Are push notifications abusing their welcome?

Saks push notifications

Saks push notifications

Push notifications help marketers reach consumers with relevant and timely messages. Although the technology can be a powerful customer engagement tool, some feel it has the potential to be more cloying than beneficial.

Indeed, push notifications are a great way for marketers to build an ongoing dialogue with consumers. However, marketers must remember that moderation is key.

"Not only are push messages interruptive because they appear whenever they please, but they also drain your smartphone's battery," said Cezary Pietrzak, director of marketing at Appboy, New York.

“Much of the success of push today can be attributed to the fact that it is a new marketing channel and has not yet been exploited by the developers,” he said.

“But as adoption rises and more apps abuse their power to proactively contact their customers, we can expect the efficacy of push notifications to fall.”

Getting it right
Many marketers such as Sephora, Gilt and The New York Times use push notifications correctly. These companies do not go overboard and their push notifications include informative and relevant messages.

Fitness apps such as Fitocracy use push to remind their customers to work out on a regular basis.

Furthermore, JetBlue uses push to alert its customers about upcoming trips, delays and cancellations, and ecommerce retailer Fab uses push to invite customers to flash sales as soon as they go live.

“There is no question that push notifications are valuable, but they must be relevant to their audience and served at the right time, place and context to achieve the greatest impact,” Mr. Pietrzak said.

“One-size-fits-all messaging does not work,” he said. “To do push right, you first need to segment your audience into more specific groups based on their individual profiles and behaviors.

“You should then send them push notifications that relate to their specific needs, so that the message enhances their in-app experience.”

According to Mr. Pietrzak, push is overshadowed by the rise of in-app messages – a less-invasive form of notifications that appear within the app experience.

However, better targeting allows for more relevant and contextual push messages, which improves the user experience.

It is important that marketers focus on individual user segments.

“There's rarely a scenario where it makes sense to send the same message to your entire user base,” Mr. Pietrzak said. “Instead, focus on the needs of individual segments and tailor your offer accordingly.

“Also, add value to the message – it is not enough to tell people, ‘Hey, come back to my app.’ You need to add some real value to the content you send, whether it is through timely reminders, breaking news, relevant offers or location-aware notifications,” he said. “Create a schedule and limit the amount of messages that you send to each person during a particular period.

“Push is very powerful, but is easy to do incorrectly. Stop and reevaluate your strategy if it does not work. The worst thing you can do is annoy people to the point that they shut off your ability to contact them via push. If your current strategy does not work, stop contacting them, take a break and try something different – quality always beats quantity.”

Engagement tool
According to Ken Gaebler, principal/founder at Walker Sands, Chicago, push notifications can be a powerful customer engagement tool, but the golden rule of marketing applies – everything in moderation.

If marketers send out too many push notifications, they will likely to see uninstalls go through the roof.

Companies need to stop solely thinking about quantity. The messaging also has to be right too.

“Doing it right means being receptive to the needs and wants of your individual users,” Mr. Gaebler said. “Let them opt-out of push notifications if they do not want them.

“Let them determine how many they get and what topics are allowed,” he said. “The lessons are the same ones that many marketers have learned with other marketing methods, such as email marketing methods.

“Send too many out and you are likely to see your customer base run for the exits.”

Push notifications is also about transparency and honoring your promises.

Marketers should tell users what the push messages will be used for so they can make an informed choice.

After that, it is important that marketers live up to their promises and do not sneak in any over-the-top marketing messages that will create a firestorm.

“Many push notifications that are being sent out may violate Apple's rules about not sending messages that contain advertising, promotions or direct marketing of any kind,” Mr. Gaebler said.

“When a marketer breaks those rules, they put their firm's relationship with Apple in jeopardy and they tarnish their brand in the eyes of their end users,” he said. “It is playing with fire and the downside far outweighs the upside.”

Going forward
Although many industry experts believe that marketers are not quite going overboard with push notifications, many companies are treading a pretty thin line.

Because push messages do not require as much thought and preparation as other forms of direct mobile communication such as text messaging, it is easier to send a bad message.

More bad messages mean people are going to turn push off, and therefore it defeats its purpose of sending important information at the right time.

“Push is a mobile channel for customers who have downloaded your app,” said Alex Campbell, co-founder/chief innovation officer of Vibes, Chicago. “If you have content that those customers need to know in a timely manner, then push is a great channel.

“If you do not, then do not send push notifications just because you can,” he said. “Passbook expanded the ability to send push notifications to customers.

“Push notifications sent via Passbook expand the base of customers who have access to push notifications, so I think we will see more of them soon.”

Mr. Campbell suggests that before marketers send a push notification, they should first ask themselves, “Why am I sending this information via push?”

“If the answer is not obvious, then you might not want to send it,” Mr. Campbell said. “Make sure you think about what makes push different as a channel.

“You can send a message via push, email, text or any number of other channels,” he said. “So why are you sending this message as a push message?

“If you have a clear answer, then go ahead and send it. If not, rethink the content of your message and make it relevant to push as a channel.”

Best practices
When it comes to push notifications, it is important that marketers fit into their customers’ ever-changing schedule.

According to Urban Airship, apps should have an easily accessible control panel where users can define a quiet time by adjusting a setting so that no messages are delivered between, say 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Consumers should also be able to block out days on which they never want to be bothered. The key is making this easy to find and change.

Moreover, messages should not only be relevant, but also engage customers.

Urban Airship also suggests that the push notifications continually get better over time.

Ultimately, marketers can clearly tell which push notifications resonate best and do more of these, and which ones fall flat and do less of them. At a minimum companies should know what their app open rates are and what makes them go higher or lower so that you can finely tune that engagement.

“When any new technology comes around, there is a potential for it to be misused and if that’s done on large scale people will start turning of push notifications altogether,” said Corey Gault, director of communications at Urban Airship, Portland, OR.

“Push notification drives a lot of benefit in terms of keeping and engaging app users,” he said. “There is a lot of best practices that need to be taken into account that meets their needs and does.

“An app without push is an app without a voice and with more than 100 apps on average phone, there's more than a good chance you'll be forgotten about. However, it's up to you whether that voice offers a delightful service and experience, or comes across as a nagging annoyance.”

According to Mr. Gault, this year, push notifications will be more targeted and infused with behavior preferences.
 
Marketers need to remember to put added value into their push notification initiatives to engage consumers.

“Marketers are getting smarter about push notifications,” said Brent Hieggelke, chief marketing officer of Urban Airship. “They are starting to realize the fact that push notifications are a privilege.

“The industry is maturing, and marketers are interested in delivering notifications that have value,” he said.

Final Take
Rimma Kats is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

Associate Editor Rimma Kats covers media, television, research and social networks. Reach her at rimma@mobilemarketer.com.