EngineeringApril 14, 2015

App marketing using audience targeting

By applying good business sense and using technologies such as mParticle, app marketing to mobile users via audience targeting doesn't have to be a chore.

For some mobile app owners, the ability to segment out their app’s users may be a novel concept. Using audiences for marketing purposes can be complex and cumbersome. However, by applying some good business sense and using technologies such as mParticle, marketing via audiences from your mobile app doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, it should become a key component of your marketing mix.

So how does one go about creating and executing an audience strategy for their mobile audiences?

Of course, one should first define marketing goals and objectives. While that topic in itself can be the focus of another lengthy blog post, the tactics discussed in this post will support the following marketing goals:

  1. Acquiring new users for your app
  2. Increasing engagement and lifetime value (LTV) / revenue from active users
  3. Re-engaging inactive users
  4. Nurturing new users so they become active users

It’s useful here to apply a customer lifecycle framework when considering your app marketing approach to mobile users:

Prospects, new users, active users, inactive users

Before considering how to target anyone, it’s critical to properly define new, active and inactive users since every app is different and has different usage patterns. For example, a football app may only have usage on weekends during the fall, while an app related to the stock market may primarily be used during market trading hours. In addition to timing, the frequency of use is another factor to consider when defining what constitutes an active or inactive user. Consider your app’s usage patterns and come up with a definition of active users in the form of “users having X number of sessions in a specified timeframe.” Conversely, your definition of inactive users will become “users who have had < X number of sessions in the same specified timeframe.” You can group inactive and active users together by defining the audience as “users having > 0 sessions.” For defining new users, you would say users who have installed within a specified timeframe and have had only a few sessions. Again, your app’s usage patterns will help you determine what the timeframe and number of sessions should be in that audience definition.

With these definitions in hand, let’s discuss how to go about creating your audience segments for users in each stage of the lifecycle.


While it may appear counterintuitive at first glance, data from your app’s active users can be useful for prospecting. At a minimum, any prospecting campaign should leverage your current app users – both active and inactive – as an exclusion audience e.g. the marketing execution should not be serving the marketing message intended for prospects when it sees one of your current users. This use of your mobile app audience data improves the efficiency of your digital media spending and ensures you don’t irritate your current users with messaging intended for non-users (prospects).

Another way your mobile app’s current users are helpful in prospecting is when using marketing platforms that support lookalike modeling – such as Facebook and Twitter. Lookalike models typically use multivariate statistical algorithms to find a group of new users who look similar to a “seed audience.” Finding a good seed audience is a process that can begin in your analytics or business intelligence tool. If your tool is tracking LTV, examine the actions taken by users who have a high LTV. Look for the in-app actions that this group has in common e.g. “users who did action X AND/OR action Y (if applicable)” within a specified timeframe. Once you have settled on the definition, create the audience of high LTV users using the necessary Boolean logic and send them as a seed audience to a marketing platform to create lookalike models. Once the lookalike model audience is ready, you can send prospecting messaging to these users. Typically lookalike modeled audiences see improved media performance over non-targeted prospecting. As before, be sure to set your current active and inactive users as an exclusion audience for this campaign.

If your analytics solution is not tracking LTV or if it’s not applicable to your app/business, a good seed audience for a lookalike model for prospecting would be users who have made a purchase, converted, or have completed your desired event or behavior.

Finally, use your active users as an audience to analyze via tools that provide demographic/psychographic insights on audiences. Find the traits that “pop” with your best users e.g. your high LTV or most active users have a tendency to be a dual income, no kids (or DINK) household. Then layer these attributes on your data targeting in the platforms that support this capability. Again, your current active and inactive users should be an exclusion audience as well.

Active users

Active users can easily become your favorite audience group to target and for good reason – marketing retargeting campaigns perform relatively well, and you already know these users enjoy and find value from your app. This loyalty allows you as an app owner to pursue a variety of marketing tactics against this key group.

