What is engagement and why it’s important

Engagement is the process of actively building, nurturing, and managing relationships with customers. It’s important because it increases retention, and retention is the first step for growth.

Engagement can mean different things based on the function of the app and the type of user. It is important to segment our users to help us understand how they are engaging with our app. Every user is different and different mediums lead to different levels of engagement. For example, if you have a mobile website and also a mobile app, you’ll see that the engagement varies from one to the other. Studies and research show that most of the time people spend on mobile is spent on apps. The average time spend in mobile web is 19 minutes per day and the average time spent in an app is 1.9 hours per day.

Even though time spent in apps dominates mobile usage we need to remember that 25% of all apps are used just once before being discarded.

According to Bain & Company, 60-80% of satisfied customers don’t go back to do more business with the company that initially satisfied them. Often the main reason for that is a lack of connection. This disconnection means that many one-time sales never translate into lifetime customer value. The technology we have today allows companies to build a personal relationship with every customer and to connect with them on an emotional level and across platforms.

How to trigger repeat behavior

When thinking about designing a mobile marketing strategy we have to take into consideration the main characteristics of mobile devices so we can take advantage of each one of them. These characteristics are:

  • They are portable and have a personal relationship with their owners
  • They are networks which allow them to provide immediate information
  • They are interactive and user-friendly
  • They are very rich in terms of text and visual content
  • Their functions and services are seamlessly integrated into the customer’s daily routine.

Spiegel Research Center is doing ongoing research into user engagement and brand experience. The following informtation is from a report that studied the impact that app usage has on order frequency, order size, and the type of products purchased across devices.

Evidence-based insights on app engagement and customer value

(Based on data from the online grocery Peapod)

1. App users purchase more frequently

Shoppers who use PC+Tablet+Smartphone order 26% more often than PC-only users. This translate to an average of 5 additional purchases per year per user.

Smartphone-only users increased frequency by 18% over the PC-only user.

2. Multi-device shoppers place larger orders

Shoppers who use PC+Tablet+Smartphone also placed larger orders, and the more devices used the more increase. The ones using the three devices had 11% larger orders than PC-only shoppers.

This illustrates the strong correlation between multi-device engagement and customer value.

Another interesting finding is that shoppers who used only a smartphone or only a tablet had smaller order sizes than shoppers that only used a PC. This could mean that shoppers like to use smartphones and tablets for speed and convenience when making simple purchases, but are less inclined to use only their mobile devices for more elaborate orders.

One of the reasons why order sizes are smaller on smartphones is that the search function is not as rich as in other devices like the PC, and there is also concerns about privacy and security.

3. Multi-device shoppers have greater lifetime value

Retailers utilizing a multi-device online sales strategy have customers with greater customer lifetime value since there is an increase in frequency and basket size.

This means that the most engaged customers are ones who shop across multiple devices. Make it seamless for users to construct orders or shopping carts across multiple devices, and don’t push them toward using mobile only.

4. Shoppers’ buying strategies vary across devices

Consumers are more comfortable making “habitual” purchases on smartphones. Again, the reason for this is mainly that the small screens don’t provide much space for conveying information about the product.

Consumers prefer to make high-consideration purchases on their desktops.

An example of products most-shopped on mobile: baby food and formula, beverages, and pet food.

An example of products least-shopped on mobile: baking needs, eye and ear care, and stomach aids and laxatives.

Spiegel Research Center also did a study about how app downloads and usage shapes purchase behavior.

Evidence-based insights on app engagement and customer value

(Based on data from Air Miles Reward Program (AMRP))

1. Consumers spend more and more frequently when they engage with an app

An app is more than an access tool, it is the brand experience

When developing an app, brands should be focused on how the app will deliver value for the users. It should be easy to use and create an “always-on” brand experience.

2. App adoption creates an immediate, but not necessarily sustainable, bump in customer activity

Habit-inducing apps make users more likely to engage on a regular basis and less likely to consider other brands.

Brands should take advantage of the bump in engagement that occurs right after the user installs the app.

3. When app usage decreases, so does purchase behavior

Major drops in app usage soon after downloading it is the norm for most apps. In his research on retention curves for mobile apps,  Andrew Chen found that the average app loses 77% of its DAUs within the three firsts days after install and 90% after 30 days.

App disengagement can result in brand disengagement. If consumers disengage from your app, that means they can disengage from your brand and purchase less than they did before downloading the app.

Before launching an app be sure to check the following:

  • Make sure your app does not have technical glitches (no crashing, freezings, or loading errors)
  • Make sure the app is secure, not vulnerable to hacking or other security breaches.
  • Launch an app that provides unique value and keep in mind that apps that fail to provide a proper value for the user risk hurting the brand.

The first time a user opens an app is the moment he/she decides to stay and engage with your app, or leave and never come back. Some things you can do to create a good first impression:

  • Create personalized welcomes
  • Customize onboarding
  • When it comes to app’s content you need to define a plan for providing fresh content that gives users a reason to revisit the app regularly.

Some characteristics of engaging content:

  • It’s useful. People like to share content that gives advice and offer tips.
  • Consider emotions since users click and share content that drives an emotion in them. In general, the happier the post, the more likely it is to be shared. Negative emotions drive more clicks, and high-arousing emotions (awe, anger, anxiety, fear, lust, joy, surprise) drive more shares.
  • Incentives. Incentives when it comes to sharing, work better when the brand is known. Some referral best practices:
    • Give an incentive. It’s better to get something than a discount on something.
    • Two-sided incentives are better. If you can only reward one, choose the new user
    • One-step sharing is best. Make it super easy for users to share
    • Appeal to the ego. People share when it makes them look good


Cross-platform marketing strategies improve customer value. Brands should tailor their marketing strategies to the strengths and weaknesses of each device.

Understand that apps given the limitation of their small screen sizes are not an ideal vehicle for consumers to learn about a product for the first time.

For products requiring a significant amount of research and comparison shopping, apps should be used to help consumers begin their information gathering process. Brands need to realize that consumers will continue that journey on other devices.

For recurring purchases where there is a low degree of decision uncertainty, create smartphone alerts that remind consumers when their supply may be running low, and make it easy for consumers to repurchase with one-click shopping.

Give users a reason to keep coming back. Think about incorporating loyalty programs, gamification, and other tools for driving continuous usage.

Encourage multi-device shopping.  Shoppers who engage across multiple devices are more valuable. Create seamless shopping experiences across devices.

Don’t use a one-size -fits all approach across devices. Consumers have different buying strategies for different devices.

Deliver relevant value for users’daily lives. Think about ways that an app can make users’ relationships with the brand more interactive, entertaining, valuable and/or efficient.

Create “sticky” experiences that make using your app a recurring part of your customers’ daily or weekly routines.

Protect against the downside. Before launching the app make sure it does not have technical glitches, provides unique value, and protects users’ data.

Have a strategy in place for providing fresh content.

Spiegel Research Center – Branded app ROI
Spiegel Research Center – Consumer Engagement Engine Infographic

Read more about app engagement
The ultimate guide to mobile app engagement
App engagement: Engagement Metrics and Some Industry Stats
10 ways to increase user engagement for your app

The rest of the course
Foundations of a cross-platform marketing strategy. Advanced mobile marketing course.
User acquisition campaigns. Advanced mobile marketing course
Guide to mobile app onboarding. Advanced mobile marketing course
Mobile pricing and monetization. Advanced mobile marketing course