Your guide to personalized, multi-channel mobile onboarding
Over 200 billion mobile apps are downloaded each year (source), yet 25% are opened only once (source). You spend a lot of time and money acquiring new customers, so how do you ensure your mobile app isn’t consigned to the dustbin? Effective mobile onboarding can make all the difference.
When someone downloads your app, think of it as the beginning of a conversation. It’s your first real opportunity to develop a relationship with them, so you want to start off on the right foot. A personalized mobile onboarding campaign allows you to learn each customer’s preferences, guide them through a meaningful journey, and nurture that relationship into long-term engagement.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:
Mobile onboarding with multiple channels
Once a customer installs your app, you have several options for connecting with them: in-app messages, email, SMS, and push notifications. Each channel has unique characteristics, and by leveraging all of them, you can deliver personalized messages with the right content, in the right place, at just the right moment.
Let’s do a quick dive into the role of each channel throughout mobile onboarding.
The best time to get people to take action is when they’re already engaged—such as when they’re actively using your mobile app! With mobile onboarding, you have a limited time to capitalize on in-app messaging: apps lose 77% of daily active users within three days (source). Make the most of that magic window with personalized onboarding right inside your app.
- Ideal content: Use in-app messaging to prioritize the most important onboarding actions that drive retention. Dive into your existing user data to uncover precisely where people are most likely to drop off and which actions signal engagement. Then, use in-app messages to guide customers through those key moments—ideally within the first three days of onboarding. If you don’t have that data readily available, use in-app messaging to survey new customers about their goals. This way, you can use their answers to send them messages that help them achieve what they’re after.
- CTA: Deep links allow you to virtually hold someone’s hand throughout the onboarding process. Use personalized in-app messages to direct your users step-by-step through your app. Use your in-app messaging to take them to the exact locations they need to visit in your app to get value.
- Example: Imagine your app teaches programming languages, and you need customers to take three key steps for successful onboarding: complete their profile, select their first class, and join the community forum. The first time a customer opens the app, greet them with an in-app message that takes them to complete their profile; once complete, send an in-app message with a deep link to choose their first class; finally, nudge them to join the community forum.
Yes, email has a place within mobile app onboarding! Capturing your user’s attention in their inbox is a great way to nudge them back to your mobile app. In fact, 85% of people read emails on their phone (source). That means many users are just a few taps away from jumping back into your app experience.
- Ideal content: Emails can enrich your onboarding with storytelling that deepens brand affinity. What’s more? Users are more likely to settle in for longer-form content in their inboxes. Just pay attention to the importance of responsive emails optimized for mobile. If your email doesn’t display well on phones and tablets, customers will likely just delete it.
- CTA: When using email as a touchpoint in your onboarding campaign, you want to reduce friction between the user’s inbox and your app. So, be strategic about where you’re sending your audience after the email click. A deep link that takes them to a specific place in your app will help improve the conversion—and the user experience.
- Example: Email is a great channel for walking users through the big picture of their onboarding journey. Let’s say you have a healthcare app that connects employees to their benefits, providers, and health resources. Kick off your mobile onboarding campaign with a welcome email mapping out the onboarding process. That way, customers will understand all the steps required to get the most value from your app.
Text messages generate an average 20-35% click-through rate (source). When you need to get people’s attention immediately, SMS gives you a handy channel for spurring them to action with timely, relevant content.
- Ideal content: Timely and relevant are the key words here. Unlike other channels, users can’t usually customize their SMS preferences: it’s either opt-in or opt-out. Your SMS content needs to feel genuinely important, or you risk high unsubscribe rates. Unlike email, you don’t have a lot of time and space for storytelling, so aim to keep your SMS messages short, direct, and super valuable.
- CTA: SMS often feels more intrusive than any other channel, so make it clear where customers are going after the click. Texts are a fantastic way to initiate an actual conversation; a CTA to respond to the message can open two-way communication with your audience. 60% of people say they want the option to respond to brands’ SMS messages (source), so invite them to do so!
- Example: Say a customer has downloaded your online banking app, and they need to complete their profile within the next two days to keep their account active. Let them know the clock’s ticking with SMS. In addition to a deep link to their profile, you could also give them the option to reply “HELP” to get support in completing the process.
Unlike SMS and email, you typically need permission before sending the first push notification to your audience. In that case, it’s best to ask permission early, but at a time that makes the most sense within the customer journey. You don’t want to risk seeing your customers uninstall your app before permission is granted! On iOS, you can even use provisional authorization along with a notification to allow your audience to opt in or out.
- Ideal content: Triggering push notifications based on customer actions lets you deliver content that’s directly relevant to where they are in the onboarding journey. In turn, you create a more personalized experience for each user, making the nudge feel less pushy. Like SMS, keep your push notifications short, timely, and data-driven.
- CTA: 56% of people uninstall apps after seven days (source); once the app is gone, so is your opportunity to use push notifications. Make the most of the first week with your audience by sending personalized push notifications that bring users back into your app with deep links. Ideally, each link should help the user immediately pick up where they left off in their mobile onboarding journey.
- Example: Say your B2B project management app has just acquired a new customer, and the account admin filled out their profile on day one. They won’t get any value out of your product if they don’t add team members to the platform. So, send a push notification 24 hours later to bring them into the app to complete that crucial onboarding step.
Mobile onboarding best practices
With multiple channels at your fingertips, you build a multi-channel mobile onboarding campaign that’s ultra-personalized and ultra-valuable. Here are three keys to success.
