The 7 Golden Rules of Sending Successful Push Notifications


52% of users enable push messaging on their mobile devices ~ Localytics, 2014.

The push notification is the ‘email’ of the app world, but with one vital difference. While an email must be accessed via an inbox, and is subject to the permission of spam filters, the push notification is able to instantly penetrate the user’s phone screen – and hang around until either read or cleared.

But like its text-based cousin did a decade ago, the push notification has had to endure a growing phase. What began as a pubescent random hit and miss strategy that repelled users and triggered high uninstall rates, has come of age and grown into an effective, highly-targeted form of marketing that helps brands reach through a user’s device and into their heart, mind and pocket.

With the ability to keep regular, personalised communication with the consumer, push notifications help brands better understand customers’ needs, and in turn deliver the right information at the right time. Push notifications can be used to ignite dormant users, re-engage those who haven’t visited an app for a while and stimulate existing users.

Even with such powerful potential, it might come as a surprise that of the top 100 retailers with a mobile app, only 66% are utilising push notifications (Internet Retailer, 2014).

Now, you can bet your bottom dollar that every last one of these top 100 retailers is using a tried and tested email strategy to engage their customer base, so why the slow uptake using pushes on mobile?

Well, simply put, many brands are yet to realise the power of the push notification. On the face of it, a push is just a message; a way of telling users there’s a sale on, a discount code available or an update that needs installing. Dig a little deeper though and the true capability of the push is revealed.

The push notification is a hyper-effective marketing tool capable of offering the customer exactly what they want based on previous shopping history, both in-app and in-store. Dig even deeper and the push notification reveals itself as a proficient tool for gathering insights on customer desires and expectations.

An experienced analyst will collate data from each communication and further segment users based on what they did or didn’t respond to, enabling them to tailor future pushes as well as the customer experience in general to individual needs and preferences. When integrated as part of a cross-platform user profile that pools data from mobile, web and in-store interactions, this can be extremely powerful.

I know, it all sounds very exciting, and we’re sure you can’t wait to rush off and schedule a few pushes. But hold your horses a moment and heed this warning: If used incorrectly, the push notification can do your app’s reputation more harm than good, sending uninstalls through the roof and negative feedback sky-high.

You see; the mobile phone is arguably now the most personal device a person owns, hence the need to respect how B2C communications are handled. Being over zealous when invading a user’s personal space can cause communication to be cut sharply.

And then there’s “push fatigue”. Consider how many marketing-related emails you simply delete without reading because you just know it’s going to contain the same old spiel you’ve read a thousand times before. Now translate this to push and you’ll quickly understand how easy it is for fatigue to set in and cause a user to become dormant and unengaged.

To help you get past these potential pitfalls and over the valley and into the lucrative land of push notification success, we’ve put together the following 7 golden rules.

It’s time to start giving your customers the information they want, in the right way, at the right time.

Rule 1: Maximise Push Opt-in Rate

Before we even get into creating optimal engagement, you’ll need to make sure you have a healthy amount of users to push to.

The smart way to ensure a high opt-in rate is to communicate the benefits of receiving push notifications before the user is presented with the push alert on first opening your app. Doing so gives you the opportunity to explain why they’ll need to hear more from you and the benefits of doing so. The standard push opt-in a user sees upon first opening an app can be confusing, and many users just hit “no” because they don’t really understand the concept.

That said, it’s well worth A/B testing the way you ask for push consent, as there’s no one way to do this and different approaches will work differently for different apps.

Rule 2: Stay Relevant & Contextual

A sure way to increase uninstalls is to send push notifications that have zero relevance to a user’s recent activity, or their interests in general. You see, while content is king for email, personalisation is king for the push notification, and the absolute reason communication should always be as targeted as possible.

For example, let’s say you run a clothes store and you’ve got a promotion on mini-skirts coming up next week. You might consider excluding women over 60, and men, for that matter, from your segmentation.

Situational and seasonal context are massive considerations too. You might think those old winter jackets are a bargain at 50% off the store price, and deserving of a push notification, but as a consumer, if I’ve been browsing for shorts for my summer holiday all week, I’d be right in thinking that you’re just a tad out of touch with my current needs.

Don’t rush into sending push notifications. Sit down on a weekly basis and map out a strategy based on user behaviour and demographics. Use internal data to build a picture of your user base and segment users accordingly. This will allow you to make sure each push speaks to the user in the most relevant, personalised way possible.

Another important relevance factor is timing. To increase response rate, make sure you send pushes at optimal local time.

Rule 3: Maintain Regular Communication

Marketers have a tendency to be overly cautious when it comes to sending push notifications. Sending too many might scare users off, while sending too few might be perceived as neglectful and inconsistent. Getting caught between these two evils causes action paralysis, and is a core reason why so few companies end up utilising the potential of push.

This is where what we like to call “strategic regularity” comes in to play. You need to create a line of communication whereby your user base expects to hear from you, and wants to hear from you at that. If your pushes are perceived as relevant and useful, users will be happy to receive regular notifications.

