How to Engage and Retain Your Current and Future Users

This is part 5/5 in the Buzinga crash course Mobile App Marketing: How To Get 100,000 Downloads In A Month.

Part 1: User Personas: Marketing To A Mobile Audience

Part 2: 9 Steps To Building A Must Have Pre-Launch App Landing Page

Part 3: How To Generate Buzz Before Launch

Part 4: Customer Acquisition: How To Reel In Your First 5,000 Users

Why do most tech-startups fail?

Don’t listen to the ‘app-marketing-gurus’ or anyone else who points to ‘more downloads’ as the solution to all problems. People with this kind of single-minded mentality tend to struggle in their own tech-businesses.

I’ve worked with countless startups – in all stages of the business life cycle – to point out the holes in their user engagement model.

I show them simple solutions that over the course of 90 days will patch up the leaks and more than double or triple their user engagement.

In this article I’ll demystify why your users aren’t engaging (and may never engage) with your app. And I’ll show you how to turn your app around and create a product that people come back to over and over again.

No tricky technical stuff. Just a few ideas that will change the way you look at your product.

Let’s get started…

Why People Don’t Engage With Your App

I’m sure you’ve spent a great deal of money on your app. And a crap-load of time! (Crap-load is a technical term and means ‘significant amount’).

But to debunk the mystery; the main reason why people don’t engage with your app is simply a lack of perceived value. They just don’t see the value in it…for them.

It’s a matter of the perceived ‘time & energy’ that they will have to invest in order to get the ‘value’ that your app will give them. What pain do I have to put up with to gain XYZ-benefits?

How do I know this?

Just look at award winning apps such as Audible. An amazingly valuable application for people like myself who love to ‘read with their ears’.

However, it’s a draining experience every time you want to download a new audio book. I almost didn’t follow through at first. But the value I get from this application keeps me (and it’s hundreds of thousands of users) coming back again and again.

Here’s a list of the most common factors that distort your users perception of your app:

  • Incorrect selling/marketing – perhaps your app marketing/promotional material gives off the impression that your app does something that it actually doesn’t. This is common with app descriptions.
  • Poor graphical display – humans are shallow creatures for the most of it. To avoid losing people at ‘Hello’ make sure your app design is not only impressive but current to the latest design trends.
  • Unintuitive user experience – I don’t need to tell you that your app needs to be intuitive. Everyone knows that. However, so few can actually execute.
  • Not designed with the user in mind – most people know this but end up designing the app around their own preferences. And when I say most, I mean 99% of people. Yes, nearly everybody.

“What you measure, grows”

My mentors always tell me “What you measure, grows”. And for a long time I didn’t know what the heck that meant. But over time it’s started to make more and more sense.

In basic terms, if you measure something and closely analyse it you can start to understand it. When you understand it you can make objective decisions about how to improve it. Make sense?

Here are a short list of metrics you need to track and measure:

  • # of active users – you’ll have to put your own definition on this, but as a rule of thumb, an active user is someone who is actively using your application – i.e. they keep coming back.
  • Session length – how long is the average user session (time spent by a single user) within your app?
  • Goals completed – a goal is an event that is deemed important within the app, e.g. user has registered their account, invited their friends, posted content, etc.
  • User loyalty – the average lifetime of an active user.
  • Retention rate (%) – how many users remain active with your app for 1 week, 1 month, 3 months and 1 year.

Your aim is to drastically increase these numbers. Remember, an engaged user-base is a hugely valuable asset. Look at Instagram – they’ve never turned a dollar over the lifetime of their business, but their net worth is in the billions. That’s purely due to their user-base.

How do we engage users?

Alright, I’ve pointed out the pitfalls of user engagement. Let’s now look at how to solve these common issues with some simple and practical ideas:

1. Make a good first impression

First impressions DO count. Make sure you leave a good first impression with your users. My team of user experience designers spend a great deal of time on our apps fine-tuning the first impression.

We want our users to think: “Damn, this is awesome!” Not, “I’ve seen this before…”

What’s the first impression people have of your app?

2. Give them what they want.

Everybody wants something and odds are if people are using your app then they expect that your app will give them what they want.