If your app supports m-commerce, a good audience strategy is to create audiences of users who purchased specific items, then market offers that cross-sell complementary products or upsell higher margin products.

App owners who have a free and paid app versions should create audiences free app version active users and target them with messaging the highlights the benefits of, and perhaps incentivizes them to upgrade to, the paid version. Exclude paid app version users from this audience.

Inactive users

Inactive users can indeed be a frustrating group for app owners. At some point, they were interested enough to download your app and perhaps may have been active for a period of time. However, they now no longer use your app.

When targeting these users, it’s wise once again to begin in an analytics/business intelligence tool. Often you will find a pivotal event or sequence of events within a certain timeframe that, once achieved, marks a new user as becoming an engaged, consistently active user. Whatever these actions are, you should create an audience of your inactive users and then message them with a call to action and/or incentive to perform the aforementioned pivotal action(s). Once again, set your active users as an exclusion audience.

Another data point to leverage is the amount of time that has passed since these inactive users were active. You should then look back at your app update history. When did you release app updates that contained major new (and popular) features? Go ahead and create an audience of users who have not been active since before that feature’s release, and target them with messaging that entices/encourages them to come back to you app to check out the new feature(s).

New users

Strike while the iron is hot with your new users. Your app is already relatively well positioned within a new user’s digital mindshare. Consider the same pivotal action(s) as discussed for inactive users, and again message them with a call to action and/or incentive to perform these actions.

Another key marketing tactic for new users is getting them familiar with your app’s key features. Many app owners have a welcome email message that goes out to a user upon his or her first app login. Consider complementing this email (or if you haven’t implemented the welcome email, then consider doing so) with messaging in other marketing channels that directs users to other helpful links or FAQs.

If there is a social community around your app, then you should message new app users to join the community and highlight the benefits they can attain through joining.  As you probably have guessed by now, you want to exclude your active users when targeting new users in any of these scenarios.

Where to market to your audiences

Once you have your audiences ready, the last step is deciding where to market to them. There is the obvious first factor to consider which is cost vs. your budget. However, there are a few other factors to keep in mind when choosing a digital marketing channel.

Message, timing, and medium play a role when considering which marketing channel to use to reach your audiences. For example, email can be a great way to engage your active users. However, when crafting your email message, consider that a lot of users may open your email on a desktop email client – especially if you send the email during business hours. That being the case, linking to your app may not be a good strategy since a good chunk of your users may not open the email on their mobile devices.

Two other considerations are reach and scale. Different platforms can use a variety of methods to identify users: device IDs (Google Ad ID / IDFA), email addresses, Facebook IDs, Twitter handles. Consider which of those IDs your app has access to, then leverage as many of those IDs as possible to maximize scale on the appropriate marketing channel.

Finally, the demographics of your users should also be a factor. Consider where they spend their digital time, what genres of content they consume, and what platforms they use to consume the content. Then find the marketing channels that can line up to this profile. You don’t need a perfect match but the more boxes you can check here, the better.

Now that you have passed audience targeting 101, it’s time to go out there and market your app!

Latest from mParticle

MACH Alliance and mParticle featured image


Leading the next generation of CDP solutions: mParticle celebrates acceptance into the MACH Alliance

Madeleine Doyle – April 16, 2024
A stock image of a woman hiking with the onX logo

How onX accelerated marketing campaigns with mParticle's AI engine

April 17, 2024
A headshot of mParticle's Director of Digital Strategy & Business Value, Robin Geier


Introducing Robin Geier: mParticle's Director, Digital Strategy and Business Value

Robin Geier – April 16, 2024
M&S Customer Story

How Marks & Spencer drove revenue growth with mParticle's real-time segmentation and personalization

February 26, 2024

Try out mParticle

See how leading multi-channel consumer brands solve E2E customer data challenges with a real-time customer data platform.

Explore demoSign upContact us

Startups can now receive up to one year of complimentary access to mParticle. Receive access