The Top 10 Personalization Strategies for Non-Retail Apps

By Dave Albert

The ability to personalize a user’s experience is one of the greatest advantages mobile apps have over mobile websites. While the lines between mobile websites and apps continue to blur, apps can leverage device-specific functions like geolocation, push notifications, cameras, photo libraries and user contacts for creating personalized experiences.

The majority of mobile personalization platforms focus on retail and increasing sales and conversions. Non-retail apps can also benefit from personalization to keep users invested and engaged. In this article I present strategies and tactics to consider when interweaving personalization into your non-retail apps.

You Don’t Need Big Data or a Complex Architecture

Sure, collecting user and behavioral data coupled with complex algorithms to deliver highly-relevant experiences is the Holy Grail of personalization. And for that reason I think many developers shy away from personalization considering it too daunting. While such platforms are common in large e-commerce implementations, personalization efforts can begin without a lot of effort and still provide significant value.

1 Location-specific Content
This is one of the most obvious ways to personalize content. With advanced geotracking built in to most mobile devices, it’s easier than ever to target users with news, places of interest, or connect them with other users based on their location. Apple’s iBeacon technology pairs with Bluetooth to identify a user’s location and deliver relevant content such as a push notification or check-in.

2 Marking Favorites
I can only imagine how many apps I would use more if the ability to mark favorites (as in favorite content) was readily accessible. It’s not difficult to do and gives your app a valid reason to prompt a user to create an account, giving you access to user profile data and ongoing messaging opportunities.

3 Setting (or Learning) Preferences
Consider allowing users to customize their experience in meaningful ways. This includes ranking topic preferences, how often and when to send push notifications, and customizing the UI and user experience.

4 Recommendations
The more you know about a user, the better you can personalize recommendations such as content, activities or things they might like. While polling users for interests during the onboarding process can help you kickstart this data collection, to build rich user profiles you must employ mechanisms that learn about the user and tracks behavior as your app is used. Data points include:

  • User registration
  • Browsing history
  • Content users have favorited, recommended or liked
  • Leveraging Facebook for social graph data
  • Account preferences

  • Ratings and reviews

  • User feedback

Tracking such data will help you craft a better user experience for the user. Collectively, this data can create a rich profile which spawns endless opportunities to refine and improve your app.

5 User Generated or Modified Content
It’s easy to think of personalization as an experience you deliver rather than one your users create. And while collecting data and tracking behavior to fuel a personalization strategy is extremely powerful, your app has the potential to become a platform for users to create or modify their own personalized content and experiences. For example, Paprika is an amazing cooking app that saves any recipe on the Web and formats it for easy customization. Recipes can be edited and categorized, and ingredients can be saved to a shopping list. Paprika has a feature where it automatically scales the recipe up or down depending on how many servings one wants to make.

Such concepts can be extended to collaborating or sharing with friends or colleagues as part of the process. Beyond being a beautiful app, Oggl by Hipstamatic allows members to specify interests, find, follow and connect with fellow photographers, add photos they discover to personal collections and share their own photos. It has an endless variety of ways to search and filter photos, making for a highly personalized experience for photo lovers.

6 Upvoted Content or Content Users Can Promote
The simple act of voting content up or down has made sites like Reddit and Quora popular. Take a lesson from these by making your content interactive and blended with content created or added from users.

7 Integrating with Familiar Services
Integrating with services people use often is typically easy and worth exploration. Allowing a user to upload a photo to Dropbox, save a note or clip to Evernote, add an event to Google Calendar or post to social channels increases user retention and usability. If users enjoy your content, make it easy for them to save, share and interact by offering tools they use everyday.

8 Social Integration
Social isn’t just about providing the ability to share. It’s about passively or actively connecting user with friends and connections within the context of your app. This can be as simple as displaying articles friends have recommended or up voted, or as deep as allowing for group activities.

9 Time Of Day
Displaying content or recommendations by time of day is an interesting personalization tactic. Consider the Yelp! app. The initial view defaults to restaurants nearby depending on the time of day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) along with a list of typical categories one might want to find nearby (restaurants, bars, coffee, etc.). Yelp! is focused on being as relevant as possible based on location and time of day—without forcing users to register or sign in.

10 Personalized Messaging
Messaging that’s based on user behavior, activity or preferences is a way to personalize the user experience in a relevant way. This can be as simple as sending a “Happy Birthday!” message on the user’s birth date.


Personalization isn’t just for retail and it doesn’t have to be that complex. Keep in mind personalization should add value and complement the user experience, not get in the way. Does it make sens to add elements of personalization to your app? If your app is already in the market, slowly introduce personalization features and test their effectiveness. If not, consider how personalization can augment and improve the app you’re planning or building. I would love to hear personalization ideas you have tried in your apps and how effective they were for you.



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