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App User Lifecycle: The Four Stages of Ensuring Happy Users

We all just want to be understood, right?

Think of your role as an app user, consumer, and customer – not as a marketer. Which companies – the ones that you interact with – do you feel have a deep understanding of and appreciation for your needs, desires, and interests?

We’ve found that 94% of marketers think they know their users very well or are satisfied with how well they know their users – that means we should be jumping for joy, right? The game is won! We understand our users and thus our app can’t fail. Huzzah!

You’re not alone if you think this seems… premature. The truth is, many marketers do know their customers – from buyer personas to web analytics, there have been enough years worth of data to discover who your audience actually is. But that was before mobile.

Mobile created movement – your prospects and customers are now interacting with you “on the go,” across channels, and often, in real time (in other words, right now and often). Traditional data and analytics don’t show you everything you need to know about your app users. In fact, they will only show you a small piece of the overall picture because they can’t track this movement. Instead, you’re getting only a single point of view at a singular part in their lifetime, versus understanding them throughout their lifetime as a user and as a customer.

Essentially, using the lifecycle view allows you to keep your users at the center of everything. Sounds appealing, right?

The user lifecycle, sometimes known as a customer journey, is helpful when it comes to mobile marketing because it also acts as an organizing framework. With mobile, the term “big data” became an overwhelming reality for marketers. The lifecycle frameworks provides a way for you leverage your data and experiences in a step by step way that addresses the real needs and motivations of your users.

Here’s how the user lifecycle framework helps you:

  • You can: Glean insights from data better understand the customer and create a truly valuable experience
  • You can: Get a customer-centric view that ensures the focus is on moving every customer through the lifecycle based on their individual behaviors and actions – not group assumptions
  • You can: Deliver personalized messages based on user interests, desires, and needs that highlight what they want and drive your business forward

Let’s take a look at the four stages of the user lifecycle, how they apply to your app, and what you can do at each stage (Acquire, Engage, Grow & Retain) to harness and drive long-term loyalty.


Improving app discoverability and reaching your target users in the right place is the start to growing your app, and can often be your first mobile touchpoint with either current customers or entirely new audiences.

To gain new users organically, you should create a strategy that accounts for organic promotion (App Store Optimization, PR, a microsite, social promotion) and targeted, intelligent advertising. Using ads to reach new users will dramatically increase your impressions, awareness and new installs. Plus, investing in paid ads has another big benefit: with the right analytics in place, you can track the lifetime of users acquired through those sources – not just first-touch metrics. You can:

  • Tap into the reach of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and create highly-targeted campaigns to audience subsets
  • Discover the sources, partners and channels that drive the most users
  • Discover the sources, partners and channels that drive the most valuable users – these first two might not be the same!
  • Optimize your spend over time to focus on the channels where your most engaged users are

Once you’ve captured the download, you need to ensure from the first app open that your users will come back again and again (20% of users abandon an app after their first experience). Another part of the acquisition puzzle is what happens during that first app open – and how you engage users with valuable information from the get-go:

  • Create a welcome campaign using in app messaging or distinct onboarding screens that:
    • Introduces key features and points to how to easily access them
    • Prompts for a first action in the app, such as provide usage tips and asking them to try it now
    • Rewards action, such as the ability to earn points with feature usage or sending new users a first time discount coupon
  • Create call-outs that point to important app features while the user is navigating the app for the first time (versus on the homescreen)
  • Secure a push notifications opt-in in the initial app open after a user has had the chance to interact with a few features and screens – if not, save the ask for the second app open


With an average of 10,000 new apps launched in the app store every day, it is no doubt hard to catch your users’ consistent attention. There is always a temptation for them to abandon your app or divert their attention to another app. The Engage stage of the lifecycle aims to optimize the app experience to meet user expectations and to reach users at the right time, with the right message, through the right channel. In this stage, every interaction drives value for each and every user.

With valuable experiences as the goal, engagement isn’t facilitated by looking at static data or by concentrating too specifically on one metric. It’s only actively improved when you’re looking at both behavioral data (what are they doing in your app?) and profile attributes (who are they?) now, tomorrow, and over time to fully understand each user. Your understanding of your users grows as you learn more and more about them from every interaction.

