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Mobile Engagement
What We Learned After Analyzing Headspace’s Mobile Engagement Strategy

As a mobile marketer or product manager, you may see an alarming and frustrating trend in your metrics. Even after you invest valuable time and resources into acquiring users, the average 30-day post-install retention rate for mobile apps is only around 7%.

But, don’t think you’re left to just accept this trend. User engagement in the first few weeks post-install is imperative to the long-term success of your mobile business, and it’s actually something you can work to control.

So, what separates the winners from the losers? Which apps deliver consistent value and keep us engaged as users, and which apps fall short? 

We’ve set out to answer these questions for you in a new series aimed at understanding how leading mobile app publishers engage their users in the critical first few weeks post sign-up. We’ll be tearing down their engagement strategies to understand the Good, the Not-So-Good, and the Lucky, as well as identify areas for improvement. 

First up in our analysis, one of the leading brands in the digital health and wellness category: Headspace.

*Below is a condensed version of our Headspace engagement strategy analysis. To download the full version, fill out the form below:

App Snapshot: Headspace, Leading  Meditation & Sleep App

Disclaimer: The data contained in this section comes from Apptopia, a mobile data provider. 

Headspace is an industry leader in the digital meditation space, with the goal of promoting meditation and making it accessible to everyone. Their model includes a free basics course that teaches the fundamental techniques of meditation and mindfulness, and a premium subscription that gives users access to the full Headspace meditation library.

If you look at their stats, Headspace has strong overall performance, with over 20 million users downloading the app across Android and iOS in the past year and almost 7 million MAU, easily making them a category leader.

However, their retention numbers tell a slightly different story. By Day 30 on both the iOS and Google Play app stores, their average retention percentages fall to 8.5% and 8.1% respectively. Though Headspace still performs slightly better than other apps in their category (in which the average day 30 retention is 6.2% on Google Play and 7% on iOS), they’re still losing around 92% of users by the end of the month.

So, what can they do to address this? For mobile apps hoping to improve retention, it starts with understanding the mechanics and decision making behind every engagement between the brand and the user and answering questions like:

Is the user available? If they’re trying to create a regular meditation habit, as in Headspace’s case, do the context and content of their offerings match each user’s needs and preferences?

To find those answers, we needed to collect some data.


When analyzing engagement, marketers tend to focus on traditional indicators, such as time of delivery, copy, or number of successful engagements, to determine campaign  effectiveness. But, where is the analysis of users’ real-world behavior? What activities define each persons’ day and their subsequent availability to respond to marketing messages and content?

Turns out, we don’t have to guess (whew!). We can answer those questions by introducing new, untapped data that most marketers aren’t even aware they can leverage:

  1. What users are doing in the real world when apps attempt to engage them
  2. What users are doing at the exact moment that they choose to engage with apps

To uncover this data, I installed Headspace on my personal Android device and logged user-initiated and brand-initiated engagements between myself and Headspace. I also installed Neura on the same device to automatically record my real-world behavior and create a detailed timeline of my activity throughout the two-week study.

Neura Timelines

As you can see in the timeline below, the raw data shows that throughout the study period, I had many different kinds of days, some in which I was busy or traveling, others in which I mostly stayed at home, and others in which I stayed out late.

Now, our task is to understand how the unpredictable nature of people in the real world influences engagement behavior, and how we as mobile marketers and product managers can (and should) incorporate this information into engagement campaigns.

Let’s start with what Headspace got right…

Analysis & Results

Disclaimer: In conducting this study, the conclusions and data presented are the result of observed data collected over 2 weeks.

In our full teardown, you’ll find additional examples and analyses of The Good, The Not-So-Good, and The Lucky aspects of Headspace’s engagement strategy, but below is a sample of some of the major insights we uncovered.

The Good

Right off the bat, we can see that Headspace designed a great onboarding flow that sets expectations and gets the user invested in their own new habit formation. For instance, they ask when I want to be reminded to do my daily meditation.

