Anyone who owns a smartphone has received a push notification to update them on anything from mobile data usage, to battery level, to progress in a mobile game. They have a place in marketing, as they are an excellent way for a company to get its message straight into the hands of a consumer. However, for a company to start making use of such a medium, it must first understand what push notifications are.

What Are Push Notifications?

A push notification is a message that appears on a mobile phone screen. The message comes from an app, with the app owner sending the message to the app user whenever they want. The app that sends the message doesn’t need to be open for the notification to come through, though the recipient must download the app and keep it downloaded for the notification to go through. Nearly all mobile device manufacturers, including Apple’s iOS, Android, and Windows phones, can use push notifications. Even some pre-downloaded apps that come with a phone out of the box provide push notifications, offering a variety of data relating to the phone, such as a missed call notification.

How Do They Work?

Most push notifications go through a three-stage process to get from the app to the mobile phone user. First, the phone in use must have some form of push message software installed, with the major manufacturers having this software installed as default. Apple was the first to launch the system, named the APNs or Apple Push Notification Service, found on Apple products such as the iPad or iPhone. Google followed one year later with its push service, to compete with the iOS push notification service. The app sending the notification must then enable their app to work with the phone’s software, such as the Android push notification app created by Google. Finally, once the app gets downloaded and connected to the notification software, the operating system specific app then receives any push notifications before forwarding it to the screen of the phone. 

However, before any message gets sent, push notifications do require some initial set-up. The app publisher must compose the message manually or with the use of an automatic notifications API. Once the messages get written, the app developer defines the audience for the notification. They then determine whether the message should get sent immediately or on a schedule via the use of automated push notifications software.

Push Notifications From The Eye Of The User

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Once a push message goes through the process of getting sent by the app owner, it appears to the consumer. But what does that notification look like to the recipient? Generally, the notification comes up as a banner or pop-up, which appears with no consideration to what the user is doing. The mobile phone user could be in an app, browsing the web, or have their phone locked, but the push notification will still appear in the same way that a preview of a text message appears. Many smartphones also come with a notification center, which gets organized in chronological order. This Notification Center typically gets accessed by swiping the screen down. Android devices also show notifications on the lock screen of the phone. Despite that, an Android user doesn’t have the customization of their iOS user counterparts.

iOS devices have a slightly different system for managing push notifications. A user can customize which apps deliver notifications, along with whether the messages come with a sound or not.

These systems allow users to turn them on and off at their will, which is not something other marketing methods allow.

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Two Types Of Push Notifications

Up until this point, the term push notification has referred to the mobile notifications sent to the main screen of a mobile phone, via an app. For the notification to appear, the mobile phone user must download the application. The other type of push message comes in the form of browser notifications. These notifications are not just limited to a mobile phone, but can also appear on a computer or laptop. When a user visits a website, they receive a prompt to subscribe for web push notifications. If they accept, the website can send notifications straight to their desktop, whether they are sales, news, or special offer notifications. It doesn’t matter if the recipient is on the web page; the notification will still come through. The primary benefit of these types of notifications is that a company does not have to develop a mobile app to make use of mobile app push notifications.

Push Notifications vs. Text Messages

At a glance, it can seem that mobile push notifications and text messages are the same. They both look similar on the phone’s lock screen. However, they are not the same, as a push alert needs to meet a specific character limit for the notification to appear on the screen. This limit does not apply for text messages, which can get opened to view the entire message. A user clicking on the mobile push message will go to the app that sent it, which is not dissimilar from a text notification, which will take a user to the text message center. Additionally, the significant difference is that push notifications are free for a user to receive, with some text messages charging the recipient for the privilege of receiving the message.

Push Notifications For Marketing

Push notifications go straight to a user, so they are an excellent means of marketing. In truth, the messages can come in both advertising and transactional forms though either form gives a company a direct link to its consumer. In terms of promotional announcements, they can advertise new goods and services, provide promotional codes, and increase brand awareness. A strong push notification strategy can be an invaluable asset, with the below detailing why.

