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Mobile Engagement Explained

What is Mobile Engagement?

Mobile engagement is the act of engaging a user through messaging channels on mobile devices – smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and other wearables – with experiences both inside and outside of apps. Companies use mobile engagement to deliver positive brand experiences, to support their business goals such as revenue and audience expansion, to communicate business transactions, and to build valuable long-term relationships with customers.

Mobile Messaging Channels

There are three categories of mobile messaging channels to consider when connecting with customers.

1) Messaging Channels within the Mobile App

Mobile apps have three distinct messaging capabilities: push notifications, in-app messages and message centers. By understanding each of these you can build a messaging strategy to increase mobile app engagement, and create a compelling and memorable experience for your app users.

Push notifications have quickly become the leading opt-in communication channel. Urban Airship benchmark studies have found that on average, 45% of users request these notifications, suggesting the high value they offer. Delivered to a phone’s lock screen or via an onscreen banner alert, push notifications drive users to the app and are ideal for time-sensitive information. By including segment attributes like location, in-app behavior, message preferences and more, targeted push notifications are able to achieve greater mobile app engagement — approximately a 4-7x higher response rate — than their broadcast counterparts.

There are two ways to use push notifications to get even greater mobile app engagement:

Rich notifications provide the ability to engage customers more deeply by including photos, videos, GIFs and audio in a push notification, delivering it right on a user’s lockscreen. August 2016 research shows rich push notifications that include pictures result in a 56% higher direct open rate on average than notifications without images.

Interactive notifications are push notifications with interactive buttons that provide multiple response options, enabling users to interact and engage at a deeper level. With these, marketers can capture user responses, allowing for better future targeting.

In-app messaging delivers simple, text-based notifications that appear inside your app via a banner on the top or bottom of a user’s screen. Because these messages are delivered in your app, there isn’t an opt-in process, allowing you to reach the majority of your app audience. For this reason, they are a great complement to push notifications. We recommend using in-app messaging for new feature updates, reminding users to complete tasks and other service-related benefits.

An in-app message center reaches all app users and can help drive people back into your app through badge counters on your app icon (iOS only). Think of it as an easy-to-author content publishing platform that allows you to send the latest offers, promotions and rich content to your audience without having to either update the app or stop users in their tracks. It’s ideal for communications and messages that are not time-sensitive, as it gives users the option to catch up on your content at their convenience.


Push Notifications

In-App Messaging

In-App Message Center


Interactive permission-based alerts that are sent to a user’s lockscreen

Interactive messages that appear on the first screen of the app

A centralized place within your app for users to browse rich pages (videos, links, coupons, images, etc.)

How it’s viewed

Viewable without user being in app

Viewable when user opens app

Viewable when user is in the app


Reaches your opt-in audience

Reaches your entire app audience

Reaches your entire app audience

Main purpose

Drives users to the app; ideal for time sensitive information

Engages users with customizable content

Engages users with customizable content; stores messages for viewing at user’s convenience

2) Native Mobile Engagement Channels

Wearable Device Notifications

Wearable marketing calls for messages that are more relevant and immediately actionable. These messages are delivered and read by the user right away. Notifications on these devices need to be concise and short, using headlines, symbols, alerts and more — anything that helps the user digest information instantly.

Wearables, such as smartwatches, are integrated into the user’s larger device ecosystem that includes smartphones, tablets, computers, e-readers, and mobile apps. The notifications they deliver serve as both independent experiences as well as being a gateway to more robust experiences across app-based properties.

Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)

SMS — or text messaging, as we commonly refer to it — is a communication channel that people use to interact with each other, much more so than phone calls and many other communication methods. With broad usage and a 98% open rate, SMS is a natural channel for businesses to use for mobile engagement. Customers engaged in SMS conversations with a business trust that business with their mobile number and must be open to incurring the costs related to SMS.

Much like rich notifications, MMS offers multimedia experiences that include audio, video and other rich media. A standard SMS is limited to 160 characters in length and a standard MMS does not have a specific character limit.

