Apps: Your Secret Weapon for Client Retention

Sure, a well-crafted mobile app can help you land new customers. But its true value lies in building loyalty among your existing clients

Written by Jeff Quipp

Almost 60% of smartphone users don’t go even a full hour without checking their phones, according to a study by Lookout Mobile Security. And with mobile penetration continuing to soar, it’s natural that so many companies are incorporating mobile into their marketing efforts.

Yet, when it comes to creating mobile apps, many businesses see them simply as a tool for acquiring new customers. In reality, their greatest promise lies in helping companies retain clients and stay top of mind with them. Today’s non-stop onslaught of advertising has made brand awareness more valuable than ever. Apps are a great way to build loyalty among your existing customers, because giving them a highly useful tool builds substantial goodwill toward your firm in their minds. What’s more, apps are relatively inexpensive next to, for instance, TV and radio advertising.

What could your company offer its clients to encourage them to make using your app an ingrained habit? Plenty. The key is to start understanding your customers so deeply you become a part of their life.

Scoring big with hockey fans

Let me illustrate this concept with a hypothetical example. I love hockey. I watch hockey, I play hockey on my company’s team, my son loves hockey and he plays it locally as well. But it’s tough to find the time to make it to all of my own games as well as my son’s games, and to catch Leaf games on TV—let alone to search for schedules, pick up hockey equipment and so on.

So I do a Google search on my smartphone for “hockey management app” and in the results I see that Bauer, the hockey-equipment maker, has exactly what I need. Bauer’s app allows me to book shinny times locally, check up on the scores of the Leafs vs. Habs games (if only€¦), read up on recent trades, see how my son’s team ranks in the local standings and more—all from my smartphone! When my son needs new skates next year, which kind am I most likely to buy? Bauer, obviously, because its brand is always top of my mind.

Why you need to change your mindset

The Bauer example highlights the importance of thinking differently about your marketing. You need to shift your mindset from using a mobile app solely for customer acquisition to striving for customer retention. This parallels a shift from traditional “interruption marketing” to what blogger and digital-marketing specialist Avinash Kaushik calls “utility marketing”: delivering so much value to your audience that you become part of their lives. This is branding your business in a way that doesn’t focus primarily on advertising your products or services; instead, you focus on nurturing customer retention, loyalty and lifetime value.

The most exciting part about this? Not many companies are doing it! A significant opportunity exists to be there for your audience, and to go where your competitors haven’t gone—at least, not yet.

For example, the Red Bull Playgrounds App allows a user to build a virtual playground—not the kind for kids, but one for youthfully minded adults in the sense of “the world is your playground.” Users identify bike jumps, skate parks, nightclubs and all kinds of activity hubs around the globe, then add them to a map so other users can view the locations. Users can also read up on what some of the world’s best athletes, artists and icons have to say about the best places and activities across the globe.

This app appeals to a substantial chunk of Red Bull’s target market by providing a free and valuable deliverable related to the audience’s interests beyond Red Bull. And it incorporates Red Bull branding without directly advertising the company’s product.

The growing love affair with mobile apps

A recent survey by Google about what U.S. smartphone users want from mobile websites shows that fully 53% consider it important to be able to download an app. And a Nielsen study found that U.S. smartphone users now spend 81% as much time using mobile apps as on mobile websites—up from 73% in 2011. The study also showed that the average user downloaded 41 apps per device in 2012, up from 32 in 2011.

There are a number of ways to promote your app to ensure that users find it, such as paid search efforts and submitting your app to authoritative review sites. Smart Insights has some great ideas for app promotion, and Search Engine Journal lists some app-review sites you can reach out to for your app.

If you have what your users are looking for, not only are you likely to capture them initially, but to retain that relationship and have the opportunity to nurture and win with repeat purchases. According to the Google study, 74% of users are likely to revisit mobile-friendly sites that give them what they need.

How to become part of that love affair

Here are a few of the many ways you can use mobile apps to retain customers, by staying top of mind on a regular basis.

PROVIDE COMPELLING CONTENT: If you can consistently provide your users with good, relevant and engaging content, your audience will keep using your app and come to rely on it as their go-to hub for resources related to their interest. For Bauer, these resources could include player-highlight videos, “how to” technique videos, articles on past stars and a quiz on which player’s style most closely resembles that of the user. The possibilities are endless.

GET LOCAL: Whether it’s local hockey-related news or a local traffic report for hockey moms and dads who want to steer clear of slowdowns en route to practice, make your app the place where local users first think to check in. Consider what your audience is doing before, during and after activities related to your core product or service line.

GAMIFY: Gamification is huge. Creating a game inside your app is likely to keep people coming back. In the case of Bauer, this could be a hockey shooting game or a predictions game on the Habs’ weekend lineup. And be sure to include social-sharing buttons so users can share their scores with friends and challenge their friends via social platforms.

MAKE YOUR AUDIENCE PART OF THE FUN: Include places for user-generated content, such as reviews, tips, recommendations, question-and-answer forums and industry-article submissions. In the case of Bauer, this could include local user reviews of various arenas and equipment-related tips.

REPAY LOYAL USERS: Rewarding your audience for continuous engagement with your app can nurture loyalty and retention. Award users who have been, say, active for three months or have attained a certain level in the game with points they can use for purchases at the nearest Bauer store.

Jeff Quipp is an expert on search and social media marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada’s largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 200 ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies for the past four consecutive years.

More columns by Jeff Quipp

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