How to Build an In-app Messaging Strategy to Increase Product Adoption

How to Build an In-app Messaging Strategy to Increase Product Adoption cover

Do you need an in-app messaging strategy? Well, you’ve found this article so there’s a big chance you already realize how important it is!

This article aims to help product managers develop their strategies and explores some good practices.

It also looks at different kinds of in-app messages and what they’re most suitable for. Finally, it recommends a couple of tools that can help them design solid in-app experiences for users.

Are you ready to jump in? Let’s do it!


What is in-app messaging?

In-app messaging is used to communicate with your users inside your digital product. It uses contextually triggered messages that guide and support users at different touchpoints in the user journey.

Teams use in-app messaging to onboard users, drive feature and product adoption, collect user feedback and keep users up to date with product changes and updates.

How an in-app messaging strategy helps product managers

In short, you don’t want to trigger in-app messages for your users at random. Instead, your in-app messages need to serve a specific purpose.

A solid in-messaging strategy defines your objectives and ensures that your in-app messaging is aligned with them.

In-app messages vs push notifications

In-app messages, like modals or slideouts, appear within the product and are visible to app users when they log in.

Push notifications come up on users’ digital devices regardless of whether the app is open or not. In fact, their main purpose is to make sure the user doesn’t miss an important message at the moment when the user isn’t actively engaging with the product.

However, users need to opt-in to keep receiving them, which is not the case with in-app messages.

In-app messaging vs. push notifications
In-app messaging vs. push notifications.

How to build an in-app messaging strategy

There’s no single strategy that will fit all contexts or use cases. Instead, these are just guidelines that will help you develop a strategy that is relevant to your business and product needs.

Set your goals

Designing your in-app messaging strategy starts with goal-setting.

Before you start designing your in-app experiences, you need to define what you’re trying to achieve. Is it user onboarding? Is it improving engagement or feature adoption? Do you want to collect feedback on a new feature?

Without the answer to the ‘why’ question, your strategy is going to be very disjointed.

Goal Setting Framework
Goal Setting Framework.

Build user segments for targeted in-app messages

To be effective in driving your goals, your in-app messages need to be relevant.

To target your users accurately, you need to segment them based on specific criteria. For example, this could be a specific problem or need that your user wants to satisfy with your product.

Where do you get this kind of information?

One way is to collect during the sign-up process, just like Kontentino does.

Kontentino welcome modal
Kontentino welcome modal.

Or you can track user engagement with different features or UI elements and build your segments around it.

Trigger in-app messages contextually

Now that we have identified the objectives and target audience, it’s time to trigger the in-app messages.

Things to consider when set-up the messages are their location, priority, and frequency.

For example, if you’re collecting feedback on a newly-released feature, you could trigger messages as soon as the user engages with the features.

In-app message triggering options in Userpilot
In-app message triggering options in Userpilot.

Bear in mind that your in-app messaging is to help and guide users, so make sure you don’t add any unnecessary friction to their experience or clutter to the UI.

Plan to use different types of UI patterns for different purposes

The effectiveness of in-app messaging doesn’t depend solely on its timeliness and relevance.

You also need to choose the right UI pattern for each job. A modal can be great to let users know about an update, while a tooltip could be more suitable to drive engagement with features.

In-app messages in Userpilot
In-app messages in Userpilot.

To avoid user fatigue and indifference, mix and match your in-app messages to keep them engaging and interesting. If your user sees a similar modal over and over again, they will simply stop paying attention even if its content is actually different.

This also means the design and copy of your in-app messages matter a lot.

Build your in-app messaging playbook for each goal

An in-app messaging playbook will give your users a structure for designing a consistent in-app experience.

The document should define a specific goal and outline the actions required to achieve them at different stages of the user journey. A playbook also recommends the preferred approach and the best kinds of in-app messages to achieve the goals.

In-app messaging playbook
In-app messaging playbook.

Measure, test, and improve

A/B tests are a popular way of measuring the effectiveness of UI patterns in driving conversions. You simply enable one experience to one group of users, against a control group, and track the impact of it against your goals.

A/B testing in Userpilot
A/B testing in Userpilot.

Bonus: DON’T use just one communication channel

In-app messages are an effective way of reaching your users but they have limitations. For starters, they work only with active users.

To make up for this, your communication strategy needs to involve other channels. For example, new release announcement emails can help you reengage inactive users who churned because they missed that particular functionality.

To automate the process, you can use webhooks also known as callbacks.

They allow you to create custom integrations with 3rd party apps.

You can use them to amplify and supplement the in-app messaging. How?

Let’s imagine a user signs up for the product and engages with the welcome modal and perhaps a few features but fails to reach the activation stage. You can use a webhook to trigger a separate email flow that will try to bring them back to engage with relevant features.

Webhooks in Userpilot
Webhooks in Userpilot.

If you’re using various channels, make sure you cover the details in your playbook. This will help you ensure consistent messaging across all channels to avoid confusing users.

What types of in-app messages should you use and when

Product teams have a few kinds of in-app messages at their disposal. Each of them has its own characteristics and is suitable for different use cases.

