A Definitive Guide to In-App Marketing

Spending thousands of dollar on Google, Facebook, and Youtube to acquire MQLs and SQLs is the most common way of advertising your product.

But since there is a new way of categorizing leads, which is called a Product Qualified Lead, there emerges a new segment of users you can market your product to.

“They already are in my product, why should I market to them?” you might ask.

Well, because you can always improve how your customer views your brand and sell more products; or if you’re a SaaS you can push upsells and have them buy your product month over month.

In this article, I will explain what in-app marketing is in detail and provide the common strategies of in-app marketing with real examples.

What is In-App Marketing?

As the name suggests, in-app marketing includes marketing and/or messaging – whatever shape they make take – that is displayed to users within your app. As such, in-app marketing targets existing users of your application, which makes it quite different from marketing initiatives such as push notifications or email campaigns that often target non-users. Because you can combine user data that you already have with your in-app marketing initiatives, leveraging this type of targeting provides SaaS companies and service providers with an amazing opportunity to deliver highly relevant, personalized messages and to meaningfully engage with their user base.

Understanding In-App Messages

Now that we know what in-app messaging is as a marketing tool or concept, let’s look at a few specifics about some of its characteristics.


In-app messages are messages that an app user receives while he or she is active in your app.

In-app messages include notifications and pop-ups. Messages that are visible within your app’s message center can be considered in-app as well. Other common forms of in-app messages include banner notifications that appear somewhere on the screen when your app is running, as well as full-page displays that provide you with more space to convey a message or add images (we talk more about user actions with these kinds of notifications later in this post).

Rich Content

In-app messages are powerful and can be used to display a wide range of rich content, such as videos and gifs.

You can even build in-app messages that use interactive buttons to enhance the user experience. You can create custom buttons or use an off-the-shelf, out-of-the-box solution that provides these options with little to no coding required.

When They Are Shown

Your users will see their in-app messages when you want them to.

For example, you can set up a banner, message, or full-page display that is shown every time your app is opened, or you may opt to have a notification pushed to the user’s screen when a milestone, update, or event occurs.

You can also customize when and where – and for how long – these messages are to be displayed, and to whom.

You can personalize different in-app messages that are seen at different times by different users or set up messages that contain different media or content based on how you segment your audience. This is really powerful and is a great tool to have when you want to hyper-target messaging to different demographics.

Differences Between Other Channels

One difference between in-app messaging performance and other mobile message channels is that, with in-app marketing and messages, you can reach your users when they are active within your app, which increases the likelihood of leading to a desirable action since active users will be more receptive to your messages, especially if those messages are personalized to them.

Targeting and Personalizing In-App Messaging

You can target and personalize your in-app messaging and marketing using the tools provided by your vendor.

For example, some providers allow you to segment and personalize your messages based on the actions that your users take, such as when they open your app for the first time, and you can customize messaging as well, such as sending specific messages when a purchase of a certain amount is made.

Real-time device automation can also help you send the right messages at the right time.

For example, you can have a custom message appear when a user opens a specific screen, and you can decide how many times a user will see specific messages using, for example, a simple message view counter or a start and end date for specific message campaigns. You can also customize messaging based on historical actions using, for example, data on purchase history. Combined, these features can power highly effective and personalized messaging campaigns.

Tracking Actions

You can also track what actions your users take when your in-app messages are shown.

This will help you learn what users do and will help you improve their experience next time around. Many analytics-powered in-app messaging solutions can even help you extract additional insights from user data using AI or machine learning to further optimize messaging and message customization.

Writing Code

You do not necessarily need to write any code to launch an in-app message suite within your application.

Whether you want text-based banner messages or rich graphic displays, in-app messages can be added to your app without code updates – as long as you have the right user onboarding software to work with.

what is in-app marketing

When to use In-App Marketing

The use-cases and benefits of in-app messaging outlined above are pretty compelling, but you still need to know when to use the tools available to you to drive the highest ROI.

Some of the more common – and beneficial – ways that SaaS companies use in-app messaging for their apps and services are as follows:

1- Onboarding

A quick series of in-app messages can be used to welcome your first-time users and to thank them for using your app.

