What are mobile push notifications and what are the best practices for introducing them?

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Karolina Antonowicz, Miłosz Michałowski-Żuk, Mikołaj Saik
What are mobile push notifications and what are the best practices for introducing them?

Mobile push notifications are becoming increasingly more popular and are starting to be considered as one of the more common communication channels, while being equally if not even more functional than the others. 

According to BusinessofApps, the average US smartphone user receives 46 app push notifications per day.

Recently in Poland there was a technical glitch related to push notifications and one of the biggest Polish banks, mBank. At some point, mobile push notification tests inadvertently became visible for everyone who was using the mBank mobile app. This glitch garnered wide coverage and ignited a lot of discussions about push notifications as a communication channel.

In this article, we’re going to explain what push notifications are and how they work, as well as how to use them in practice. Then, you’ll find out more about why you should consider implementing mobile push notifications in your business. By the end, you’ll be familiar with some use cases and the top five mistakes that companies or app providers make when they invest in this kind of communication channel.

According to an Accengage report, more than 67.5% of app users subscribe to mobile push notifications and regard them as useful, which demonstrates the great popularity of this method of communication. What’s interesting here is the difference between the opt-in rate for Android (91%) and iOS (44%) users. It’s caused by the fact that iOS users must actively consent to receiving push notifications, whereas Android enables consent automatically. 

Moreover, even back in the year 2015, Airship pointed out that mobile push notifications have a considerable impact on the growth of in-app engagement and that it is changeable depending on the industry. 

 

Another Airship report indicates considerable growth of the effectiveness of push notifications in the past year. Additionally, the COVID-19 outbreak has been driving push notification engagement rates to their highest levels in years. The current situation caused by the global pandemic has made sending out “in-the-moment” notifications even more important for businesses. What’s more, Airship’s study proved that customers are currently more receptive to mobile push notifications, but vendors have to keep their messages relevant and streamlined across channels in order to keep up that level of engagement. It is worth noting that in March 2020 businesses sent 16 percent more mobile app push notifications and have seen average direct open rates increased by 22 percent compared to February 2020. 

Before we dive more into data and use cases, let’s first make a definition.

What are mobile push notifications, actually? 

Mobile push notifications are short messages that pop up on a user’s mobile device, usually nudging them to undertake a desired action. Such notifications are usually sent with the initiative of app owners, without involving the receiver. To simplify this description: an owner of a mobile device downloads an app and agrees to the provided conditions (including push notifications) or sets up the app according to their own preferences, then a person or a system responsible for communication via push notifications sends a message to all (or a select group of) users at a specific time. 

Irrespective of actual usage of the app at that very moment, its user receives a push notification on their mobile device and decides whether they want to interact with the message (by first clicking through the push notification) or not. 

Mobile push notifications are characterized by:

  • low unit cost of reaching the recipient,

  • high delivery rate,

  • high open rate,

  • the ability to communicate with users right here and right now,

  • the possibility of combining with other technologies, e.g. geolocation.

How are mobile push notifications built and displayed? 

Mobile push notifications can be displayed both on a lock screen as a banner, or in a notification center. The latter option allows a user to come back to their received notifications, browse them, get familiar with those that catch their attention, and remove ones that are not of their interest. 

Usually, mobile push notifications are displayed in text form, however there are other opportunities too. Sometimes app providers add photos, graphics, animations, films, or even call-to-action buttons that are to engage users to take the desired action.

Mobile push notifications, like any other communication channel, have their boundaries though, such as technical limits on the size of text blocks or graphics. Many of those limits depend mainly on what operating system is in use. Below you’ll find some differences between the two most popular mobile operating systems, iOS and Android. 

Mobile push notifications can be displayed first as a thumbnail including only text, which upon being tapped by an user expands and displays a graphics while the text from the thumbnail is moved underneath it.

Interactive mobile push notifications that include some eye-catching graphics seem to be the most interesting, however it’s always worth taking the aforementioned limits into account. 

The graphics above show two approaches to mobile push notifications. If you take effectiveness into consideration, the version with larger graphics and less text seems to work better. However, good practice says that messages coming from the same brand should be varied and customized to the goal of each specific mobile push notification. The messages should also include a special element that could draw the attention of the receiver. 

You should approach the creation of mobile push notification templates just like you would for email marketing activities - they need to be adjusted to the specific goal of the communication.

Why do both users and marketers like mobile push notifications?

As we have already mentioned, mobile push notifications are not only instantly displayed on the screen of a particular device, but they also enable users to be redirected to a particular tab in an app. This simplifies the communication, shortens the process, and has a positive impact on the customer experience and user perception of such solutions. Users don’t have to waste their time - everything happens here and now, quickly and straight to the point. 

From a marketing perspective, a shortened customer journey and decision path is not the only asset of such communication. Some other advantages worth highlighting are:

  • the possibility of easy implementation in each application (the integration process can be completed in as little as 48 hours, without the need to involve multi-person teams)

  • automatic subscription of users in Android, and many iOS users (around 44%) give consent for receiving push notifications

  • quick creation and planning of a campaign, with an accuracy to the nearest minute (there are simple guidelines on the size of graphics and text blocks)

  • precise measurement of the effectiveness of each campaign thanks to built-in statistics on the majority of push notification platforms

  • the possibility of personalizing messages (seamless variable data replacement, e.g. sending a special birthday offer)

  • an option to combine mobile push notifications with other communication channels, e.g. SMS or email, to deliver an omnichannel customer experience

What are the use cases for mobile push notifications?

