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Mobile Marketing

Prioritize Your Mobile Product Roadmap for Retention

Kendrick Wang  //  June 14, 2016  //  6 min read

Trying to acquire and engage users is moot if retention isn’t a core part of your strategy. It’s like trying to fill a leaky bucket. You can keep adding water, but unless you either plug the hole or have an endless torrent in your pipeline, you’re going to be constantly scrambling to acquire more.

In short, customer acquisition does not equal growth.

Take Viddy for example. In 2012, it was heralded as the “Instagram of Video.” They had a superb growth strategy: integrating with Facebook Open Graph to share content directly on users feeds.

Their user acquisition was insane. Check out the graph below:

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.18.02 PM

They grew from ~1 million to over 35 million users in just a few short weeks.

However, their focus was on growth, not retention.

While users were downloading the app in droves, very few actually retained. As a result, Viddy lost all its momentum (and its users). Without a deliberate focus on retention, you’ll never have a strong foundation to grow.

In order to achieve growth, you must prioritize your product for retention in addition to acquisition. Here’s how:

Make retention your KPI

If you really want to improve your apps retention, you have to make it your KPI.

I’ve worked with quite a few teams now who say that retention is their most important challenge. But when I ask the follow up question, “What metrics do you report to your investors, bosses, or other stakeholders?” they’re often completely different metrics such as user acquisition numbers, ARR, registrations, conversions, K factor, or MAUs (more on this in a second).

If retention metrics aren’t the primary needle you’re trying to move (and reporting on), they’re not your main focus. And If you’re serious about retention, you’ve got to make it the whole organization’s focus.

Why MAU counts aren’t king

I’m not a big fan of using MAUs to track retention. The biggest pushback typically heard for using MAU to measure retention is, “It’s industry standard, isn’t it?

True, but it’s often used as a one-size-fits-all metric that’s far too generic to apply to every app.

All MAU tells you is that a user has opened an app, whether by accident or on purpose, whether to engage or just take a peek. It doesn’t signal that users are actually engaging or getting value out of your app.

So what metrics can we use instead?

Core (Aha!) actions are a much better metric to use when gauging retention. As mentioned above, driving app opens doesn’t mean much. It’s not uncommon for users to open the app then leave, without getting any real value.

What we want to do is track the app’s core actions, actions that are highly correlated to retention. You may have heard of core actions before, referred to as the “Aha! Moment.” The Aha! Moment is an action or set of actions that separates users who retain from those who don’t. Put simply, users who take the action are likely to retain, while those who don’t tend to drop off.

You’re also likely familiar with a bunch of famous Aha! Moments such as these:

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.21.01 PM

For these companies, the Aha! Moment is their North Star. It gives teams a clear focus for driving retention by nudging users toward the Aha! Actions.

You can find your app’s unique Aha! Moment easily by digging through our retention data using acquisition and behavioral cohorts, and doing a quick ratio analysis of different key actions. Once you know this number for yourself, you can start tracking how many users take this action, their Day 1, Day 3, Day 30, etc. retention based on these key actions, and start prioritizing your product roadmap for retention.

Prioritizing your product roadmap for retention

When you’re prioritizing your roadmap, you’ll want to focus on getting the maximum impact out of every change.

The most likely area where you can make the biggest impact? Onboarding.

The average app shows ~77% of users will dropping off within the first three days. This means customers are not finding value with your app through the first experience. If you drive users to the Aha! Moment, they’ll be much more likely to stick around and you’ll see a nice boost in your metrics.

Onboarding also affects the highest segment of users in your app, so small tweaks there can have substantial effects throughout your entire app. It ensures you’re not affecting your core user base since, by definition, every user that encounters onboarding is new.

Improving your onboarding flow comes down to two main points: increasing motivation or increasing ability. Check out our Ultimate Guide to User Onboarding for a more comprehensive look at improving your onboarding (including frameworks to use and examples from real apps).

In addition, let’s take a look at some examples.

1. Increasing motivation

Increasing motivation for users to complete the onboarding process is mainly done through marketing (acquisition, ads, copywriting, etc.). However, there are a few key actions we can take in the app itself such as harnessing social proof.

An app such as Venmo (a P2P payment system) has an uphill battle to fight in regards to getting users to link their bank accounts. However, Venmo does something incredibly clever to use social proof to increase motivation:

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.23.43 PM

By showing customers what their friends are using Venmo for, the app demonstrates that not only do others trust it, but it also demonstrates the different use cases for Venmo such as paying rent, splitting checks, etc.

2. Increasing ability

When it comes to increasing ability, you’ll have far more control. The idea is to make it as easy and as simple as possible for a user to get from app open to the Aha! Moment.

You’ll notice this commonly among the top apps whose Aha! Moments we mentioned above. For example, Facebook’s Aha! Moment is finding 7 friends in 10 days. They increase ability by jump starting that process as soon as you sign in.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.24.32 PM

The first step is to find friends that already might be on Facebook using your email. This is much much easier than trying to manually search for friends and add them one by one.

For other mobile apps such as HotelTonight, driving the core action (purchases) came in a different type of change: making the checkout process even simpler.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.25.11 PM

By testing their “three taps and a swipe” checkout process against Apple Pay, they found that the seamlessness of Apple Pay and the ease of use increased conversions by 10%.

Focusing on increasing motivation and ability for your new users will start driving the key retention metrics and ensure that you’re not filling a leaky bucket.

Long-term retention

The most effective changes you can add to your roadmap are to increase motivation or ability during the onboarding process. But what happens after that? Customers are clearly getting repeated value out of your app, so what next?

Driving core actions during onboarding and consistently after that is simply the foundation for retention. When it comes to long-term retention leading to hockey stick growth and monetization, we need to add a bit more to the retention equation.

Long term retention is dependent not only on repeatedly driving core actions, but also:

  • Allowing customers to accrue benefits
  • Mounting losses for customers who uninstall

These two principles are the investment stage of your app. Once customers are in, you need to make their experience better and better so that they won’t want to leave.

For Facebook, this means getting users to invest more and more of their life into the app. They drive users to add photos of the last 10 years of their lives, use it as the default communication method for re-kindling friendships, and finding out about cool events. This means that the more customers use Facebook, the better it gets (accrued benefits). It also means that users have more to lose (event invites, personal photos, etc.) by leaving the app (mounting losses).

Over time, this trifecta of driving core (Aha!) actions, accruing benefits, and mounting losses creates incredibly sticky apps that lay the foundation for strong growth.

Wrapping it up

Finding your Aha! Moment is one way to prioritize your product roadmap for retention rather than straight acquisition. Acquiring customers early is key, but engaging and retaining them throughout their customer journey is where apps will find success.

I hope these tips will help you on your path to mobile growth. Enjoy!

About Kendrick Wang

View all posts by Kendrick Wang >

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