Popping the Mobile Question: "Will You Stay With Me?"

02/18/2016 10:21 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

2016-02-11-1455207924-9219610-elirubel.jpgEli Rubel is the Vice President of Marketing at Helpshift, where he leads the charge on building brand, and flooding sales with quality leads. Prior to joining Helpshift he served as the CEO of Glider, a contract management platform for Fortune 1000 companies which was later acquired, and continues to serve customers globally. He advises and consults a number of technology companies focused on driving SaaS growth, and is always eager to meet passionate, driven people. When Eli's not on a plane or talking tech, he can be found riding motorcycles through Central America, camping in Montana, or fly fishing with friends.

Did you know that the average app loses 80 percent of its users in the first 90 days after launch? It then comes as no surprise that the average mobile user has just 26 apps installed on their device -- talk about a battle for mobile mindshare! As VP of Marketing at Helpshift, I've seen this struggle firsthand. Because our technology is installed on 1.3 billion devices worldwide, we're constantly parsing mobile data to help our customers keep their users not only engaged -- but more importantly, bonded -- with their brand.

Use the Medium as the Message

One way to do this is to think like a teenager: after all, they constitute the percentage of the population most glued to their mobile devices. And what's the way to a modern-day teen's heart? Their phone and favorite apps.

Snapchat's garnered an enormous user base -- 100 million daily users, with 32 percent  of U.S. teens using Snapchat on a mobile device -- and brands have hitched their wagon to that star. Taco Bell, for example, uses the app to announce new products and special promotions. With 80 percent of Taco Bell's snap friends opening the company's snaps and 90 percent of customers watching a video from start to finish, it's clear that the ephemeral nature of the app drives engagement.

In this case, the medium really is the message. That's why it's ingenious for brands (like Taco Bell) to use Snapchat as a vehicle to form friendships with customers. Snapchat didn't start out as an advertising platform; it started as a way to send our friends unflattering selfies and our partners shots that would disappear. Users still see it that way, and brands on the platform dilute into the population of our friends. They're able to access the intimate world of their user's mobile devices, thereby collecting data that helps drive unique moments of engagement and form bonds with users.

Ensure Seamless Communication

Besides simply reaching out to users on popular social media platforms, there's another crucial aspect to turning users into friends: mobile messaging. The brands that do this best meet users on their preferred platforms and mimic how friends communicate, rather than speak as business to customer. 

Airbnb is a great example, with its "Local Companion" messaging feature for their mobile app (still in beta), which allows a user booking a house in a particular city to chat in-app with a local resident, who will provide insider tips and recommendations for the out-of-towner. The company's already built their brand on the principles of intimacy and personalization by inviting users to share their homes. By experimenting with this kind of in-app message feature, it's clear they're sticking to those founding pillars because they work.

Embrace Real Personalization:

Personalized mobile messaging is becoming the key to app success and happy customers. As Airbnb and other apps are increasingly demonstrating, it all comes down to communicating with the user as you would a friend or colleague. In other words, don't use scripted or obviously generic language. One-size-fits-all messaging no longer has a place in mobile marketing.

For example, it's the difference between Airbnb sending me notifications for trips to Austin under $100 a night ("Hi <Name>, we see you've been searching for a place in Austin in April, check out these super deals"), and the more impersonal "Take a trip this weekend!" message I often discard without opening.

Companies like Airbnb and Taco Bell have loyal followings for a variety of reasons, but the reason they're at the top of their game is how they turn customers into friends. Both brands actually go above and beyond in this regard by not only forging a friendship between brand and customer, but between customers themselves. Taco Bell used Snapchat to make their customers into more than friends: in a Valentine's Day ad campaign, Taco Bell created a series of filters -- designed like the cards you'd give and receive in grade school -- with messages such as "Nacho Average Valentine" and "I want to crunch wrap you in my arms," with the option to personalize. So while they created a stronger bond with each user, at the same time they facilitated bonds between the user and their network of friends.

If you can treat your customers like a friend, there's bound to be a greater foundation of trust and respect. By using more intimate channels and mobile messaging, the smartest apps make themselves indispensable to users, just like a virtual best friend.