Trends & Insights
MGS 2023 Recap: Improving mobile engagement and retention
August 18, 2023
Sarah Park

This previous month, on July 26, Airbridge took center stage in Seoul as the host of Modern Growth Stack 2023 (MGS 2023), one of Korea’s biggest AdTech and MarTech conferences. This year witnessed the largest scale yet, with a lineup of 36 speaker sessions presented by 49 distinguished industry professionals from across the world, and a total of 2,000+ participants.

Every speaker came full force, discussing the most industry-relevant topics today in the mobile marketing landscape. In his presentation titled, “Improving Mobile Engagement and Retention”, Andy Carvell, Co-Founder & Partner at Phiture, a mobile growth consultancy, also shares his invaluable tips from a mobile marketer’s standpoint and takes us through the step-by-step process for mastering user retention. 

User retention is the backbone of mobile marketing 

Engagement represents the level of interaction and interest users show within an app based on the actions they take. It can be measured by tracking multiple metrics like the frequency, length, and number of actions performed during an in-app session for each user. On the other hand, retention refers to how often users come back to do a certain activity in the app, and it is measured in percentages to evaluate the different levels of engagement each cohort displays within a given period of time. These two concepts are highly correlated and work together to bridge the app and its users throughout their lifetime as customers. Today, mobile apps are all about nurturing a lasting relationship to form a loyal user base, and maintaining a steady user retention rate is one of the most fundamental and sustainable ways to lead your app growth in this direction. While the concept sounds fairly simple, carrying out a successful retention solution requires marketers to plan strategically. They should thoroughly segment and analyze user behavior in order to guide the audience through each stage in the user lifecycle. 

Our main task: Segmenting, cohorting, and measuring 

Carvell shares that many companies overlook retention problems due to a lack of segmentation and understanding of their users. Because user acquisition can occur at any point in time within a marketing campaign, retention growth cannot be linear. Therefore, segmentation is key to building a dataset that accurately reflects the variables in retention rates, and different measurement tools can be used based on cohort trends. 

Cohort-based measurements 

When utilizing the Monthly Active Users (MAU) graph (Figure 1.1) to evaluate user retention, you should break it down into cohorts based on the time that users have been engaged with your app. When grouped by cohorts (Figure 1.2), you can notice that the seemingly increasing graph is actually signaling a decay, with each cohort’s retention trending down to zero. A cohort table (Figure 1.3) is another way of looking at retention, especially for comparing the retention of different groups over time. 

     Figure 1.1 Figure 1.2
    Figure 1.3 (Source: Amplitude Blog)

Due to the unpredictable nature of user behavior, a cumulative MAU value alone cannot be an accurate indicator of user retention. Instead, dividing the graph into cohorts and honing in on the details for each variant is vital for sustainable growth. 

Natural usage frequency 

Measuring the natural usage frequency of your users is another valuable segmentation tactic, especially for re-engagement. In order to set realistic goals for your campaign, you should first ask yourself, “How many days within a given month will the average user actually want to engage with my product?” Depending on the type of application, usage frequency may inevitably be lower than others, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it has a lower value. For example, the usage frequency of a music streaming app would be higher than a document scanning app as the latter is only used for particular occasions. Using a histogram to plot the frequency values, you can understand how much time an average user is willing to spend on your app and craft re-engagement strategies accordingly. 

But, correlation ≠ causation 

There are a number of other variables you can use to break down your retention chart and micro-analyze user data, including acquisition source, geographic location, and language. Placing these filters in your chart can help you gain a better understanding of the factors that are most highly correlated with retention, which you can refer to when setting targeting parameters.

However, it is also important to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation. Just because a certain acquisition channel produced high retention doesn’t mean that you can push users from other channels in the same direction and expect it to automatically improve your results. You should consider the preferences and traits of the cohorts and allocate the most viable option for each. 

Walking users down the ‘spin cycle of engagement’

Figure 2 (Source: Phiture)

Lifecycle marketing, or as Carvell puts it, the spin cycle of engagement, is at the core of user retention and is beneficial for guiding users through a step-by-step process for acclimating to your app. By going full circle and monitoring users from the moment they click on an ad to the moment they churn, marketers can also gain valuable opportunities to gather additional user data. At each stage, marketers should respond to the shifting user’s intent, and Carvell shares his insights on how to strategically map out the journey. 