Be what you say and say what you do. If you don’t it’ll hurt your growth.

To find out what our users want we’ll sometimes run online/in person surveys and drill for key insights. Additionally you can post questions in forums dedicated to your niche. This is also a great way to find early adopters of your app.

The aim here is to get a cross section of ‘non-biased’ information that you can use to draw conclusions about your business model and value proposition.

So it’s super important that you don’t steer the surveys/questions to validate your purpose. In fact, I would practice doing the opposite – try to punch holes in your assumptions and prove your business case ‘wrong’.

This might sound counter-intuitive but it lets you see if your idea actually has legs in the first place. Rather than spending the next 6-18 months working on something that had no chance of success.

Are you giving your users exactly what they want, in exactly the way that they want it?

Better question, do you know what your user want?

3. Find the right type of users

The wrong users will have the wrong experience.

By finding your perfect user you’ll be able to tailor a journey with their key objectives in mind. This makes for an unmatched experience that simulates their natural thought process and reduces the need for cognitive thought – which tires your mind and tires out your mind.

In other words, we’re designing the experience around them, not trying to bend their habits around our solution.

There’s a few ways to go about finding your perfect users:

  1. Who – Who are you targeting? Create a user persona and identity your ideal user with its’ particular demographic and psychographic parameters.
  2. What – What does your user persona want? Once you find out who your ideal user is, try to understand their motivations. Understand what their primary goal is for using your app, what are their challenges are and how does your app solve these.
  3. Why – Why should your ideal user care? Hone your Unique Selling Proposition and lock down your Elevator pitch.
  4. Where – Where can you find more of your ideal user? Create a pathway to these users – how do they find you? (Facebook, Youtube, Advertising, etc.)

Have you completed your user persona yet?

4. Build a push strategy

Push notifications give your app a voice. It’s a one-way channel for communicating important messages to your users and to let them know that you’re there.

A mobile push notification strategy alone has the potential to double your user engagement immediately. Check out this post on how to set up a solid user engagement strategy with push notifications.

An effective push notification strategy can also tell you a lot about your user base. It can tell you:

  1. What types of messages people are most engaged with.
  2. At what time people are ready to engage the most.
  3. Where the most engaged segment of your audience is located (geo).

Marketers love this stuff because they can measure and target their efforts to optimise for a higher user engagement rate.

Do you currently have a Push Strategy in your engagement model?

5. Push for virality

Virality is the secret sauce in the app world – often spoken about and even championed but rarely understood.

Although there is a bit of magic involved, so far as to say no one can predict which apps will go viral…and which won’t. However there are some fundamental rules to stick to when building your app from the START.

Despite being a big believer in breaking the rules, in this case it pays to stick to them. Why? Because interacting with people and enticing them to participate is a unique methodology in itself. By using the following ingredients you can give your app the best chances of going viral.

The Virality-Recipe:

1)       Your app must have something valuable to share.

2)      Your app must be easy for users to share and join.

3)      Your app must provide value and incentives for users to come back.

4)      Your app must provide more value to users the more time they spend on it.

5)      Your app must, if it can, incorporate gamification mechanics into the mix to reward users.

Which of the 5 key ingredients of the virality-recipe are you currently using? And which of the ingredients are you yet to implement?

See also: How To Build An App Born To Go Viral Like Candy Crush

6. Designing a magnificent experience

Design and beauty doesn’t always reign supreme. ‘Process’ is the key.

A smart process is much more powerful than the most elegant design.

Imagine a time when you’ve walked through someone’s house for the first time. Perceivably it’s a nice house. But something isn’t quite right. Maybe the layout is wrong. Maybe it’s the lighting. Either way, it doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

You enter through the front door and make your way through the living room, kitchen, dining room… You pass a bed room and see the bathroom.

The house has got ALL the right stuff…but it just doesn’t do it for you. What’s wrong?

Simply put: You can do all the right things, but do it all in the wrong way.

What if you had a toilet in the kitchen? Sure, you’ve got a toilet. And you’ve got a kitchen. But it just isn’t right. Maybe the door sticks. Or the house is a bit cold. Or the bathroom is dark and dank. Any one of these minor issues can make or break the experience for you. The same thing goes for using apps.

