How to bring users back to your app with real-time bidding tools

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by VentureBeat.

Congratulations! You’ve already figured out what should have been the hard part: Getting people to download your app. But as you now know, that’s not even the half of it. Once they’ve installed it, how do you get your customers to actually use it?

According to a recent report from Google, 25 percent of all apps are used just once before being discarded. To try to keep that from happening, savvy app marketers tend to use some combination of traditional and emerging technology to re-engage with consumers.

For example, you’ve already collected an email address from each person who installed your app. The judicious use of email can remind users as to why they installed your app in the first place and alert them to offers, discounts, and other marketing strategies that could inspire them to re-engage. But of course, you don’t want to overdo it, especially with messages that bear little or no relation to a consumer’s wants and needs at a given point in time. When that happens, users will send your emails to the spam folder at best; at worst, they’ll discard your app.

Other traditional tools for app re-engagement are SMS messaging and mobile banner ads. But unless you’re delivering these in a targeted and contextual way, users will find these intrusive.

Push notifications are another common way to deliver marketing messages tied to your app. Those who install apps are usually given the choice as to opt in or out of receiving these notifications. If they opt in, you’ve got a direct pipeline to the user’s device – but again, your alerts had better show some relation to his or her behavior and location at the time they are generated, or else they can quickly become a nuisance.

Each of these tools has value but can also be a double-edged sword. Another problem these techniques share is that they exist outside of the app environment, where users have to take additional steps (i.e. the checking and opening an email) to receive the re-engagement messaging.

Of all the available weapons in your digital arsenal, real-time bidding (RTB) technology offers the best opportunity for reviving your app. RTB burst onto the scene a couple of years ago as a new online method for buying and selling ad inventory on a per-impression basis in a programmatic, auction environment. It’s proven especially effective when used in mobile advertising, and it’s only recently been recognized for its potential to help app marketers re-engage with app users.

For example, Tommy has downloaded a game app that he’s only used once – but that’s all that’s needed for his unique device ID to be collected. Using an RTB platform, you can establish a set of rules to determine the circumstances under which Tommy will be targeted with messaging that encourages re-engagement; e.g., if he hasn’t used the app for seven days, he will be served with a native ad incentivizing him to return to that app the next time he uses any other game app.

In this scenario, RTB has enabled you to reach Tommy when he has already made a decision to play a game and is already in an app environment. Now all you have to do is offer the right reward for switching from someone else’s app to yours. And you can also determine what type of reward to offer based on recent data Tommy has generated on his device. Perhaps he browsed a retailer’s website earlier that day for pricing and availability of the newly redesigned Converse All-Star Chuck Taylor sneakers. You can offer him a gift card to that store, increasing the chances he’ll use your app again and again.

Let’s look at another example. Monica installs a hotel-based app when she’s traveling. Now it’s 20 days later, and she hasn’t used the product again. She boards a flight for New York, where upon landing, she receives a push notification, welcoming her to the Big Apple (geolocation in real time).

What’s more, the app has checked her preferences and usage history and knows she prefers to stay at the Hampton Inn in midtown Manhattan. The push notification offers her a deal on a room upgrade at her favorite hotel as well as a coupon to her favorite restaurant down the street. All Monica has to do is open the app to redeem the deal. This ad becomes a real-time service to Monica that is relevant and in context to what she is doing in the moment.

Of all the methods brands and app marketers can use to entice consumers to re-engage with their apps, RTB is truly a game-changer. By serving the consumer with the right ad in the right place at the right time, you can transform an app that seemed destined for deletion into a must-have.

Shekhar Yadav is Senior VP Technology of Open Platform at Rubicon Project. Previously he led the big data BI team at Google that was aggregating the largest data set within Google to predict/analyze display ads and search trends. He was also the founding architect at StrongMail Systems.