Campaigns to engage app users won’t work without a deep understanding of who they are, what they want from their app experience, and how they interact with your brand. In the Engage cycle, you want to:

  • Analyze real-time data on session length and usage, time in app, screen flows, funnels, and other key analytics
  • Use this insight to reduce drop-offs, boost conversion, and create flexible target audiences
  • Reach users at the right time with personalized push and in-app messaging based on segments as small as one but never as big as your whole audience (in other words, no mass-blast campaigns and more personalized touchpoints)
  • A/B test what works and what doesn’t to drive further mobile engagement
  • Nurture your users with cross-channel reminders such as remarketing and email marketing campaigns
  • Build your understanding of the user, test new content based on the growing knowledge, learn from the results and iterate based on that knowledge
  • Measure the impact of each and every interaction on engagement over time to ensure your efforts are paying off and not having an unintended, adverse effect


Total app revenue is rapidly increasing, with 92% of all revenue coming from in-app purchases. An integrated approach to app marketing is the difference between measuring your app and growing your app.

But the Grow stage isn’t just about growing your app user base or growing your business; it’s also about growing your relationship with your users, and ensuring that their experience is providing everything they need.

What should be happening? Creating a better, more personal experience for your users will result in increased purchases, or, if not purchase, conversion events that are crucial to your app success. Improving conversions is key to growing, but preventing churn is just as important – growth can only be accomplished when there is engagement, otherwise churn is high and conversions unlikely. In the Grow stage, you can:

  • Create campaigns specific to funnel drop-offs that bring users back to a desired set of steps
  • Personalize your messages with custom creative that speaks to your users
  • Use deep links to guide users to the right place in your app
  • Trigger instant notifications after a specific action or series of actions
  • Automate special offers and incentives to help nudge users to complete conversion events
  • Track the lifetime value of your users to understand how well you are growing your relationships with them
  • Measure the impact of every marketing campaign on revenue, such as Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), and churn to understand which marketing efforts are actually influencing growth and not resulting in lost users


Retention isn’t just an app goal, it’s a business goal. Brands today are realizing the increasing importance not of acquiring new customers but of continuing to build relationships with current customers. Both are important, of course, but historically the concentration on the latter has been lesser.

When we look at apps, specifically, retention is a problem – 58% of app users churn in the first 30 days after they download your app, on average. And, over the first three months, 75% of app users will churn.

Focusing on retention means creating loyalty amongst customers because you are always looking to make their experience with your organization better. After all, it costs more to acquire a new user than it does to keep an existing one. More importantly, loyal customers are great brand advocates for your app, helping you to always improve the experience and influencing others to use your app.

The reality though is that preventing churn is a big challenge for marketers today. It can be difficult to uncover the right data indicating churn risk, and so retention numbers dwindle. But in using an app analytics and marketing tool that equips your for every stage of the lifecycle, finding this information is easy – and running the right corresponding campaigns a simple next step. To improve user retention, you’ll need to:

  • Know what behaviors are tied to conversion so you can unlock mobile ROI and proactively encourage those actions to users who haven’t completed them yet
  • Uncover which of users are high-risk – and why – and use this data to prevent churn by improving the product or re-engaging them with the right push, in-app and email messaging
  • Discover app experience roadblocks leading to churn and optimize the product to remove churn-related roadblocks
  • Create remarketing and email campaigns to reach customers across different channels and bring them back into the app
  • Complete the loyalty loop by asking your most loyal users to tell their friends, rate your app in the App Store and provide feedback on what features they’d like to see next

Create the Relationships That Matter

What’s the bottom line? You can employ the user lifecycle to ensure that your app strategy is strong, your users are engaged, and your approach is thoughtful.

In doing so, you’re not just working towards a better ROI, you’re actively working to create relationships with your customers that are valuable and important. The user lifecycle isn’t just a strategic framework for you, but a clear look at how app users operate so that you can meet them on their level. When you do that, you’re not just a company or just an app to your customer – you’re a partner. That’s where great relationships come from, and that’s what keeps customers coming back again and again.


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