What are push messages (aka push notifications) and how can you use them to grow your online business?
Push notifications can be a powerful marketing technique to get potential customers to take the next step.
But there’s a right way and a wrong way to using them.
Used in the wrong way push notifications can irritate your potential customers and get them to opt out altogether.
Used in the right way, push messages can:
- Geo-target users
- Add value
- Personalize content
- Increase engagement
- Enhance user experience
- Convert visitors into users
In this article I’m going to show you everything you need to know to use push messages to convert more customers and grow your business.
#1. What are push messages (aka push notifications)?
In simple language, push messages (or push notifications) are like reminders. They pop up on our devices and notify us of hot news, important updates and other information.
If they are successful in grabbing our attention, we click on them. We follow them to the app or website they came from.
With mobile push notifications, messages will display even if the app or website that sent it isn’t in use.
Push notifications also may or may not have small images or logos along with text. It’s the innovative way we use them that makes such a big difference.
See The Bump App image below. It sends warm messages to moms-to-be during stages of their pregnancy! Very nice touch, isn’t it?
Image courtesy: The Bump
#2. Why use push notifications?
Push notifications allow users instant access to information, without any energy usage.
- Do you want to know the latest match-score of your favorite football team?
- Do you need weather information before long-distance travel by car?
- Would you like to know when your favorite store has a flash sale of footwear?
It doesn’t cost time or money to sign up for push messages … and you get short, important or urgent informational alerts.
Marketers can use push messages to keep warm leads and prospects from going cold. For example:
- Share deals and promotions, striking while the iron is hot.
- Nudge customers to engage with Calls-To-Action they may have abandoned (like shopping carts).
- Turn customers away from competitor offers via quick pre-emptive or distractive alerts.
- Provide brand-related updates from time to time to keep the brand top of mind.
#3. What makes push messages valuable?
Different experts have different takes on what makes up “real value” in push messages.
Andrew Gazdecki has one viewpoint. In his article “Push Notification Basics Every Business Needs to Know” he states that push notifications should encourage user action that both benefits them and informs you.
How to achieve this?
- Customers can redeem offers or learn something new.
- You can analyze engagement data to get better ROI from your marketing strategy.
Sam Welch has another interesting view on the value of push messages. In his article “How To Maximize Value From Push Notifications” he emphasizes that marketers must convey the value of their push notifications to improve user opt-ins. Users who understand the value and purpose of the notifications will grant permission.
To succeed with this:
- Include value propositions that focus on benefits users will receive from push notifications.
- Show value propositions under the app store description … as well as when users first engage with the app.
- State how you can give the user insider access to something that non-users won’t get.
#4. How do push notifications pop up on mobiles?
Most smartphones have built-in banner notification features. These pop up at the top of the screen when the device is in use. You can also use the notification center on your phone by swiping downward.
The newer phones also allow users to enjoy more control on how push messages appear. Users can customize individual app notifications sounds or vibrations according to notification type.
Personalization and user experience of push messages are improving by leaps and bounds.
#5. What are location services in push messages?
Both Android and iOS smartphones prompt their users to enable location services. The device then sends this location info to the app or website that wants to market to him. This feature benefits both businesses and users, because it enables targeted, relevant messaging.
Combining push messaging technology and geo targeting helps even more. The dual effect enables marketers to market deeper and smarter – like this:
- A consumer who is about to hand over his clothes for ironing at a new laundry may get a “Why have you forgotten us?” message from his old laundry. He may also get with a discount coupon as he is about to enter the competitor’s doorway.
- A consumer rummaging through a book store may get two tickets from a local theatre via a push message. They may suggest their latest movie release may be a better way to spend the evening than reading books.
- A hospital may alert its high asthma-risk customers of high pollution levels. It may remind them to wear protective air-filters in high traffic areas.
- Weight-loss apps may alert customers moving around at lunch time. They may suggest dishes in nearby restaurants’ that are calorie-limited.
