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Ibotta: How an App Wins at Branded Content

From iPhone apps to cloud-based software, every tech company struggles with consumer engagement levels. With over 7 million app users and an impressively high engagement rate of 25 times per month, Ibotta knows the secret to high engagement. The consumer rewards app exposes shoppers to targeted content from their favorite brands before giving them cash back on everyday purchases. Brandfolder interviewed Eric Feitel, Ibotta’s Creative Director, and Richard Donahue, the company’s Director of Marketing, about the app’s success.

Ibotta refers to branded content as “brand engagements.” How did you come up with this idea?

Eric: We needed to present branded content in a fun way so consumers wouldn’t realize they were being marketed to. We just brainstormed different ideas—things that were entertaining, quick, and interesting—and that’s how we came up with different engagements.

Rich: From the business side, we knew we didn’t want to be the traditional paper coupon. We wanted to do something that would take advantage of everything that a smartphone does and we also wanted to be unique in the way that we provided the value back to the end user. Nothing here entails cutting out paper and getting your hands all inky while you wait to redeem a coupon. What we wanted to do was transfer that traditional action to something that was more game-like and fun.

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Ibotta acts as a platform where other brands can showcase their content. How do you use consistent design and messaging to ensure that this experience feels like the Ibotta brand, even while hosting such a variety of external content?

Eric: It has been an interesting journey to be a small brand that coexists alongside very large established brands like Coca-Cola, and how to make sure that Ibotta doesn’t get lost within that envelope. What we provide is simple by purpose—we don’t want brand partners to have to figure out how they fit in. We want to be a simple, clean, elegant foundation that brands can fit on top of.

Rich: Our account executives do a great job of showing brands how their content can live on top of Ibotta; we help them get their message out in a concise way. The content itself helps people understand that, not only will they get money if they buy, but they also will reap the benefits from the product that they are now informed of.

Ibotta claims to be the world’s first mobile brand engagement platform. How does Ibotta leverage the power of data to help deliver targeted, relevant messaging?

Rich: The data is a huge piece of everything we do. We work deeply with brand and retail partners to find out which people are most likely to buy what. Personalization has always been a key point of the Ibotta experience, and we want people to understand what they’re buying. Our insights into user purchasing behavior helps us reach them and deliver targeted content. The better the content we provide, the better the experience for them, and the more likely they are to keep coming back.

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What are your criteria for partnering with a brand?

Rich: We welcome any brand that has distribution in a store we support. However, it’s important that people are able to find the product we’re promoting so that they can redeem it. Our only problem is our own growth. We need companies that can support our user base. If a lot of people see a coupon and get so excited that they buy up the entire inventory, then we’d have to pull the item off of the app. So the biggest thing is making sure our partners can support our 7 million plus users. Also, we’ve made a choice not to work with categories that don’t fit—we don’t offer deals on cigarettes, for example.

What challenges have you faced in people downloading your app and not using it? How do you get people to try out the Ibotta app and find value in it?

Rich: The biggest hook is that users always get cash when they go shopping, so the app has a strong retention rate. This goes back to the experience we try and craft; we want to make sure we’re relevant, contextual, and hitting people with the right touch points. I think that’s why people open it 25 days out of the month—they’re looking for more opportunities to make money. We’re always thinking of ways to encourage people to redeem more in a fresh and fun way. For example, we offer a bonus for working with your friends; the more friends you have on your team the more you can earn.

Eric: Ibotta functions like no other app: we ask you to engage with it, close it, and then go to the physical location and interact with a physical space. It’s been fun engaging our users with content. We send email touch points with timely and relevant information to nudge our customers across and through the app.

What’s next for Ibotta? Do you have any new features or partnerships in the works?

Eric: We’ve just launched an effort to simplify the interface. As a UI designer I’ve come to realize that if you try too hard to make all of your options available to consumers, a lot of times they can lose their way. We have to be more careful with limiting options, because with a cleaner app people know what to do. We’re removing navigational clutter so that we can drive users from the initial first step to “now show us what you bought.”

Rich: We’re implementing search into the app at a global level, and then implementing a new program of “any brand” rebates. Rather than limiting people to manufacturing, we’re opening it up to any brand you choose. This appeals to everyone and anyone who’s looking to be a smart shopper and we’re excited to offer fresh fruits and veggies, which people historically weren’t able to get cash back on.

Eric: Everyone knows who Coca-Cola is and what their brand looks like. When you visually say, “hey go buy any soda” you have to be brand agnostic while still maintaining the Ibotta brand. We’ve done a lot of work to do “any brand” and brand that idea, even though it’s just generic.