The Ultimate In-App Marketing Guide for Product Marketers in 2021
In-app marketing – everyone’s doing it in bits and pieces.
This guide will give you a holistic idea of in-app marketing, what to improve and how to attract, acquire and retain more users.
Did you know that it’s 9x cheaper to retain existing customers as opposed to finding new ones?
How about the fact that it’s 4x cheaper to upsell to current users?
Ultimately, using in-app marketing to retain customers and upsell to your users is a no-brainer. It can be the difference between success and failure.
In this in-app marketing guide, I’m going to explain why in-app marketing is so important, and how you can use it to improve customer retention. I’ll use examples from top SaaS products throughout, and provide you with actionable takeaways.
How To Use Our In-App Marketing Guide
If you’re a complete beginner, you should consider reading the in-app marketing guide from start to finish. This will ensure you know everything there is to know.
If, however, you’re well versed in in-app marketing, and would simply like a refresher, then feel free to jump around to the most relevant sections for you using the Table of Contents on the left of this page.
Let’s dive in!
Why In-App Marketing Is So Important
Churn is a serial killer. It stealthily infiltrates even the best SaaS companies, slowly but surely eliminating them. Before you even notice you have a problem, it has a chokehold on you and it’s game over.
In-app marketing is the antidote to the poison. It’s one of your biggest defences against the dangers of churn. In short, it could be the difference between a failed startup and a galloping unicorn.
That’s because the whole point of in-app marketing is to make sure your customers stick around. It’s aimed at users who are already paying for your product.
Marketing to your existing customers might seem a little strange, but it’s one of the quirks of the SaaS world.
Unlike other products, SaaS users pay for your product over and over. That means you constantly have to show them that your product is worth their money.
The best way to reach these existing customers is within the app itself. This way you can educate them about the value your product provides at the same time they use it.
In the ever-changing world of SaaS, it’s important that you keep your customers coming back for more. The higher the lifetime value of your users, the better your chances of having a successful SaaS product.
In fact, research from Localytics found that in-app notifications more than tripled user retention.
In-app marketing reduces churn and helps you retain the customers you’ve worked hard to amass. That’s why it’s so important.
The Main Types Of In-App Marketing
There are several different types of in-app marketing. Each of them can be extremely useful, but it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each.
The most effective in-app marketing strategy ensures that you use the best type of in-app marketing at each stage.
Before I explain how to create your strategy, I thought it would be worth exploring the main types of in-app marketing.
It’s safe to say that our lives are awash with notifications. Well, it turns out that they’re also a great way of marketing new features to your customers.
There are two types of notification that you can use.
You have push notifications, that pop up on your computer or phone screen. These are designed to attract users back to your product.
You also have in-app notifications. These are far more subtle, and are only visible when a user opens the app. I’m going to talk about this type of notification for the purposes of this guide.
Chances are, the vast majority of your customers aren’t using every single feature of your product. This is bad, because it means they aren’t getting as much value from your product as they could be.
A lack of value means your users may look elsewhere, or not be able to justify paying for your product.
In-app notifications offer a simple way of educating your users about specific aspects of your product. This ensures they stick around.
The best way to understand how to use in-app notifications is with an example. One of the best examples is from Slack.
As you can see, Slack occasionally gives users a notification in the top-right corner of the app. It’s a little gift box which entices the user to click. After all, who doesn’t love gifts?
Once clicked, it opens up a feed of the latest features that have been added to Slack.
This is a fantastic way of alerting users to new features.
You can also use notifications to direct users’ attention to existing features that haven’t seen much adoption.
Spotify use a neat little banner that appears at the top of the screen when a user takes a certain action.
The notification alerts the user to an aspect of Spotify that they may not have known about. The tip will differ depending on context.
A final interesting example comes from Drift.
They actually ask their users if they’re allowed to send them notifications in their browser of choice.
That way they can market to their customers using notifications in an app their users are likely to use on a daily basis.
+ Easy way to grab users’ attention.
+ Not “in your face”.
+ Enables you to direct users to a certain feature.
– Can annoy users when over-used.
– Not always noticeable.
While tooltips are primarily used in onboarding, you can also use them for your in-app marketing.
If you want to draw your users’ attention to a particular part of your product, then you can use a tooltip to catch their eye.
Tooltips excel when it comes to educating your users about brand new features, or features your users may not be aware of. While they don’t necessarily drive the user to act, education is a big part of in-app marketing.
