How Strava cracked mobile support and engagement

How Strava cracked mobile support and engagement

April 18, 2018
How Strava cracked mobile support and engagement

If you think of yourself as a cyclist, and you don’t live under a rock, you know Strava. If you’re a runner you’ve likely debated its merits with your running crew. Strava has placed itself in the middle of a passionate, opinionated (cyclists are definitely opinionated) group of people whose loyalty is hard to win and even harder to keep: there’s a ton of new technology competing for attention and dollars in this space.

How did Strava build its fiercely loyal customer base? How did they get me to pay $6 per month for a product that, unlike Spotify or Hulu, is not offering third-party content that I would otherwise have to buy?

If you’ve read my other posts, like my dive into Slack, you know I like to look for extraordinary customer engagement. But before I explain what Strava is doing that is extraordinary, I want to make clear that engagement is always grounded in an exchange of value. In other words, just like Slack, Strava has a fundamentally great product. If it can get me in the product consistently and help me understand and experience that value, I’m hooked. That’s what great customer engagement is about.

Strava creates fiercely loyal customers using a single, cross-device communication flow. Here’s how they do it.

What Strava does differently

1. No firewall between web and mobile
Mobile apps give you new ways to communicate with your customers, and mobile push notifications are different than email. However, it’s a mistake to put up a wall between mobile and web because mobile is different. Strava’s magic comes from the fact that it combines very granular activity tracking with social interaction around this activity. Since most of the value is in tracking and viewing rides and runs on my phone, drawing users back into the mobile app is hugely important. But mobile is a limited environment: screen size is smaller and sessions are shorter because the user is out there, on the go. On mobile, I might never discover the deeper features that make Strava stand out from its competitors. Desktop gives me time and space. Strava wants me doing both.

2. Users supply the calls to action
I’ve never gotten a push notification or email from Strava that says “We miss you! Log back in today!” Why not? Because Strava disguises its calls to action as updates: “Your friend Nathan just beat your time on Hawk Hill.” (Full disclosure: I’ve never beaten Nathan up Hawk Hill so I would never get this alert.) In other words, Strava builds engagement off of your event history (and your friends’ ) in the app because it knows this is more interesting and personalized than anything else it could come up with.

3. Push and email are modes, not ends
Team Strava doesn’t sit down and say: “Okay email marketing people, what email campaigns are we going to send this month?” And then turn to the mobile team and say: “And what segments of our mobile users should we send push notifications to?” Strava has internalized the idea that these are all just modes to deliver a carefully considered touch point based on each user’s history inside the product.

Mobile push is email 15 years ago

How is Strava able to achieve this kind of unified, cross-device engagement? They’ve figured out a single framework for their communication. The fact is, even though smartphone penetration is a huge, unstoppable force changing almost every industry, we are still in the very early days of bringing the same kind of marketing sophistication to mobile. It was only a few years ago that Apple announced that iOS 9 will support universal deep linking and make changes to position Spotlight as the search engine for the mobile world. Welcome to the year 2000!

Here’s a cheat sheet on how to translate key concepts from mobile between into the web language we all know:

  • Apps are what web domains used to be.
  • App views are the new web pages.
  • Deep links are the new hyperlinks.
  • Push notifications are just emails without bodies—like a clickable subject line.

Strava’s approach is unusual because most products haven’t absorbed the lessons of the web and translated them into the mobile world yet. Let’s think through how to do this translation in your business.

How to unify your web and mobile engagement

So if the web infrastructure we all know and use is now being built on the mobile side, what should you do about it?

Rule #1: Unify web and mobile and store all customer history in one place
You don’t want to have to choose between the legacy email flows customers go through on the web or the fancy new process you’ve built (or need to build) for mobile. You will need all the raw material—your customer record and events—in one place, across mobile and web. Generate one user ID for each person in your system and track their engagement pattern across devices from browsing to signup and throughout their lifecycle. Because most companies start focused on either web or iOS/Android, the challenge often comes when you try to create a combined experience. Segment.com is a terrific tool to streamline user tracking across platforms because it functions as a central hub for all this data.

(By the way, even if your product is mobile-only, you still need to build out an event stream to track engagement—and you will probably need to understand user behavior across iOS and Android.)

Rule #2: Understand how your users progress through your product.
Once you have a single customer record across devices, you want to figure out the engagement pattern that your users take. Do they download the app first, then dive in later on desktop? Do they start with the mobile website, then download the app to do some things on the go? Do they stay in one platform the whole time? Basically, you need to answer this question: “What are the first few actions my users take—and on what device do they take those actions?” I recommend Amplitude for this kind of analysis because they have the simplest, most powerful multi-device cohorting, deduping and discovery tools that I’ve seen.

Rule #3: Test your customer engagement strategy across channels and align product and marketing around a single strategy.
Now that mobile apps are developing the same capabilities for tracking, linking and messaging that the web has had for a while, the tried-and-true drip email campaign needs a big update. Because users can take actions in so many places, you need to not only AB test the content you send each customer but also the channel you use to deliver it. In other words, you need to be able to test when to send an email and when to send a mobile push.

At this point, lots of marketing and product teams agree in theory but hit two practical roadblocks: 1) Different teams work on email and mobile push, and 2) Won’t push notifications annoy our users? The answer to the first concern is to have a flexible tool that lets you delegate work to the appropriate team(s) but shows results across both channels. The answer to the second concern is to have the same quality checks and tracking for push notifications that you have for email: permission tracking, unsubscribe management, and deep linking.

These changes require more than just flipping a switch: they take time, effort and buy-in from your team. But once you have the structure in place, a unified framework across devices is incredibly powerful: Strava is one of maybe five apps I open every day. Their engagement strategy will make sure it stays that way.

A version of this post originally ran on the Outbound blog. Outbound has been welcomed into the Zendesk family. We’re working together to make customer relationships better with proactive messaging. Please visit www.outbound.io if you’d like to learn more about sending targeted messages in your product or app.

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