Skip to main content

What is in-app messaging?

You have many messaging channels you can use to drive customers into your app, like email, SMS, and push. But once they’re actually using your app, are you engaging them with personalized content? Thoughtful in-app messages are a crucial component of your omnichannel messaging strategy. It can close the loop on messages sent in other channels, drive customers to engage more deeply with your app’s features, and create a customized experience for each individual. So exactly what is in-app messaging, and how can your brand get the most out of it? Let’s dig into the details.

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

What is in-app messaging?

In-app messages are triggered when a customer interacts with your app, either when they open it or while they’re using it. Also known as in-app notifications or pop-ups, they can take many forms, such as text banners, full-screen overlays with rich media, or even interface enhancements like tooltips. They can also have buttons, links, and social sharing. While in-app messages can be used in both mobile applications and on websites, this article will focus on in-app for mobile.

in-app notification examples

There are many in-app messaging use cases: share feature updates, guide onboarding, present special offers, and link people to specific parts of your app you think they’ll like. The most successful in-app messages are hyper-personalized; it improves each customer’s experience and feels more like a service enhancement than marketing. 

In-app messaging vs. push notifications: what’s the difference?

The differences between in-app messaging and push notifications are when they’re delivered and the purposes they serve. People can see in-app messages only when using your app, while push notifications can appear even when your app is closed. Due to that functionality, the goal of push is often to get people to open your app, while the purpose of in-app notifications is to guide people’s behavior once there. 

Campaigns often include both push notifications and in-app messages working in tandem to deliver a robust, personalized experience. For example, a fintech onboarding campaign might include a push notification that prompts new subscribers to connect their bank account to the app. The call-to-action for that push notification could be a deep link that takes the customer directly to the relevant part of the app. Then, a series of in-app messages could guide them through the connection process. 

How does in-app work?

In-app is a unique channel because there’s no opt-in or opt-out process; you determine if, when, and how they’re displayed in the app. (Push notifications, in contrast, require opt-in, limiting the number of customers who will see them; even people who opt in might miss them, depending on their phone settings.) 

Here’s what goes on behind the scenes: 

  • An in-app message is triggered, either natively in the app or by a marketing automation platform 
  • When the app is open, the interface verifies the person is the correct recipient and then sends the message, which can be programmed to happen instantly or occur when the customer takes a particular action
  • If the app isn’t open when the message is triggered, it’s held until the app is opened

There are many data points you might use for triggering an in-app message, from customer attributes to actions someone takes within or outside of the app. If you’d like a deeper dive into the technical side of in-app, take a look at this article

Types of in-app messages

Mobile in-app most frequently comes in two forms: banner notifications and full-screen messages. Banner notifications usually appear at the top or bottom of the screen and contain a brief message, often followed by a call-to-action button that takes the user to another part of the app, a web page, or another message. 

Banner in-app notification example

Full-screen messages, in contrast, cover most or all of the person’s phone screen. They can contain text and buttons, as well as images, video, and even carousels (a series of images that customers can swipe through without closing the message).

Full-screen in-app notification example

In-app messaging use cases

You’ll get the best results with in-app notifications when you leverage your knowledge of your audience’s unique needs. 

  • Push notification opt-in. In-app messaging and push notifications can be a phenomenal team, and asking customers to opt in to push notifications while they’re using your app is a prime time to make the request.
  • Welcome messages. Creating an in-app message to welcome new people to the app can build a sense of connection, and it’s a great opportunity to move them to the next step of your onboarding journey.
  • Product tours. Using a series of in-app messages with deep links, you can give customers a guided tour through your app. You could also use a message with a carousel of images or a video to introduce people to key features.
  • Onboarding series. You can use in-app to walk a new subscriber through the steps needed to get the most out of your app, which can make them more likely to stick around long-term. 
  • New feature announcements. In-app is the perfect way to demonstrate the value of recently added features at the exact moment a customer is most likely to take advantage of them.
  • Surveys and feedback. In-app messages catch your subscribers when they are already engaged with your app and have their feedback top of mind, so they can be an ideal channel for surveys.
  • Transactional messages. Using in-app messages for time-sensitive alerts, like order confirmations and shipping notifications, gives customers a sense of immediacy. Be sure to follow up via other channels, like email, for transactional messages so customers can easily find that information later.
  • Personalized promotions. With thoughtful audience segmentation and personalized offers based on customer behaviors, in-app notifications can boost conversion rates — but be aware that generic advertising that distracts from the app experience can drive churn.

Benefits of in-app notifications

What does an in-app messaging strategy bring to the table? Here are some of the top benefits:

  • Get seen more often. Since there’s no opt-in (or opt-out) process for in-app, customers will likely see your messages, although you’ll first have to get them to open the app with other components of your omnichannel marketing plan.
  • Guide onboarding. In-app can reduce churn and increase conversion by walking customers through important actions right in the app. And with deep links, a series of in-app messages can lead people through several parts of the app to complete a more complex process.
  • Keep people informed. If you’ve added new features or made updates, in-app is the perfect way to notify customers. Since in-app messages are held until the app is opened, the information arrives at the ideal time and can even demonstrate how new features work.
  • Deliver engaging offers. Using customer data and event-triggered campaigns, your brand can craft real-time in-app messages with highly personalized offers and deliver them at the exact moment a customer is most likely to convert. 

6 in-app messaging best practices

While in-app messages have incredible potential, it’s important to follow best practices when using them. 

1. Make it easy to exit. Depending on the type and size of your messages, they can cover some functionality in your app (especially when you use full-screen messages), which means a customer might have to interact with the message in some way before they can proceed. If it’s too difficult to dismiss the message, people may just close the app altogether.

2. Make it personal. High-performance marketing requires an exceptionally personalized approach. Using data about each individual’s demographics, behavior, and other qualities, craft messages that resonate with each recipient.

3. Make it consistent. Create a unified customer experience with congruent visuals, tone, and other branding across every channel. If it’s consistent with your brand, take advantage of rich content like images and video when possible. 

4. Make it integrated. In-app messaging alone isn’t enough to drive better engagement. Instead, develop seamless omnichannel campaigns that use the channel most likely to resonate for any given message.

5. Make it nuanced. While the most common in-app messages for mobile are banners or full-screen alerts, those aren’t your only options. You can actually use in-app messages in a more nuanced way to enhance your app’s interface, displaying or highlighting certain things for each user (like tooltips or surveys). Experiment with the possibilities! 

6. Test, test, test. Leading brands are constantly experimenting and iterating. Test different devices and use A/B testing to measure how message lengths, wording, calls to action, timing, and channels perform with every segment of your audience.

Getting started with in-app

Brands’ marketing efforts stand or fall on knowing their audiences’ needs at every stage of the customer journey: getting the right message to the right person at the right time. What is in-app’s role in your campaigns today? What are the most valuable in-app messaging use cases for your customers? Start with these questions to craft a winning in-app messaging strategy. Our deeper dive on in-app messaging use cases and best practices can kick-start some ideas for your approach.  

Another consideration is how to bring in-app notifications to your customers. It’s possible to build them into your app directly, but using a marketing automation platform allows you to integrate in-app seamlessly into campaigns that leverage a variety of channels. It also reduces the need for developer resources; native in-app notifications need to be programmed, but there’s no engineering lift required to create messages using an automation platform.’s powerful platform helps you create campaigns that combine push, email, SMS, and in-app messages for a holistic customer journey. Ready to see it in action? Sign up for a free 14-day trial today.