Getting Push Notifications Right



Over on eMarketer today, there’s an interesting piece of data on push notifications that warrants a look see. I’ve reproduced a key chart here but it’s worth a click to read their perspective as well. The insight is relevant for Android, iOS and Windows apps.

push notification

The chart shows some fairly high levels of dissatisfaction with at least some push notification messages and programs. When asked why they don’t respond to some push notifications, people cite irrelevance, excessive intrusiveness, excessive frequency, lack of discounts, and poor timing.

Now let’s examine that list of reasons further. In my view, excessive frequency, intrusiveness and lack of discounts are really all expressions of limited relevance. Relevance probably plays a role in poor timing complaints as well.

A number of Apsalar partners have published data on opt-in rates for push notifications. When consumers are asked to consent to push notification messages, Urban Airship reported that the average opt-in rate is 42% and falling , while Localytics recently reported that the mobile application opt-in rate is about 52%. Since these companies are using aggregated data from their book of clients as the basis for the analysis they offer, it’s natural to see some variations. But let’s simplify this discussion and assume about half of people opt in. Some opt-out at first launch, while other change their settings later when they have had a chance to experience the number, frequency and relevance of the message stream of a particular WIndows, iPhone or Android app.

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The push notification is an amazing “gift” for savvy marketers – a way to deliver app-specific foreground messages at virtually no cost. But many apps squander that gift. Just as many squandered the gift of email marketing to users in the PC web.

A Lesson from the PC World

Several years ago I had a client with a 700,000-strong mailing list. Mailings using the list demonstrated outstanding open rates, click rates, and purchase rates. They mailed every other week and generated more than a million dollars in revenue for each every-other-week mailing. It had taken them more than 5 years to build that list into a money machine for their business.

But one holiday season, they decided to milk the list by drastically increasing the mailing frequency and simultaneously reducing average discounts offered by 2o%. During the first week, they sent three messages, with little discernable effect on open and click rates, and only a slight decline in average revenue per mailing. Feeling bullish, they took mailing frequency to twice a day over the next 6 weeks.

The results were disastrous. More than 305,000 of their recipients opted out. Open rates plummeted. And gross profit per email actually went negative for the last few messages. Not easy to do given the low costs of CRM email!

How the Lesson Applies to Push Notifications

I tell that story because it is a vivid example of what can grow wrong when we abuse the trust of an individual that consents to be marketed to. When a company is extremely focused on monetization, it’s natural to want to increase the number of messages we deliver. But when we cease delivering positive value to an app user, we create a tremendous drag on the revenue and profit potential of an app.

Email is a somewhat different bird than app push notifications, but because people tend to be more sensitive about what happens on their phones, and because mobile push is more intrusive than email, the general principles that guide email marketing should be even more front-of-mind as you contemplate your mobile push strategy.

We work with lots of clients that have extensive push notification programs for iPhone, Windows and Android devices. Some of these companies get outstanding benefits when they send push notifications.

Some, by contrast actually do their businesses harm by delivering push messages that feel more like spam than valuable communications. So what are the common denominators of effective push notification programs?

I think there are six:

1. An architected communications stream. The best builders of push notification programs don’t do things without a plan. They create coordinated communication programs designed to:
    • Retain users
    • Drive engagement with content
    • Stimulate purchases
They take a realistic view of how to drive gradually escalating commitment. And then constantly analyze response rates and other results to adjust programs according to what consumers want.

2. They define “rules of engagement” like maximum allowable message frequency using both judgement and feedback from their programs. They recognize that customers and users expect reasonable restraint from an app so treat their phones aren’t constantly buzzing with new messages.

3. They message different segments of users differently based upon the groups’ varying levels of app use and engagement. The best programs reflect a customer’s behaviors in their messaging programs. Infrequent players are messaged differently than heavy users. User/non buyers get different push messages than do buyers. Etc.

4. They use response data as a way of defining the best times to deliver messages, and even the best times to receive messages of different types.

5. They integrate push notifications and other messaging platforms into a comprehensive communications program encompassing email, sms messages, in-app messaging, retargeted advertising, etc.

6. Increasingly, they PERSONALIZE messages on an individualized basis, as a means of increasing the relevance of messages, offers and timing.

The common denominator for most of these best practices is rich customer behavior data. By defining and measuring all of the relevant in-app actions, we create a foundation of profound user understanding. That understanding can power far more effective push notifications through your choice of marketing automation platforms. You just need the data to power it all. Without accurate measurement combined with the means to deliver your data so it can be used to drive iOS, Windows and Android push notifications, you can’t realize the full value of push notifications in building your business. But with that measurement insight, the sky’s the limit.


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