Advantages Over Other Means Of Marketing

There are around 3.5 billion smartphone mobile users in the world. Add to that other computing device such as tablets and computers and there is an extensive market to tap in to. The best form of advertising is the one with the most reach, so push notification marketing has a clear advantage over other alternatives. The high number of smartphones in the world, combined with an average of 3 hours per day of mobile phone usage, is to a business’s benefit. These numbers give a high rate of engagement that other mediums can’t reach. Notifications also come with a better level of security, as each mobile phone notification system ensures all received messages through the notification center are safe for the consumer to view. That is unlike marketing that includes a link, such as an email, that could lead a user to download something malicious. Finally, one of the most significant advantages of a push notification marketing campaign is the cost. Some mobile marketing system providers include push messaging as part of their service free of charge.

How Can A Company Use Push Notifications

The idea of a push notification is to get it right in front of a user, demanding some form of action for the message to go away. For this reason, a company should reserve push notifications for different content, as they come with unique advantages not found in other marketing means.

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Personalized Offers

One of the best ways to entice a customer with an advert is to tailor that advert to the intended recipient. That is especially true for push notifications as the user of the device has to opt-in to the marketing method and they are more intrusive than other means. It is for this reason that the message delivered applies to the person who will receive it, whether with special offers for items they have shown interest in or products that might appeal to them based on previous purchases. A personalized push notification can do just that.

Cart Has Items Reminder

Many eCommerce stores lose out on potential revenue because customers don’t complete their purchase. They have placed items into their online basket though have not carried out the transaction for whatever reason. A business that can use the notifications to convert the forgotten shopping carts will be able to improve their sales radically, thus improving profit. A notification of this kind also works via email. Typically, such a message gets sent anywhere between 1 hour and 24 hours of a consumer abandoning the cart. Chasing an abandoned cart is also an excellent opportunity to provide a purchasing incentive, such as free shipping or timed discount.

Shipping And Order Notifications

Once a customer has placed their order, they expect some form of confirmation. Traditionally, this has come via an email though there is no reason why a company can’t use a push notification to deliver the same information in a more compressed form. Push notifications are especially useful as order confirmation emails can get picked up by an overzealous spam filter. There is no reason why a company cannot use both to cover both bases.

Increasing The Reach Of A Push Notification Marketing Campaign

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Push notifications come with one significant downside not faced by other means of marketing, and that is that a potential consumer has to physically opt-in to a marketing campaign, either by downloading an app or clicking on the prompt in the web browser. Yes, marketing SMS messages if sent by automated means, require user consent, though an SMS can still get sent manually without approval. It is for this reason that a company has to hold on to its already established consumer base.

Unfortunately, when dealing with a web push browser notification, a company doesn’t have much control over the form used by a consumer to subscribe to push marketing. It gets designed and managed by the web browser, such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or similar. If the notification is app-based, a company has more control over the application form though less for the actual notification. With that said, there are steps a company can take to increase their push notification subscriptions.

Delaying The Pop-up Form

Though a company can’t edit the appearance of the opt-in form, they can decide when it appears. Many websites choose to have it come up right away, though if a customer is visiting a site for the first time, they don’t know enough about the brand to commit to receiving push notifications. Instead, it is better for a company to delay the appearance of the notifications, whether it appears one minute into a customer’s browsing sessions or set off after the customer has visited so many pages on the website. Alternatively, another option is for a company to imply an exit-intent pop-up. As a user clicks off the site, a prompt can appear, to further engage the consumer with push notifications. Either method gives a consumer time to decide if they want to commit, which they will appreciate.

Draw Attention To The Sign-Up Form

Though businesses have no control over the actual pop-up sign-up form, they can create visual overlays to draw attention to it. If a company can draw attention to the sign-up form and outline the benefits it provides, it can improve the sign-up rate of website visitors. It is an excellent idea for a company to advertise what a user can expect from signing up for push notifications. They are more likely to subscribe if the benefits are clear.

What Can A Business Learn Through Push Notifications?

