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Getting Started with Mobile App Push Notifications

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
22 December 2014

The big takeaway in 2014 is that mobile has become an established ecommerce channel. Your customers use their phones and tablets to read your email messages, to browse your website and, increasingly, to take the big leap to purchase.

Mobile actually beat desktop on Thanksgiving Day in the United States, when smartphones and tablets combined to drive 52 percent of traffic. Three in 10 sales happened on a mobile device, too.

Why Mobile Needs a “Push”

Reducing friction in browsing, buying and other transactions is one of the most important goals for your mobile marketing program.

Converting to mobile-friendly email design, product pages and forms is one strategy. Another is offering a dedicated mobile application, which delivers content directly to your customers' phones and tablets and can generate in-app transactions (such as purchases, downloads or account management) or guide your customer back to your website.

Just having an app isn't enough, though. Although app retention has been rising, about one in five apps gets downloaded but never opened or activated on the mobile device. Further, nearly six in 10 apps gets used less than 10 times.

How can you increase the chance that your app will become a go-to resource for your users? Enter the "push" notification, which can do for mobile apps what email does for websites.

Push Notifications: 3 Formats, 2 Styles, 4 Data Triggers

FORMATS: Push notifications take three general formats:

1) Broadcast notifications go to every app user.

2) Narrowcast notifications use rule definitions to launch messages aimed at a targeted or segmented subgroup of app users.

3) 1:1 messages go only to individual recipients, generated by any of four data triggers.

Although many experts promote using only 1:1 messaging, I believe there's a role for creating a push-marketing program with a mix of all three forms, just as there is in email.

MESSAGE STYLES: It's a mobile twist on the old text/HTML dichotomy:

1. "Simple" text alerts appear on the phone or tablet lock screen (the screen recipients see before they unlock their devices). These also can show up and can be clicked on in a phone's "Messages" list.

2. "Rich" messages use colors, graphics and images and appear in an in-app inbox.

DATA TRIGGERS: The four triggers that generate almost all of the 1:1 messages include the following:

1. Date/event: Appointment, reservation or payment reminders

2. Behavior: Cart/browse abandonment reminders, package pick-up notices

3. Profile: Based on data in a preference center or user profile

4. Location: Check-in requests or recommendations and promotions based on the phone's location, including iBeacon notices

3 Examples of Simple and Rich Push Notifications

A. Sephora and push notifications for holiday messaging

The cosmetics retailer uses a series of simple lock-screen notifications to send broadcast alerts for gift ideas, reminders about shipping deadlines and store hours, and other holiday-related content. The messages also appear under the company's name in the user's regular message list.

AMC Push Notification ExampleB. AMC Theaters and preference/inbox notifications

The entertainment chain allows app users to choose their movie preferences in a customized preference center and sends targeted rich messages to the in-app inbox to alert eligible users about ticket releases, trailers and news about their favorite movies.

C. Office Depot and in-app coupon delivery

Retail app users who opt in to location sharing get lock-screen invitations to check in at their local stores in order to receive unique coupons. The coupons, delivered to the app, are dynamic rich messages with offers available only at the selected store.

Mobile Push: A Natural Fit for Email Marketers

If you're an email marketer, you might be apprehensive about learning to navigate in a new messaging channel. Let me assure you that everything you learned to make email work well can help you build a successful mobile marketing program.

The technology is different, but the same key imperatives apply:

1) Persuade customers to opt in for messages.

As with email, you must show your app users what benefits they'll get for allowing you to send them push notifications.

Getting permission is key here. Although no U.S. or international laws regulate push, Apple requires every iOS app to ask permission before sending notifications upon install.

Apps in the Google Play store for Android devices don't have that same opt-in requirement. However, both Android and iOS apps must allow users to turn off push, either within the device settings or in the app itself.

You can make the case to accept push messages on your app download page or in a dedicated email message to subscribers, where you can say a lot more than you can in that little on-screen request.

These should help you persuade more users to click "OK" when they open the app and see the question "Allow XYZ Company to send you push notifications?"

2) Send messages that compel recipients to open your app and act.

Your mobile customers are getting lots of push notifications from other brands, too. As with your email messages, your push notifications must grab their attention and give them a reason to stop what they're doing, open your app and take the action you want.

Why Email Needs to Own Mobile

If your company has created mobile apps or has one in the works, make the case that the email marketing team should own app marketing and push notifications as well. The skill sets and the marketing mindset are the same.

You’re in the best position to break down the silos that separate email, push and SMS and move to an omnichannel approach with coordinated messaging.

Have you waded into app-related marketing yet? I welcome your comments and questions about push notifications @LorenMcDonald.

Related Resources:

1) Tip Sheet: “10 Tips for Using Email to Drive Mobile Engagement – and Vice-Versa

2) White Paper: “7 Key Marketing Trends for 2015 – and Tactics for Succeeding in the New Year

3) Blog: “Mobile Apps, Meet Marketing Automation


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