Holistic Mobile App Growth and Retention Strategies

How can mobile companies optimize the user experience across every user touchpoint?

Inside the Episode

Does your mobile app face growth and retention issues? Learn how taking a holistic lifecycle marketing approach can help you resolve these growing pains.

Mobile app growth and retention wizard Fouad Saeidi discusses how to troubleshoot common roadblocks mobile companies face— from a “leaky bucket” scenario to “analysis paralysis” to a simple lack of cohesion between acquisition, growth, and retention data points. He covers best practices, milestones, and success factors that can help mobile apps across verticals achieve their long-term goals. 

Special Guests & Host


Fouad Saeidi (Founder & CEO at App Growth Network)


Sasha Langholz (Content Creator at OneSignal)

Podcast Transcript

Sasha: Welcome to the OneSignal podcast, where we help companies build meaningful and lasting relationships with their clients with our industry-leading customer messaging solution. I'm your host Sasha Langholz, a Content Creator here at OneSignal. Today, I'm delighted to host Fouad Saeidi, the CEO of App Growth Network, which is one of our partners. Today, Fouad is here to discuss how mobile apps can supercharge their growth and retention strategoes through a holistic approach to lifecycle marketing.

Welcome, Fouad.

Fouad: Hey Sasha, Thank you very much. Thanks for having us today.

Sasha: I appreciate you joining us today on the podcast. Before we get into the specifics of how companies can better retain and grow their audiences, why don't you start by telling me a bit about yourself and your background?

Fouad: Yeah, sure.I've been in the industry since. 2012. So I have a decade of experience in marketing and to date have touched 250 apps. Since launching App Growth Network in 2018, we have worked on around 150 projects. We are a full stack growth marketing agency headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, and we have clients from all over the world, mainly focused on North America and focusing on acquisition retention for mobile apps.

Sasha: That's super cool. So what's the most interesting app concept that you've encountered in your time working with these hundreds of apps?

Fouad: A shark locator app, which could actually find sharks in the ocean.

Sasha: I could actually see how that could be useful. I live in Santa Cruz and so we have shark attacks here and I know some surfers who would definitely hop on that app.

Fouad: It's for surfing communities. I'll told this story to a lot of people to break the ice, and they're like, what? They have a community of over half a million people on Facebook.

Sasha: It's crazy. I mean, there is an audience for it. I probably know some of those people.

Can you tell me a little bit more about how AGN serves mobile apps specifically? What are the services that you provide?

Fouad: We have a team of 25 people on staff here that have different departments. So as I mentioned, acquisition and retention.. when it comes to acquisition, we focused on organic, app store optimization, creative services to support that, paid user acquisition with Facebook, apple, Google, tier one, and also DSPs and ad networks.

When it comes to retention, we use a lot of tools like yourselves, OneSignal for engaging users with the app and also through analytics and data. So it's a full stack lifecycle marketing approach, anything from app store to impressions to increasing and growing percentage of that to retention day 90, let’s say.

Sasha: When it comes to understanding issues with retention, what are some common reasons mobile apps come to you guys? A lot of times early apps want to focus on just getting more downloads and users. And after all, they realize it's a concept of leaky bucket.

They have to constantly focus on acquisition/retention issues. They usually don't have enough teams, benchmarks, or solutions. They come to us because we've touched so many apps. We have some benchmarks for their funnels and we can guide them through best practices for retention.

Is there 30 or 90-day retention healthy or not healthy, for example.

Those are the data and insights that a lot of people are missing. So our team members are specialized and chances are that they have worked with a project similar to what the clients were looking for.

Sasha: I would imagine it takes a lot of specialized knowledge to really deliver all those services, given the scope of the types of apps you work with, and there are different stages as well. You give companies these tools and strategies for better retaining and growing their audiences, which I'm assuming ultimately translates to monetization. And I was looking at retention statistics, in the mobile app industry.They're pretty dismal. One in every four users is expected to return after first download and, comparing retention and churn metrics across verticals, you can see variety just depending on what type of app you're operating. In general, on a high level, what strategic mistakes do companies tend to make around growth and retention?

Fouad: I think some of those are the fact that they don't think about the entire intent and positioning from day one. They feel like acquisition retention and growth of disconnected. I'll acquire users now, and I'll go figure out retention later. In another phase, they maintain the right meaning with the right ratio at the right pace is really important.

