Marketer’s Guide to Push: Tapping Into Better Customer Engagement

There is more to push than quick updates and new messages.

September 28 2016

Before the iPhone was released push notifications were around, but it wasn’t until the iPhone arrived that push notifications started to really come into their own. As iOS has matured, push notifications have gotten richer and more intelligent, including the most recent changes to notifications in iOS 10. Now rich push notifications are an integral part of all smartphones and are a powerful way to reach and engage customers.

As useful as push notifications are, and how much they can improve customer engagement, there is still a lot of confusion around how best to use them for marketing and how push fits into a omni-channel messaging mix. This post starts to hammer at both implementation and omni-channel integration question.

Push as redefined by Apple and iOS

Apple didn’t invent push notifications on mobile devices, but Apple did change the push game by creating more push options and innovative solutions for users. Today we have push notifications on both mobile devices and desktops. OS and app makers strive to build seamless push experiences across devices. Push isn’t just letting you know you have a new email or an update on Facebook. Push notifications are richer and can be used by marketers to boost engagement and connect with users in new ways.

An engaging solution

When we’re talking about push notifications for marketing, we’re talking about messages that go beyond basic updates like “You have a new email from…”. Push messaging for marketing needs engage and connect with users with valuable information or offers. Planning push campaigns are just like planning any other marketing communications tactic. You need to define the audience, the value, the timing, the frequency, and success before you start sending messages to users.

Push messages might be the most intrusive messages we can send to people. Something that pops up—and stays there—on your screen is going to keep you from using your device until it’s acknowledged. While devices have different kinds of push notifications—from the box that must be tapped to close to smaller banners that disappear on their own—push is designed to engage the users and get their attention. This means that whatever we do with push messages must consider if the interruption is going to be seen as valuable to users or annoying.

Segmenting users

The first step to sending valuable push messages is not treating all your users the same way. Someone who just downloaded your app or started using your service is very different from a long-time user or someone who stopped using the app after a little while. When you’re planning a push campaign, first decide who the campaign is for and then determine what would be either of most value to that user at that moment, what could you offer to help the user use your app better, what would help subscribe/use your app more. Different apps have different ways to approach this segmentation and what to offer. A social coupon app might offer a new user a special new coupon just for new people but a loyal user might get a special discount, and a user in between could be offered a special deal if they refer a friend. Productivity apps offer tips to start and ways to expand using the app to power users (especially if those expansions require a purchase). Games give bonus to start, to keep playing, and for unlocking levels as you play.

It isn’t the offer but who is getting the offer and when during the app life cycle that matters most.

Content matters

Just as segmentation for push makes messages more effective, content is what seals the deal. Like all messages you send to customers and users push content needs to be relevant, timely, and useful to engage. Getting a discount coupon on February 15 is great content delivered at the wrong time. How do you figure out the right content? Start with your user segments and figure out what your segments need from you. Because push messages are so pushy, it’s especially critical that you plan your content well. Have a plan that matches messages to segments over time.

Push messages can contain more than just text, but your primary goal should be to get the user to tap and go to your app for more information. Make sure when you test your push messaging content you test through the entire cycle. When users tap a notification that there are important updates available, they should be brought exactly to the place where the updates are presented. Same goes for coupons, upgrades, new content, and offers. Don’t make your users go hunting for what’s in the push message. It will only take a few bad experiences for them to go from being ones of the 52% who allow push messages to ones of the 48% who don’t.

Get the timing right

Time sensitive message have to arrive at the right time to be valuable, and messages in the middle of the night are especially annoying to users. As part of planning and segmenting, make sure you know your user’s time zone so lunch coupon offers come just before lunch and a special, limited-time offer isn’t sent in the middle of the night.

Even once you consider time zones there is the time of day for general messages. Do messages sent in the morning do better than ones sent in the afternoon? Are evenings good times to send discounts for in-app game purchases? Certain data shows messages are best received in the late morning to afternoon, but is unclear if this is only the case during the work week versus the weekends. Message timing for push is even more critical that for other types of messages because once the push arrives it might only be visible for a few seconds—and can’t be (easily) read again. Emails and SMS are typically stored and not deleted immediately so going back to an email or SMS is possible. With a push message, once the message is gone; it’s gone.

Adjusting frequency

Looking at best practices, the consensus is that sending 1-3 messages a day is about the maximum you can do without users turning notifications off for your app. This is the biggest risk with push, once notifications are off, it’s not easy to get users to turn them back on. Several articles found that the line between just right and too many messages is razor thin. Sending one push message a day might be fine, but even two might be too much. Some users might consider 2 messages a week too many! The right number depends on what your app is and what your user base expects. We expect some apps to send notifications often (email, Facebook, Twitter, SMS), but we expect games and even some productivity apps to be “quieter”.

Hard and fast rule? Not likely. For content, timing and frequency there is only one thing that will lead to success—ruthless experimentation.

Ruthless experimentation

Testing and experimenting are at the heart of all marketing communications strategies. Ruthless experimentation doesn’t mean just trying everything under the sun and seeing what happens. Experiments need a question and an expected result to be worthwhile. Let’s take testing the frequency of free game token offers to users who played your game, then stopped. For that segment you might think that sending two messages a day will get people to come back and play the game more than 1 or 3 times. So you take a group of users from that segment and test it. Where testing gets tricky around push is turning off notifications. If you test something on your entire user segment you might wind up learning something, but also you might wind up causing a lot of users to turn the notifications off. Now, you might have some data for a new cohort of users, but you’ve exhausted your existing cohort. Push notifications are a powerful tool for engaging and re-engaging users, but it’s also the trickiest to work with. Your experiments have to be well thought out and conservative with testing on your users.

As you test though, you get a better sense of what messages work with which users at what time and frequency. Early on you might start with intuition-based guesses, but as you analyze your data you can start making better and better predictions for the outcomes. Or at least be surprised by your results less often.

Push as part of Omni

Push messages are a critical part of omni messaging. You can send a newsletter that has limited time offers, but a customer might not see the email in time. You might send a push alert with a traffic update, but that might not stay on the screen or someone might miss it. A push notification gets the information right in front of someone. Tap now to get 50% and free shipping on your next purchase. Alert: Major delays on your route home. These messages if they can pop up, and stay up on the screen will help the user and you get more out of your app and service.

But how do you align all these channels? An omni channel communications platform like from Infobip manages all your data and messages together. You can segment users for push, email, and SMS campaigns and see which ones are most successful with robust reporting and data tools. See if sending a reminder through push gets more newsletter opens. See if your newsletter can get people to open your app so you can prompt to turn push notifications back on for special deals. Combine SMS and push messages together so alerts and updates are read in time.

The final step: A platform that does it all for you

Communications platform as a service (cPaaS) is the collection of all these omni channel communications and messaging tools into a single unified tool. Infobip Portal offers you the holistic view of your users, messages, and data.

Engage users with Push Notifications.

Start using Push today

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