How Babycenter Strategizes for Effective App Onboarding & Retention

Every year, Localytics hosts ENGAGE, a conference for mobile marketing leaders to come together and talk mobile marketing strategy and innovation. This year, Kathy Chao, Director of Global Marketing at Babycenter, told us how her team organized a strategic approach to app onboarding and retention.

If you’re an expecting parent or started having kids in the age of the internet, you probably know Babycenter. Founded in 1997 as one of the first resources for expecting parents online,  Babycenter’s vision is “a world of healthy pregnancies, thriving children, and confident parents.” And when they say world, they mean it: Babycenter is the #1 digital parenting resource worldwide, reaching 1 in 5 of the moms with internet access.

A major part of building that kind of reach means creating targeted digital experiences that resonate with new and expecting parents. At ENGAGE 2017 Global Marketing Director Kathy Chao told us about the pivotal role Babycenter’s app onboarding experience plays, and how their efforts to pin down the right experience has proven to improve app retention.


Chao started us off with some insight into Babycenter’s strategic imperatives–the guidelines that act as the foundation for all their marketing strategy.


Babycenter-Kathy Chao.jpg

Babycenter’s Global Marketing Director Kathy Chao at ENGAGE 2017.


Building a Strategy


Chao started us off with some insight into Babycenter’s strategic imperatives–the guidelines that act as the foundation for all their marketing strategy.


Relevance. Is the right message for the user? Does it prompt action, or offer education, community, or support? In Babycenter’s app, messaging changes quite a bit throughout the user’s pregnancy.


Experience. Is it a meaningful and efficient experience for users? Can users find the content they’re looking for, and discover new, relevant content on the way?


Personalization. Thanks to testing, the Babycenter team knows that the more targeted and personal the content, the higher engagement will be. So they’ve committed the resources to create it: there’s currently over 500 campaigns, created with liquid templating.




Solutions. These goals call for a cross-functional team. App product managers, iOS/Android developers, marketing, and analytics work together to implement the strategy.


Optimizing Onboarding


Much of Babycenter’s onboarding revolves around a key question: when is the user’s baby due? (If they’re pregnant.)  Once that data is pinpointed, Babycenter can kick their highly targeted long-term mobile engagement strategy into gear. They’ve mapped the major events and milestones of a user’s pregnancy journey, with corresponding push that map to it.


As Chao told us, Babycenter took a close look at their users and categorized them into 4 groups, based mainly on whether they registered or didn’t register during onboarding. Babycenter had a fairly high registration rate (67%) but the team wanted to better understand the most successful paths users were taking.

Here’s the 4 groups the team identified:

The happy path. These users registered, and took efficient paths to content through the app. They proved to be long-term, engaged users.

Butterflies. These individuals eventually became engaged users, and registered, but “fluttered” all over the app, clearly looking for something in particular.

Frustrated. After taking the time to download the app, these users explore (much like the butterflies) but never register.

Fail. These users never end up registering, after little or no exploration.


Babycenter wanted to optimize the the experiences for the two middle categories, butterflies and frustrated users, and created a test around a key question in onboarding. The results? Improved retention for Android users, and am improved registration rate.


Learn more: What does good mobile app onboarding look like? 


Keys to success


Targeting. The research and careful analysis behind how new users experienced the Babycenter app let the team create meaningful onboarding experiences.


Partnership. Chao explains that Babycenter considers Localytics a real partner. Weekly in-person working sessions help the team maintain constant optimization, and address any issues that arise quickly.


Constant testing. The team never misses an opportunity to try out a new twist on user experience, trying out liquid templates, A/B messaging tests, and emojis. That’s how they’ve learned how high a tolerance their audience has for emojis and gifs. (High, according to Chao).


Ruthless prioritization. As a project progresses, it’s value to the brand and to the user is consistently questioned.


Internal visibility and communication. The rest of the company has clear line of sight into the digital team’s work, and there’s opportunity for collaboration and input.


Evaluate your paid and unpaid efforts along a continnuum. As Chao points out, there should be multiple criteria for evaluating a method’s value to your brand.


Ration your developer resources. For many companies, developer resources are in high demand across the company. Make sure you’re putting them toward the highest-priority projects.


Set clear DACI. DACI is a responsibility matrice, similar to RACI. Chao explained that setting clear paremeters and accountability for each person involved in their digital strategy is key for a smooth process.

D-Driver. The single person driving the coordination and completion of a project.

A-Accountable. This is the person approving decisions and the work itself, and is ultimately accountable.

C-Contributors. These are the people carrying out the tasks necessary to complete the project.

I-Informed. People who are influenced by the project, and need to be informed of the status and results.


Don’t be tempted to “set it and forget it.” Constantly monitor your onboarding, pinpoint patterns and trends, and look for opportunities to test and optimize.


Challenge your goals. Look at your metrics, and what they really mean in terms of your bottom line. Chao told us that Babycenter doesn’t track MAUs–monthly active users–which is one of the major metrics in the app marketing world. But for Babycenter, that metric doesn’t accurately measure user engagement and monetization.


Socialize your learnings. This came up earlier, but Chao’s team makes it a point to socialize their learnings, and the progress of their strategy.


Ultimately, Chao’s strategy comes down to this: they recognize the enormous insight their data has to offer about their users, and they put it to work with hyper-targeted experiences that resonate. Thank you to Kathy Chao for a fantastic session!

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