Push notifications don’t just allow a company to perform marketing, but also learn more about their customers through the use of analytics software. Analytics is a vital component of any form of marketing that lets a business know what is and isn’t working, even after a push notification has gone through rigorous A/B testing, as detailed below – insights a company can learn from push notifications.

●      Push Notification Received – A push notification received stat allows a company to understand how many of the targeted consumers receive the messages sent through the system. If that final number is much less than a company projected, then the targeted consumers are not receiving the notification. A company’s next task is to find out why. It should get noted that just because a notification is received, it doesn’t mean it got opened by the recipient.

●      Push Notification Clicked – A push notification clicked stat will allow a business to understand when its push notification is not just received, but also clicked on by a user. A company can use this information to gauge how many consumers are initially enticed by the delivered message. If that number is significantly higher than the next stat, then the company is doing something right.

●      Push Notification Discarded – Though it’s not a particularly pleasing stat to examine, a push notification discarded stat allows a company to understand how many consumers are receiving the notification and then deleting it instead of interacting with it. There will always be rejected notifications, but if the number is high, a company can understand that they are doing something wrong, though it is still down to them to work out what exactly.

A/B Testing A Push Notification

One of the benefits of push notifications is that they can get tailored to make a more significant impact on the intended recipient. However, before a push notification can have that effect, a business needs to understand its audience’s preferences. The best way a company can do this, and thus gain the best results from their push notification marketing campaign, is through the use of A/B testing.

What Is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is taking one version of a push notification or version A and then comparing it against the other, which would be the B version. The comparison gets made by sending each piece of text to a small focus group, with the better results deciding which version will ultimately get used for the marketing campaign. A company sends out their two notifications to the two separate focus groups, and then waits for as little as an hour or an entire day. Once the time is up, the business collects its results and forwards the winning notification to a larger focus group, to ensure the results are consistent. Multiple tests may be necessary to get the results just right to provide a rich push notification campaign. To make sure all parts of the push notification message are as good as they can be, a variable should get changed with each test. Doing this allows the results to be easily understood by the marketing team, thus providing the best user experience for the end product.

The Variables Of An A/B Test

As stated above, each test performed should have a variable changed, as a way to clearly understand what is and isn’t working. What are push notifications variables that a company must consider?

●      User Tailoring – When a company thinks about personalization, they often make the mistake of assuming to include the user’s name and then consider that as enough personalization to connect with the consumer. That information is easy to obtain and lacks effort. Instead, the message should tailor more directly to the recipient. A company can include references to a user’s previous activity in an app or include information relating to the user’s location. One message can have personalization, with the other being without, and compare the feedback between the two, though the one with customization will often be better received.

●      Edit of Wording – Clickbait titles are a central part of advertising, and that click-baiting can and should get applied to push notifications. A/B testing allows two messages to come with two different sets of texts. A company should try to word their two messages differently to see which version reacts best with the audience.

●      Use of Additional Assets – The advantage to push notifications is that they can include other forms of media, away from the text. A company can use the A/B test to test the effectiveness of images, GIFs, and emojis. A variety of each can get included in both push notifications and see which reacts best.

●      Timing of Push Notifications – A degree of common sense is required when performing push notification marketing. Sending the notification in the middle of the night is an irritant and won’t likely get the consumer to react positively. However, though there are some times in the day that a message should not get sent, it’s not always clear when they should get sent. The A/B test allows a company to test reactions over multiple times throughout the day to see when they get the best response from their focus group.

Push Notifications Based On Location

In recent years, push notification marketing has taken advantage of location tracking technology. Location-based marketing allows a company to send a message that relates to their current location. Location tracking technology comes in two forms: Apple’s core location and Android’s Google location services.

Should A Company Be Using Location-Based Marketing?

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The best form of advertising is the type that directly appeals to the consumer’s interests, with the location being one of those interests. There is no point offering a service in Washington if the recipient of the message lives in Los Angeles. Additionally, it can help a company establish a physical relationship with their customers. A customer can go online and show interest in an item, and then receive a push notification stating that item is on special offer in a physical store, prompting them to go and make the purchase. Should a company be using location-based push notifications as part of its marketing? If relevant to the company, then yes.