Use these messages to reiterate the value proposition of your service and to get users acquainted with some of the most important buttons of your app or important features on offer. There is no need to overcomplicate things while onboarding; you can always get to more advanced or niche features later. The welcome messages should be short, quick, and to the point about your services and your USP.

2- Highlight Features or Updates

Continuing from the above, you can use in-app messages to demonstrate how a feature or service works and how your users can get more out of your app.

You can also use messages to inform users about new updates. We talk more about what these messages can look like later in this post, but they often take the form of quick tips/tooltips or recommendations based on previous user actions.

3- Deals or Promotions

You can push promos and deals to your users while they are in the app to generate quick sales.

Especially when you use personalized recommendations based on things you know your user likes, these types of messages can help you quickly close deals with high-priority or highly responsive users who are more likely than others to respond to a personalized message or recommendation.

4- Any opportunity of additional value

In-app marketing works best when it is at the right time and the context.

What I mean is that, if you offer a user an extra automation feature when they’ve done a task a few times back to back (can you feel their frustration?) they are likely to consider it, because it is just what they need.

Analyzing user behaviour and finding points where a user might need that extra feature, or a switch to the bigger feature is your best bet.

Why In-App Marketing is important

Without the right strategy in place, you may lose onboarded users before you can close new users, or you may make the critical mistake of messaging them too much. However, you can follow the steps below to make sure you get the most out of your in-app messaging initiatives.

Add to Revenue, without Acquiring New Customers

The right in-app marketing campaign can increase the number of additional feature purchases, package expansions, and plan upgrades. By doing so, you can keep adding to your revenue without even acquiring a new customer.

Make Sure to Guide the User’s Experience

Help your users get set up and ready to use your app so that they can quickly enjoy the benefits for which they downloaded or opened your app in the first place.

Quickly get them from the download stage to the ‘aha’ moment of enjoying the benefits of your service. Delaying this transition is like having a web page that is too slow to load. Before you know it, your users will go elsewhere.

Educating Users

Make sure you make it easy for your users to get started and for inactive users to come back to where they left off (with the right reminders, of course) whenever they come back to your app and show them around the app so that they know what they can do with it should they ever need any of the services or features you offer. If they don’t know about them, they will never use them!

Gather Feedback

In-app analytics can be used to measure feedback.

For example, users who start a certain task many times without completing it or users who press a button several times without moving forward in a given process may be close to becoming frustrated or perhaps they are confused. A rethink of how those parts of your app work may be required. In-app prompts can also be used to gather feedback. Make sure to use this feedback to guide the design of future in-app messaging flows.

Go for 5-Star Reviews

Positive reviews can help drive more traffic and users to your app, but not everyone will voluntarily leave this kind of feedback for you. You must solicit positive feedback, and you can use in-app message prompts to do so.

How to use In-app Messages to Market inside your Product

As I’ve mentioned various times before, in-app messages are the initial and the most important component of any in-app marketing campaign.

Make sure you read our article on In-App Messages, which includes proven examples and crucial guidelines.

Best way to create in-app messages: UserGuiding

UserGuiding is a user-onboarding software that you can use to create interactive guides and beautiful in-app messages.

It is also completely free to try and doesn’t require any coding, try for free on your own, or schedule a demo:

Join 9,000+ teams creating better experiences.

14-Day Free Trial, with an extra 30-Day Money Back Guarantee!

why is in-app marketing important

Getting In-App Marketing Right

There are many ways to use in-app messaging, but the kinds of in-app messages available (banners, messages, etc.) are different from when and how they are to be used.

Consider the techniques below to help users enjoy positive experiences with your app.

  • Use in-app notifications to encourage users to take quick yet obvious action or to build good habits, such as completing a daily check-in challenge or sharing something, or opening a certain page to get started.
  • Make sure these notifications are tied to a specific action, otherwise such messages tend to become more of a nuisance than a benefit.
  • Use in-app notifications to share updates, highlight new features, or make other value-added suggestions.
  • Use tooltips to help users navigate and use your app. Use them to introduce the app and what to do to launch a feature, but design them to be less intrusive, and have them launch on demand. In other words, they can be programmed to only show if someone clicks on them (as opposed to pop-up messages that pop-up on their own). However, you can encourage users to click on them using badges or highlights to get the best of both worlds: low intrusion with high responsivity.
  • Splash pages/full-screen pop-ups can be used when you want to convey something to your users but want to make sure that they take some action as soon as they see that message. For example, a new update can be shown on a splash page, and users can opt-out or click a button such as “Learn More” to see what the new update is about.
  • Use a modal, which is an above-app overlay that temporarily overtakes any user actions within the app. This will get the user to make a decision or perform an action before they can proceed with or continue with the app. Modals should be used carefully, though, so try them first with high-value actions such as upgrading a plan or locking in a subscription.

