives a larger opportunity for ad placement throughout the app, which yields larger advertising opportunities and revenue made through smart ad placement. 

Lastly, an increase in loyal customers typically translates directly to an increase in revenue. In 2013, the average brand saw around 20% of its customers fall into the “loyal” cohort, meaning that they visited the brand at least 10 times in the last year (FiveStars, 2013 Report). But don’t let that low number fool you. In the same study, the same 20% of the average brand’s customers drove 80% of its total revenue, and 72% of the total visits to the business. Whether you are an app or web marketer, focusing on growing your brand’s loyal customer base is vital to the longevity and success of the brand.

2. What are the current challenges facing mobile app marketers in terms of loyalty?

One of the biggest challenges in app marketing is increasing the number of successful, loyal downloads an app receives. Unfortunately, it’s still relatively common for apps get downloaded, used once, and then removed by the user. Building loyalty in this landscape is incredibly challenging, and it takes a calculated strategy to beat the uninstall curve. App marketers should spend their time and resources targeting users who are predispositioned for extended app use in order to increase their chances for loyalty, rather than marketing to large groups of potential users who may only have a fleeting interest in their app.

Another challenge can be found in push notifications. Push messaging is becoming an increasingly spammy channel, and is less effective now than it once was. App marketers should to dig deep into their user flow to figure out appropriate times to push notify their users in a way that is helpful rather than interrupting. When a user’s flow is continuously interrupted by misplaced push notifications, it’s clear why users will engage less with in-app content, or even abandon it all together.

App marketers also face many loyalty-building hurdles that marketers focused on web-based channels face. There are challenges around the number of times an app is opened, how frequently users open and engage with the app, whether or not users are moving through the customer lifecycle correctly, how much time the spend in an app, etc. All of these factors breed unloyal users, and even though app marketers face challenges unique to the app landscape, we still see many similarities to the challenges of traditional web marketing.

3. What are a few ways mobile app marketers can increase loyalty amongst users?

There are so many unique, on-brand ways app marketers can increase customer loyalty, but my favorite is through rewards. Rewarding users is an easy way to say “thank you” for their time and money spent engaging with your app. You can reward users in endless ways, including digital goods (like earning coins, points, etc.), unlockable achievements (like new levels within games, badges, etc.), and many more. These rewards can be given to users who complete the loyal actions that matter most to your brand, so depending on your brand’s goals, the sky’s the limit! But before you dive into offering in-app rewards to your customers, remember that loyalty campaigns and programs are complex systems. It’s worth checking out third party vendors (like BigDoor, shameless plug) who have spent years working on app-focused loyalty software before creating your own system from scratch.

Another way app marketers can move the needle on their customer loyalty is through incentivized sharing and referrals. Loyal customers who advocate on a brand’s behalf not only increase their personal brand loyalty, but recruit their inner circles to become loyal customers. Structure your app in a way that makes it easy for users to invite their friends and family members to join them in experiencing your app, and reward them for their effort when they share their experience through social channels or recruit a new user.

Lastly, app marketers can increase their loyal following through smarter email strategy and push messaging. It’s imperative for app marketers to spend time mapping out their app’s user-flow before dropping any messaging into the mix. When you message users at the wrong time, you’re likely detracting from any sort of loyalty or happiness they feel in interacting with your brand. Ask for feedback at the right time (like when they complete a positive action within your app), and make sure your emails feel human and personalized just for them. One of my favorite tools to help with this initiative is Apptentive, whose software allows apps to ask for reviews and feedback in a generous, well-timed manner.

Above all, app marketers should remember that many of the problems they face have been tackled in the wide world of marketing before. App marketing might be relatively new, but app marketers should lean on their already-acquired skills to help boost customer engagement and loyalty. The significance of features like beautiful user experience, sleek design, thoughtful page flow, quick load times, and other points have been explored by traditional web marketers for years, but still matter when it comes to apps. Marketers should be applying similar principles to their app marketing, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

4. What are a few examples of apps that have implemented/integrated functions and features the right way to increase loyalty?

The thing about loyalty in app marketing that excites me the most is that the concept is still relatively new. Apps are continuing to eat the web as we know it, and as the trend continues, more and more marketers are turning their sights toward usings apps as the sole interface to engage with their brand’s customers. It’s a slow shift that I’m sure most of you are familiar with, but I believe that 2014 will be a year to watch for building customer loyalty through apps.

That said, there are a few brands who are already standing out above the crowd in their in-app loyalty building efforts by engaging their customers in unique ways. Delta Airlines is one of my favorite examples. When a customer users the Delta app before a flight, the app tracks the data and notices once the flight has landed. When the customer turns their data back on, the Delta app prompts them to share their journey via Facebook for their friends and family to see.

Another app that pushes the envelope on building customer loyalty is Nexercise. Nexercise encourages users to meet their health and weight loss goals, but they do so in a rewards-based manner. Nexercise customers are rewarded with points for every goal they reach, and are encouraged to get support by sharing their goals with their family and friends. The app brings its rewards into the real world by allowing users to cash in points they’ve collected for restaurant discounts, fitness classes, and more. Although the strictly rewards-based model that Nexercise implements won’t work for every brand, they do a great job in keeping their customers engaged, which all app marketers can learn from.

5. Any other thoughts?

Loyalty features can be intricate and tricky for app marketers to implement, which is why many marketers are still hesitant to shift their loyalty building KPIs to their mobile app customers. To help lessen the fear, I recommend checking out existing loyalty providers (like BigDoor and others) who really get this loyalty stuff, and who have widgets and features created and available for developers to drop into an app.

Additionally, there is lots of ground app marketers can cover before implementing loyalty features into their app. Tools like MobileDevHQ help app marketers pinpoint users who are set up to be more loyal in the first place as they’ve shown intent through search. Once an app marketer has done a dive into which customers are set up to become the most loyal, selecting the loyalty building initiative that will yield the best results becomes easier.

Whatever stage you’re at, there are many resources available to help your brand begin to increase customer loyalty through your app. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and start building customer loyalty through your app right away!

Ashley is the Content Manager at BigDoor, a loyalty and rewards software provider for enterprise brands. A social media and startup enthusiast, she blogs about loyalty, content strategy, inbound marketing, and her dog, Darwin. Follow Ashley on Twitter @ashtate.

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

Leave a Reply