How Mint.com Uses Customer Lifecycle Notifications to Improve Retention

Let me paint a picture that you might have experienced. Your marketing team just completed an expensive acquisition campaign yesterday. You acquired thousands of new users and you’re already thinking of how to scale this campaign.

You then open your analytics tool to pull up a retention report and it looks like this:

The report above doesn’t lie. Most of your new users aren’t using your app. In fact, most of them left before doing anything.

In this post, I want to introduce one tactic that many fast-growing startups use to successfully guide their users through their customer lifecycle and improve retention. This tactic involves sending notifications (email, SMS, push notifications, etc) at the right time based on what actions the user took.

One of the best examples of a company that uses this tactic to retain their users is Mint.com which was acquired by Intuit in 2009 for $170 Million. If you’re not familiar with Mint.com, this is how they describe themselves:

“Mint aggregates all your financial life in one, easy-to-understand place. Mint also gives you free advice on how to save money”

Let’s understand how Mint.com uses messages and what we can apply to our own products.

Start by Figuring Out Your Customer Lifecycle

Before we write or set up any messages, we need to figure out what we want our users to do. Our messages will simply guide or nudge users towards these actions.

Consider the following questions:

  • What is the most important action that I want a new user to take?
  • What is the series of actions that I want my users to take after the most important action (see above)?
  • What do I need to show my user to prove the value of our product?

This last question is important. We need to be constantly reminding our users why they should care about our product. Messaging can help you automate as you will see below.

These questions are meant to help you focus on the key actions that users MUST take. The best way to get answers to these questions is to ask your users or to explore a user who is active. Tools like Mixpanel or Amplitude make it easy to look up user profiles and all of their activity.

Let’s now look at how Mint.com would answer these questions. Mint has a few different functions inside their product:

  • Viewing your transaction history
  • Budgets
  • Personal cash flow
  • Trends for spending (broken down by categories)
  • Progress against financial goals
  • Alerts on unusual spending, fees, etc

As an avid user of Mint, I have been keeping track of the messages they send out on a regular basis. We can see that Mint focuses heavily on two things: budgets and alerts. This means that I would regular emails telling me how I’m doing against my budget and if an unexpected charge occurs e.g. fees, large transaction, etc.

Mint.com is using two types of messages to bring back users to their product: event-based and recurring messages. Let’s look at some examples of each type and how you can create similar messages for your product.

How to Send the Right Message at the Right Time (and Scale It)

Event-based messages are triggered by a certain action or event takes places. The “event” part has to do with analytics events which is what tools like Mixpanel, Segment or Amplitude use.

Related: If you’re interested in properly setting up Mixpanel, then I recommend you check out a free video course that I created that will teach you everything you need to know about Mixpanel.

The action or event will vary depending on your product but here are some common examples:

  • a user adds a video = receives an email with the link to the video (Youtube does this)
  • a user comments on your status = receives an email or push notification letting you know (Facebook does this)
  • a user requests to connect with you = receives an email letting you know (Linkedin does this)

In each example, we have an important action that we want users to take so we use messages to nudge them towards it.

You can fire an event for any action (or lack of action) within your product. You should also be storing useful information within the event properties which you can then use inside your messages.

Let’s look at how Mint.com uses event-based messages.

Example #1: a transaction that gets tagged as “ATM Fees” will trigger a message by email or push notification.

We can see the big “Login Now” button and a helpful text saying “These frustrating fees can add up quickly. Open an account that refunds your ATM fees each month.”

All of sudden, Mint is making you aware of all these fees that perhaps you missed before. As a user, you start to see the value behind a product like Mint.

Example #2: going over a pre-created budget will trigger a message.

Imagine you’re halfway through the month and you get the above email. You have clearly spent too much in one of your budgets and you should scale back. Once again, we see the “Login Now” button as the main call to action.

Example #3: unusual spending in a specific category.

This email tells you that you have spent way too much money in a given category compared to your average which gives you context for this alert. We can then see a helpful message of “Over the last 30 days you spent $801 on Food & Dining. You usually spend $577. Might want to look into that. “

All of these messages are guiding users to use the Mint.com product while constantly reminding them of why they should continue using it.

Event-based messages are a powerful way to connect with your users at the right time with the right message. These types of messages also scale very well since you can set them up once and then let them run millions of times.

We also have a second type of messaging: recurring. Let’s explore how and where we would use this.

How to Consistently Remind Your Users Why They Should Care About Your Product

Recurring messages get sent on a schedule e.g. daily, weekly, monthly, etc. These messages tend to summarize your activity inside the product or to give you an overview of what happened during the past week, month, etc.

You’ll see examples of recurring messages in products like Slack (summary of team activity), and Asana (summary of tasks completed). Recurring messages are a great way to remind your users why they should care about your product.

Mint.com sends you a weekly summary of your spending and financial world. This email looks like this:

We can see that the focus of the email is on how much money you spent and the category breakdown for this spending. We also see a call to action button that says lets you “Compare to Previous Spending”.

The email then goes on to show you the budgets that were affected this week and how you’re doing against them.

This is a great example of what a recurring message could and should look like. The email is short but packed full of value. Every week, Mint.com reminds me why I should be using their product.

When thinking of recurring messages, focus on two things:

  1. What small wins can I remind or tell the user about?
  2. What should the user be aware of that would be helpful?

Conclusion

You can combine recurring and event-based messages to improve the overall retention of your product. Just like any other analytics project, start small and iterate quickly.

Tools like Customer.io, Intercom and Outbound can help you set up these types of messages based on the events that you’re already tracking. Most of these tools can help you send messages across the different channels e.g. email, SMS, push notifications, etc.

Question for you: What is one message that you could add that would help your users understand why they should care about your product? Let me know in the comments!

One more thing before you go! Do you know how to get more insights out of your data? 

All companies are sitting on a goldmine of data that they haven't fully explored. It's not about technology or capturing more data. The key is to learn how to make the most of your current data and convert it into actionable insights. This is the main idea behind my first book, The Data Miage: Why Companies Fail to Actually Use Their Data

I'm excited to announce the release of the book through all major retailers. If you're interested, you can download the first chapter for free using the form below. You'll learn what the best data-driven companies do differently and how to make sure you're playing the right data game.

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