In-app Marketing Campaign Examples

So, what might in-app marketing look like in practice? Consider the following use cases that clearly demonstrate how, when, and where in-app marketing and messaging can really benefit your business.

Customizing the User Experience Early

Many activity and skills apps make users go through a few questions before starting the app, allowing the app to tailor content based on user needs even before they use the app.

Think of an exercise app that asks users what their training or exercise goals are (lose weight, build muscle, improve endurance, etc.) and uses other user inputs such as height, weight, and age to custom-build a training regimen from Day 1.

Quick Tutorials

Many social and community apps such as Discord and Slack know that not all users know how to mention someone or use a hashtag, so they conveniently include a quick tutorial for these common actions within their onboarding message sequence.

Quickly Reaching the “Aha” Moment

You want your users to reach the “aha” moment – the moment at which your USP or benefit becomes plain and obvious – as quickly as possible. Think of travel and hospitality apps that show the app scanning thousands of flights, hotels, bookings, and services before presenting you with a curated list of options based on inputs such as budget or travel dates. Users who see what the app can and does do for them as soon as they use it will help lock in those users for the long run.

Setting up an In-App Marketing Strategy

in app marketing examples

If you are ready to launch your own in-app marketing campaign, follow the steps below.

1- Define Your Strategy

  • How do your existing users use your app?
  • Have they had any issues?
  • Are there any app bottlenecks or places where users drop off?
  • What kinds of behaviors do you want to encourage? When and how do users reach the “aha” moment?
  • Can it be reached more quickly?
  • How many notifications are too many or too few?
  • Are there other alternatives to messaging that you have not explored that may be worth looking into?
  • Which specific metrics do you want to improve, and how will you improve them?
  • How will you measure success?

By answering these questions, you can identify gaps in your strategy and cement your messaging initiative so that you have clear goals to target. From there, you can iteratively improve processes and messaging to incrementally improve all relevant engagement, retention, and usage metrics.

2- Choose Appropriate Tools and Resources

Yes, you can build in-app messaging into your app or service without any code, but you must have the right tech team in your corner to pull it off.

You also need an analytics suite to make the most out of your app and user data and then use the right tools and have the right resources to build the message campaigns, graphics, and automation needed to make your in-app messages work the way you need them to.

( UserGuiding has all these features 😉 )

3- Test, Refine, and Test Again

There is no silver bullet to getting your messaging exactly right the first time around – that too for all time and across all user segments.

Markets, users, and your app are all dynamic.

Use A/B testing and advanced analytics to understand what actions lead to what kinds of results and incrementally improve things via regular testing until you have a well-rounded app that gives relevant, value-added messages to the right people at the right time. This, in conjunction with your other initiatives such as social targeting and word-of-mouth marketing, makes for a winning combination.

High-Value In-App Campaigns to Try

There are in-app marketing applications and options for every conceivable scenario, from onboarding to streamlining your dashboard to guiding users on how to use your app to driving high-value conversions.

Some of these options – such as the pre-launch questionnaire used for building a custom exercise regimen mentioned above – may only work for some apps, while other campaigns can be thought of as universals. In this section, we talk about those universals – the in-app campaigns and sequences that every app should have.

Push Notifications

Get more people to opt-in to push notifications.

A lot of research points to in-app push notifications as a key driver of engagement and retention, and a great way to push such opt-ins is via an in-app message. Many apps that are denied permission for sending push notifications as a default response from users lose out because they cannot manually turn on those notifications again, but they do not ask for permission again to send them either.

In-app campaigns can turn this situation around and can get more people to agree to push notifications so that you open that channel of marketing and interaction.

Drive Organic Installs Using Social Shares

Sustaining app growth using only paid acquisition alone can be difficult, so you need organic channels such as social platforms to drive growth.