#6. Text messaging vs push messaging
Text messages and push messaging for mobiles are very similar, and often people get the two mixed up. Both types of messages pop up on a user’s mobile device, and fit within tight character limits. Both have outstanding open-rates of over 90%.
But there are five important differences:
- The technology difference: Text message come to phone numbers via telephone networks. Push notifications arrive via internet connectivity and the phone’s operating system.
- One way vs two-way communication: Text is a two way communication platform. Users can get and reply texts. Push messages are one-way alerts, that users cannot reply to.
- The pricing method: The price of text messages are on a per message basis. The greater your frequency of messaging, the higher your costs. Push notifications services allow sending of unlimited push messages. But they scale their plans to limit the number of subscribers.
- Regulations and compliance: Text message marketing falls under federal regulation in many countries. As a marketer, it’s critical to ensure your text message marketing is in compliance. Push messaging is a much easier communication channel to manage. But there can be issues from time to time in different countries. In India, for example, there are controls during national elections. This is to disallow the spreading of “fake news” by rival political parties.
- Location based messaging: Push messaging makes use of location based messaging. Customers have to first enable it. Push messages get triggered based on a users location at any particular time.
- Opt-in/Opt-out features: Push messages allow full control to users on the messages they get. They can opt in. They can opt out too. Text messages come unsolicited. Many users may even receive spammy texts from time to time. This is due to unscrupulous sale of phone number lists between companies. That’s why a lot of users view SMS as a lower-quality messaging channel.
#7. How do customers opt in for push notifications?
Some phone apps begin pushing notifications as part of the app. They don’t need an opt-in from the user. They take installation of the app as a tacit okay to messages from the app.
Some other apps ask for permission. They send an initial pop up that asks if a user would like to allow or block push messages. Depending on his choice, the user starts getting notifications. To disallow messages, he needs to block it from his phone’s app settings. He can also block unwanted push notifications from different sites or apps.
As a marketer, you have to be very careful about the frequency of push messages you send. It’s a very fine line between users welcoming or feeling annoyed by messages, even if they have opted in.
The chart below shows how divided the market is between users who welcome push messages … or find push messages a nuisance.
Image courtesy: Localytics
#8. The marketing benefits of push messaging
The top six benefits marketers perceive from push notifications (according to research) include:
Push messages increase customer engagement: Push messages score high as great tools for customer nudging. But much depends on the innovativeness of the pushed content. Standard messages or bland messages don’t beget much engagement.
Push messages drive up app usage: Push messages can encourage more visits to your app or website. For this, the frequency of messages must be optimum … neither too frequent nor too less.
Push messages allow relevant messaging: Push messages are perceived as valuable when they are relevant. Most annoyance comes from messages seen as immaterial to the users interest at a given time or place. For example, a reminder to a webinar one day before the event is relevant. A reminder every day, from six days before the event, is way too much of reminding to be relevant.
Push messages are very simple to send and receive: Push messages are easy to create and send. They’re also rather easy for users to receive and take action on. Its a win-win when it works!
Push messages enable sharing of messages on events, deals and promotions: The right message to the right people at the right time … this is the axiom of successful marketing. Push messages can tick all these boxes.
Push messages can’t fall into junk folders: Emails may fall into junk folders by accident. No such thing can happen to push messages. You can deliver push notifications with a guarantee of visibility.
#9. Advantages to customers with push messaging
Research indicates that users see most advantage from these kinds of push messages:
- Special offers based on preferences
- Breaking news alerts
- New personalized content
- Location-based special offers
See the chart below:
Image courtesy: Localytics
Three other advantages push messaging can give customers are these:
Push notifications are faster to retrieve: Push messages deliver faster than text messaging. Seconds after sending, they hit users’ smartphones.
Push messages allow user-control to make changes anytime: Users may need service providers’ help to update their text message settings. But they can customize push notifications themselves, according to personal preferences. These preferences can be reset at any time with a couple of settings altered.