Typical use cases for SMS/MMS mobile engagement include billing, shipping, special offers, promoting upcoming events, confirming appointments, and overall relationship-building.

Mobile Wallets

The term “mobile wallet” (also referred to as “digital wallet,” “wallet passes,” or “mobile wallet passes”) describes content or information in the form of a wallet item or pass stored in the Apple Wallet, Google Pay (formerly Android Pay / Google Wallet) or other similar native apps on a smartphone. Think of mobile wallet as the digital equivalent of all the everyday things included in a physical wallet: loyalty cards, coupons, special offers, business cards, tickets, credit cards and more.

A benefit of mobile wallet is that it’s a native app on most smartphones, and is accessible to every person carrying one. Mobile wallet marketing is effective for mobile engagement because a wallet pass can be easily created, managed, and updated, allowing a business to communicate with their audience while reducing their costs when compared to a traditional physical card program. Expiration and location-aware reminders can also be sent to users’ home screens.

Wallet passes can be updated and changed over time, personalized to each user, and distributed through various communication channels like push notifications, text or email. Once the wallet pass is on a user’s phone it’s an ongoing engagement channel.

3) Engagement Channels Adapted for Mobile

Mobile Web

As people have shifted from the desktop to the smartphone, the mobile web has become an increasingly important investment area for businesses. Mobile web and search activity are typically the first way a customer finds out about a company online.

Without a mobile website, businesses will struggle to meet customers’ needs for information tailored to smaller screens, and they will be less prominent in search engine results because Google’s algorithms (and other search engines) prioritize mobile websites.

Web notifications are messages sent via the web browser to users who have opted in to receive notifications from a website. Typically, they appear when the user opens the browser. Web notifications can also be triggered on a website. These are called in-browser messages. (Note: Google has indicated that they will penalize websites that use in-browser messaging or interstitials starting January 2017.)

Social Media Channels

People now spend over 80% of their mobile time on apps, and a big part of that is social apps. Social channels such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest are an effective, low cost way to engage with customers and broaden conversations. That makes them a great opportunity for businesses to engage with an audience on their mobile devices.

However, tweets and posts can be quite ephemeral — the average lifespan of a tweet is estimated at 18 minutes — and ongoing adjustments to platform algorithms like Facebook’s mean a business may only reach 2% of their audience without additional promotional investments.

Mobile Email

The average person spends 6.3 hours a day checking emails. And according to Yesmail Interactive, mobile devices account for 64.5% of all email opens. This makes email a far-reaching channel for mobile engagement.

Email is best used to communicate long-form information rather than quick updates. It can often be perceived as “now or later” reading by the user compared to the urgency that can be created in other mobile messaging channels.

Email messages are competing for the user’s attention among a vast inbox. And recipients can easily tune out emails that don’t provide value. A user may not see an email at all, and even if they do, it could be buried among many other emails vying for their attention.

The user engagement opportunities with email tend to be limited to clicking on a link that is included in the email.

Personalized Mobile Engagement and the Importance of Data

The most important test of whether mobile messaging will lead to deeper customer engagement is whether it is relevant and useful to the audience. Creating messages that are relevant and useful requires more work, but there is also more reward.

For example, push notifications that are highly targeted versus broadcast to most, or all, of an app’s users can achieve 4-7x the response rate.

To make mobile messaging both relevant and useful — and therefore engaging — it is important to:

    Personalize mobile messaging Get reliable data to see what’s working best

Let’s look at both aspects of these fundamentals of mobile engagement.

1) Personalization: Making Messages More Relevant

To win at mobile engagement, messages need to be as targeted as they can be based on what is known about the user.

The benefits of mobile personalization include:

  • More relevant user experience, which translates to increased value to the user
  • Increase conversions and revenue
  • Smarter advertising spend and targeting using behavior-based audience segments
  • Mitigate lost users by targeting customers who are most likely to churn
  • Use cross-channel customer data to power more relevant marketing campaigns

Personalized mobile messages are delivered at the right time.