How To Set Up A Location-Based Push Notification Campaign

The initial set up of a location-based push notification campaign depends on how much an area a company wants to cover with their marketing campaign. Should it cover the entire city or a single store location? Once the location gets decided, a company needs to consider its method. There are three different methods for triggering a push notification based on location.

●      Geofences: A geofence is a radial area around a certain location. Once a consumer enters that radial area, the phone’s location service will connect with the business’s push service, who can then send the push notification to the phone.

●      Fixed Beacons: A beacon relies on sending a signal. The beacon sends a signal and the user’s phone picks it up. When a phone receives that signal, it also receives the push notification from the owner of the beacon.

●      User Specific Preference: With the phone’s location app, the user can set their preferences for receiving push notifications. They can set their preference to receive information in the area of their home or another fixed location of their choice. Unlike the above two options, a user does not have to be in the area to receive location-based push notifications set up via the system’s settings.

Preparing The Location-Based Push Notification

Once a business has decided how to set up their location-based push notifications and have the infrastructure in place, they need to go about setting up their message. The first and most crucial factor to consider is the goal of the message.  Usually, a business wants to push for a call to action, such as getting a potential consumer to make a purchase. However, a location-based push notification can get used for relaying a variety of information. The main thing to keep in mind is that no matter the aim of the message, it needs to be kept short. With the goal of the message decided and the text typed out, the company needs to define its audience. Defining recipients is especially important when dealing with a geofence system, as sending a push notification to everyone that steps into the area is a waste of resources.

Additionally, a company wants to avoid sending multiple messages to each person, especially if they pass through the area every day. Instead, many companies opt to send a notification to someone who has entered the area for the first time only. Alternatively, the message can get sent once after thirty days or more has passed,  since the notification got pushed before.

Location-Based Push Notifications In Action

Push notifications, even without a location-based system, are a great addition to any marketing campaign. However, to understand what they can do for a business, it is great to see them in action. Many retailers are already making use of such a push notification service. A user can have the retailers dedicated app installed, with points or store credits stored within the app. When that user enters the proximity of the store, they can receive a push notification reminding them of unused store credits, prompting them to make a purchase.

Alternatively, location-based push notifications are useful in the travel industry. Many companies in the travel industry will forward a notification when a user’s phone enters the area relating to their booking. This notification can contain booking information, necessary to gain access to a hotel, as an example. This process is much more convenient than digging through old emails.

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Push Notifications Compared To Other Forms Of Marketing

With the rise of technology, marketing techniques have become more varied and advanced. With that being the case, a company may struggle to choose which marketing method is best for them. In an ideal world, a business should be using a mixture of all forms of marketing, to gain the most exposure, though a smaller business’s budget may not allow for that. It is for that reason why it’s essential to understand the pros and cons of push notifications against other forms of marketing.

Push Notifications vs. SMS Marketing

As addressed above, push notifications and SMS marketing often get confused because the message can look similar upon an initial glance. However, they are not the same and come with some essential differences that give advantages to both.

SMS messages have a wider reach as an app does not need to be downloaded for the phone to receive the message. Additionally, many push notifications, from third-party apps, require an internet connection, which an SMS message does not need.

Users also have to opt-in to push notifications; again, something SMS recipients do not need. However, a user can opt-out of receiving both. Either way, to ensure a marketing message gets to where it needs to go, it should appeal to the consumer.

Content is the most significant difference between the two and where push notifications have an advantage. An SMS usually only contains text and an external link. On the other hand, push notifications can include text and an external link, but also images, audio, GIFs, and more. The level of interaction given to the consumer is much higher with a push notification.

Push Notifications vs. SMS Marketing – Real-World Application

SMS has a broader reach and requires less from the user, from them to receive the message, though push notifications have more customizability, which can help close a deal with a consumer. However, to get a real idea of which type of marketing is best, it helps to review real-world examples.