We talked about the concept of leaky bucket. So when you turn on the taps for acquisition so much and don't have the infrastructure to support it, and you're gonna eventually have people losing. You're going to be wasting resources. So basically the right ratio, the concept of pulse, having the right healthy pulse really important. Also, if they don't segment as well. Sometimes companies measure too much, they have too many events in the app, and that causes a bit of a chaos. It becomes analysis paralysis. So measuring the right events and then segmenting users based on engagement, based on resurrection, based on activity—everything that the user can do with the insights becomes what we can actually segment. Put retention, marketing strategies in place.

Sasha: That’s interesting. I haven't heard the analysis paralysis issue before, because usually the issue is a lack of data. So you were saying some companies make the mistake of having too many events, too much data to the point where they they're just confused, they’re benchmarking everything?

Fouad: I've seen companies come to us with a thousand events, or 500 events and they didn't have a clear taxonomy document. So we didn't know, what tutorial underscore completion meant. Is it like beginning the tutorial, or completing it?

Or signoff, sign underscore.. the naming convention, all of that. We clean that up. Yes, having more events is good, but also too much of it, it could create a bit of chaos.

Sasha: Right. Totally. That makes sense. So what kind of steps do you recommend that companies take, whether it's with you or independently in devising their own growth and retention strategy?

Fouad: I think having milestones Sasha, and going based on cohorts. Cohort analysis is really important and obviously they need to measure everything. So. Get a batch of users. So let's say 5,000 at a time. It depends on the stage of growth. For some early apps, 5,000 users is a lot, whereas for some apps you're talking about 50,000 or a million.

It really depends on the lifecycle and stage of the app. So have that milestone in mind that we're going to get X thousand or X, a hundred thousand users in place.Then also, what are we going to do with those cohorts. There are Facebook users versus apple users or Google versus DSP users. Are they going to behave the same?

Probably not, because their intent was different. Somebody who's searching the app store for, a term for keyboard may have different kind of need than somebody who we targeted on Facebook based on demographics. So think of retention in the acquisition, with the basis of where the acquisition comes from and then how to retain them is based on their need analysis.

If they were searching for something, we serve that need throughout the journey. Maybe we target that Facebook audience based on who they are and what their needs are, and how are we going to make sure that we deliver the message consistently throughout the journey? And obviously with retention, I think in today's forum, we could connect all the data points together.

SMS, email, push, all need to be part of the whole holistic user journey. That's why tools like OneSignal are really helpful and handy where you can actually reach out to people with different messages, different segmentation, and to try and preempt churn. With AI and predictive modeling, we can predict churn and try to do your best to come up with offers, come with a social proof reasons, getting surveys in place, to retain users.

Sasha: So you see messaging as a key part of this experience of re-engagement and, churn prevention along all these touchpoints that companies can identify?

Fouad: I do. It's like any relationship. In any relationship, communication is essential. And that's what we go to do. We don't forget that you've gained these users.

Chances are that they are exploring other products similar to ours. So if somebody is exploring a dating app, chances are, they might be on another two or three, or if they're testing, a meditation app, they might be using two or three at the same time to experiment. As compared to the other ones we're all about winning the users off that.

Sasha: Yeah, definitely. We talk a lot about the best ways to communicate to audiences and how to walk the line between being annoying versus, messaging at the optimal frequency and re-engaging users at those critical turn points. When you're looking at the overall user journey in the effort to retain users, across their lifecycle with your product, what kind of success factors or KPIs do you suggest mobile apps track?

Fouad: For me personally, I would look at pulse. We talked about ratio of gain over churn. That's really important to see the velocity for growth. And if it's under one, we really need to pay attention to that. Retention day-14, day-30 are really important.. When it comes to subscription apps, subscription ratios.

All those things are really critical. If there's a subscription app, MAUs and DAUs. There's KPIs and everything in the funnel, right? From after impression to download, download to retention. Everything in the funnel, it's critical. think a few of those that we mentioned for real success are really the most important success factors.

Sasha: So here at OneSignal, as I've said, we talk a lot about how companies in different verticals should be communicating with their audiences in different ways. And I was just curious from your experience, if you could give me some examples of how your growth and retention strategies and specifically messaging can re-engage and retain users in some different app categories that you're familiar with.

Fouad: For AGN, some of our popular genres are health and fitness. So it's really important for health and fitness apps to maintain a healthy subscription ratio. There's, for example, studies by Calm, you'd have to hack. It's like you have to do seven meditations in the first seven days after user to start downloading the app, so every day you get one meditation.That's where habit formation comes in.

