The delicate science of push notifications

To get traction, you need to get the content and the frequency just right.

A push notification remains one of the most underutilized marketing channels. Someone has rightly said — it can be a blessing or a curse. Two major reasons why people don’t want push notifications: (a) Intermittent pinging is irritating (b) they do not always carry relevant information (I shall explain later why the word relevant has been highlighted).

Blackberry is credited with sending out the first wave of push notifications. Users may recall that notification it would send out to inform users that they had received an email. Now, there are 3rd party apps that allow you to blend the push notification platform into your website, mobile app or wearable.

For the uninitiated, push notifications are limited chunks of information that are “pushed out” in real time to subscribers/traffic through browsers, a website, a wearable or an app. They appear largely as pop-ups, maybe with a sound alert. They have a very short shelf life, reminding you of an air bubble on water. Once subscribed, you don’t really have to be on that website or be using the app to receive them.


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So imagine this: here’s a tool that allows you to communicate with people, one on one, anytime, anywhere. Yet, somehow, it’s never picked up unlike other marketing channels.

Many, many reasons for this. First, a subscriber/user needs to opt-in to receive such push notifications. Many don’t because they are wary of intrusion and poor content. Hungry (or should it be desperate?) marketers have already misused this technology, forcing half the connected world to shut themselves from receiving them. Some of those who opted in very soon opted out because of the perceived nuisance. The rest who carry on gamely are always skittish, afraid of receiving irrelevant or some “sales” info, so click on the X as soon as they get one. Overall, the messaging is messed up and so the messenger is faulted.

Push notifications are ideal for e-commerce, news, retail and any kind of information service. But it can be used by companies outside these sectors, too. The trick is in understanding the content you wanna push, the frequency of notifications, and the timing. That’s why I used the word, “relevant” in the first para. The content you want to push out MUST be relevant, as far as possible, to your user.

Is your content plan in place?

Before getting into the content part of push notifications, let’s crunch some numbers: Surveys show that on an average, 1.5% of total users open a generic content push notification, but the number jumps up to almost 6% when it carries personalized content. If by sending personalized push notifications, a marketer can increase user retention rate 4x, what is needed then is a plan for personalized messaging.

So, here’s the thing — there’s generic content and then, there’s personalized content.

Pushing out generic content is the sign of a lazy marketer. With a few exceptions like news. Eg: Lets say you are a VPN service provider. One way of pushing out a message is just treating all your traffic as a homogenized group and sending out content like, “How safe are VPNs?” No doubt, it will get you somewhere. But, if you have compiled user profiles, then, let’s say you send out a link, “Understanding VPN laws in India” to your users in India, would that not be of more value to them as compared to the 1st? One can continue to deep drill personalization.

Like many digital marketing channels, you are unable to “see” the person at the other end of the push notification, yet you must engage him/her with your content. Like a tweet, you do not have the luxury of infinite characters, but yes, you can add a headline, an image/graphic as visual elements. You also need to understand why you are sending out the notification to a particular segment - is it to drive traffic to your app, is it to add value, what’s the goal?

When you start getting answers to these questions, writing out the content gets that much easy. Don’t be afraid to push an alert for a flash sale. Only, get the frequency and time right. Just the other day, I got one for a flash sale offering discounts on co-working spaces, and it hooked me. Like any other channel, you must not be aggressive in selling; do tell a story occasionally to indirectly position your brand. If you run a fitness app, a notification on a funny exercise routine can bring a smile on the face of your followers.

I end this newsletter with that one golden rule that applies to almost every type of digital marketing messaging — DON’T BE SPAMMY.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay