Essential Mobile App Marketing Guide for Small Businesses

Essential Mobile App Marketing Guide for Small Businesses

One of the best benefits of having a mobile app for your small business is that it is almost like having an open-line to each of your customers; a means for you and your customers to communicate directly with each other. And part of this communication should, naturally, be in the form of marketing, except now you don’t have to worry too much about whether your message is actually reaching your customers. An added benefit is that you are also more easily able to see the impact of your marketing efforts via your app, in the form of app engagement, and the redemption of offers exclusive to app users.

I have previously written about app promotion strategies, but this was focused only on creating awareness of your app, and getting users to install and use it. In this guide we will look at how you can use your app to market and grow your business, because while having an app is like having an open-line to your customers, it doesn’t benefit either of you if you aren’t actually communicating via this open-line.

An Apptentive study published earlier this year found that:

Of companies that saw their levels of customer loyalty decrease a great deal over the past year, two-thirds (66%) don’t have a mobile app. Companies with a mobile app reported lower levels of decline in customer loyalty over the last year.

Part of the reason for this is that customers are more loyal to business who engage with them – either through social media or a mobile app – and customers are also becoming more responsive to personalisation. Although the image below highlights the best practices of marketing to Millennials, the figures for Gen X will be only slightly lower since, like Millennials, they favour online shopping and the use of smartphones and tablets

Source: USCDornsife

Mobile apps are very well suited to the personalisation of marketing, offers and communication, but the success of this for each business depends on how much effort you put into it, and how well you manage it. In this article we will not only discuss where your marketing efforts should be focused within your app, but also which aspects of these are good for personalisation. As we will mention a few times, personalisation is not just about addressing your customers by name, although that is a good start. Personalisation is more about tailoring your communications, offers and promotions according to each user’s preferences and past behaviour; and in order to do this you need to not only analyse user behaviour in your mobile app, but also collect some personal information, and then segment your users accordingly.

Push Notification Marketing

As stated earlier, having a mobile app for your small business is like having a direct communication channel with your customers, and push notifications are the chief communicators.

When used correctly.

Source: Localytics

Push notifications are in the unenviable position of being loved and hated in almost equal measures: 52% of consumers find them annoying, while 48% find them useful or helpful. And unfortunately, users often choose not to opt-in to receiving push notifications based on their experience using other apps, not your own. This, however, should not deter you from using push notifications because there are multiple benefits that flow from using push notifications properly, both for you and your customers.

Source: Localytics

These figures show that despite some users finding them annoying, push notifications are a valuable – and low-cost – tool for marketing directly to your customers, keeping them engaged with your app, and your business.

We started this section with the caveat that push notifications are only valuable when used correctly, so we need to now clarify best practices when using push notifications.

Sales, Special Offers & Coupons

Technically these are announcements, but they are also more transactional than informational, and when used correctly offer the biggest benefit to you and your customers. In the past you may have announced a sale by slapping a red “SALE” banner in your store window, or selling a kidney so you could afford a quarter page ad in the local newspaper. Nowadays you have hopefully switched to online and social media advertising, even if you’re still not completely sure they are being seen by the right people. Sending promotional messages via push notification helps amplify your message, with some assurance that they are being sent to people with more than a passing interest in your business. Combine that with audience segmentation, and you’re even closer to having your message seen by the right people.

When sending out announcements for a sale or promotional offer – and when sending out product, service or category specific coupons – you will see a far better response if you send it to segmented users, rather than all users. Even when the offers are valid throughout your store, or across a broad range of categories, send one message to users who frequently open your app, and a different message to users who haven’t opened your app in some time (but still have it installed). Another important point for these push notifications is: make use of deep-linking whenever the offer only applies to a specific item or item category. Deep-linking is the use of URIs that link directly to specific pages within the app, rather than simply launching the app and loading the default page. This reduces the number of steps your customers need to take in order to make use of the promoted offer.


Reminders via push notification can either be part of a multi-person campaign, sent out to various segments of your users to remind them of an ongoing offer, or a specific service/product that you are trying to increase awareness of, or they can be highly personalised and only sent to a few individuals each day. The latter option is perfect for salons, medical practitioners, and any other business where customers have to make an appointment. Instead of having to call each customer to remind them of their appointment, or risk them forgetting and not showing up at all, you can send reminders to customers with scheduled appointments a day – or a few hours – before the time. It is more cost-effective – and less intrusive – than a phone call, and you can even include a deep-link to your contact details in your app, making it easy for customers to contact you immediately if they have forgotten about the appointment and need to reschedule.

Online Shopping

Push notifications can provide a considerable boost to app engagement and user retention, but it is not the only tool you have at your disposal. Any business selling physical products should consider including an e-commerce function in their mobile app, allowing users to easily browse and order products. Naturally, this isn’t as simple as just adding the functionality to your app, but requires you to address the following:

  • How will shipping be managed?
  • What areas will you ship to?
  • Will shipping be free, or will there be a cost involved?
  • Will customers be able to purchase all items you normally sell, or only a limited range?
  • What forms of payment will you accept?
  • How will you keep track of stock and the quantities of each item available?

Additionally, you need to provide clear and detailed product descriptions for each item in your online store, which may include product dimensions and weight, accompanied by good quality photos. It sounds like a lot of work, but most of it is purely one-off decisions that need to be made, with the rest easily managed through the implementation of ongoing processes.

