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Push notifications: 10 ways to turn them on without turning consumers off

Scary but true: According to a new global survey from Apigee, 85% of smartphone users say they would rather "give up drinking water" than delete their mobile apps. What does that mean for mobile marketing professionals? A scary but very big opportunity. And no wonder so many are racing to build engaging apps that consumers embrace -- both with their attention and their wallets.

But here's the rub: Developing a smart mobile app that consumers like is one thing. Getting them to engage regularly with it is another. It's a challenge that all developers face, which is why push notifications -- the stream of alerts that spin out of a particular app -- have become as ubiquitous as the apps themselves. Recent research by Urban Airship even suggests that in some cases, push notifications can boost an app's usage by as much as 540 percent.

Nice, right? Except for one thing: Consumers may love their apps, but they have a love-hate relationship with push. As Dan Rowinski put it recently on Read Write Web, "they love notifications when they are useful, hate them when they become a vehicle of spam." Users can simply turn off notifications the instant they get something they consider intrusive or irrelevant. The push notifications they are most likely to keep are the ones that actually deliver useful information, like breaking news, a prescription pick-up/refill reminder or an inventory availability notification.

It's a challenge mobile marketing professionals are confronting head-on as they continue to look beyond traditional email for ways to reach customers and start an extended conversation that evolves into a longstanding relationship. Here are ten rules for using push notifications to engage your customers -- before they disengage:


  1. Connect the data. Encourage consumers to register after downloading an app and allowing push notifications. Then, tie this info to the master customer record or CRM database. This will allow you to leverage first party data to orchestrate cross-channel messaging, including push notifications.
  2. Be selective. Don't get pushy with push notifications. If you overwhelm your customers with alerts, you'll pay a price when they turn them off. Instead, focus on timely, relevant notifications that add value and enhance the experience. Do some research and watch consumer behaviors to inform frequency and then set frequency caps accordingly to help manage and avoid burn out.
  3. Be relevant. Know what your customers want -- and deliver it. Tap into the copious amounts of customer data to build valuable communications and offers. Consider triggering push notifications based on behaviors (i.e. didn't open an email) or relevant product or service developments tied to the individual such as inventory availability, shipping confirmations and appointment reminders to maximize success and avoid message overload.
  4. Be informative. Give your customers tools that will make their lives easier. JetBlue and other airlines use push to alert passengers to flight changes. Walgreens now pushes out reminders to customers to refill prescriptions. LiveNation can tap into iTunes to notify app users when their favorite artists are performing nearby.
  5. Be timely. GPS location technology can help marketers deliver special offers to a consumer's mobile device based on her location. Seamless, the online food delivery service, uses geo-targeting push software to detect a user’s location, fill in a delivery address  and display neighborhood restaurants that can deliver to the address.
  6. Be generous. Mobile users especially love a good deal. While mobile coupons make up less than one percent of all coupons today, they comprise 10 percent of all coupons redeemed. Cosmetics retailer Sephora, for instance, uses push notifications to alert customers to special deals. Or a concert arena could alert music lovers to a summer gig by offering "early-bird" deals on tickets.
  7. Be seductive. Inactive users of an app left for a reason, so luring them back can be tricky. One way to win their hearts again is to offer a discount an item identical or similar to the last one they bought on the site -- and throw in free shipping to boot.
  8. Think content. Content is the key to keeping users engaged with your app. Understand your customer base/segments as their needs and interests are paramount. Develop unique content through content partnerships and keep it fresh to keep them coming back for more. Solicit feedback from users to continually evolve your app's features and functionality.
  9. Be polite. Borrow a page from telemarketers and try never to "buzz" during dinner. Utilize 'local push' to avoid sending notifications that wake customers too early in the morning or too late at night.
  10. Be Considerate. Don't make it hard for customers to opt-out of your push notifications. Sometimes customers need a break. But always let them know that they are welcome back at any time.

For more tips and best practices on engaging your customers on mobile, download our Mobile Success Guide.

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