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There’s no doubt that we’re living in an app world.

New numbers from comScore confirm that Americans are now spending more time on apps than desktops and that app stores are exploding, with the Apple App Store boasting north of 1 million apps in 2013.

Today, traditional brands and mobile-first companies are building entire businesses on apps with monetization from in-app purchases, subscriptions, and other forms of commerce within the app as their business model.

The problem, however, is that their KPIs (key performance indicators) and marketing strategies have almost exclusively focused on user acquisition: the coveted download. The assumption was, “If someone downloads my app, they’ll use it forever.”

Unfortunately, that’s a misconception. In fact, 22 percent of apps are used only once after being downloaded.

Many assume that achieving app engagement means throwing large sums of money into advertising, but there’s a smarter route. It’s achieved through accessing granular analytics about your users and their app habits and then converting these insights into targeted marketing campaigns that keep your users coming back to your apps, and ultimately, delivering highly personalized in-app experiences.

The results? Lower marketing costs and the potential for higher customer lifetime value. There are several practical steps — all rooted in analytics — that you can start taking right now to build engagement and more personalized app experiences.

[Editor’s note: Raj Aggarwal, the author of this article, will be leading the ‘analytics tools & strategies’ boardroom session at our upcoming Mobile Summit on April 14-15. Request an invitation!]

Capture users’ attention with in-app messaging

In-app messages are sent to users while they’re in an app. They’re great for things like motivating customers to rate your app (critical to app-store ranking), notifying them of updates or new content, offering rewards, and promotions or providing a tour of new features. These messages let you interact with your users right when they’re engaging with your app — and when your brand is top of mind. Analytics are key to knowing how and when to personalize in-app messages, so they hit the right user at the right time on the right device.

Bring users back to your app with push messages

Push messages are notifications sent to users on their home screen when they’re not in the app. They work best to re-engage people who haven’t used your app recently and are a powerful tool for stimulating engagement and conversions, even when users haven’t launched your app for days, weeks or months.

It’s crucial, however, that these messages are as personalized as possible to capture users’ attention; this is where granular analytics help you formulate ideal content, frequency and timing of your push messages. Without this degree of customization, your push messaging is a blanketed blast, which could backfire and become a turn off. For example, recent data indicates marketers should send U.S. and European users push messages at different times of the day based on their differing app-usage patterns.

Test, learn and iterate

A/B testing allows you to try different copy, creative and content with different user segments to understand which resonates best and offers the strongest likelihood to impact conversion and lifetime value. By understanding what’s working and what’s not with different users, you can continuously adapt and personalize your message and content to achieve the best results. Analytics provide the foundation for A/B testing, helping you segment your user base, use controls during your tests and measure and learn from results.

While there’s no replacement for a well-designed, well-executed app, creating personalized marketing campaigns that use these techniques will enable you to engage users more effectively. Getting consumers to download your app is the first step, but making them repeat users is the next – and even more important – step. The data you collect and analyze today will help you develop rich user profiles tomorrow to unlock further user engagement.

Raj Aggarwal is co-founder and CEO of Localytics, an analytics and marketing company for mobile and web apps. 

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