John Coombs

Why Should Marketers Care about Server-Driven UI and No Code

The shifting focus for growth marketing from user acquisition to engagement marketing and conversion has resulted in new investments in marketing technology. Today’s martech stack includes platforms for data management, rules-based messaging orchestration for email, push and in-app messaging, analytics and AB testing.

Most marketing technology tout campaign metrics and measurability often deemphasizing the potential impact of creative execution and the users experience. This mismatch is most pronounced in mobile. Technologies for measurement, analytics and orchestration of push and in-app messages have come a long way in the last few years. The in-app experience for mobile campaigns still relies on simple content templates and card-based interfaces. Richer experiences may be built with web views that often feel disjointed from the native app. Relying on internal dev resources to add app elements that are not viewed as core is inefficient and doesn’t scale. Third party point solutions to support applications like user on-boarding take time to implement and typically tout AB testing as a primary selling point over creative flexibility.

When mobile is a strategic priority, content and experiences used in engagement marketing should ideally meet several criteria. Messages, notifications or other triggers should link to in-app content that feels native and aligns with the overall experience of the app. The user interface should be optimized for the content and the marketer should not be forced to shoehorn the content to fit a template. The interface and content should be easy to build, deploy and update. Addressing all these requirements without trade-offs requires new technologies.

Server-driven UI is an approach to building elements in mobile apps where the layout and content is stored, and may be updated on the server and pushed to all device platforms. The complexity and up front investment necessary to support this approach in house has limited its use to a number of large digital-first brands including Airbnb, Lyft and Zalando.

Judo has built the first third party platform for server-driven UI designed to support branded, ephemeral in-app experiences. The tech behind Judo is informed by years of working with major publishers, in particular leading sports teams. Contextual delivery of content and new mobile experiences supports fan engagement in response to game day or seasonal dynamics in sports. Teams covet the ability to support branded experiences for sponsors that align with the overall fan experience. As the Judo platform evolved it has been adopted by major publishers in other sectors including sports gambling, over the top media, and retail.

Experiences created using Judo render natively via a SDK that is very lightweight given as all rendering is via native components in iOS and Android. The Judo MacOS desktop tool may be used by designers to build fully native experiences. Publishers use Judo to build rich, API-driven native app experiences with support for elements like custom fonts, universal color palettes, accessibility and dark mode. The use of server-driven UI means that new and updated user experiences are disseminated without requiring users to update apps. This is different from the typical use of no code tools used to build mobile apps with constrained functionality that require resubmission to the app stores when updated.

A large number of applications exist for the integration of server-driven UI and no-code development. Introducing new users to functionality in the app on first open via onboarding benefits from using iterative development and experimentation rather than periodic updates. Experiences that promote premium content and subscriptions can be optimized with new user interfaces as well as new content. Event-driven and seasonal merchandising is another application with appeal in a number of verticals. Editorial and other flat content such as FAQs can become engaging in app experiences that help to increase average customer lifetime. Building native branded experiences to promote affiliate partners or other titles can have a direct impact on revenue for certain publishers.

As with many new technologies a danger exists that we overestimate the near term impact of no code while under-appreciating its true potential. No code tools designed to create full mobile applications address a gap in the market for smaller app publishers. Coupled with server-driven UI, no-code tools like those in Judo, can free up developer resources at larger app publishers, empower teams focused on customer engagement to experiment and learn, and support delivery of new functionality and experiences to all users without app updates.

While it is easy to get started and to experiment with platforms like Judo a real return comes via integration with other components in the martech stack. A natural point of integration is the platform used to orchestrate push notifications or in-app messaging like Braze. Analytics is the key to iterative optimization and new AB testing frameworks like Amplitude Experiment will be augmented with platforms that enable experimentation with UI flows. Headless CMS like Contentful or online shopping platforms like Shopify can populate new ephemeral or dynamic in-app experiences. CDPs like Segment from Twilio can be used to support delivery of experiences based on the user cohort.

Server driven UI and no code is not a silver bullet for all mobile app development. It does not make sense to deliver the UI every time for relatively static elements in the app. Complex interactive functionality and user data collection may be best handled using other approaches. For the growth marketer that wants to understand how new app functionality and UI impacts overall engagement and LTV it serves a real need.