There's messaging and reengaging. How I make sure that the user every day logs in for the day? Do I give them badges or status rewards? Do let them know that are part of a social community?

Do I let them know that their friend has also joined, so they're not alone? There's a lot of psychological kinds of messaging here that could be used.

FinTech is another good genre for us. It depends on the app. If they're an invoicing app, don’t expect people to be logged into the app every day, as long as they’re twice a week involved, they're checking their invoices on the go and they're using it, it means they’re engaged and you're on the right track, so your subscription ratios are going to be healthy.

These days there's a lot of wealth management apps, crypto apps, people taking a look at stocks, there's volatile market. Again, the positive tone of how people can be aware and be alert and they can look at their wealth overall in a periodic kind of systematic approach.

There's cause for segmentation for each of them, looking at the critical event of the app, the objective of it and how often, how frequent, and we control that through the art of copywriting. I can be creative and clever with it and A/B test to see what opens up. So we've seen like sometimes two X, three X better open rate for some outside-the-box, thinking messaging.

Sasha: What are some examples of copywriting techniques that you've seen work? I'm just curious because I'm a copywriter and I'm always looking to make my writing more compelling.

Fouad: I remember, for example, for a dating app, once we started sending pina coladas versus a smoothie or something like that.

And that got four X more open rates compared to, “Hey, open your dating app, there's a match waiting for you.”

In terms of copywriting. You want to be catchy. If you can do rich notifications that’s good, using creatives. lYou know, there's on your phone, you have probably like four or five, your notifications at any given time, somebody's texting you on WhatsApp. There is your calendar, there is a weather alerts. If there's a message in between those, you’ll want something stands out.

We want to use the time, special events, the time of the year. If there's a holiday coming up, you’ll want to plan for that ahead of time. In terms of copywriting, there's a lot of pieces. Gain their attention.

Sasha: I like what you said about hooking users through behaviors. I'm curious, if you could circle back and give me another example from your experience of those kinds of psychological tactics that you've seen work.

Fouad: That's a good question. A while ago was doing some research on Coinmaster, for example. It's a slot game targeting certain demographic of women using the app. The fact that they have a pet that you need feed every day.

Every couple of hours you get a message that your pet is hungry. You're going to take care of your pet. And if you're targeting moms, the mom market, moms are used to taking care of children. Literally it grabs their attention that I've got to nurture my pet in this situation and you go and you just engage with app.

So it’s a clever product design, but also clever targeting and messaging. You psychologically feel like, okay, my pet is hungry. It’s thirsty. I've got to go do some slots there.

Sasha: That’s pretty interesting, targeting a demographic or an audience that has this really strong habit loop already around nurture and care whose interest is going to be piqued by, by that type of re-engagement messaging.

So did we discuss using push notifications in a within a matching model? I know we've covered a little bit about dating apps.

Fouad: Yeah. So obviously your matchmaking is an interesting app genre and matchmaking is for any form of, you know, A and B connecting.

We have, for example, clients that they connect job seekers with employers as a form of matchmaking, and dating is obviously a use case for that. They are really like alert with the fact that people are in an immediate need to find something. So whether it's someone job seekers looking for a job or a couple of trying to find each other, so time of the day, right?

Certain times there's obviously more demand. People are swiping for job seekers. Obviously there is a hard job in tomorrow. Try to explore your options out there really like this is the model of connecting the dots and you use geolocation, people within your neighborhoods. They sometimes notifications that, you know, this person is waiting for you or this job is waiting for you.

There's also an urgency that this is going to finish. The job might get filled up. Somebody is going to be no longer around. All those things are elements we use for a matching model. Those apps they usually thrive winning on a radius and they go dominate another radius.

So its radius kind marketing based on location, and it's really critical to configure such apps.

Sasha: It’s all based on location. So it would make sense. In, in these examples, how can companies be sure that their messaging is working? Fouad: They need to sit down and map out a good content calendar and the send enough at the right frequency to have statistical significance.

if I send a thousand notifications, I may or may not have enough significance to say this kind was a winner. So A/B testing is really critical. So if you're using OneSignal, it gives you that option. It's like any other form of engagement, like email marketing. So then you've got a benchmark that it does a lot of insights out there.