Generally speaking, you’ll use a series of tooltips to act as one guide. As the user completes each action, the next tooltip will appear.
The really useful thing about tooltips is that they can be contextual. In other words, you’re able to show relevant tooltips to each user.
This personalization vastly increases the effectiveness of your in-app marketing. It leads to greater engagement, and in turn, greater retention.
Here’s an example of how you can use tooltips for your in-app marketing from Facebook.
When they released the ability to download your photo albums, they used this tooltip.
It draws their users’ attention to the new feature, and also explains how to use it.
The tooltip is contextual, only appearing when the user is most interested in the feature.
This is a super example of how in-app marketing can drive feature adoption while also educating users about your product.
In the example below, Github introduce their users to extra functionality they might not have known about.
+ Can be adapted to each user and context.
+ Catches your users’ attention.
+ Guides your users through your app.
– Could end up distracting users.
– Not as easy to broadcast to all users at once.
The final type of in-app marketing I’m going to cover is pop-up modals. Modals are notorious for irritating users. When implemented correctly, however, they can be incredibly effective.
A modal is essentially a message that appears on the screen. They often block the screen, garnering the user’s full attention.
This makes them perfect for introducing a new feature, or even a new redesign for your app.
Modals usually require an action from the user. This can either be a CTA that directs them to a certain feature or setting, or simply a message that needs to be dismissed.
The best aspect of modals is that the user can’t ignore your message. They have to either click the CTA or dismiss it. This means they’re basically forced to engage with your in-app marketing.
Modals have a variety of different uses. You can announce a new feature, a discount code, or even upsell your customers to a higher pricing plan.
Be wary, however, that modals have the capacity to seriously annoy your customers. They should be used sparingly to maximize their effect.
Here’s a great example of a pop-up modal from Mailchimp.
It has a clear and concise description of what the new feature does, and provides a simple CTA. The color scheme is understated, helping to make the modal less “in your face”.
Check out this example from Hubspot.
When you try to access a feature you aren’t currently paying for, you’re shown this modal. From an upselling point of view, this is great. It has a video showing you the benefits of upgrading, as well as simple pieces of copy. Finally, it has a great CTA.
+ Users can’t miss your message.
+ Engages users with clear CTAs.
+ More space to include information.
– Can potentially alienate customers.
– Can feel clunky compared to other types, such as tooltips.
How To Create An In-App Marketing Strategy
Now that you understand three of the most common types of in-app marketing, it’s time to move on to actually creating your strategy.
Step #1: Do Your Research
Every great strategy starts with thorough research. You need to look at your best users and try to understand what sets them apart from the rest.
Perhaps they use a specific feature more than other users? Maybe customers who fill out their whole profile are more likely to keep on using your product?
Tools like Mixpanel or Heap can provide you with all the data you need to understand which areas of your product lead to your best customers.
Step #2: Ask Some Questions
Continuously asking questions can provide you with some incredible insights that you can use in your in-app marketing.
Here are some questions you should answer before you start:
- What goal are we trying to achieve? (Retention, upselling, feature discovery, etc.)
- What is our product’s “Aha Moment”? (And how can we get customers there faster?)
- How often do our best customers log in to the app? (What do their engagement levels look like?)
- Which in-app marketing techniques are we planning to use? (Notifications, tooltips, pop-ups, etc.)
Some of these questions might be answerable right away. Some of them will require the insights gleaned from the research you should be doing.
Another approach you should take is to break down your product into key features. Which features should users be using on Day One? What about within the first 7 days? The first month? The first quarter?
Once you have that breakdown of features, you know when you need to use in-app marketing to give feature adoption the boost it needs.
Some questions, however, can never truly be answered. That’s because you’ll have to keep experimenting with different hypotheses. That brings us nicely to…
Step #3: Test, Test, And Test Again
Your in-app marketing is never truly finished. As your product develops, you should try different methods of marketing to your customers.
It’s often the case that the slightest tweaks can make a massive difference.
The time of day that you send a notification might make or break a feature announcement. The color of the tooltip might determine how many people simply dismiss it. The frequency of pop-ups could be the difference between a massive LTV or catastrophic churn.
My point is, there are so many little things you can do to improve your in-app marketing. The only way to truly know what they are is to keep on testing new ideas.
I’ll discuss this a bit more later on, in the section about A/B testing.
Step #4: Putting It Together
A great in-app marketing takes the previous three steps and puts them together into one comprehensive overview.
Start with your goals. What exactly is the point of this in-app marketing. Do you want to retain your current customers, or upsell them to higher pricing plans?