#1 Dig into your data
Have you ever forgotten someone’s name five minutes after meeting them and had to ask the awkward, “Sorry, what’s your name again?” It happens to everyone—but if your customers sense you aren’t paying attention to their personal needs during onboarding, they’re more likely to walk away from the conversation. People expect personalized experiences, and you need data to deliver them.
- Tap into your customer data. You have a wealth of information about your customers from various sources. Make sure you can actually use it! Set a strong foundation for mobile onboarding by implementing a customer data platform (CDP) that ensures your data is unified, consistent, and easy to activate in real time. (We think our CDP, Data Pipelines, is a pretty great option.)
- Audit your super users. How do you know what milestones matter for your mobile app onboarding? Your customer data can tell you! Look at your most successful customers to see what features they use most, the actions they took in their first week, and the timeline of their initial journey with your app. That can show you what you need to teach new customers during onboarding—and where potential friction might arise. For example, here at Customer.io, we know there’s a higher likelihood of conversion if someone creates an automated campaign with data during their free trial. We measure that behavior and encourage users to take that step during onboarding.
#2 Create an intentional journey
Sure, it would be great if every customer leapt in and started using every feature from the start. But you only have their attention for a short period of time—remember, most people uninstall mobile apps within a week! Craft a mobile onboarding campaign based on strategic milestones to improve success.
- Focus on key actions. Get specific about your goal—upgrading from a free to a paid plan, sustaining daily app usage, buying premium features, etc., and identify the specific actions that move users toward it. Don’t inundate users with nice-to-haves; use every message in every channel to nudge them into actions that matter.
- Chart their progress. Don’t leave your customers feeling like they’re in the back seat shouting, “Are we there yet?” Put them in the driver’s seat with a roadmap of the onboarding process and make it easy for them to track their journey. You can show them their progress each time they open your app or email them periodic progress reports. At Customer.io, for instance, we let customers know how many lessons there are in our onboarding series and update them on their progress as they move through each one.
- Celebrate milestones. No one wants to download a new app and be handed a to-do list of chores. So add some celebration to the mix! When a customer completes an onboarding milestone, positive reinforcement increases a feeling of accomplishment that drives further action. Whether it’s animated fireworks when they use a feature for the first time, a heartfelt thank-you email when they review a purchase, or a quick “Great job!” push notification when they fill out their account information, a little celebration can go a long way.
- Tailor messaging to each channel. Every messaging channel resonates differently with users, so craft your content accordingly. Refrain from repeating the same message over and over: take a different tack with best practices for SMS, push notifications, in-app messages, and email personalization.
#3 Get personal
Let’s think about a literal onboarding experience for a moment: taking the bus. When you board a city bus, everyone’s going along the same route, cramming into the same space, making the same stops—no matter where they’re going. If you hopped into a limo instead, you’d be taking your own personal route to exactly where you want to go, with the A/C set and your favorite playlist on the stereo. Personalizing your mobile onboarding campaign is how you give each customer the limousine experience.
- Show customers you know them. Unlike the human brain, CDPs always remember people’s names and other useful demographic and behavioral data. Use the centralized data in your CDP data to make customers feel seen as individuals. Personalized subject lines increase email open rates by 50% (source), so start off strong with a subject line featuring the recipient’s name, interests, or location. Customize timezones so each person gets your messages at the right time where they live. If you’re a global brand, send messages in an individual’s preferred language.
- Customize onboarding based on actions. If you want customers to feel like they’re in a limo instead of a bus, ensure there are no unnecessary stops. Use branching in your mobile onboarding campaign to check what actions they’ve completed and only send messages about the steps they need to take next. If you remind them about something they’ve already done, the experience becomes generic—and can undermine users’ confidence by making it unclear whether they’ve fully completed a step.
- Adjust channels for each individual. Your mobile onboarding campaign should leverage multiple channels, but you have to adapt to how each customer is (or isn’t!) using those channels. Use mobile SDKs to see whether a customer has push notifications enabled and use a fall-back channel if they don’t. If an individual isn’t engaging in one channel, nudge them in a different way. You can even automatically detect someone’s preferred messaging channel and build segments based on that data.
Test, learn, and optimize
Set-it-and-forget-it has no place in mobile onboarding; you must iterate and improve to succeed long-term. Once your campaign is up and running, it’s time to gather performance data, test, and tweak to hit the sweet spot for optimal performance.
- Track metrics that matter. Customers are communicating a wealth of information based on the actions they do and don’t take. In addition to measuring fundamental engagement metrics like open and click-through rates, use the goals and key actions driving your campaign to identify metrics that will tell you what is and isn’t working.
- Employ ongoing A/B testing. Testing individual elements of messages helps you fine-tune your content for optimal performance. You can even test an entire journey using random cohort branches—a great way to compare entirely different mobile onboarding strategies.
- Experiment with holdout testing. Instead of testing variations of a message, you can compare the results of sending a message versus sending nothing at all. In mobile onboarding, this can be especially useful if you have a lot of drop-off at one particular point in the journey. Holdout testing can reveal whether sending a message at that moment is actually useful.
- Open two-way conversations. One of the best ways to find out how people react to your onboarding is to ask them! You can do this with an in-app survey requesting feedback after they complete an action, a push notification leading to a feedback form, or an interactive email using Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to gather input directly.
Mobile onboarding is just the start
Each customer has different needs, and they’ll respond to mobile onboarding campaigns at their own pace, according to their preferences. The more you get to know them, the more effectively you can deliver an experience that makes them feel genuinely welcome. And, as you build your understanding of how customers behave in different channels, you can put those insights to use in future campaigns.
Ready to learn how to unlock your data for more personalized, impactful onboarding campaigns? Watch our webinar for personalization tactics and strategies you can use today.