6 ways to use mobile app personalization for better user engagement

11 min read
July 12, 2022

Personalization is one of the biggest trends to hit marketing today. And that’s no surprise, seeing as it allows businesses so many customer pain points.

For example, a Salesforce study discovered that 66% of customers expect brands to understand their needs.

And as much as 72% of them will only engage with personalized messaging.

In fact, 90% of Americans readily embrace personalization.

But knowing the merits of personalization is one thing. Implementing it successfully in your app is a different matter.

And to help you out, we reveal six strategies for personalizing your apps today.

Leveraging push notifications

Push notifications are one of the things that you should personalize as much as possible.

That’s because it’s easy to frustrate users with too many push notifications. In fact, that’s the number one reason users abandon an app.

Add to the fact that the average user receives 46 push notifications per day, and cutting through the noise becomes even more important.

Personalized push notifications are the best way to achieve this.

Want more proof? Here are the results that photo company Phooto got from personalized push notifications.

impact of personalized push notifications on Phooto

Source: Push Engage

The good news is that there are endless ways to personalize push notifications. The only limit is your creativity.

For example, here’s a very timely and witty notification from the Sephora app.

Push Notification Geo location Sephora

Source: Taplytics

This is an example of location-based marketing (which we’ll discuss more of later).

In Sephora’s case, it triggers the notification when it detects that the user is in an airport with Sephora retail stores.

It works because the message is timely and playful, which can alleviate airport stress. It also shows how a mobile app can support other channels like physical stores.

Here’s another great example from Peloton.

peloton push notification

Source: Appcues

The Peloton app sends this push notification whenever the user finishes a class.

The personalized message with the user’s name and progress gives it a natural and human touch as if talking to a friend or coach.

The timing is also perfect, as it subtly invites the user to open the app for some stretching.

Here’s the same approach used by the meditation app Headspace.

push messages example headspace

Source: Vero

It’s also a good idea to allow users to personalize which push notifications they want.

This is often seen in trading apps, where users can get price alerts on the stocks included on their watchlist.

Controlling notifications is necessary in this case because they will get flooded with messages otherwise.

eToro mobile notifications

Source: The Trading Bible

Indeed, these are just some of the many ways you can personalize push notifications. Just remember to make them concise and relevant, and it should do well.

But don’t limit yourself to only personalizing push notifications. You can take these same strategies and apply them to in-app messages.

Sending relevant in-app messages

Much like push notifications, there are a dozen ways to personalize in-app messages to drive engagement.

In-app messages have several advantages over push notifications. Users will be better at receiving them since they’re actively using the app.

You can also control the timing of your sends.

Lastly, in-app messages can be longer, giving more chances for personalization.

Now, let’s see some personalized in-app messages in action.

The simplest is to include the user’s name. It seems trivial, but it can instantly give your messaging a more personal tone.

Marketing and Growth Hacking screenshot

Source: Marketing and Growth Hacking

The above in-app messaging was also relevant since the person clearly hadn’t taken the offer yet. Proper timing and sending in context are crucial components of personalized messages.

Here’s another good example from an e-commerce app:

segmented and triggered in app messaging on users actions

Source: WebEngage

Adding how much the user saved is a great addition to the message, as it makes them feel good about their purchase. And that’s crucial here because the app is asking for a rating.

The timing is ideal, too—the user just bought something, so they should be motivated to give a review.

In-app messaging isn’t just limited to static content. Take a look at this example from Loom:


Source: Userpilot

This is essentially an onboarding checklist that reminds users of tasks they still need to do.

Gamification elements like the progress bar are nice touches that make completing it more likely.

Finally, personalized in-app messages are great if you want to request an action from the user. Here’s an example:

personalized in app messages are great if you want to request an action from the user

Source: Braze

This in-app message does many things right.

First, it is personalized with the user’s name. Second, it congratulated them on their success, a great tactic for improving retention.

Third, the request was well-timed since it’s natural for someone to share their achievements on social media. And finally, they sweetened the deal with a reward.

As you can see, personalized in-app messages and push notifications can cause your app’s engagement to skyrocket. So it’s always worth doing them in tandem.

Using location-based marketing

Personalization isn’t just about using the user’s details like their name or birthday. Their location can also open up plenty of possibilities.

Marketers know this, and that’s why 52% of average marketing budgets go to location-based initiatives, according to the 2020 Global Location Trends report.

It’s also a growing field, as this infographic shows:

Attractive Opportunities in Location based Advertising Market by Type and Geography Forecast and Analysis 2021 2025

Source: PR Newswire

Location-based marketing is undoubtedly a natural fit for mobile marketing, and there are plenty of great examples of this in the app world.

Here’s one from Duolingo:

Reminder Push Notification 1

Source: Instal

We think this is a genius move. The app was able to detect that the user was in another country.

And what’s the problem most tourists have? The language barrier, of course. The personalized push notification is extremely well-timed, and we imagined most users highly appreciated it.

Location-based marketing works extremely well for e-commerce apps with physical retail stores, as seen in the Sephora example above. Starbucks is another app that excels at this approach:

Starbucks app location based ads mobile app marketing

Source: App Samurai

The notification above uses two personalization techniques. One is using the user’s location to tell them the specific branch giving the offer.

The second is knowing which drink to offer based on the user’s purchase history. It’s then wonderfully integrated into a concise yet effective push notification.

In a similar approach, the GasBuddy app connects users to gas stations that have the best deal in their area. In return, users share their location and fuel spending habits with the app.