One aspect of personalization is delivering the right message at the right time. Any message arriving in a timely fashion with information that’s highly useful and relevant to the user feels personalized — like it was meant just for them.

Automation is one key to delivering messages at exactly the right time. Within an app, automated messages are messages that are automatically sent to users when certain conditions are met. In most mobile engagement platforms, messages may be configured for delivery based on various event or inactivity triggers and timing and frequency thresholds.

It may be helpful to think of an automated message not as a single message, but rather as an order form for messages — or even a fulfillment of messages. Once the conditions are set, and the triggers are defined, notifications and messages can be delivered according to the rules you put in place, based on user actions.

Personalized mobile messages know who they are talking to and what they care about. Consider the messages that resonate most with users — sports scores that they explicitly asked for, activity on their dating profile, gate change alerts for their flight, special offers for their birthday, a mention on a social network — all are personal, but vary in the amount of personal information contained within the message.

Segmentation makes it possible to send what could be considered highly personalized messages to entire groups, even without creating personalized content. There are many ways to personalize mobile messaging through segmentation using information like First Name, Last Name, products from an abandoned shopping cart, home city and more. Segmenting according to this data increases the utility of a message and contributes to the overall feeling of personalization.

For example, in the context of a music app, a notification that an album on the user’s wishlist is currently on sale can create greater mobile app engagement by meeting all the criteria of a personalized message, while containing no identifying information.

The same goes for a notification about a weather event in the user’s immediate area. Or a gate change for a flight: everyone on the flight gets the same message.

Personalized mobile messages are delivered in the right place.

With proximity data, a business can create location-specific messaging, bridging digital and physical experiences for customers. More broadly, customers’ current locations as well as their historical locations can be layered on to each of these native mobile engagement channels, reaching users in a certain time zone or ZIP code.

Location triggers also allow businesses to send messages directly to customers the moment they enter or exit a location. By using geofences and beacons, businesses can trigger timely notifications in spaces as big as a store down to areas as specific as an aisle. Location triggers enable sophisticated in-the-moment campaigns based on a person’s latest interests, activities and preferences.

Location history provides historical insights on where a customer has been at a specific location over a period of time — cities, zip codes, school districts, neighborhoods, stadiums, parks and much more. By combining location history with profile and other behavioral data, businesses can boost their engagement rates.

With location, mobile messages can have valuable context and relevance, thereby increasing conversion.

2) Data: The Best Mobile Analytics to Understand Mobile Engagement Performance

To see if your mobile engagement efforts are working, you need to be able to measure them. Mobile analytics for engagement center around the user’s interactions with a business.

The best mobile analytics are those that best meet your needs and goals. Every mobile experience will have different business drivers and user interaction points, as well as different internal stakeholders with varying needs.

For example:

  • A CRM Manager might care about whether their push notification got people to use a promo code (Campaign Metrics).
  • A Product Manager might care about whether messaging is impacting feature usage (User Activity Metrics)
  • A VP of Marketing might be interested in the attributes of mobile users with high lifetime value (LTV), and where in the purchase cycle mobile has direct and indirect impact on revenue goals (Retargeting and Revenue Metrics).

All of these areas of measurement have value. Determine which mobile analytics help drive your goals, and collaborate with other stakeholders on your mobile engagement plan.

Side Note: The Importance of Mobile App A/B Testing

As you are learning from your data, you can start employing A/B testing to determine what’s resonating best in your mobile messaging.

A/B tests allow you to experiment with different variations, or variants, of a message for a given audience, and provide engagement reporting data for each variant.

By running an experiment or A/B test, and closely watching the data, you’ll have evidence that one variation performs better, or doesn’t. This leads to validated learning that’s backed up by data.

Key Mobile App Engagement Metrics

Downloads, opt-in and opt out rates, user retention and uninstalls over time matter, but they are indicators of larger behaviors that show the value users place on the app and messaging.  

Mobile Engagement: The End Game

Make sure to stay focused on the end goal as well. Engagement for its own sake isn’t enough if it’s not creating user actions that meet business goals.   

Getting Started

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