Your goal should drive every in-app marketing decision you make.
You should then note down the form that your in-app marketing will take. Perhaps you’ve decided that you’re unable to implement notifications. It could be that you’ve decided that you’ll steer away from modals.
All these decisions should go into your in-app marketing strategy. This way everyone is on the same page, and knows how your in-app marketing is going to work.
Finally, choose a handful of the most important hypotheses that will help you achieve your goal.
The number of hypotheses is entirely up to you, and will obviously vary depending on your resources. Don’t spread yourself too thin, but also don’t get bogged-down in one particular aspect of your product.
Once you have a document that outlines your goals, methods, and hypotheses, then you’re ready to start implementing.
Implementing An In-App Marketing Strategy
This next section of our in-app marketing guide is going to tell you how to actually implement your in-app marketing strategy.
Your product analytics should already have influenced your in-app marketing strategy.
If you decided to skip the strategy and dive straight into implementation, then it’s time to set up your analytics.
This is a crucial step. Analytics will help guide the decisions you make, and also enable you to measure the success of your in-app marketing.
Some of the best products to use when it comes to measuring your product analytics are Mixpanel and Heap. Both of these offer comprehensive analytics and are relatively easy to integrate with your product.
Once you’ve got these set up, it’s time to start using in-app marketing to engage your customers.
I’m willing to bet you spend a lot of time and resources on providing new features for your customers. If they don’t use them, then it was all for nothing.
In-app marketing is one of the most effective ways of driving feature discovery and adoption.
You should still use more traditional methods like email and social media, but in-app marketing should be your focus.
Unless there are some types of in-app marketing that you really want to avoid, I recommend that you use a mixture of all of them.
This way you can cover all your bases, and ensure that your customers actually pay attention.
When launching a new feature, you should start by notifying your customers about it.
There are several ways to do this.
One way is to provide a notification. When your users click this notification, it can either open up a sidebar that lists your latest releases, or it can direct them to the actual feature.
Both of these methods have pros and cons.
Opening a sidebar is less intrusive and enables you to educate your user about the new feature, but it doesn’t directly lead your users to adopt it.
Directing users to the feature improves adoption but may distract users from what they were originally going to use your product for.
Another way of notifying users about new features is with a modal. You can use this to announce what the new feature is, what it does, and how it helps. A CTA can then direct users to the feature.
Be aware that if you constantly update your product with new features, you’ll have a steady flow of modals. This can be extremely annoying for your users, and have the opposite effect on adoption.
Each method has downsides, and so that’s why using a mixture of all of them is so important. Rather than relying on one method, try different techniques and see which works for you.
In-app marketing isn’t just a way of driving adoption for your great new features. It can also help you to nudge your users towards older features that haven’t been fully utilized.
Not all of the methods I’ve covered in the in-app marketing guide are appropriate for this.
Modals, for example, seem a little too intrusive. After all, this isn’t a new feature or product announcement, it’s simply a reminder that a certain feature exists.
Likewise, using notifications isn’t ideal. Typically, notifications are used to alert users to new things, and that’s generally what your users will expect them to be used for.
That leaves you with tooltips. The great thing about tooltips is that they’re relatively subtle. They don’t block the screen, and they’re easy enough to dismiss.
The best thing, however, about tooltips is that you can contextualize them, adapting them to your users.
Imagine if some of your users used your product to send out welcome emails to new mailing list subscribers. Every time somebody signed up, they would send out an email.
What your users don’t realize is that they can automate these welcome emails.
You could use in-app marketing to let them know about your automation feature. When your user is about to hit send on the email, you could provide a tooltip that explains about automation, and guides them through setting it up.
Combining product analytics with user onboarding techniques enables you to remind your users of older features.
The ‘marketing’ aspect of in-app marketing suggests that you can use it to make more money from your customers. Well, if you have a product with different pricing tiers and features, you probably can.
Unfortunately, upselling is often thought of as being a little sleazy and underhanded. That doesn’t have to be the case. Done well, it can actually strengthen the relationship between you and your customers. (Plus, you get a little extra money!)
The biggest rule when it comes to using in-app marketing to upsell to your customers is to keep it minimal and subtle. An in-your-face approach definitely won’t work here.
Instead, you need to look for the right opportunity.
Is your user trying to access a feature that they don’t yet pay for? Then nudge them towards your pricing/upgrade page.
Has your user reached a certain limit, for example, sending too many emails in a month? Then let them know that they can upgrade to send more.