As a result, GasBuddy ranked number one in the Apple App Store last May 2021. This is proof of the huge impact location-based marketing can have.

gasbuddy location marketing

Source: CleverTap

The thing is, location-based marketing will not apply to all apps. But if your situation warrants it, or you find a creative application for it, give it a go.

You’ll find it’s a powerful layer of personalization that can fuel engagement.

Optimizing the user onboarding process

Onboarding is a crucial strategy for increasing app retention and engagement. And one of the best ways to improve your onboarding sequence is to personalize it.

Personalization can help engage users from day one and create a great first impression. This is crucial since most apps lose up to 89% of their active users within the first seven days.

retention graph average

Source: Andrew Chen

So, what are some personalization strategies you can use during onboarding?

One is segmentation. Here, you ask qualifying questions to the user, then tailor-fit the app experience based on their answers.

For example, the Duolingo app onboards users with a series of questions and even quizzes them to figure out their proficiency level.

This allows the app to design a curriculum based on the user’s language goals.

Source: Duolingo

You can also use personalization to improve a user’s commitment during onboarding with a tailor-fit goal.

This creates an emotional connection that will make the user much more likely to complete it.

A great example is the Wealthfront app.


Source: Appcues

It features interactive onboarding that gives users the freedom to tweak their financial goals. And because users designed the goal themselves, it leads to better buy-in from them.

You’ll undoubtedly need to ask for personal information to fuel your app personalization. However, you should not make it mandatory.

Users should always have the option of withholding their data, and your app should still work in these cases.

Also, it helps to be transparent when asking users. Let them know why you need their data and, if possible, frame it as a benefit for them.

This is a great way to foster trust, which should improve users’ chances of saying yes.

Here’s an example of how the MoneyCoach app does it.

MoneyCoach app 1

Source: Telerik

There are plenty of other personalization tactics you can apply to onboard users. It can even be as simple as using their name.

However minor your approach is, we recommend implementing it. It will do wonders for your onboarding.

Relying on email marketing

Personalization shouldn’t be limited to just inside your app. There are plenty of marketing channels you can also personalize. Case in point is email.

Email is a powerful marketing medium that we believe every app should use.

Studies have shown that for every $1 spent on email, you can get an ROI of $40. That’s the highest among other marketing channels.

email marketing ROI

Source: Lyfe Marketing

Personalized emails can be used at every stage of the app journey. In fact, sending context-sensitive emails is a great way to increase open and click rates.

A good practice is sending a welcome email to new users once they’ve finished the onboarding process. Here’s a sample from Clearbit.

welcome email example from clearbit

Source: Appcues

If users haven’t completed certain tasks during onboarding, emails are a great way to remind them. For instance, Loom sends an email to users who haven’t downloaded the desktop app.

reengagement email example from loom

Source: Appcues

You can also send emails with content tailor-fit to the user’s preferences.

For example, the Linkedin app sends regular emails of potential job openings based on the user’s career or industry in their profile.

Not only is this helpful for job applicants, but it also helps drive more traffic to the Linkedin platform.

Email personalization example LinkedIn

Source: Hubspot

Another great email example is Ticketmaster. Here, they use the power of location-based marketing to recommend great acts near the user.

Email personalization example Ticketmaster

Source: Hubspot

Of course, the most popular personalization tactic is to send an email during special occasions, such as birthdays. Often, this comes with a gift or discount coupon.

fun design birthday email

Source: Campaign Monitor

There’s a reason why birthday emails are effective. Not only will it be highly appreciated by the user (so they tend to open it), but it can also re-engage dormant users.

The sky’s the limit with emails. As long as you send timely and relevant messages (as you do with push notifications), it will lead to better engagement.

Sending tailored recommendations

The pinnacle of app personalization is the ability to send recommendations based on a user’s behavior, preference, or purchase history.

This approach is one of the best ways to deliver a truly amazing app experience. That’s because it makes users feel that you truly understand them.

It can lead to better retention, engagement, and even monetization.

For instance, product recommendation solutions provider Barilliance revealed that one of its app clients saw a 550% increased conversion rate thanks to its platform.

Of course, when talking about customized recommendations, one can’t help but think of Amazon. They’re undoubtedly one of its pioneers.

Amazon screenshot

Source: Amazon

Amazon’s recommendation algorithm uses a combination of purchase history and behavior from the user. It even utilizes location-based marketing to show products trending in the user’s area.

Amazons recommendation algorithm

Source: Barilliance

The key to personalized recommendations is to use the right data and approach. One method is collaborative filtering, which uses one user’s data to predict what a similar person would like.

personalized recommendations

Source: Barilliance

Another is content-based filtering, which produces recommendations to a user based on their behavior and history.

The third and arguably most effective approach is hybrid recommendations, which uses both content-based and collaborative filtering to arrive at more well-rounded advice.

Personalized recommendations can be one of the more complex strategies on this list. But when done right, it can give a huge lift to your engagement numbers.

Want some more app engagement tips?

We hope you’re empowered to implement these six personalization strategies in your apps.

But while personalization is powerful, it’s only one of many retention tactics available to you. If you want to learn more methods you can use, check out our primer here.

Written by

Mario Zderic

Co-founder and CTO

Mario makes every project run smoothly. A firm believer that people are DECODE’s most vital resource, he naturally grew into the role of People Operations Manager. Now, his encyclopaedic knowledge of every DECODEr’s role, and his expertise in all things tech, powers him to manage his huge range of responsibilities as COO. Part developer, and seemingly part therapist, Mario is always calm under pressure, which helps to maintain the office’s stress-free vibe. In fact, sitting and thinking is his main hobby. What’s more Zen than that?

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