SMS messages are direct with one of the highest open rates over other marketing means. Alongside the analytics that comes with most mass messaging services, which helps ensure messages are delivered, the advantages of SMS messages are clear. They are best for getting important information to where it needs to go and ensuring it gets read. The message could relay an order confirmation or success of payment. Alternatively, it can offer a brand-new product or link to a special offer. No matter the reason, SMS messages are more direct. Add that to the ability to send thousand with a press of the button and it’s easy to see why SMS text messages are an invaluable marketing tool.

However, SMS messages and their high open rate is also their downside. They are somewhat intrusive and need interaction from the user to be removed, meaning constant messages can be an inconvenience. Push notifications are less invasive, as a user has to opt-in or download the associated app. For this reason, push notifications can be a better medium for closing a sale or upselling of a product. Due to their customizability and the systems behind them, push notifications can also be tailored to a specific user, which only helps with interaction.

Push Notifications Vs. Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the oldest forms of digital marketing, which now has one of the lowest open rates when compared to alternative marketing means. However, just because email marketing is losing traction, it is not redundant. The main advantage of email, over other marketing, is the word count. A push notification can have around 50 words, whereas an email can have as many words as necessary. That makes emails great for newsletters, blog posts, or pieces of documentation with a high word count, such as a receipt. As addressed, a shorter message such as a promotional message is often better delivered via a push notification.

Emails, along with their low open rate, also don’t get in front of their intended recipient straight away, meaning they are not a great medium for messages that come with a call to action, such as a time-limited discount code.  Some emails do require a sense of urgency, such as account statements, but do not need to get viewed straight away. Some email services even come with a push notification service to help get the email in front of the user.

Another benefit of email is the flexibility it gives to a business. An email can be sent as early in the morning or as late at night as necessary, and the consumer will read it at their convenience. A push notification doesn’t come with this consideration, with it going off at any time, possibly annoying a consumer and leading them to turn off notifications.

The ultimate reason for choosing one format over the other is the intention of the marketing campaign. If a business is hoping to get a consumer to act, then a push notification would be best. However, if the intent is to inform, whether on a subject or a product, then an email would work.

Common Mistakes Companies Make When Using Push Notifications

As devised, push notifications have their place in a business’s marketing plan. They are a great tool for ensuring repeat visits from previous consumers, along with directing customer traffic to new products. However, no matter how great a tool is, it will go to waste if not correctly used. The below are things a company should look out for to make sure they are using the system correctly.

Oversaturated Use Of Push Notifications

One of the most common mistakes of businesses who have just gotten their hands on a push notification system is overusing the push service.  From an analytic point of view, the more messages opened, the better, and though the short-term results will look great, that number can end up meaning nothing. A consumer does not wish to receive multiple notifications a day, and overuse of push notifications may lead to them closing the notification or opting-out altogether. The flip side to this is not sending enough to generate user interaction, which is why A/B testing is vital to find that balance.

Lack Of Automation

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Push notifications require planning. A business’s app marketers can’t type out the push notification and hit send when it pleases them. For this reason, a business should automate the sending of push notifications. A plan can get put in place, with the notifications getting sent together at a date and time that will ensure mass exposure for a company. Add to that, that automation eliminates the need for manual input, saving time and money, which can then get focused elsewhere.

Automation also allows a business to reach out to areas it would normally not be able to reach. A business on the west coast can set their message to arrive at the right time for the east coast or Europe and further.

Blindly Sending Push Notifications

App subscribers do not all fit into one single group. The only thing they have in common is that they have opted-in to receive push notifications. As mentioned above, personalization is a critical component of push notification marketing. A business should consider each consumer’s interests and actions. With that information, a business can plan a marketing campaign that its target audience will connect with.

Not Paying Attention To Analytics

The above addresses the importance of analytics in push notification marketing. A company that employs the use of analytical software will be ahead of one that doesn’t, though it is a waste of resources if not utilized properly. What devices do users use to interact with push notifications? How many consumers access an app or site via the push notification? How many users follow the call to action detailed in the notification? These are all questions that can get answered via analytic software. If a business doesn’t utilize analytics to answer these questions, it is wasting a chance to gain vital marketing information. Just because a push notification has a high read rate, it doesn’t mean consumers are taking advantage of the offer.