Here’s a classic example from Dropbox.
When you reach your storage limit, Dropbox simply include a little banner at the top of the page. It explains that your Dropbox is full, and that you need to pay more to get more space.
It’s easy to ignore this banner if you’re happy without the extra space, but it’s still noticeable enough that if you’re ready to upgrade you can do.
When it comes to upselling in your own product, make sure to emphasize the benefits that the particular feature or upgrade provides.
It’s essentially a mini sales pitch, disguised within your product.
Referral marketing is a process in which you ask your existing customers to refer your product to somebody else.
The reason it works so well is that word-of-mouth is the most powerful marketing technique. We’re more likely to believe a recommendation from a friend than a piece of marketing copy.
In-app marketing provides you with a great way of asking your customers to spread the word.
You don’t get many opportunities to ask this of your customers, so you need to make sure you get it right.
For starters, you can really only ask for referrals from customers who have been using your product for a while and have gotten to grips with your core features. These “power users” have been getting value from your product for a while, and so they’ll be more open to referring it to a friend.
In the above example, Evernote offer a fantastic referral program. You earn points for each referral, which can then be spent on Evernote. By adding a reward, Evernote provides an extra incentive for people to refer it.
Reviews are a cornerstone of any SaaS product. It’s one of the first things prospective customers will look for.
The social proof you can get from having current customers leave reviews is invaluable. In-app marketing can help you collect them.
As with referral marketing, you have to be careful not to ask your users for reviews too early on in their lifespan. You want your customers to be totally familiar with your product before they leave a review.
As a general rule of thumb, consider asking your customers for a review after they’ve used your 10 key features.
WooCommerce use a simple message asking for a review.
You can then send your users to G2 Crowd, Capterra, of any review site of your choosing.
SaaS products should constantly be updated and improved. One way of knowing which improvements you should make is by listening to feedback from your customers.
In-app marketing provides you with a great method of gathering feedback, whether it’s with an NPS survey or a more-thorough product feedback questionnaire.
You need to time it right. There’s no point asking new customers for feedback because they don’t have enough knowledge of your product. They might ask for features that they aren’t aware exist already.
In this example from Twitter, there’s a CTA asking for feedback embedded within the app itself.
Using Onboarding Tools For Your In-App Marketing
Of course, it’s one thing knowing about the different in-app marketing techniques. Understanding exactly how you add them to your product is a different thing entirely.
You essentially have two choices here. Either you can code your own in-app marketing, or you can use an onboarding tool.
Coding it yourself means you have complete control over your product experience. You can decide the exact look and functionality of your in-app marketing.
If you have the development resources to code it all yourself, then it’s a great approach to take. You don’t have to rely on external products for your in-app marketing.
For most SaaS companies, however, coding everything isn’t going to be feasible. It’ll take far too much of your dev team’s time.
If that’s the case, then you’re going to need a tool that can help you out.
There are plenty of tools that can do the job. Essentially, most in-app marketing uses the same techniques as onboarding. It makes sense, therefore, that you use onboarding software to implement your in-app marketing.
For in-app marketing purposes, there are three factors you should consider when choosing a tool. They are contextual messaging, UI customization, and A/B testing.
A key part of a successful in-app marketing campaign is making sure that you’re sending the right message to the right user at the right time.
That’s where contextual messaging comes in. It means your in-app marketing is triggered by a certain context.
Not every onboarding tool offers full contextual messaging. Forgive the little plug, but contextual messaging is where Userpilot shines.
You can use Userpilot to set triggers based on user behavior or segment. When those triggers are fired, your in-app marketing will be shown.
This ensures more effective in-app marketing, as the messaging can be personalized to each and every user.
For your in-app marketing to truly work, you need to make it look the part.
If it feels like a different entity compared to your product, then it’s going to be a little off-putting for your customers.
If it looks exactly the same as your product, then you risk having your customers miss it altogether.
Clearly, you need to find a balance between the two.
That means you’re going to have to make tweaks to the UI of your in-app marketing.
While you can do that through code, your best bet is to find an onboarding tool that enables you to quickly and easily achieve the look you want, without any code involved at all.
I’ll cover A/B testing properly in the next section. For now, all you need to know is that constantly experimenting with different in-app marketing techniques, copy, and graphics is crucial.
Each little tweak you make could end up improving your in-app marketing.
But you can only know for sure through A/B testing.
A fair number of onboarding tools enable you to A/B test your messaging. I recommend making sure the tool you end up using offers it.
