An in-app message is any message sent to the user within the app itself. It is a native part of the app experience because it looks and feels like it belongs in the app. This is a good channel for onboarding, tutorials, promoting in-app content, and to communicate with your active users inside your app. However, it’s an underutilized tactic with untapped potential (only 1/3 of apps employ this tactic). The main reasons for the underutilization are that they are considered too similar to mobile ads and the same as in-app chats.

Some brands don’t use in-app messaging because they think their users will perceive them as mobile ads and this will generate a bad user experience. It is important to understand that they are two different things that serve different purposes.

Mobile ads are banner ads that showcase your app inside other apps with the main purpose of driving installs. In-app messages don’t promote your app to new audiences, they provide value to your existing customers.

Mobile ads claim a part of your screen. In-app messages don’t compromise the app experience.

Ads interrupt what the user is doing inside the app. In-app messages are triggered based on a user’s in-app behavior and attributes.

Data shows that in-app messages have a higher CTR (28%) than mobile ads (0.56%)

Some brands believe that in-app messaging and in-app chats are the same thing. In-app chat refers to a two-way conversation that a user can have inside the app with a customer representative. The user is usually the one initiating the conversation when help is needed, or the user has a question or wants to report an issue.

In-app messages are automated messages that have been set up by developers or marketers to appear when the user does something.

In-app messages main characteristics

  • They are displayed while the user is active within the app.
  • Users can engage with them or dismiss them. They are not permanent unless you build a message center in your app.
  • They can work in tandem with push notifications and email.
  • They are highly contextual and can be triggered based on a user’s in-app behavior and attributes.
  • An in-app message has the power to mimic both the urgency of a push notification and the rich content of an email.
  • You maintain the ability to send in-app messages as long as a customer uses your app or visits your website.
  • Since they are part of your app experience, they don’t require an opt-in and you can reach your whole audience.
  • They are highly personalized. Depending on the provider you use, in-app messages can be highly targeted.
  • They provide marketing and content teams an easy way to communicate with their users.
  • Originally, they were developed for mobile but now they are also available for the web.

Some uses for in-app messages

Onboarding campaigns

Encourage feature or product discovery. Show new users what they can do with your app and how they can do it, things like what your app offers, how it works, and what they need to do in order to get value from your app.

Offer guided deep linking from the home screen to another part of the app, secure user permission for a request, share personalized reminders (example, letting users know what level they are in a given game), and make announcements.

Trigger or action-based campaigns

When a user takes an action that you have selected as a trigger, they’ll receive a message from you. With this type of campaigns you can point individuals to content they’ll find valuable, make them spend more time in your app, and encourage deeper customer engagement.

Trigger campaigns are great for games but they also work well for any app that has clearly-defined usage milestones.

Use this type of campaign to boost your app ratings. Set up a trigger campaign that sends an in-app message encouraging customers to rate your app when they reach a milestone like 10 or 15 sessions.

To encourage social sharing. Set up a trigger campaign that sends an in-app message encouraging the users to share on social media after they have completed a specific task or reach a milestone.

Retargeting campaigns

Retargeting campaigns are great to give your message a second chance to resonate when push notifications and/or email has been ignored.

Use a retargeting campaign to reach customers that earlier messages missed. Once you have sent a push notification and/or email to your audience, use in-app messages to reach those users that did not engage with your previous messages.

Promotional campaigns

It’s a messaging campaign use to showcase a sale, giveaway or another promotion.

In this case, a coordinated multichannel campaign can work really well. For example, you could use an in-app message to promote an upcoming sale to all the people who visit your website or your app during the sale. Then, you can send an email promoting the sale to customers that have given you their email address.

As the sale gets closer to the end, send a push notification to let them know that the promotion is ending soon and encouraging them to buy.

Types of in-app messages

“Banner style”. These messages concisely pass on information without significantly interrupting the in-app experience, making them great for promoting time-sensitive deals or sharing tips on how to use your app or web. It’s a ribbon-like notification place at the top or bottom of the screen. They can contain up to two calls-to-action.

Full screen. These messages function as content-rich pages full of text, images, videos and clickable buttons. Ideal for capturing customers attention and promoting important updates. Deep linking and social sharing are powerful features in these type of messages.

Partial-screen. The message only partially obscures customers’ screens. Since they are bigger than “banner style” messages, marketers have more space to include text, images or clickable buttons.