Push messages allow reliable and consistent messaging: Users do not need to be close to a cell-phone tower to get their push messages. All they need is Internet access. This cannot happen with text messages. Even in areas without Internet access, you can be online using a portable Wi-Fi device … and get your push messages.
#10. How best can marketers use push notifications?
Marketers must send messages best suited to their audiences and product offerings. Most push notification campaigns involve the following types of sequenced push messages:
A welcome message immediately after the initial opt-in: This helps welcome subscribers to your community. It also helps users check if their opt-ins are working and messages are reaching them. Some marketers also throw in a value-add – like a discount code or an insider secret.
The updates-type of push messages: Here you can include information like:
- Fresh content on your blog
- New items in you e-store
- Any parcel that is on its way
- Any shipment tracking info now available to the user
The reminders-type of push messages: These messages can encourage users in situations like these:
- Encourage users to pick up where they left off … like abandoned shopping carts or half-filled forms
- Nudge users to check out new content like the ones they’ve engaged with before
- Remind users to add appointments or events to their calendars
The time-bound alerts-type of push messages: These messages are ideal for:
- Flash sales
- Limited time offers
- Distraction messages when competitor activity is high
#11. What marketers should NOT do in push messaging
There are some types of push messaging that you should steer clear of … especially if you are a serious content marketer hoping to keep valuable subscribers. Here are the points to watch:
Don’t let push messages become “pushy messages”: Since there’s a word limit, most marketers cut what’s important in favor of “urgency words”. That doesn’t work. Here’an example:
Good message (with more information, less urgency):
“We’re giving away 20 veg pizzas at 15% off. Learn how to get lucky.”
Pushy message (with less information, more urgency):
“15% off on veg pizzas. Quickly! Hurry! Get yours before they’re gone!”
Be extra sure to get your target audience right: There’s no bigger boo-boo in content marketing than aiming at the wrong audience. Mobiles are very personal to people. Sending messages to the wrong users is almost like an invasion of privacy.
Be very sensitive to time zones: Don’t push messages at sleeping times. People set pop up sounds to let them know when they have received messages. So unlike emails, these can disturb if they arrive at night. Be time-zone conscious if you need to push messages to users in different geographies.
Don’t go “off-brand” when sending push messages: For example, a push message with a comic tone, or one that reads: “Chk yr gr8 rewrd fm us in yr nxt msg. LOL. :)” from a serious brand is a brand-killer. When creating word-limited messages, it’s important to preserve the tone of your brand. Don’t focus on shortening the message at the cost of your brand consistency.
#12. Push messages examples from well-known brands
News outlets send a lot of push notifications to users on breaking news or exclusive stories.
Netflix uses customer viewing history data to send personalized alerts on new-content announcements.
Airlines send users push notifications almost all the time … on check-in times, flight arrivals and departures or updates to schedules.
All these types of push messages are common, and quite well-received. But it’s the offbeat push-campaigns that manage to exploit technology as a cutting edge.
Procter & Gamble have a brand “Charmin” that deals with toilet products. Their app “Sit Or Squat” is a very smart push-message based content campaign. The app alerts people to clean bathrooms near their geo-locations. Doubtless, it’s a service that’s very useful for anyone on the go.
You go into the app and request a list of toilets near you. Within seconds, you get a push message with the nearest restroom. As we all know, not all restrooms are equal. The Sit Or Squat push messages have a green “Sit” rating for clean locations … and a red “Squat” rating for the less desirable toilets near you.
#13. Push messages sending – the workflow process
The workflow involved in sending push notifications varies. It may be different from one service provider to another. But the process is generally along these lines:
Step 1: Your app developer must include a push-notification feature when he builds the app. This feature needs to be workable with all mobile operating systems.
Step 2: If your app is well-marketed, a lot of people may choose to download it. The app, when opened, will ask people if they’ll like to get push notifications. If they agree, the app will then find out if they’d like to allow use of their location data. If they agree to that also, it’s all systems go.