In-app messaging welcome modals

Modals are the pop-up features that appear on users’ screens and force them to take action before moving forward.

They are often used as welcome screens, like the Postify one below. They are a great way to greet new users and, more importantly, collect user information.

This is invaluable because it allows you to segment your users and customize their onboarding experiences further down the line.

In-app messaging: a welcome modal
In-app messaging: a welcome modal.

Short tooltips in-app messages

Native tooltips are in-app messages that appear on the product UI and provide users with information about particular features.

If done well, they can help users navigate around your product with tips and guidance at the exact moment they need them.


Step-by-step interactive walkthroughs

Tooltips, along with driven actions, are often parts of longer in-app flows and interactive walkthroughs. Their job is to increase product usage and feature adoption.

How do they work?

In short, individual in-app messages encourage the user to complete a task or engage with a feature. When they do so, they trigger the next one which leads to their interaction with another feature.

This continues, until step-by-step, the user discovers all the important features.

To make the process truly interactive for your users, you should give them the freedom to explore your product functionality at their own pace and in the order that best suits their needs.

In-app messaging: interactive walkthrough
In-app messaging: interactive walkthrough.

Checklists to increase engagement

Checklists are another type of in-app message you can use to increase user engagement.

People love ticking off items on their checklists. The closer they are to its completion, the stronger their motivation is. That’s why they are such a powerful onboarding tool.

In-app messaging: onboarding checklist
In-app messaging: onboarding checklist.

Banner in-app message

In-app banners are the small bars that appear at the top of the website site.

Teams normally use banners to let users know about updates and announce new features or special offers.

They are less intrusive than modals, slideouts, or tooltips. This could be an advantage in situations when you want to bring something to users’ attention without putting them off.

For example, you could design a banner reminding your users about an expired payment method that could lead to their involuntary churn.

In-app banner.

Blank screen in-app messaging prompts

Paradoxically, a blank screen that welcomes new users when they first log into a product can be truly overwhelming.

However, they don’t need to be like that. With in-app messages, you can prompt users to take the first action and start discovering the product.

Want to see a good example? Have a look at the prompt to connect apps in Airtable.

In-app messaging: an empty state with a CTA
In-app messaging: an empty state with a CTA.

New feature announcements in-app messaging

In-app messages are great for announcing new features.

A well-designed modal or slideout is an effective way to let users know about the update. Better yet, you can include a CTA button, which will let them start using the function straightaway.

In-app messaging: new feature announcement in Asana
In-app messaging: new feature announcement in Asana.

In-app surveys for user feedback

Surveys triggered in-app tend to have greater response rates than those delivered by other channels because they target active users.

As a result, they can be a great way of soliciting user ideas on how to improve your product. You can trigger them contextually, for example at the very moment your users finish using a feature, and ask them for their input while it’s still fresh in their memory.

And thanks to user segmentation, you can target specific user groups, for example, your power users only, or detractors only, depending on your goals.

In-app messaging: a survey
In-app messaging: a survey.

Upselling prompts

You can harness in-app messages also to drive upsells.

To be effective, the in-app prompts need to be triggered contextually and relevant. For example, they can appear when a user tries to engage with a feature that is only available in the paid plan.

In-app messaging: upselling prompt
In-app messaging: upselling prompt.

Cancelation surveys to retain users

In-app flows have their place not only at the beginning of the user journey but also at its end.

Instead of letting users simply churn, you can target them with an exit survey. Except that it’s not just a survey. Apart from collecting user feedback, it also gives them alternatives.

For example, if the user wants to cancel their subscription because the price is too high, you can offer them a different plan.

In-app messaging: a cancellation flow
In-app messaging: a cancellation flow.

There’s no guarantee they will take you up on the offer but there’s no harm in trying, especially if designing such flows is straightforward and requires no coding skills. That’s if you have the right tools.

Best in-app messaging tools

There are a few solid digital adoption platforms out there that allow you to build customized in-app messages.

Userpilot – best for personalized messages

Userpilot is a product growth platform and a gold standard when it comes to personalized in-app messaging.

What makes it so effective?

First, you can use its analytics to track product usage and identify goals and build user segments. As mentioned, the latter is essential to ensure the relevance of your in-app experiences.

Track product usage with Userpilot.

Once you have these, you can design highly customized and personalized in-app messages that will help your users discover your product and adopt it as a solution to their problems.

And when they are hooked, you maintain their engagement with even more messages.

Interactive walkthrough in Userpilot
Interactive walkthrough built with Userpilot.

Appcues – best for mobile apps in-app messaging

Appcues is another well-known DAP. While its functionality is limited when compared to Userpilot, it has one key advantage: you can use it both on web apps AND mobile applications.

Appcues supports in-app messaging in mobile apps
Appcues supports in-app messaging in mobile apps.


In-app messaging is a handy tool product and customer success managers can deploy you to remove friction and drive product adoption.

However, to take full advantage of its potential, you need an in-app messaging strategy that aligns messaging with your goals.

If you’d like to see how Userpilot can help you set meaningful goals and implement your strategy, book the demo!

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