Push Notifications In Use

The advantage of push notifications to a business should be distinct now, though it is always beneficial to examine them in use over various industries. Above has touched on what push notifications can do, though here is what they mean for specific types of businesses.

Push Notifications For Online Stores

Just under ¼ of all push notifications come from online stores. The typical use of push notifications for an online store includes reminding consumers of an online basket with items in it. Information for new products, time-sensitive deals or the offering of promotions personalized for consumers are additional benefits to push notifications. The opportunity to drive traffic to a website with a website push notification and the close a purchase that would have otherwise gone unsold, is invaluable to an online storefront.

Push Notifications For Gaming

Gaming is now a more significant entertainment medium than movies and TV. With that being the case, members of the gaming industry have a broad audience to reach out to. Online gaming communities, gaming apps, and game creators all use push notifications to inform their audience. Gaming apps can signal special in-game offers or prompt action from a timed event and game creators can update subscribers to the development of a product. Finally, online gaming communities can utilize push notifications to keep the community updated on events happening within that community.

Push Notifications For Education

Websites and apps dedicated to education use push notifications to promote user interaction. The notification can include interesting facts, course updates, along with offering additional educational courses.

Push Notifications For Fashion

Fashion retailers, similar to online stores, send push notifications to offer new products or information on a variety of topics related to the industry. The fashion industry can also use push notifications to sell not only its products, but also its brand. The fashion industry is very competitive, so if a company can get ahead, either by promoting cruelty-free, vegan, or fair-trade products, these can get advertised in the initial opt-in form, as consumers connect well with guilt-free services. Doing so pushes a potential customer to opt-in to push notifications, as they want to stay up to date with the company.

Push Notifications For Tourism

Push notifications in the tourism industry are a somewhat recent development, with their primary purpose being to bring convenience to a consumer. Reminders to check-in, information about any changes in travel plans, along with other important information, can all get delivered straight to the customer. However, push notifications in the field of tourism does have some marketing value as well. Booking offers or upselling of a particular service to offer more convenience, such as a hire car or tour guide service, can all get advertised via push notifications.

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Push Notifications For Employment Websites

Employment finding websites can help consumers find their dream job, and push notifications only make this easier. Notifications for such websites do require additional tailoring, compared to other types of businesses. One consumer may wish to receive updates on one kind of job opportunity, while another has no desire to receive the same updates.  However, though they need to get personalized, an employment website using push notifications can stand out from similar websites without that capacity.

Push Notifications For Health And Fitness

The US health industry is worth billions of dollars, with many companies looking to get a slice of the pie. With so much competition, a business’s service needs to stand out, with push notifications being only one way to do this. Fitness tip blogs can get linked straight to a subscriber who has shown interest in that means of exercise. Again, it is not just information that can get transferred via a push notification, but also marketing for the health industry. Diet plans, new supplements, and similar fitness services can all get offered to a consumer with a push notification.

Push Notifications For Social Media

Many social media sites, including Facebook, use push notifications in both a mobile and browser form. Whenever an event occurs, provided the user has opted-in to the service, an app notification will get sent out to the user’s device. It could be a friend request, a reply to the user’s comment, or a friend of the user’s birthday, and a notification will follow. Social media uses these push event notifications to keep a consumer returning to its platform. It can then use other forms of marketing to incite a purchase. 

Less for New Traffic, More For Customer Retention

Push notifications are a great marketing tool, though not in the sense of bringing in new business, as there are much better means for that. Instead, they excel at ensuring previous customers keep using a service after their initial purchase or for boosting further app engagement if referring to mobile apps. Informative posts containing links to full blog posts are much more efficient, as opposed to sending an entire blog via email that might never get seen by the intended recipient.

Additionally, the fact that a notification can quickly get customized with ease to tailor to a customer gives the message a personalized feel not found with similar marketing means, such as SMS marketing. Images and GIFs are much more appealing to a consumer than plain text.

That is not to say that other forms of marketing don’t have a place, and that cannot be further from the truth. A company should utilize multiple avenues for its marketing, with push notifications only being one option.

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