Step 3: The app back-end interface will give you options for all these customizations:
- Options for personalizing your message
- Options for choosing different templates for your messages
- Options for customizing the templates to suit your brand
- Options for writing or editing your message text
- Options for scheduling the sending times your notification
- Options for sending push notifications to people when in certain geo-locales
- Options to choose the segment of people you want to send messages to
- Option to link to a URL or a tab within your app (very useful to get people to come to your website or see more info on the app)
Step 4: Once you’ve set all the options and are happy with your message, click “SEND” and your message will be on its way. (BEWARE: There are no take-backs with push messages. Once sent, they are not retrievable. So be extra sure before you hit “SEND”.)
Step 5: If I were you, I’d always send myself every message … to see if it’s going okay, and looks like I wanted it to, when it arrives.
#14. Pushing messages based on the users’ location
Localytics have done some excellent research on the subject of location-targeted push messages. They reveal these statistics:
- In a survey conducted among 1000 smartphone users, 49% of people said they’d use an app more, if it sent them push notifications triggered by their selected hometown. 42% of people said the same for push notifications triggered by their present location. These findings show that using location tracking for mobile messaging may not be a major privacy concern for users.
- In another survey, 36% of people who shop using apps said a mobile location-based push notification had influenced an in-store purchase they made. This represents an interesting opportunity for brands that have a presence in the digital and physical world.
There are two examples Localytics give on good use of location-targeted push messages:
- Retailers can push messages to notify users of unspent store credit, when they are in the vicinity of the store. This would encourage a walk-in, and some spending, to use up the unused store credit.
- Hotels can push messages to re-confirm room bookings to customers who are approaching their travel destinations. This can save people the hassle of digging up all the paperwork on arrival, all tired after a journey.
The caveat here, though, is this. Not everyone wants companies and marketers tracking their location. Further, some people may allow permission only at certain times and locations. For example, they may allow it when on holidays at outstation places, but not near their homes.
Content marketers have to ensure they have the correct permissions from users. This is very important, so that push messages are not seen as abuse of privacy.
#15. Using push messages to enhance user experience
Push notifications can be a content-marketing tactic as well as improve user experience. First anaylze why someone has chosen to download your app. Then see how push notifications can make their experience even better.
One great example of a push notification that works on adding to user experience is the Uber App. As we all know, Uber bases its rates on supply and demand. Sometimes, users open the app, but see that prices are high. So they choose to wait before they order a vehicle. That’s when Uber sends them a push message, like this one below. See how it doubles up as both brand promotion plus greater user experience.
Image courtesy: Uber
The Nielsen Norman Group, the UX experts, suggest the five following DONT’s for push notifications.
Don’t ask users to enable notifications when they are launching your app on their mobiles: Users may not have a clear understanding of the usage of app. They may get a bit flummoxed if the app asks for permission to invade their screens with push messages.
Don’t forget to tell users what information notifications will contain: So many marketers send generic messages like this: “App XYZ would like to send you messages. Allow? Block?” It would be better to say: “LowCalorie App would like to send you motivating messages for your diet plan. Please allow. Allow? Not Now?”
Don’t send notifications in many bursts: Send fewer but more complete push notifications. You can’t expect people to connect the threads of short bursts of pushes that add up to a long message.
Don’t share irrelevant news updates: Users want updates that help them. They are not so much interested in news about your business.
Don’t make it hard to turn off notifications: Enable simple and quick ways to switch switching off app notifications. Allow users to edit their notification preferences within your app. They should not need to go to their phone’s native settings to do this.
#16. Pushing messages to increase engagement and retention
Push notifications help increase both engagement and retention of users. This is by now well established by research. Here are two clear pieces of evidence.
ClearBridge’s article “5 Methods For Increasing App Engagement & User Retention” mentions that:
- Push notifications increase user retention by 56% to 180%.