Headspace onboarding flow

In this flow, Headspace gives some control of app behavior to the user. They provide different categories (morning or evening) for when I’d like to receive reminders to meditate, and they prompt me to choose daily activities to time the reminders.

By offering a choice, Headspace is inviting themselves into your life, and through completion of the onboarding flow, the user is saying, “Yes, I want and expect to hear from you.” 

This is a great tactic to increase the user’s tolerance for engagement attempts from a brand while decreasing the likelihood that the user will take the ‘nuclear option’ later and, for example, turn all push notifications off, unsubscribe from emails, or outright uninstall 😱.

Despite the strong start, Headspace still has room for improvement…

The Not-So-Good

Let’s take a look at what happened near the beginning of the study on Day 2.

On the 2nd day post-install, you’ll notice in the timeline above that I received Mindful Moment notifications while driving (three times!), walking between two places (twice), and eating at a restaurant. 

I ignored almost all of these attempts because I just wasn’t available. Plus, the only notification I interacted with, which was sent while I was at a restaurant, resulted in a dismissal as I was clearly enjoying a long meal. 

Upon looking at the data, there were clear signals that those days were atypical for me (e.g., I was traveling, I didn’t wake up in my normal Home location, I didn’t get up at my usual wakeup time, etc.), so Headspace could’ve used this opportunity to change the nature of their engagement attempts in a few ways:

  1. Reduce the number of total attempts
  2. Build out push notification copy that acknowledges my busy day and provides words of encouragement
  3. Design the evening meditation reminder to be more dynamic (based on context instead of time). In the above example, it would make sense to wait until I’m home, unwinding from my busy day, to encourage me to build my meditation habit

All of these suggestions can be accomplished by defining user segments with criteria such as how busy the user is, checking whether the user is traveling, or checking the user’s wakeup time compared to their average wakeup time

We can also invite the user to set meditation reminders to be delivered based on Neura Moments as context-based triggers, such as when the user is about to go to bed, instead of more limiting time-based automation. After all, the whole point of having a meditation app is to help me reduce the stress in my life!

Final Takeaways

At the end of the study, it was clear that Headspace’s current engagement strategy doesn’t seem to make a significant impact on influencing subscribers to create a daily (or at least regular) meditation habit.

And it’s partially a function of the industry they’re in. One of the major barriers to engagement for meditation and wellness apps is ensuring that users set aside time every day to take an action in the app. In Headspace’s case, meditation is competing for time with almost any other activity, whether it’s going to the gym, watching TV, or scrolling through Instagram, which makes it even more crucial for Headspace to send gentle nudges to the right user at the right moment.

At the end of the day, Headspace’s success is dependent on how well they maximize the number of users who renew their subscription and minimize the amount that churn, and they can achieve this by developing a smart, sustainable engagement strategy that leads to long-term retention.

After tracking Headspace’s engagement over a 2-week period, here are our top three takeaways for health and wellness apps eager to take their app engagement to the next level:

1. Creating a daily habit requires an intimate understanding of each user’s real-world availability, needs, and preferences

This doesn’t require a major overhaul on day one. Focus on small, simple changes that can be implemented immediately to existing campaigns.

2. Constantly test and iterate to find the right audience, personas, and moments that lead to campaign success

Expect that real-world user behavior will always be changing, even day-to-day. What works now might not work tomorrow, so use insights from third-party tools, such as Neura Insights, to measure and test the relationship between engagement events and real-world behavior.

3. The user’s context should be leveraged in tandem with messaging to maximize the effectiveness of your engagement campaigns

It’s not enough to send reminders once or multiple times a day. Blasting out messages and hoping one will work is like throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something sticks. Now that companies can access a plethora of real-world user behavior and engagement data, there is a huge opportunity to rethink traditional engagement strategies. Check out Neura Actions to get started.

To download the full version of our Headspace teardown and access all of the in-depth analyses and insights, fill out the form below:.