That’ll make your job far easier when it comes to iterating and trying out new things.
Measuring The Success Of Your In-App Marketing
There’s no point in implementing all of this in-app marketing if you aren’t going to know whether it’s worked or not.
This final section of the in-app marketing guide will explain how to make sure you’re measuring the success of your in-app marketing.
Set Yourself Up For Success
As part of your in-app marketing strategy, I suggested that you come up with several hypotheses to test.
An example of a hypothesis for your in-app marketing could be something along the lines of:
“Adding a pop-up to announce our new feature will improve adoption of that feature by 50%.”
Let’s break down that hypothesis.
Firstly, it includes an action we can take. In this case, that action is adding a pop-up that announces the new feature.
Secondly, it includes an outcome that should happen in response to the action. In this case, the outcome is improved adoption of the new feature.
Thirdly, and most importantly, it includes an actual target. In this case, it’s that adoption will improve by 50%.
Including a target is important because it gives you something to measure against.
Simply saying that you expect feature adoption to improve isn’t enough. You need to actually set a concrete target. That way you know whether or not you’ve actually succeeded.
Your target should be based on your goals. If your goal is to improve feature adoption by 50%, then that’s your target. If your goal is to have 1000 users try out your new feature within 3 days of launch, then that’s your target.
Targets should be precise and measurable.
But how, exactly, do you measure them?
Start Using Product Analytics
If you aren’t already measuring product analytics, then it’s about time you got started.
Having an in-depth understanding of how your users are interacting with your product is crucial when it comes to making improvements and is essential when it comes to in-app marketing.
There’s a wide range of product analytics tools out there. In my opinion, the two best choices are Mixpanel and Heap.
Mixpanel enables you to quickly segment and visualize your data. If you need to know how many people in the US logged in last month versus this month, Mixpanel can tell you.
If you want to go more in-depth, you can hone in on an individual user and see how they engage with your product.
The insights that Mixpanel provides can help you understand which areas of your product need some help. You then know where to focus your in-app marketing.
The big alternative to Mixpanel is Heap. It’s quickly becoming a more popular tool, and is actually ranked higher for customer satisfaction on G2Crowd and Capterra.
Heap offers most of the same functionality that Mixpanel provides. Where it differs is in its ease of use. While Mixpanel requires more development resources, Heap can be installed quickly and easily. You can start getting insights immediately.
Which tool you choose is up to you. Try them both and see which works.
The real point here is that before you go all in on your in-app marketing, you need to be measuring analytics.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, just as long as you are.
Like any good experiment, you need a control group if you want to accurately measure the effectiveness of your in-app marketing.
In this case, your control group will be a group of users who don’t receive any of your in-app marketing.
That means you can see a baseline of feature adoption without in-app marketing, and compare it to the group of users who do receive your in-app marketing.
That way you know whether your efforts have paid off.
Splitting your users into different experimental groups also opens up the opportunity to A/B test your in-app marketing.
A/B testing is where you try out two (or more) different techniques and compare the results to see which works better.
You might, for example, decide to have one segment of users see a pop-up announcing your new feature. Another segment would be shown a series of tooltips.
You can compare the adoption of your new feature across both of those groups, and see which in-app marketing technique is the most effective.
A/B testing can also be used to try out different layouts, copy, and graphics.
This constant optimization means you’ll end up with the most effective in-app marketing.
Bringing It All Together
You’ve almost reached the end of this in-app marketing guide. I hope you’ve learned a lot, and that you’re now ready to bring it all together.
Get it right, and in-app marketing will be one of the best things you’ve ever done for your product.
Churn will decrease, LTV will increase, and you’ll see unprecedented levels of growth.
Here are the key steps you need to take to get started with in-app marketing…
- Set up product analytics using Mixpanel or Heap (or another alternative).
- Decide on what you want to achieve with your in-app marketing.
- Choose a technique (pop-up, tooltips, etc.) to implement in your product.
- Launch your in-app marketing to a segment of your users.
- Measure, tweak your in-app marketing and then start all over again.
Thank you for reading this in-app marketing guide. If you have any questions let us know and we’ll do our best to answer them.
All the best with your in-app marketing!
PS. Oh, one more thing! If you’re serious about using in-app marketing to retain your customers, then why not get started today with Userpilot. Book a demo today!
About the Author
Joe is a UX and content writer, with several years of experience working with SaaS startups. He’s been working with SaaS startups that are focused towards product management, product marketing and customer success for the past couple of years.e