You have some because of some of white papers about best practices and the open rates of push notifications are healthy at certain percentages. If they're, let's say anything under two or three percent there are going to be some issues. You have to work on that to improve push notification open rates.

And it's not only about open rate, but also the goal of the messages to open. Did the user commit to an action to subscribe to a newsletter, for example. We asked them, so did they sign up for a demo? Did they purchase something? All of those things could be desired action.

Beyond that, was that transactional or not? Not every message is a push offer.

Sasha: We talk about marketing and transactional messaging and both play a role in the user life cycle. It also really depends, as you said on the industry. So for a lot of apps, like I think you mentioned FinTech, a lot of apps in the finance space would probably be sending more transactional messages to kind of keep users re-engaged.

Whereas, you know, a gaming app might send more marketing types of messages. As you said, it, it really depends on the industry, what's considered tasteful.

Fouad: For gaming, there's a lot of micro-transactions. They want you to buy gems and coins and often a pack. So it can be depends on the kind of game as well.

It could be really more transactional. We talked about dating. That is also transactional. They want you to purchase a Friday night package that is popular and you get extra swipes.

Or take health and fitness.They try to get in front of you. Some times of the year, like January, is really peak time to start from like November, December sending a lot of push offers. In December and January, they try to get most of their acquisition or subscription because it's the peak time. So if you can put an offer in front of somebody, don't be shy, but be clever with those popups, the design, the color, even like you can put an X color on a white on a blue screen, and nobody sees the X, which is totally legitimate.

Some people like psychologically just give them an offer saying that the dynamic pricing strategy instead of $79.99, we are now $59.99. If you get it annually, you get like a better deal.

So if all those elements are well-played, then you get the best of subscription ratio, right. And you can do dynamic pricing. There's a lot of strategies around that and and also seeing what's competitors are doing in the marketplace. You’ve got to be clever with the timing and all that.

Sasha: With OneSignal, we have an integration with RevenueCat, which does subscription event tracking. And so we actually are pretty familiar with the role that push notifications can play in a subscription retention. And we think that's a really important topic as well. So I'm glad you mentioned that.

Well, is there anything else that you would like to add, like from your perspective, finish this out, just in terms of the holistic user journey and the user lifecycle, how apps can really set themselves up for success?

Fouad: I love this community. You mentioned you have partnerships with a lot of great companies like yourself, like RevenueCat. A lot of the other companies during the engagement in the acquisition, get into as many community groups, Slack channels that you can.

Sometimes you don't have to reinvent the wheel for coming up with hypothesis, but please do come up with 10 hypotheses. And that's easy, you know, basically that comes to three, four a month, but execute on that lifecycle, that could be your product page listing in the app store, which is a feature that was released in January.

If you're not doing that A/B test, on your app’s listing page because that's where the value is. Start and you attract people. You have to deal with these people throughout the journey, the through the reviews and nurture.You might as well A/B test that to get to the right audience and the right users.

Have at least one hypothesis around acquisition around that have one hypothesis around your creatives.. about your onboarding, have a hypothesis about your subscription or your revenue growth or whatever that is with engagement every month and use your tools efficiently. There's free tools out there. Some just have limitations.

I don't want to pay for tool Firebase enough. Firebase is just a basic tool, but there's other tools out there, like OneSignal that go beyond that. You leverage the tools, put your hypotheses into action, and don't be shy to get help from people in the community.

There's people that offering those services or those discussions for free all day long. And they learn from each other. And if not, get in touch with people like us. We are very involved with the community and we try it so much and we don't obviously win and everything.

We can learn from our experiments around what not to do sometimes. Have those 10 hypothesis a month in place and execute on that, because guess what? You're going to fail on eight. You're going to win two and that's all you need. To win every quarter. That's like almost 6, 7, 8 a year, and that affects your entire funnel.

That's the difference between winners out there, apps that they are at the top of the food chain and other apps that they're just, they're staggering and they're not growing because they're not testing enough. It's all based in that routine testing throughout the life cycle. And I think that's a really important takeaway for this episode.

Sasha: So thank you again for coming on. Please come back. Uh, we love our partners at AGN and, uh, we love continuing our relationship with you over there. So we appreciate you participating.

Fouad: Thanks, Sasha. Yeah. Thanks for having us. And we'll be in New York next month for App Promotion Summit. I know you guys are in there as well.

Excited to meet in person with a few people there. So if someone is listening to it and in intern during that region, stop by. That'd be great. We'll see you there.