Subscribe to the Iterable Blog

Thank You

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Email

Turn Users Into Customers With 
In-App Messaging

For years, the in-app message terrified me.

I grew up typing my middle school essays on Microsoft Office, and there was nothing I loathed more than Clippy, one of the earliest attempts to make software more user-friendly.

GIF with Clippy in-app messaging

Source: Giphy

To be fair, I wasn’t the only one…

“Clippy was ‘optimized for first use:’ amusing the first time you encountered him, and frustrating after that. He was a puppet who only knew one script and kept repeating it, at you, throughout the workday.” (Source: The Atlantic)

Thankfully, the software industry has learned from its mistakes, and now in-app messaging has become a lot less annoying.

We have more data, more technology, and more capabilities to create messaging that’s tailored precisely to how customers are interacting with your business.

But if you’re used to a single channel like email, it might be difficult to figure out how it supplements your existing messaging.

So if you’re curious about in-app, but haven’t adopted it yet, here’s what you need to know.

So What Exactly Is In-App Messaging?

Although in-app messaging can apply to both desktop and mobile experiences, you’ve likely come across it as a pop-up message when you’re logged into your favorite app.

For those of you who need a broader definition:

In-app messages are a direct line of communication between you and your customers. As their name implies, they appear within the product experience and can come in several patterns, including chat and notification beacons.

Like any other channel (email, push notifications, phone), in-app messages have to be relevant and meaningful, or users will dismiss them as spam.

The good news is, in-app messaging can be used for virtually anything, from sending targeted rewards campaigns to upselling.

Plus, it turns an often static medium like email into something that’s instantaneous and relevant to that user’s specific interaction with your app.

Of course, this only works if people are logging in with your app and active.

Which is why if you decide to use in-app messaging, you should…

  1. Make sure people are logging in and active (Duh)
  2. Tailor messaging based on an individual user’s behavior
  3. Keep email as your backup in case you need to re-engage with your customers

But if you don’t know where to start, here’s a brief overview on how to implement in-app into your existing marketing channels.

Step 1: Think of the Customer’s Best Case Scenario

Before you craft your first in-app message, you need to think about the strategy.

As in, stop thinking about the channel itself, but more about what you want to accomplish with the channel.

In this case, our goal is to optimize the messaging that keeps users from converting into paying customers.

And the easiest way to do this is to put yourself into your user’s shoes after they’ve discovered your offer for the first time.

Ask yourself…

  • What pain are they in?
  • How did they discover your solution?
  • What is your solution hoping to solve?
  • What outcomes do they expect when interacting with your business?
  • How will their life change if they become your customer?

Bonus tip: If these questions don’t prompt anything insightful, I find it helpful to write a case study about a happy customer, and then use that to influence my campaigns.

Step 2: Break Down the Customer Journey

Now that you know what your user’s best case scenario is, get a piece of paper…

And break down the ways your company currently interacts with users.

For subscription-based businesses, a user could be acquired from a Facebook ad that promises a 14-day free trial, followed by a 7-part email sequence.

For e-commerce businesses, it could be a coupon or a discount off of their first order, and a cart abandonment sequence based on their browsing history.

Chances are there are multiple ways a user can interact with your company—it could be through search traffic, organic, or through a personal referral.

Whatever they are, break them down, and list out any and all of the emails or other messaging that a user receives from your business.

Bonus tip: Having trouble remembering it all? Turn on a webcam and microphone and do a think-aloud—it gives you a different medium in which to understand how a customer is walking through your app.

Step 3: Find (or Recall) Your Customer’s ‘Aha’ Moment

You’re done evaluating your current messaging, so now it’s time to figure out the moment your user turns into a customer…

And exploit the heck out of it.

Easier said than done, right?

In the SaaS world, they call this the “‘Aha!’ moment,” which is “when a user gets what your product is really about and why it’s valuable to them.”

Because a signup isn’t nearly enough. They’re interested, but not committed yet.

It’s only when they stumble upon their “‘Aha!’ moment” that they turn into a customer.

So if you’re selling meal plan subscriptions, your goal might be to get them to pick out two weeks of meals in a row.

If you’re selling women’s accessories, your goal might be to get them to visit your website 3-5 times in a single week.

Before your user becomes a paying customer, there is a step in there that they have to do before they move forward with your solution.

Find out what it is, before you even attempt any in-app messaging.

Bonus tip: If you have no idea what your “‘Aha!’ moment” is, ask your numbers-person to crunch some data and do some cohort analysis. Chances are, there’s something long-term users are doing before they decide to stick around on your app.

Step 4: Start Writing…but Keep This Important Rule in Mind

Once you’ve got a hold of your “‘Aha!’ moment,” you’ll understand that your messaging strategy is crucial to getting the user to this point.

But before you start editing and revising, remember this…

When you add in-app into the mix, you have to coordinate the experience alongside your customer’s inbox—not to mention the other places you interact with them.

And whenever you add something new to the system, things can get complicated, quick.

But since you know what your users need to do before they can talk themselves into becoming a customer, you can start in the middle and write the in-app message that you want users to see once they’ve achieved their “‘Aha!’ moment.”

And from there, you’ll have a split between people who are interacting—and those who aren’t.

So go ahead and start writing the content of the emails and in-app messages. Just always make sure to ask yourself:

“Is this going to help my user get to their “‘Aha’ moment”?”

Bonus tip: Before you write, plot it out on a piece of paper or the whiteboard. It makes things a LOT easier if you can visualize the workflow first. Or if you’re using Iterable, use their intuitive, drag-and-drop Workflow Studio.

4 Additional Tips to Keep in Mind

Some other things to keep in mind if you’re incorporating in-app messaging to nurture users:

  1. Keep in-app messages shorter than emails. Think of in-app messages as quick tips to nudge a user along rather than a relationship-building tool.
  2. Use email to reach out to inactive users. Because they’ll never see the in-app messages unless you remind them to sign in.
  3. Create a welcome email and a welcome in-app message. Don’t duplicate them word-for-word.
  4. Choose the in-app message placement that best suits your mobile app’s browsing experience. With Iterable, you can choose between a top, bottom, center, or full in-app message.

And remember: If you get overwhelmed, it’s okay to start slow and just add one in-app message at a time to supplement your email campaign.

You can always add more later, once you know more about your user’s behavior.

So, to Recap…

Thanks to following these steps religiously, I’ve gotten over my fear of in-app messaging and add a variation of it to most of the email campaigns I work on now.

So here’s what you can do to make sure your in-app messages are well-timed, context-aware, and nothing like Clippy’s:

  1. Think of the customer’s best case scenario
  2. Break down the customer journey
  3. Find or recall the customer’s “‘Aha!’ moment”
  4. Start writing (and remember to coordinate your in-app messaging with your email messaging)

Like what you’re reading and want to know more about using in-app messaging to turn users into customers? Enroll now in Sophia’s 5-day onboarding course and get the first lesson delivered right to your inbox.

Sophia Le

Sophia Le is a consultant who helps high-growth startups nurture leads & close sales with email. She loves teaching growth marketers how to apply the psychology of persuasion to email campaigns and has been featured on CopyHackers and Skillshare.

Further Reading