So then how do you design a magnificent user experience?

“To design great UX we need to step away from the idea that we can see the problem on our screen and start to think ‘like a user’ in their persona. Get inside their heads, focus on their problems and understand the processes behind the ‘experience’ we create.” – Zac Dickerson

It all comes down to providing an intuitive experience.

What makes an app intuitive? 5 key elements:

  • Directive Design – your entire app is a navigational environment, a world in itself. Help your users get the most out of the experience by guiding them, intuitively.
  • Familiarity – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Your users have managed to enter your digital world so aid them on their quest by being familiar. Don’t put them upstream without a paddle or in the woods without a compass.  They won’t like you for that, not one bit!
  • Beauty – colour, graphics, size and flow all make for a perfect experience.
  • Minimalistic Design – This can be a very powerful technique to use and is all about simplicity and removing distractions. By removing options, texts and other elements that clutter the screens we can create a clean, easy to use design.

Have you considered all of the above in designing your user experience?

7. A/B split testing software

We live in a world of automated technology and it’s never been easier to learn and adjust – on the fly.

By using A/B split testing software, like Apptimize, you are able to effectively gauge which component, function or design of your app is working well – and which could work better.

By splitting and testing two different versions of the same app on the same user base you can gain some immensely powerful insights about how to improve the experience.

8. Less features = better quality experience

It’s better to do one thing GREAT than to do two or more things SO-SO. By limiting yourself to just one feature you can really hone in and give all your energy, output and expertise to perfecting that one area.

Take Yo for example, a ridiculously successful app that does just one thing, really really well. It sends a “Yo” to your friends with one tap of a button. That’s it.

The reasoning behind mono-ness comes down to your user’s experience. It’s better to have them salivating, totally engaged and in love with your app even if it is just one feature of it.

Less really is more, especially when it comes to testing, conversion, traction and growth. Think of it as the foundations of a building. Focus on just that one foundation first, lay that foundation as best as you can. After that, then move onto the next one. Otherwise…

9. A good description really helps

Write a powerful yet accurate app description that explains precisely what your users will get…and why that’s good.

Think of FEATURES vs BENEFITS. Tell them about the features, sell them on the benefits.

You only get one cast of a reel, with one bit of bait. Don’t fluff about with the rod, reel, line and all the rest. Just get the job done as best as you can before and then wait for the fish to come. Don’t make too much noise on top of the water like a goose!

When writing an app description it helps to:

  1. Sharp as a tack – Not to waffle on, chewing up words, be short and sharp. Like a TACK!
  2. Social proof – Use Testimonials, Statistics, Features and Facts.
  3. Features vs benefits – Provide the app benefits and features. Drill into the users emotional reason for using your app.
  4. Straight shooter – Don’t blow smoke – be honest about what you’re offering.
  5. Guidance – Use a powerful call to action – guide them to download your app.

Does your app description do all of the above?


User engagement doesn’t have to be complex. But if you follow these simple ideas and measure the results every step of the way I can say with absolute certainty that you will see huge improvements within 30-90 days.

Now write out a plan, commit to it and execute!

Hope this has been an engaging read.

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Logan Merrick is the co-founder and Director of Buzinga, as well as one of Australia's most recognised entrepreneurs, keynote speakers, investors and mentors. His writing on startups, technology and mobile marketing has been featured in The Australian, Business Insider, Startup Smart, Smart Company, and more.
  • Great article Logan! There’s some golden nuggets in there which we will certainly be factoring into our planning and next iterations of our app. Many thanks for sharing this awesome content :)

    • Logan Merrick

      Thanks Dean, love the feedback. If you have any topics you’re interested in learning about please let me know and I’ll add it to the schedule :)

      • I’d love to see a write-up covering something like ‘I have a $5k marketing budget, how do I get the most bang for buck with my new app?” – Cheers Logan!

        • Logan Merrick

          Ooosh, that’s a tough one Dean. What kind of app is it again? I see a guy doing something really interesting here:

          Check that out and let me know what you think!