One of the most successful weapons in a mobile app marketer’s toolbox has been the push notification. Popularized by Apple in 2009, the marketing channel has gained incredible traction over the last few years, lighting up billions of smartphones with short messages about breaking news, launching sales and friends’ activity. Those who use push regularly see engagement jump by 30-60%, a breath of fresh air for an industry plagued with abysmal retention rates.
The beauty of push is that it gives marketers unsolicited access to their audience. Once a person authorizes push on a particular app, that app has the ability to send them notifications 24/7 and incentivize them to return to the app experience.
But, as a growing number of marketers adopt the medium and the average number of apps on each phone rises, there are clear signs of push fatigue. Rather than delivering utility or entertainment, many push notifications now clutter mobile phone screens, interrupt people at the wrong moment, present information that lacks context and drain a phone’s battery life.
Despite these warnings, many marketers still equate push notifications with a mobile messaging strategy. Some are not aware that other marketing channels exist in mobile, while others don’t take the time to utilize them. Many also lack a customer-first approach and ask questions like, “What should we do with push?” rather than “How should we communicate with our customers?”
Luckily, nothing in the mobile ecosystem stays the same for too long. In recent months, a variety of messaging options have emerged that give marketers new ways to engage their audience and free them of their overreliance on push. Let’s review the most interesting ones and explore how marketers can utilize them to achieve their business goals.
In-app messages are growing in popularity because they provide the same communication channel within an app as push does outside the app. Think of them as small notifications that slide up from the bottom of your app and alert you of something interesting or important. Because they disappear after a few seconds, in-app messages are much less invasive to people than push. Marketers often use this channel to drive feature discovery, encourage and reward their customers and also to upsell them via in-app purchases. The ability to add protocol URLs to in-app messages means that you can drive your audience to any part of your app and personalize the experience.
Can a news feed be a messaging channel? Of course! Many marketers have realized that this well-understood mechanism is a great way to drive engagement with their customers. A news feed is beneficial because it acts as a repository of information that people can access at any point during the app experience. Some apps use news feeds in conjunction with a notification center to alert people of a new message. Others store their push notifications and in-app messages directly in the feed so they can be referenced later. Still others import their RSS feed or blog content to provide people with a constant stream of news. The beauty of the news feed is it that it integrates nicely into the existing app experience and can be accessed at the leisure of each person.
Many marketers are still waking up to the power of email in the web world (where open rates grew to 16.3% in Q4 2012), so it’s not surprising that they’re completely neglecting this channel in mobile. For apps that collect email addresses, email carries several benefits. Similar to push, it’s a very effective way to drive app re-engagement when the message links directly to an app. A recent stat suggests that 41% of emails are now opened on mobile and will surpass desktop by the end of 2013, which makes this possible on a larger scale. Because it’s accessible from desktop devices, email can also be used to drive input-intensive transactions that are better suited for a big screen. Finally, the medium is permanent and can be accessed at any time, making it perfect for longer-form content such as a summary of a person’s in-app activity. Email will continue to grow in popularity as more marketers realize it carries the same benefits on mobile as on the web.
Apps that authenticate with Twitter or other social networks give marketers another option for communication. Social messaging is especially useful to respond to complaints or praise that happen outside the app experience, as well as to engage with people in a 1-to-1 dialogue. Smart marketers often use social data to proactively identify their most influential customers, and focus their relationship-building efforts with this group. While social communications are not scalable (you can’t send a mass message to all of your Twitter followers), it’s still an important part of the broader conversation in mobile.
So, how can you approach the new reality of multi-channel messaging?
First, start with a customer-centric approach to all communications. This involves getting a better understanding of your customers and their needs and creating messages that enhance the value of the app experience. If you’re a marketing pro, it means defining a formal content strategy with micro- and medium-length content that appeals to the small-screen environment.
Then, do an inventory of all the messaging channels at your disposal and match each one’s role against the messages you created. For communications that drive re-engagement, push notifications or email may be best, while engagement within an app is better served with in-app messages or a news feed.
All messages you create should be as personal and contextual as possible, ideally sent to specific segments of your audience. You should also be careful about the frequency of your interactions, as too many messages may upset your customers and force them to leave permanently. Too much of anything is never good.
To be clear, push notifications aren’t going away very soon. They will continue to be a great mechanism for re-engagement and will evolve alongside the rest of mobile. But as the ecosystem becomes more powerful and more complex, it’s clear that push alone won’t suffice as compelling marketing strategy. A new, multi-channel messaging world has arrived. Marketers who harness its power to deliver a better mobile experience to customers will be the winners.
About The Author
Cezary is the Director of Marketing at Appboy, a customer engagement platform for mobile apps. He writes about mobile strategy and advises mobile businesses on engagement and retention. Read his thoughts on Appboy’s blog and follow him on Twitter at @cezinho.