By THERESA CRAMER
You’ve perfected your app. The UX is flawless. The finely tuned marketing strategy has been rolled out. Users are flocking in...but they aren’t always coming back. It’s a familiar problem. According to Localytics, 21% of users abandon an app after using it once. What’s more, CleverTap research shows the average app loses 77% of its user base just three days after the install. You didn’t spend all that time building your app only to see it fall out of favor with users so quickly. But how do you keep users coming back day after day? Value. Your app needs to add value to users’ lives.
Content marketers have long known how important it is to provide value to your audience. They know how providing relevant, useful information creates loyal users. So if your app is struggling to keep users engaged, it might be time to turn to the time-tested tactics of content marketing.
Content marketing defined
When you want to define a complex topic accurately, you go straight to the source. For our purposes, that's Content Marketing Institute:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Many a marketer has made the mistake of thinking that all you have to do to be a content marketer is set up a blog. Sure, it's a good place to start that doesn't require a huge investment, but a consistent content marketing strategy should go beyond your company blog. That's true for any company. But if the goal of your content marketing efforts is to keep users coming back to your app regularly, you're definitely going to have to think beyond the blog.
That task may seem daunting now, but consider this for a moment; way back in 1895, an Illinois blacksmith and farm equipment manufacturer named John Deere unwittingly became the grandfather of content marketing when he started a magazine called The Furrow. As I wrote in my book, Inside Content Marketing, “John Deere didn’t set out to sell more tractors with The Furrow. The content was educational, teaching readers how to be more productive farmers—solving problems for the very people the company hoped to sell equipment to. Now, over a century later, Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) Joe Pulizzi calls The Furrow his favorite example of content marketing.”
If John Deere can use content to build a relationship with customers for over a century, you can certainly give it a try.
Using content marketing to connect
I'm going to go out on a limb, and assume you're not selling farm equipment in your app. But part of being a good content marketer is being creative. No matter what you're selling, your potential customers probably have questions you can answer, pain points you can address, or interests you can tap into. You just need to figure out what content your audience is going to find useful enough to keep them opening your app, day after day.
Of course, the route you take is going to depend on your app. But let's talk through a couple of scenarios.
Have a weight loss app? Take a cue from Jell-O's playbook--or recipe book, as the case may be. Back in the 1880s, long before it was a household name, Jell-O was a small company looking to introduce its product to consumers. Imagine, please, what you might think if you were among the first people on Earth to see a Jell-O mold and be told that you should incorporate this strange, new, gelatinous food into your family menu. You would, most likely, be wondering What the heck am I supposed to do with this? In 1904 Frank Woodward—who owned the rights to Jell-O—was desperate to figure out how to make this product turn a profit. Though he probably didn’t have a name for it at the time, he turned to content marketing. Woodward started distributing free recipe books that, of course, incorporated Jell-O products. The rest is history.
Let's say your app is the newest, easiest way to book a trip, but you're struggling to keep users coming back when they aren't actively looking to travel. If you want users to see special flight deals or trip packages you're offering—without spamming them with offers—you might consider turning part of your app into what amounts to a travel blog. Take things a step further and personalize this experience. If you know the user is into adventure travel, present her with an article about mountain climbing. If she's into lounging on the beach, point her toward a story about the most luxurious resorts in the South Pacific. (Want to really drive users back to your app? Use push notifications to let them know when there is a story they might be interested in.)
Ultimately, only you know what kind of content is going to excite your target audience. Just remember, you need to keep your end goal in mind. Is it just about staying top of mind, or are you trying to drive sales? You'll need to craft your content with the end goal in mind.
Let's go back to my imaginary travel app for a moment. You now have an exclusive deal with Delta that means you can offer special pricing on tickets to Paris to your app users, and you want to create content that will not only get users to open the app and see the deal, but you want them to book a trip. Consider commissioning a series of articles about Paris: “Top 10 Things to Do in Paris in Winter”; “Paris Tours for the History Buff”; “Beyond the Eiffel Tower—Everything You Need to See in Paris”; “Paris on a Budget.” Lure your users in with these articles, and then present them with the deal that will allow them to live out their travel dreams (either through a link in the article or with an ad run alongside it—but don't pull a bait and switch).