Just like in the physical world, personalised, regular communication makes for a fruitful relationship. Consider your own relationships. Hearing from a friend on a regular basis who asks genuine, thoughtful questions about your life is a blessing. On the other hand, hearing now and again from a fair-weather friend who asks general, dutiful questions kind of makes you wish they hadn’t bothered.

Set about creating a quarterly roadmap for sending out push notifications, taking into account seasonal events you can capitalise on. By beginning to understand your users, you’ll begin to understand when and what they want to hear from you. For example, if one of your target segments is 35-year-old stay at home mums, sending out a push at 8am on a weekday morning is likely to be ignored amidst the chaos of the school run. Similarly, sending five notifications about your upcoming New Year sale on Christmas Eve is likely to cause annoyance and gift you a stocking full of uninstalls.

If you are in the retail business, you will also need to factor in seasonal peaks and troughs. Use push to maximise engagement at the times people are already thinking about shopping, and minimise seasonal lulls by incentivising people to return by offering a discount voucher or running time-sensitive promotions such as flash sales.
Don’t be aggressive, but don’t be a stranger either. Keep the communication line warm by maintaining regular consistency and relevance.

Rule 4: Create Exciting and Spontaneous Communications

While it’s positive to be a regular and consistent part of a user’s notifications box, you don’t want to be seen in similar fashion to the “predictable” girlfriend/boyfriend type; you know, the one that gets traded in for someone more exciting and spontaneous.

The reality is, no matter how good a routine, it quickly becomes boring. And this is where those holiday promotions and flash sales come into their own. These are the times when you can ramp up the push action and show just how exciting your brand can be.

As we touched on in the introduction, in terms of deliverability, push notifications have a massive advantage over email. If a user opts-in to receive notifications, providing you send them, and the user is within service range, they’ll get delivered. Unlike email, pushes don’t have to navigate spam filters and aren’t subject to server or sender errors.

This means that in the run up to major shopping holidays like Cyber Monday, New Year’s Day and other seasonal sales periods specific to your industry, you have an immediate line of communication that allows you to conjure up excitement and steer user behaviour towards making purchases.

At such times, think outside of your regular communication stream and methodology. Be creative and spontaneous. Heighten the user shopping experience by creating a sequence of tantalising pushes. Like the pied piper of push, stimulate your customers’ internal shopping radar and entice their credit cards to follow you all the way to the cart.

Rule 5: Present Clear Instructions & Accurate Details

The truth is in the details, as they say, and there’s no more important place you need to provide the correct details than when communicating with you customer base. Incorrect information, hyperbole and misleading sales talk in general could result in mistrust and high volume uninstalls. Sure, exercise your copywriting skills, but make darn sure you deliver accurately on your promise.

If you want the user to take action, be very clear about what they have to do. For example, not every user will intuitively understand that they need to swipe to visit your store. Be careful not to confuse the user by leaving out key details. If you’re notifying users of an upcoming sale, include the exact start date and time, so as not to excite the user into tapping through to your app and being let down by a sale that hasn’t started yet.

Rule 6: Maintain Seamless Continuity

Creating continuity between the message and the destination is crucial. Consider that the push notification is just the beginning of the chain, and everything that comes after it should build further trust and understanding in the process.

Use deep linking to ensure the user is sent to a page that corresponds to the right offer and provides relevant supporting details that seamlessly build on the foundation created by the push. Sending the user to a generic section of the app such as your home-screen, or an un-associated page on your website, will result in fewer conversions, a higher level of confusion or mistrust and prompt users to seek out competitors who offer a less frustrating experience.

Rule 7: Create an Effortless Workflow

Ever tapped a push notification thinking you were being quickly led in-app for an exciting revelation, only to be sent on a wild goose chase through a series of browser redirects that eventually land you on a page nestled deeply on the company’s website? Yes, it’s extremely annoying.

Push notifications are a method of increasing customer engagement. A push should create a seamless connection between the message and the details, using as few taps as possible and the shortest time possible to load the desired destination. What’s the point of the user downloading your app if you’re going to redirect each tap through their web browser?

Before you send a push notification, consider where the user expects to end up. Should the offer be displayed in an HTML message or a rich inbox, or presented as content within an app page, or simply featured on the app’s home screen?
If you do want to take the user to an unusual destination, be sure to mention that in your notification so it doesn’t come as a nasty surprise: “FLASH SALE: 15% off everything for 24 hours! Swipe to claim your discount on our website”.

The reality is that the true potential of your app will never be unleashed unless you utilise push notifications. Statistics show that on average an app receives 40% more monthly app opens for opt-in users versus those who opt out, and 116% higher retention rate for opt-in users versus those who opt-out. (Urban Airship, Good Push Index, 2013). With statistics like those, you shouldn’t need any further persuasion to start pushing your way to success.

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