Revolution vs evolution: What is happening to in-app marketing?

I’ve always been curious about the sources of techno-social phenomena. Being a digital marketer myself, I’m naturally interested in understanding how MarTech is changing our lives, both as an ‘end-user’ and as a professional marketer.

But is in-app marketing going through a total revolution? Or is it simply evolving in an organic way?  We can determine this by exploring the roots of in-app marketing.

In-app marketing DNA

In terms of time on Earth, in-app marketing is still young, and like all things in nature, it has more than one influencing parent. One can argue that in-app marketing is mainly affected by two different marketing forces. The first one is web marketing, supported by web personalisation MarTech such as Adobe Marketing Cloud.

By gathering data on the visitor’s demographic, past interaction and preferences, enterprise sites can provide the most highly personalised content possible. The app equivalent of this web personalisation is displaying an offer based on the user’s previous interaction with the app. For example, a user engaged in a banking app receives an offer for refinancing a car loan. This is based on the data in the app showing that the user just purchased a car with their credit card.

The other marketing force is email marketing, supported by marketing automation systems which allow you to track user behaviour on the web and connect it to related messaging sent to the visitor’s email.  For the equivalent of email marketing in mobile, let’s take a retail app. If a user visits a product page for the 3rd time but does not take the next step towards conversion, a little friendly nudge – such as a banner combined with a discount and/or loyalty award -  can push her forward.  Both marketing automation and web personalisation excel in their ability to segment their audiences. The main difference is how and where they display their message to the customers.

So far, in-app marketing seems to be simply replicating the fundamentals of its web counterparts. In other words – it seems like in-app marketing is evolving.  But, not so fast.

What's the impact of in-app marketing?

It’s not only new technology (the transition from horses to cars, for example) that is considered revolutionary. It’s also the impact on our lives that can be a sign of a true revolution. Think about the iPhone. It wasn’t the first smartphone, but it is definitely considered a revolution, if you take its social impact into consideration. 

In the case of in-app marketing, there are a few new qualities that are brought to the table. The main one is the level of intimacy between brands and their customers. I can imagine some of you raising an eyebrow and saying, “I am not getting any PERSONAL messages from my apps.” That may be true but the potential is there, and some businesses are already taking advantage of it. For example, a hotel in Las Vegas offers its guests not just hospitality services but also complementary entertainment offers, information about local restaurants, the opportunity to meet people with the same interests that are also visiting the area, and so on.

Most importantly – the hotel does it in a way that is both personal (relates to past interactions, purchases, etc.) and contextual. There is no denying that the amount of data apps can gather about their users’ behaviour and demographics goes well beyond any other channel. A few mobile first companies, such as Uber, are already celebrating this level of intimacy with smart, elegant communication.  But there is no reason why this approach should not become common practice among more B2C apps, whether they are mobile first or not. 

The more of them that adopt in-app marketing techniques, the more personalised the experience will be for all app end users.  It’s coming, but it’s not there yet.

Evolution for marketers, revolution for app users

Web personalisation engines and marketing automation systems were truly a revolution when they first came out. After years of ‘guestimating’, they allowed marketers to measure and attribute their success. In that sense, automated in-app marketing is an inevitable evolution that brings the personalisation and analytics capabilities to the app market.

That being said, mobile marketers are only starting to grasp what’s in it for them and how in-app marketing can help them create sophisticated, satisfying and fruitful relationships with their customers. It will take a while before the end-users, themselves, understand the impact of a truly personalized app experience, which can strongly impact on brand loyalty.

When that time comes, analysts will no longer snicker when they hear the term mobile personalisation.  And that - for sure – will be a revolution.

Polly Alluf is the VP of Marketing at Insert

Image Credit: Pixel Fantasy / Flickr