5 Use Cases Proven to Boost User Retention at Scale

This guest blog was written by Sigal Bareket. Sigal is an accomplished marketing executive, growth leader, and entrepreneur with a proven track record of accelerating growth at tier-one companies like Lyft and Afterpay. She co-founded Taptica, a major mobile user acquisition platform, leading the company to a successful acquisition by a publicly-traded industry leader. Sigal is also a growth mentor and coach for the next generation of marketers.

Some marketers lean towards an overall doom-and-gloom spirit these days. We read daily about the death of channels. Email is dead. May Facebook RIP. But I think we’re missing the point.

Marketers are not here to operate channels. We are here to connect with users.

It is our job to study user behavior throughout their entire lifetime with our product or brand and use our learnings to establish a sustainable connection. Think about the products you keep coming back to as a user and how they make you feel. Do those brands make an effort to get to know you and your needs better? Do they waste your time with spammy s*&t? Do they make you feel appreciated and wanted?

According to research by McKinsey, 72% of users said, “they expect the businesses they buy from to recognize them as individuals and know their interests. When asked to define personalization, consumers associate it with positive experiences of being made to feel special.”

Now I know you have heard the user-centric pitch before and read many lists of engagement best practices, so let me share my personal experience and the specific methods my teams and I found impactful to connect and engage with users.

All examples are based on my teams’ experiences at Lyft, Afterpay, and Fast Growing Trees.

Let the user teach you how to get better

When I ran the growth team at Afterpay, Alanna — our head of CRM — and her team noticed that many of our users were what we called “oncers.” They used the product once and never came back. While this wasn’t very surprising for a product in a hyper-growth stage, it was definitely an opportunity.

We had a few theories about the root cause of this behavior, but since none of them were supported by the data, we decided to run a global survey and ask the oncers. The results were surprising.

We found that our oncers didn’t understand the product even though they already used it. Since most of our new users discovered Afterpay on the merchant’s product page, for them, we were a payment extension and not a standalone product. We learned that our oncers needed as much education as a new user, so we designed a very detailed education journey that significantly increased early lifecycle engagement.

Failed experiments are an important part of the user-centric journey

At Lyft, Dan — our head of driver engagement — and his team realized that many approved-to-drive new drivers never took their first ride. Our hypothesis was that the real-life, passenger-in-the-car experience was too scary for them (e.g., What if I can’t find a passenger? Where can I drop off? What if the passenger is rude?).

We planned and built a series of touchpoints via email and SMS to educate potential drivers about what to do in specific scenarios based on conversations with experienced drivers. The results were unexpected. The treatment group converted less than the control. It turned out that we scared the new drivers even more by emailing them about scenarios they hadn’t even thought of!

What actually worked was an in-app earnings calculator. Together with the product team, we built an in-app calculator that helped the potential driver forecast their earnings with Lyft. And, as for our failed experiment, the team repurposed those messages and sent them to new drivers over their first month. This time the results were very positive.

Always come up with ways to surprise and delight

Celebrating milestones is a favorite engagement method of mine. Lyft celebrated 1,000 rides for drivers, Lyft-versary for passengers, etc. Still, the one I like the most is the “year-in-review” mail. It’s an opportunity to both remind the user we appreciate their specific journey with us this year and also to help them feel they are part of something big and important.

At Lyft and Afterpay, this mail was personalized — each user got a unique message to appreciate their specific journey with the app. At Fast Growing Trees, Amy and the team designed a message that was not personalized but inspiring nevertheless.

Screenshot of Fast Growing Trees "year in review" mail explaining milestones of how many trees were planted in national forests, including enough to cover 20 football fields, make more than 450,000 batches of lemonade, and 110,000 apple pies.

Fast Growing Trees “year-in-review” mail explaining tree-planting milestones.

Leverage the power of a good story

Our goal at Lyft was to either be the only rideshare app a user has on their phone or, at least, be the first one the user opens. How did we do it without getting into a daily pricing war? We focused on creating an emotional connection.

Using email, in-product messaging, and even social media campaigns, Lyft brought the drivers’ stories forward. The ride became much more than “take me from A to B.” Instead, it was about the unique story of every driver. The one who donated his earnings to cancer research, the one who drove so that her kids could go to after-school activities, etc. We focused on the emotional connection.

As Simon Sinek said in his iconic TED talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” By sharing Lyft’s purpose, cause, and beliefs, we were able to inspire people to participate in a way that was more important to them than random differences in ride fare.

Localize your messages

I’m fascinated by the expression of cultural differences. As a marketer who is not a native English speaker, messaging nuances and how people respond to specific words or phrases are a big area of interest for me.

For example, one of our main claims to fame at Afterpay was how paying in four installments can help people avoid debt and be more financially responsible. In one of our lifecycle messages, we use the subject line “spend responsibly.” Our A/B tests showed interesting results. The Australian English-speaking audience loved the subject line and clicked on the email to learn more, but the U.S. audience hated it. It was the lowest-performing subject line on the test — we hadn’t earned the right to tell them what is responsible and what is not.

Why now?

Not so long ago, driving growth was all about running successful paid media campaigns. Who cares about a high churn rate or low early lifecycle engagement when acquisition costs are low? Well, the costs are not low anymore. Paid media is also less trackable, so increasing the lifetime value of our existing users counts most.

If you are a lifecycle marketer, it’s your time to shine. You can save the day by investing in education, understanding segmentation, and experimenting with messaging and creative — all to support an increasing level of connection with your users.

And one last ask…

I’m sure I can come up with additional success and failure stories about how to connect with users, but they will be limited to the companies I worked for and the teams I ran. So, here is an idea: please send me a detailed example of an engagement tactic you experimented with in your company — a success or a failure in product, mail, paid media, etc. I want to hear about it if it helped you learn something important about your users. I’ll edit your stores into a follow-up post so all can learn from each other.