Apps as content marketing
We've discussed how to use content marketing to help grow your app and keep your users engaged. But there are brands out there using apps as part of their content marketing strategies—and you can learn a lot from them. Take, for instance, the REI Co-op National Parks Guide app. REI is an outdoor outfitter that sells equipment for everything from biking around your neighborhood to rock climbing. And, of course, camping and hiking gear makes up a significant portion of its merchandise. REI also happens to be a master of content marketing. It's YouTube channel alone is full of great examples of content marketing like Safe Haven, a short film about friends who opened a climbing gym as part of a revitalization effort in Memphis. (Fun fact: Content marketing comes in all different shapes and sizes--from short videos to long-form white papers.)
With it's National Parks Guide app, REI is taking a slightly different approach. While the short films are entertaining and extremely shareable, an app is different. In this case, it provides real value to REI customers who are planning trips to national parks. Trail maps, pictures, and reviews from other users—it's all there.
REI isn't selling anything directly through the app. It is, however, staying at the top of potential customers' minds, increasing the likelihood that when the user pulls the trigger and plans a trip to Yosemite, they'll head over to REI to buy a new pair of hiking boots or a sleeping bag.
But we're developers! How do we create content?
Even if I've convinced you that content marketing can help you achieve your goals, you might be thinking, “I'm not a writer. How do I create content?” The simple answer is, you aren't going to create content. You're going to pay someone else to do it.
First, check in with your marketing team. Whether that means one guy in the corner of your startup's office or a group of people in an agency, start by talking with them about your goals and whether they have the expertise to make it happen. If you've been concentrating on more traditional methods of advertising your app, you may not have someone who can create the kind of content you need. But don't worry, content marketers are pretty easy to find.
Let's go back to the travel app, again. Once you've decided what kind of content you need, start reaching out to travel bloggers. Freelancers are always looking for clients willing to pay for content—and there is almost certainly someone who specializes in your niche.
If you're in a position to hire someone to focus solely on content marketing, you should consider it. It's not just about creating the content—it's also about developing an editorial calendar, assigning the content to writers, making sure it’s up to snuff when it comes in, and then actually posting it in your app on a regular basis. (Consistency is key to successful content marketing—just look back at the definition from CMI.) This person doesn't have to be a full-time employee—again, freelancers are always looking for steady clients—but they do have to be focused on building a content marketing strategy that works for your needs. In other words, you need an editor! I recommend finding a journalist.
Marketers are great, and if you need someone to write ad copy, they are your best bet. But marketers are marketers, and ultimately they want to sell! sell! sell! And one of the major missteps content marketers can make is to come across as too promotional. If you want someone who can tell a story, write compelling copy, and do it all on a deadline, you need a former journalist.
Learning from the best
Red Bull is often looked at as the Gold Standard of content marketing. The brand targeted athletes early on in its evolution by giving the energy drink away to skiers, windsurfers, and skateboarders. Soon it noticed that there weren't any media targeting their demographic, and Red Bull stepped in to fill it.
Now it publishes magazines, releases feature films, produces TV shows, and is making it all pay for itself. (Some might say Red Bull is a media company that sells energy drinks on the side.) In 2014, I was lucky enough to see Werner Brell, managing director of Red Bull Media House, speak at a conference, where he laid out the rules that make Red Bull arguably the best in the content marketing biz.
Red Bull’s Rules for Great Content:
- Be relevant and authentic
- Surprise and innovate
- Be consistent
- Be the story
- Inspire sharing
If you abide by these rules, and remember that your content marketing is not just a thinly veiled sales pitch, you'll be on the right track.
In some ways, content marketing and apps are a natural fit, giving you an advantage over so many other companies trying to turn content marketing into gold. Too many brands have started a blog and then let their content languish there, mostly unseen. Maybe they'll try posting it to social media, but we all know the competition there is fierce. But when you've already convinced someone to download an app to their favorite mobile device, you've won half the battle. Now, all you need to do is get them to open the app and see the great content you provide—whether it's an article, a video, a shareable meme, or whatever else you can dream up. And, thanks to push notifications, apps make it a little easier to alert your users when you've posted content that might interest them.
Executing content marketing well isn't as easy as it can sometimes sound, but the barrier to entry is low. Start experimenting now. Find out what works, and run with it. Your users will reward you with loyalty and the attention every app developer craves.
Theresa Cramer is the communications director for MGA as well as a freelance writer and marketer.. She is also the author of Inside Content Marketing, and a freelance writer. Contact her at TheresaCramer.com.