You can use in-app messages (and an element of gamification if you want to reward users with bonuses, features, or points) by encouraging them to post positive app experiences on social media.

Enhance Loyalty Using Engagement Milestones

Continuing with the gamification line of thought above, certain engagement milestones can help you identify when, where, and how users are enjoying your app.

In games, players upgrading items or progressing through levels are signs that they like the game. You can celebrate these kinds of advancements in apps of different kinds with the same kinds of rewards used in games. Instead of rewarding users with power-ups or in-game tokens, you can reward active and engaged users with a discount or insider access to special content.

Lock More Positive Online Ratings

App Store and Google Play reviews are strong organic acquisition tools you can use to drive more traffic to your app.

Encourage users to leave a positive review and take things a step further by encouraging them to do so at an opportune time, such as when they level up or secure a bonus – this indicates they are enjoying your app and that is an ideal time to ask for a positive review.

Explain New Features

This is also obvious universal, but there are few apps – if any at all – that would not benefit from timely in-app messages that educate users about new features or benefits.

Informing users about updates and features makes sure that they know what they can do with your app and that they are able to extract maximum benefit from the app instead of looking elsewhere for services or features you may already provide.

Pitfalls to Avoid

how to market in app

Mobile has revolutionized the landscape of consumerism and is now the channel of choice for so many people to socialize, communicate, shop, navigate, and find information.

That said, mobile is an undeniably powerful way to connect with your audiences, but you need to get it right. Here are a few mistakes and pitfalls related to in-app messaging and marketing that you must avoid when designing or rolling out an in-app campaign for mobile.

  • Do not equate mobile experiences with desktop experiences. They are two different vehicles, and each provides you and your users with different options and opportunities.
  • Do not build an app without first making a marketing plan for it. You need to promote an app – even if you have an existing user base – and make sure to take care of other fine details such as onboarding, educating, and gathering intel and feedback as you rack up downloads so that you can iteratively improve your app and your messaging. We talk about App Store Optimization (ASO) and other mobile download techniques at the end of this article.
  • Do not build a mobile website to pass it off as a native app. Native is native, so don’t try to take shortcuts by delivering a web app but calling it a native mobile app.
  • Understand why people use your app. Do you deliver value that no one else does? Is it easy to use your app? Is the novelty aspect your USP? You need to know what makes your app click with users and build around that, otherwise, you risk diluting your messaging or your offerings and your retention numbers will fall off a steep cliff.
  • Do not ignore your user base. Create two-way communication channels so that you can reach your users and they can reach you. Provide them with resources for troubleshooting. Gather feedback and roll out new features or in-app messaging that tells users that you are working on improvements. If you sound like you are not listening, you will tarnish your brand name and alienate your users (or at the very least, you will discourage them from sharing feedback with you).

Mobile Optimization

We talked a lot about getting every aspect of your in-app messaging campaigns and initiatives right, so we would be remiss if we did not add a section on how to get mobile in-app marketing right!

Here we talk about the importance of mobile marketing in the context of building performant in-app mobile marketing and messaging campaigns for your users.

Mobile app marketing uses in-app messaging to create awareness about an app or its features to drive installs and to power higher daily active users and improve retention. With so many apps out there, part of the challenge is getting your app in front of your would-be users.

You can use App Store Optimization (ASO) and Google App Campaigns to get in front of iOS and Android users, respectively. Doing this can improve your download rankings, improving your chances of being downloaded and used.

For the App Store, you must choose words that accurately describe the features your app comes with. Use the content of your competitors as a benchmark. Use screenshots where allowed and allow in-app feedback and review sharing. Apple Search Ads[1] can also be used to promote more installs and drive traffic.

As for Google App Campaigns, you can use it to target a huge audience of all Android users and combine Google Search and YouTube into your campaigns. Use this service to track Google Play activity and track user actions within your apps.

Final Thoughts

Your campaigns and in-app messaging initiatives are only as good as the planning and execution you put into them.

Take the time to devise a strategy after identifying needs, gaps, and pain-points, and once you roll out your in-app messaging and marketing campaign targeted at addressing specific issues or achieving clear goals, the rest becomes easy.

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Alican Bektas

Alican is the Product Manager of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding.

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