- Users opting to receive push notifications show 88% higher app engagement than non-opters.
- Push messages help remind users that they’ve downloaded your app. This also increases app engagement.
- Push messages also target people based on behavioral data and preferences. This is again a reason for better engagement and retention.
SingleGrain’s article “Marketer’s Guide to Mobile App Advertising” also adds that:
- 68% of people enable push notifications for their favorite brand’s app
- Push notifications with pictures increase open rates by up to 56%
- Targeted push notifications improve response rates by 4-7X.
- The average American check his or her phone 47 times a day.
- 77% of 25-34 year-olds check their phones in the middle of the night.
#17. Personalization in push messages
Previous consumer engagement and behavior is the basis of personalization in push messages.
This Localytics infographic below shows some terrific examples of personalized push notifications. See how brands have used personalization based on past user-behavior.
Image courtesy: Localytics
#18. Push notifications that keep user devices in mind
When you create iOS or Andrid apps, you’ll need to know what these notifications will look like on the user’s screen. Unfortunately, simulators don’t work very well. You’ll have to test-drive your push messages on real phones to see how they look on both iOS and Android devices.
You could try out a few templates … then use those as the basis for creating your push notifications.
Another difference in iOS and Android phones comes on click-through rates. See the graph below from Quicksprout …
Quicksprout explain what affects click-through rates on different smartphone devices:
- iOS users open their push notifications 7X faster than users with an Android device. This has to do with differences in the software on each device.
- When Apple users unlock their phones, the push notification disappears from the screen. Android users have to clear their notifications. If they don’t clear the message, opening the message will clear it from the notification screen.
- This explains why Android users have higher open rates. But Apple users open notifications faster.
#19. Web push notifications as different from mobile pushes
Website push notifications are clickable messages sent by a website. They go their subscribers’ web browsers. They work like mobile app push notifications. But they work on websites instead of apps. They are accessible on all devices (desktop, mobile, tablet, etc).
Web push messages are also known as browser notifications. browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Safari support these notifications.
Web push notifications too only go to users who have opted in. Users have to visit your website to opt-in. That is where they will first encounter the opt-in message. But after that, users don’t have to be present on your website to receive these notifications. They can use their browsers to view any other sites … and your notifications will pop up on screen, at the location you’ve designated them to show up. They are usually designed to be visible and are also easy to respond to.
These days most businesses use push-notification service providers. Look for those who offer “mobile-plus-web” push as a bundle. The service providers will take care of the technology. You use the message creation interface your account provides. This is where you can create, customize and personalize your message, and hit “PUSH”.
Image courtesy: Menloworks
#20. Push notifications service providers
In the early days, push-notifications had to be hand-coded by app or web developers. But we now have some very reliable service providers who make all this unnecessary. Popular service providers, who offer both mobile-plus-web push notifications, include:
#21. Push notifications metrics to track
DigitalMarketer lists the top five metrics to track on push notifications:
ClickThrough Rate (CTR) of Push Notifications: CTR is the number of clicks you received on your notification … versus the number of subscribers you sent the notification to.
Opt-In Rate for Push Notification Subscribers: Opt-in rate gives you the number of people who subscribe to your push notifications … versus the number of people who visit your website.
Time Spent on a Landing Page after a Push Message: Should people clicking the push message reach your landing page? The time spent on your landing page would be an important metric.
Frequency and Timing of Push Messages and their Effectiveness: Watch out for this from a A PushCrew study … it indicates that the CTR of a push notification declines with every extra “send” in a single day by any website.
Conversion Rate as a Result of Push Notifications: Conversion rates include sales. They can also be any business end-result or goal you set for the push notification. You can have goals like brand recall, engagement, customer acquisition or customer retention.
#22. How to convert more with push notifications
Do you plan to use push notifications as a serious part of your content marketing campaign? You must see this infographic that CleverTap have put together … after analyzing 40 billion push notifications.
Infographic courtesy: CleverTap
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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