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5 ways to get personal with push notifications - without alienating customers

Push notifications can be one of the closest things mobile marketers have to nirvana. The real-time alerts that brands can send to consumers who have downloaded their apps or use Apple's Passbook are, like text messages, extremely effective messaging tools— when they're done right.

But when push notifications are deemed annoying, useless and/or intrusive? The price is often more than just an unhappy customer. It's an unhappy customer with a social media bullhorn. Here's how one disgruntled Starbucks customer chose to vent his anger over the company's push notifications:

Therein lies both the reward and risk of push notifications: they give brands instant, intimate access to their customers and, yet, expectations run high that the experience will be flawless for every customer. Here are some smart ways brands can make sure they leverage push notifications in a mutually beneficial way:

1. Show customers where the exits are: Push notifications are such a successful channel for customer engagement (research even suggests push notifications can boost an app’s usage by as much as 540 percent) that many marketers are apprehensive when it comes to showing customers how to opt-out of them. That's a mistake. Not giving customers an easy way out of push notifications hurts customer loyalty and can even lead to bad press. Just look at Mobile Marketer’s recent roundup of tweets exhibiting consumer rage over push notifications.

2. Hand over the steering wheel: Marketers can do a lot to prevent customers from wanting to opt-out of push notifications by simply letting them choose what kind of information they would like to receive. Instagram, for example, provides users with guidance on how to adjust their in-app profile settings to reflect which push notifications they want to receive. “Doing [push notifications] right means being receptive to the needs and wants of your individual users,” Ken Gaebler, principal/founder at Walker Sands, a Chicago-based marketing agency, tells Mobile Marketer, “Let [users] determine how many [push notifications] they get and what topics are allowed.”

3. Use customer data to stay relevant: Seems like a no-brainer, but while marketers have the ability to segment many of their mobile users by location, age and other demographic information, many still blunder by sending a push at, say, an inopportune time (such as the early morning) or delivering content that is irrelevant to a specific segment of users. Here's what one angry Twitter user had to say:

4. Offer customers value: Ask not what your customers can do for you, but what you can do for your customers. Mobile marketers that understand personalization ask themselves what value they can provide to their users to make them more effective in their lives, interests and hobbies rather than bombard them with advertisements —which is actual a violation of Apple’s rules for push. “When a marketer breaks those rules, they put their firm's relationship with Apple in jeopardy and they tarnish their brand in the eyes of their end users,” says Gaebler of Walker Sands. According to Mobile Marketer, brands  that want to avoid this can send their customers transaction confirmations or notify them when an item in their wish list is on-sale.

5. Listen to your customers: Don't let customers opt-out of certain types of push notifications and leave it at that. Pay attention to how many customers are barring a particular kind of message — and do something about it. Forcing users to opt-out of a messaging feature that, collectively, they don't like only creates more work for them and delivers a bad experience overall. Marketers should monitor their data to see how effective a particular push feature is and, when necessary, respond to user complaints to improve their push program.

“Stop and reevaluate your strategy if it does not work,” Cezary Pietrzak, director of marketing at Appboy, tells Mobile Marketer. “The worst thing you can do is annoy people to the point that they shut off your ability to contact them via push. If your current strategy does not work, stop contacting them, take a break and try something different – quality always beats quantity.”

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