In-app messages best practices

  • Use in-app messages as part of an overall multi-channel messaging strategy. Consider the following: push notifications require the user’s permission and they can be turned off if they don’t provide value to the user. Email is also a great communication channel but the user can unsubscribe from it. However, the power of in-app messages is that they will be seen by the user as long as he is actively using the app. For this same reason, in-app messages are great to retarget individuals who have opted-out of or are not engaging with other messaging types.
  • Use it to share with your users the main thing you want them to know or the main action you want them to take.
  • Use it to onboard customers successfully by converting your new users to the next step of the process: creating an account, watch the tutorial, grant permission to receive push notifications, start using your app.
  • Engage active and loyal customers. The key is to show these messages to the right person at the right time and with the right copy.
  • Best times to show an in-app messages are when a customer launches the app or is about to leave, or when the user has completed a successful task. This way you are not interrupting their experience. You can celebrate milestones with personalized messages.
  • Segment your messages. Send a specific message to a specific group to get better engagement rates.
  • Watch your color scheme. Most in-app messages stick to two-three colors.

Steps to design a successful in-app messaging campaign

1) Define clear goals for your messaging campaigns

Every message you send to your users needs a goal. What are you trying to achieve with your message? How will you know the message has been successful?

Possible scenarios:

  • Survey, quiz, research or questions. The goal is to gather data that will inform or drive changes in your app.
  • Onboarding and engagement. The goal is to get users to experience getting value from your app. It may be useful to ask users what they are trying to achieve with your app and then tailor your messaging for the different types of user goals.
  • New product/app improvement. Two common goals here are: increase the adoption rate for your app (get more people to use it) and increase frequency (get them to use your app more).
  • Announcement.The goal is to ensure the user receives the notification and understands what it means.

2) Find the right user segment

For a successful messaging strategy, it’s essential to define and target the right users. The more specific your segmentation and targeting, the better your message will perform.  Segmentation allows you to personalize your in-app messages. Never employ a “one size fits all”.

Segment your active users by their interests, attributes, and in-app behavior. Some segments that every app should consider at some point:

Engaged users. These are users that use your app regularly. It’s important that you don’t promote features they are already using and to focus on things they should try, know or master.

Inactive or disengaged users. These users have stopped using your app for a significant amount of time. Focus your messages on what your product can do for them, news you have and why they should check your app again. Keep in mind that not all your inactive users are the same and segmenting them can increase the effectiveness of your messages.

Free. This is a group of users that can be interesting for product promotion, feedback and bug reporting. However, their opinions carry less weight than those of paying customers.

Premium. If you have different pricing plans, segment this group accordingly because customers paying you a lot of money should be treated differently than those that pay much less.

Power users. You shouldn’t send basic app information to this group because they can find it patronizing and irrelevant.

VIPs. Define your most important users (not necessarily the ones paying you more). You will probably want to send them specific messages.

3) Analyze your funnels

Determine the most important user’s actions in your app and analyze how users are moving through your funnels.

Create your campaign to correspond to conversion steps within important funnels. Conversion is any action you want your users to take (create an account, sign-up, add to a list, share with friends, watch a video, read an article, make a purchase, etc)

Using funnels make it easy for you to identify where users are falling out of the desired path and create an in-app messaging campaign that targets that drop-off.

An app funnel consists of a series of integral steps that lead to the completion of a goal. Each funnel step is an action that a user can take on your app. There can be multiple paths a user can take to reach a specific goal. You can build numerous conversion funnels to determine which goal path is the most relevant and effective.

To get an idea of how healthy your funnels are considered these three metrics: number of users that progress from one step to the other, the associated conversion rates, and the average it takes for users to advance from one step to the next. If it takes much longer than average, it may indicate there’s an issue there. These are points where a push notification, or an in-app message or both can help the user move quickly on to the next step.

If you can combine all this with qualitative data, then you will be able to answer questions like why certain users dropped off your funnels or why it took them so much time to reach the next step.

Analyzing your funnels you can also discover that users are navigating your app in a different way than the one you had in mind. The right in-app message here and there can redirect the user to the desired path.

You can also create funnels for a marketing campaign to track how many users are clicking through and converting on your app messaging.

4) Create a personalized offer

Next step is to create a personalized offer that addresses the segments you have defined in step one. The best in-app messaging campaigns are those born from data. Your offer should speak to your audience, fit the funnel and serve to increase engagement and improve usage. The offer should also feel as if it’s part of the app.

Write concise and persuasive copy. The message should be short and sweet. Even though you have room for longer content, it’s better to convey value in as few characters as necessary.

Add a clear CTA. Since your entire in-app message is clickable, your CTA should be visually bold and easily identifiable.

Test different verbs, colors, styles to see which CTA drives more CTR. You can have more than one CTA in your in-app messages.

Incorporate visual branding. The visuals should complement the copy in a way that increases brand credibility and improve click-through rate. Avoid creating messages that look like an ad.