1. Personalizing the user journey 

The user journey should start even before a user installs the app. The moment a user clicks on your ad or performs an organic search on the app store, you can grasp their intent and traffic source to offer them the most personalized journey possible. If there is a specific keyword or feature they searched to land on your app, you could tweak the custom product page to serve a landing page design that emphasizes those words. By having multiple variations of the app store landing page design and offering the most relevant content on a user basis, you can bring prospects to relate to your app on a personal level and better address their needs. 

2. Finding ways to make onboarding fun  

Onboarding is a critical component of the user retention process, and the same message and value proposition you displayed during the acquisition process should be carried over to this stage. Consistency raises credibility and reassures the newcomers that the app’s benefits still align with their intent. It is extremely important to reiterate your value proposition early on and secure your user base in the initial stages, as a majority of the users churn within the first session if the actual in-app experience does not meet their expectations. 

Once you are able to get the users to stay, you can offer them in-depth information about the app, such as educational guidance introducing the app’s features. Here, you should find a way to deliver these messages with fun and interactive content that doesn’t bore them out. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to ask more questions about the users. Collecting more information about the users through in-app surveys will let you enhance the rest of their experience by customizing subsequent interactions.

3. Activation: Securing your community of users 

Having a community of loyal users that strongly advocates for your app can be a powerful driver of engagement and retention. You should leverage this opportunity by first, putting forth the effort to cultivate a solid user base that you wish to support. Offering them VIP treatment with exclusive benefits such as special gifts or early-access previews will encourage users to maintain their active participation and contribute to your app’s growth. Building a separate platform for users to gather and proactively engage on customer support issues or anything app-related can also raise the positive experience and create a supportive cult that spreads the word about your product. 

4. Commitment: Increasing user engagement under sustainable growth 

As a mobile marketer, you need to stay on your toes and ensure that users aren’t bored out or becoming inactive. The activation stage involves maintaining engagement and making sure a user’s usage level is ongoing. To do so, push notifications are one of the most effective messaging tools to take advantage of. Sending out personalized messages that align with a user’s in-app progress can accurately trigger users to return to your app. Reminding users about abandoned carts, or giving new recommendations based on their search history are some helpful tactics to use. 

Making sure your app is also up-to-date by consistently rolling out new features is also a driver of user retention. If the features on your app are short-lived, this strategy can be useful for keeping your app on top of the user’s mind and preventing them from churning. 

Remarketing lapsed users: How SoundCloud thrived in the reactivation stage

Before Phiture, Carvell had extensive experience working with data-driven marketing at SoundCloud, where he also led successful remarketing campaigns. He introduces the final step of lifecycle marketing by sharing his story of re-engaging inactive SoundCloud users.  

Depending on the app, the definition of a “dormant user” may vary. SoundCloud set different tiers of inactivity by identifying the number of days each user stayed dormant. The re-engagement messages were dependent on these inactivity levels to ensure that the right nudging strategy was used. Users that had never played a track were suggested a playlist, while users with a streaming history would receive more personalized push notifications with specific artist names. Implementing these strategies, Carvell was able to bring an average of 20% and 55% uplift in re-engagement for non-activated and lapsed users, respectively. 

Final thoughts 

When it comes to mobile marketing, understanding the user’s psychology, needs, and frustrations at each stage of their lifecycle is vital for success, and to do so, engaging with the users on a regular basis is a must. Marketers cannot underestimate the power of organic growth, and building a sustainable lifecycle marketing program that brings out the app’s potential to the fullest is of the essence for long-term user retention. 

💡 Andy Carvell is the Co-Founder & Partner at Phiture, a mobile growth consultancy that works with B2C apps to shape innovative mobile growth strategies. He is a seasoned mobile marketer who has over 20 years of experience working at companies like Nokia and SoundCloud, and his expertise lies in consulting brands to build personalized and multi-channel marketing user journeys. For more information, connect with Andy on LinkedIn! 
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Sarah Park
Marketing Specialist
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