The most popular use cases of mobile push notifications are as follows:

  • Event-triggered messaging - mobile push notifications are displayed based on the analysis of an app user’s behaviour. They may be generated upon shopping behaviour analysis (e.g. re-marketing driven by abandoned shopping carts, or requests to rate the customer service after a transaction). The list of other events that could trigger messages includes birthdays, product releases, expiration dates or event launches, etc.

  • Geo-location - according to Mobilemarketer,  47% of mobile consumers want retailers to send messages, including coupons and promotions, when they are in or near a brick-and-mortar store. Location based communication can be very effective when connected with bargains or special offers.

  • Transactional messaging - there are many examples of transactional messages, including order confirmations, shipping and delivery information, welcome notifications and password reset links. The advantage of mobile push notifications compared to transactional emails, is that they are displayed on the device immediately and messages can be reactive (which means that a particular user can take action directly from the notification). For example, mobile push notifications can be used for the instant confirmation or cancellation of a doctor’s appointment, all by just a click or two. Mobile push notifications make this kind of communication faster, more adjusted and personalized. 

  • Promotional marketing - mobile push notifications provide many opportunities for further configuration, and they are continuously gaining popularity. Since the click through rate of mobile push notifications is relatively high (despite being different for iOS and Android) compared to some other channels, the marketing communication delivered via such notifications can be very effective. 

 

Below you’ll find a few good practices to follow so that you’ll know what to avoid putting in mobile push notifications in order to deliver a great customer experience. 

Five mistakes that mobile app providers make when implementing mobile push notifications 

  • requesting users to turn mobile push notifications on when they turn the app on for the very first time

  • a lack of explanation of what content the push notifications will include

  • information overload

  • irrelevant content

  • impeding mobile push notification blocking

Mistake #1: Requesting users to turn mobile push notifications on when they turn the app on for the very first time

Users who have just downloaded your app won’t necessarily understand the exact value of it immediately. That’s why explaining to users why mobile push notifications are worth turning on before they are actually asked to do so is regarded to be a good practice. It’s best to assume that you only have ten words to convince a particular user why they should enable push notifications for your app. 

Mistake #2: A lack of explanation of what content the push notifications will include

You need to remember that users are very often flooded with offers, discounts and adverts, both on their devices and off them. If you don’t tell your users what kind of content you’re going to send to them, they may not be willing to receive another bunch of adverts on their devices. 

It all comes down to the benefits. Something for something: you provide your users with valuable content, and in return they will give you their time, attention and money for a product or service. That’s why it’s best to show users the most concrete types of mobile push notifications. Instead of saying that “our app wants to send you push notifications”, consider writing “do you want to receive exclusive offers and discounts?”. This may be enough to convince your users to sign up for push notifications. 
 

Mistake #3: Information overload

Less means more. Overloading users with mobile push notifications completely misses the point. It decreases the chances of a user taking any action, and increases the possibility of putting them off your brand. Instead of making a user willing to see a push notification, your brand may instead make them unwilling to receive any communication sent by your brand. 

According to VWO, sending more than five mobile push notifications a day significantly increases the number of people who resign from a subscription or go even further and uninstall the app. Bluespace claims that 71% of users uninstall apps because of annoying push notifications.

The conclusion is clear: send less notifications, but make them more valuable. If you have a few similar messages, it’s better to group them into one. Remember that users expect personalized content – if you send too many messages, they may feel that your brand doesn’t care about them and their needs. 

Mistake #4: Irrelevant content

Similarly to the example above, irrelevant content for users can lead to a lack of engagement, annoyance and damage to the brand. The goal of mobile push notifications isn’t to make a user remember that they have your app on their device, but to deliver that “wow” moment at the right time. It’s better not to send a message for a week and then reach out when the time is right, than to send push mobile notifications with irrelevant content every single day. When doing the latter, something that’s really important may be simply missed by users in a plethora or other messages from you. 

Time and context really matter. Don’t send mobile push notifications to your users at night – many users simply won’t read them until the morning anyway and then they’re likely to delete them if they wake up to quite a few notifications. The key to success is to send the right message at the right time. A notification about a special promotion for a coffee in the morning may be just what your users need, but it probably won’t work wonders if sent in the evening. 

 

Mistake #5: Impeding mobile push notification blocking

Blocking or disabling mobile push notifications should be easy to do. Hiding this option decreases brand trust and may cause users to remove your app completely.

Summing up

Mobile push notifications are a quick, effective and increasingly popular communication channel for mobile users, and we all know that mobile apps play a major role in connecting businesses to clients. The aforementioned case with mBank, despite it being an anomaly, showed the real power of mobile push notifications that spark a lot of interest. The proof is in the pudding: many companies followed mBank’s footprint and sent “test” communication to their clients as a tongue-in-cheek and natural response.. 

It is noticeable that awareness of what mobile push notifications really are has increased thanks to many discussions about them. It’s worth knowing how to use mobile push notifications in practice, though.

If this article has got you interested in mobile push notifications and you’d like to dive into this topic even deeper, contact us! You may also benefit from browsing materials from our business partner, Redlink, who specialize in mobile marketing communication.

 

Authors

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Karolina Antonowicz

Find me on Linkedin

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Miłosz Michałowski-Żuk

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Mikołaj Saik

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