What is In-App Messaging Exactly?


In-app messages are the pop-ups or notifications that appear when a user is active within the app itself.

Unlike intrusive mobile ads that stick out like a sore thumb, in-app messages are a native part of the app experience, so they’re usually well branded and well designed. Put simply, in-app messages look and feel like they belong in the app.

This form of messaging is also highly contextual and rooted in analytics, and can be triggered based on a user’s in-app behavior and attributes (such as location, gender, and device). They are a direct response to what your user is currently doing in the app. 


What is the Purpose of In-App Messaging?


More and more people are demanding personalized digital experiences. Fortunately, apps collect a treasure trove of behavioral and profile data that can be put to use to create tailored app messages.

In-app messages are a key tool in helping brands create that personalized experience because they reflect the actions a user is currently taking within an app – they are an immediate result of behavior.

These highly relevant and real-time in-app messages nurture app users and boost engagement by gently nudging people through app funnels toward the ultimate in-app action (like subscribing, watching a video, or buying an item).

A guiding light within the app, these personalized alerts encourage app exploration and discovery, increase session time, and spur conversions. 


Why are Apps Hesitant to Use In-App Messaging? Comparing Myth vs. Reality


Myth: In-app messaging is widely adopted by brands – everybody is already using it, and it won’t set me apart.

Reality: In-app messaging is an underutilized tactic with untapped potential that you need to capitalize on right now.

Despite being the only way brands can communicate with active app users, only 1/3 of apps actually employ this tactic. Yet, according to our recent research, when in-app messages are used effectively, there is a strong correlation with higher user loyalty and engagement.

In fact, apps that send in-app messages show 2-3.5x higher user retention and have 27% more app launches than apps that do not. And since app abandonment has jumped from 20% in 2014 to 25% in 2015, in-app messages are an even more vital part of a healthy app strategy.


Myth: In-app messages are akin to mobile ads, so my app users will find them annoying and spammy.

Reality: In-app messages are absolutely not like mobile ads because they enhance, not degrade, the app experience.

If in-app messages can yield such powerful results, why are companies so sluggish to send them? It may be because some brands erroneously confuse in-app messaging with mobile ads and therefore, assume their users will find these pop-ups distracting. But, there are stark differences between the two.

  • First, mobile ads are banner ads that showcase your app inside other apps to drive new installs. Conversely, in-app messages do not promote your app to new audiences; instead, they provide value to your existing users. (If your app monetization model is to sell ad space in your own app, you have to make sure your in-app messages look distinct from these ads – so users don’t get confused about which is which.)
  • Second, mobile ads claim a portion of your precious app screen, while in-app messages do not compromise the app experience. 

  • Third, even smart, relevant, and targeted mobile ads interrupt what a user is doing inside an app, whereas in-app messages are triggered based on a user’s current in-app behavior making these messages feel a lot more natural and fluid. By the way, in-app messages triggered from an in-app event are 4x more effective than those that simply appear whenever a user opens an app.

  • And finally, in-app messages have a higher click-through rate on average (28%) versus mobile ads (0.56%). Now, this is not to say that in-app messaging is better than mobile ads – rather, that they are different tactics, with different purposes, and different benefits and results.

Here is an example of a mobile ad for Living Social (which appeared inside Words with Friends and drove people to Living Social’s app store listing) versus an in-app message sent by Living Social (which helped active app users easily redeem an offer).

Myth: In-app messaging is the same as in-app chat.
Reality: In-app messaging is for nurturing app users toward meaningful action, not providing one-to-one live service and support. 

While some brands mistake mobile advertising for in-app messaging, others think of it as in-app chat – which is also incorrect because in-app chat and in-app messaging fit into different stages of the user engagement lifecycle. Specifically, in-app chat is for retention whereas in-app messaging is for engagement and growth. 

In-app chat refers to a two-way, back-and-forth conversation that a user can have inside your app with a customer representative. Usually, this conversation is initiated by the user because he or she needs help, has a question, or wants to report an issue. In this way, in-app chat works to retain users by providing efficient and accessible customer support. 

On the other hand, an in-app message is a rich, visual notification that appears as a direct response to what a user is doing (or, is not doing, but should be doing) in your app. Unlike in-app chat, these messages are automated and set up by the app developer or marketer to appear at key points of interactivity. The goal here is to nurture users and help guide them through the app towards the penultimate in-app action.

Here is an example of what in-app chat looks like versus an in-app message. As you can see, the in-app chat feature is “there when you need it” while an in-app message pops up to encourage the user to remain active and do more within the app.