While an online store can work for any business with physical products to sell – and even salons, barbers and spas sell physical products, even if the range is small – bars and restaurants can still benefit from a mobile app by replacing the online store function with an interactive menu. Instead of adding a flat PDF version of your menu to your app, create a digital menu where you aren’t too constrained by the limitations of space, allowing you to add detailed descriptions for each menu item, and use high quality images. An alternative to hiring a professional food photographer would be to invite your customers to submit their own photos of your menu items, for the chance to win a free meal.

Sales, Special Offers & Coupons

We have previously discussed the use of push notifications and deep-linking to announce and promote sales, special offers and to deliver coupons, but this only works for customers with push notifications enabled. What about customers who never enabled push notifications?

Your online store should ideally be divided into categories and subcategories, making it easier for users to quickly navigate to the range of items they are interested in. While you can, and should, highlight sales and special offers within these categories, you can also promote quick and easy discovery of current promotions by adding a separate category to your main menu, ideally positioned above all the other categories. The same method can be used for coupons, but try to keep coupons separate from your other promotional offers, and ensure that the wording on your coupon clearly states whether the coupon(s) can be used in conjunction with other promotional offers.


Deliveries – or shipping – can be especially difficult for small businesses when you have to stretch your already limited resources to now accommodate the picking, packing and dispatching of online orders. And with major online retailers offering same and next day delivery, customers are becoming increasingly reluctant to wait several days for their order to arrive. You shouldn’t be trying to match the delivery options of major retailers, but you should be offering fairly fast delivery that customers are able to track. Clearly indicate in your app, and your invoices, what the standard delivery time is, and your customers may also appreciate you listing a cut-off time for orders – i.e. orders placed after a certain time will only be dispatched the next working day, etc.

If all items ordered online are picked from your store stock, rather than from an external warehouse, you could investigate the possibility of allowing customers to pick up their order in-store. Some customers will love the convenience of being able to place an order online during the day, and then collect the order on their way home after work. Remember that customers who select this option are unlikely to want to be kept waiting; have a cut-off time for these orders, and have a central location in-store where they can collect.


We write about video in many of our marketing posts, and that is because it is a powerful marketing tool, especially with certain segments of customers. Video can be incorporated into various sections of your app, but you should always consider including them in the online store section of your app. These videos can either be product demonstration videos, embedded just above or below product descriptions, or for clothing retailers, they can be video “lookbooks” showing off the latest arrivals, and how to co-ordinate them.

But loyalty programs are not without their own set of challenges, which each business needs to work at overcoming. While 60% of customers believe in the loyalty programs they participate in, 33% of Millennials dislike loyalty programs because of the number of cards they end up having to carry around. Additionally, 70% of customers do not sign up for new loyalty programs because of inconvenient registration processes.

Source: Vantiv

Switching from a physical loyalty card to a digital loyalty card – inside of your mobile app – will definitely make your loyalty program more appealing, while reducing your overheads, and simplifying the enrollment process for both you and your customers.

Audience Segmentation

The personalisation and relevancy of communication from business to consumer is receiving more attention from marketers, and while customers aren’t demanding personalisation, they are responding more to businesses who employ some form of personalisation. This is especially true when it comes to marketing communications and marketing offers, and loyalty programs are not exempt from this.

Oversimplifying your loyalty program enrollment process can be a liability if you collect too little information from your users, making it difficult for you to personalise their experience. Using the registration or in-app form process discussed under push notifications can eliminate this, while still being a simple process for users, which they can also do whenever it suits them. You can personalise your loyalty program further by simply asking users what types of rewards they would prefer, instead of offering a default one-size-fits-all reward. Offering only one type of reward might be convenient for you, but it doesn’t necessarily appeal to all customers, some of whom may prefer a discount coupon to use as they please. And by incorporating your loyalty program into your app you make this possible, without requiring extra resources on your part, as long as you are properly segmenting your audience in your loyalty program, and measuring the performance of each segment and reward type. Remember that what isn’t measured cannot be managed.

One way to make it easy for new customers to enrol in your loyalty program, and to increase the number of people using your app, is to create simple mobile app landing page, with direct links to your app on the relevant app store, and a QR code that, when scanned, also auto loads your app on the relevant store. This landing page and QR code can be shared via email and social media, but should also be accessible in-store for customers who want to immediately start benefiting from your offers that are exclusive to app users.

Booking Forms

The final essential mobile app marketing tool we’ll be discussing in this guide is the inclusion of a booking form in your app. Though this feature isn’t of benefit to all businesses, it is absolutely essential for any business that relies on customers scheduling an appointment: from salons and spas, through to restaurants and repairmen.

As with any online form, aim to keep things simple by asking only for the most necessary information:

  • Name
  • Contact details
  • Service required
  • Preferred date and time


Push notifications (and geo-targeting) are two powerful marketing tools available to businesses with a mobile app, but since this method is strictly opt-in, the challenge for all business owners is to convince users that they won’t be bombarded with excessive, and irrelevant, notifications. But there are still many users who are quite happy to receive push notifications, and this number can continue to grow if businesses not only commit to following the best practices outlined in this article, but actually following through with that commitment. We have also discussed how personalisation can have a very positive impact on customer engagement, and responsiveness to offers, and this will continue to be a positive for business who get it right. If you aren’t already experimenting with personalisation, we hope you will take note of the ideas presented here, and begin exploring how your business can implement some of them, both within your app and in your other marketing initiatives.

Keeping users engaged with your app is an ever-present hurdle, and we would love to hear what you are doing to keep users engaged with your small business app.