5) Use marketing automation

Use automation to “auto enroll” qualified users into existing campaigns. These new users will receive automatically the in-app campaign. Some platforms: Urban Airship, Mixpanel, Localytics, LeanPlum, PushWoosh, Carnival.

6) A/B test in-app messages

A/B test your in-app messages in the same way you do landing pages or emails. A good way to find your winning message is by creating a multivariate test. This test allows you to test several versions of your message. To make it statistically significant, run the test on a large number of users.

Some variables to test:

  • Delivery timing
  • Frequency of messaging
  • Audience + targeting
  • Content (wording, punctuation, tone, images, graphics, personalization, deep linking destinations, in-app message types, on-click behavior)

7) Measure your campaigns

Connect your analytics to your in-app messages so you can measure your campaign accurately.

It’s important to keep in mind the goals you have for your in-app messaging campaign and also the goal of each message you send to the user and the metrics associated with each one of them.

In-app messaging in conjunction with other messaging channels

Get more subscribers to push notifications

Use an in-app message to launch a pre-permission message outlining the value of your push notifications. Explain to your users what type of notifications you are going to send and how often, and the benefits of opting in. If the user says yes, then trigger the official iOs permission dialogue. If the user says no, then you can try the same campaign sometime in the near future.

When to run this campaign. If the user is familiar with your brand and trust it, trigger this in-app message during the first app launch. If not, trigger it after the user completes a key in-app action or has had a few sessions with your app.

Encourage deeper app exploration

App updates are easy to overlook since many users set their apps to auto-update. To prevent this from happening, you can use an in-app message highlighting big changes and explaining how to use a new feature and deep link to the new feature.

When to run this campaign. When you launch a new feature or app upgrade and you see that there’s a segment of users that did not try it out.

Grow your social reach

To expose your app to new audiences and grow your social reach you need to make it easy for people to share in-app content via in-app messages. If you embed social sharing functionality into an in-app message, you don’t have permanent social media buttons occupying screen space and you can control the timing and make it appear only after the user has a positive experience with your app.

Consider running contests to motivate people to share how they are using your app on social media.

When to run this campaign. After users have spent some time in your app, or have completed a significant in-app event or hit a new milestone.

Demonstrate value and build relationships

Use the data you have on your users to create a “just for you” in-app campaign. Things like the type of content they consume, screens they spend the most time on, features they use more. Base your recommendations on data and ask for feedback about your personalized recommendations to see if you are on the right path.

When to run this campaign. When you want to increase engagement once you have collected data on users’ preferences, interests, attributes, and in-app actions.

Improve app use and engagement

Use in-app messages for quick tips about how to better use your app and how they can get more out of the experience. Show one tip for in-app message and make it appear when it’s relevant to the user’s current in-app actions. Include helpful visuals and a CTA.

When to run this campaign. After users visit an app screen and fail to use a feature that could help them use the app more efficiently.

Connect with your users outside the app

Use in-app messaging to cross-promote your other marketing channels. Use it to encourage users to visit your website, follow you on social media o visit your offline store.

Give them an incentive to connect with you on other channels.

When to run this campaign. Once the user has had a few sessions with your app and may be ready to connect with you on other channels.

Elicit feedback and improve your app store rank

Use in-app message to send your users an NPS survey. If a user enjoys your app, encourage them to rate your app in the app store and to recommend it to their friends.

If a user is not satisfied with your app, ask them to provide feedback. It’s a great opportunity to discover what users don’t like about the app, or where they find a problem.

Use in-app message to increase your app store ratings. Send a message only to active users asking them to rate your app.

When to run this campaign. It’s better to wait until the user has a positive experience with your app. Never do it during the user’s first session.

Make user’s life easier and increase retention

Transactional in-app messages increase app’s efficiency and improve users’ lives by providing highly personalized and relevant information in real-time. Use cases: summarize the details of a transaction, classify an error, avoiding a user mistake proactively.

When to run this campaign. Before or after the user completes a major in-app action.

In-app messages resources
The complete guide to in-app messaging
5 In-app message best practices
In-app message design style guide
In-app messaging explained
7 Best practices for in-app messages
10 in-app messaging best practices – Some will surprise you
The anatomy of a successful in-app messaging campaign
Successful In-App Marketing Campaigns with Dustin Amrhein
6 in-app messages that delighted users

Funnel Analysis resources 
How to Take Your Funnel Analysis to the Next Level
Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Funnel Analysis
The best method for analyzing your conversion funnels
A Step-by-Step Guide to Analyzing App Funnels

Automation messaging platforms
Urban Airship