How to use much-hated push notifications to build loyalty

By Hugh Reynolds , written on December 15, 2013

From The News Desk

The era of the broadcast is dead and gone because it was a terrible model to begin with. Bombarding large heterogeneous universes of people with overly general messages means most won’t care -- or worse, be blatantly annoyed. Tuning out is  easy. Tap, tap. App uninstalled. Broadcasting only makes sense if you have no better method of communication.

In our connected age of endless data, it’s all about targeting. Digital advertisers are going to great length to craft specific messages relevant to curated groups -- based on data people have shared and on the data collected. Consider how unique your online experience is lately. It’s almost impossible for two individuals to visit the same e-commerce sites, or search for the same item, and see the same thing. Just recently, Twitter launched a new ad product called "TV conversation targeting,” which let’s marketers target ads to specific people who are Tweeting about a given TV show before, during and after it runs.

This need for personalization couldn’t be more relevant, when it comes to successful relationship marketing on mobile. In particular, the old method of spraying push notifications at anyone who has been outside your app for a while, will not help you. Really, how can you build a longstanding relationship with a person, when you are treating them like one in a crowd? People today demand more. They have come to expect it.

It’s time for mobile marketers need to step up their game. A recent survey by X+1, showed an abysmal consumer attitude toward marketing channels on mobile, where only 6 percent of consumers surveyed, found the information on mobile apps accurate and valuable. Compared to 28 person finding personalized web experiences accurate and valuable and 32 percent finding email accurate and valuable. Email? Accurate and valuable? Believe it or not, many marketers have emerged wiser, from the early spam days, and now know that to be heard on email, is to be accurate and relevant. This lesson on creating relationships based on the useful exchange of information must be carried over to mobile.

The point is, a user who has opted in to receiving push notifications, has given you the opportunity to engage in conversation; so don’t blow it. As with email, and as in real life, you have to make the conversation worthwhile. You definitely don’t want to be this guy at the party.

So if you have ever had the urge to spam all the lost users of your app with push notifications, stop and read these five tips for using them to engage users and build loyalty:

1. Deliver Value. A user who is willing to receive push notifications is giving you a chance. So remember this helpful rule: unless you have something worthwhile to say, say nothing.

In this context, ‘something worthwhile’ means something you genuinely believe is a message, offer, or promotion that will be of real interest to the person you are sending it to. The risks of getting this wrong are high and extend far beyond an ignored message. People fed up with pointless push alerts from you, probably won’t be bothered to update their push settings on their phone. Most will simply delete your app.

Of course, this is ultimately a judgment call, but by way of example, a 50 percent bonus on in-app credit available on a particular day is probably worthwhile. The fact that there is a new item available in an in-app store probably is not. Track your click-through and conversion rates. If they start falling — you might have a problem.

2. Segment the User Base. If push notifications have a bad reputation, it’s because so many organizations use them in an indiscriminate way. We’re all familiar with unfocused, untargeted and largely ineffective email marketing campaigns. We call them spam -- good with eggs, not in your inbox.

Don’t make the same mistake with push. Mobile app developers are lucky enough to have access to vast amounts of data relating to their users including how long they have been active, what their current status is, which items they have purchased or not purchased, which app features they have used and how often — the list is almost endless. Use it.

All that data can help in delivering push notifications that are highly targeted, which in turn means:

· Any offer you promote is relevant, and more likely to be acted upon.

· You can speak in the language of your target audience, and resonate with them effectively.

· You can avoid cannibalizing revenue by excluding users likely to buy or return anyway from your offers.

That means respecting your audience and it means thinking carefully about whom you talk to. As a rule of thumb, the fewer people you are sending to the better.

3. Get Your Timing Right. Nobody likes to be woken up in the middle of the night to be told their virtual pet is hungry. Still less, to be told that their daughter’s virtual pet is hungry. So think carefully about when you send your push notifications.

· Always consider local time. If you want to send a notification at 7pm, make sure it goes at 7pm wherever in the world the user happens to be.

· Disable operational push notifications during ‘quiet hours.’

· Leverage the positive aspects of timing. Notifications sent at peak usage times with highly time-limited offers are likely to get attention - and mean future communications are assumed to be equally relevant.

4. Deliver a Seamless Experience. Good push notifications are targeted, and deliver relevant, compelling offers that simply demand to be clicked… and then, your user is led to the home screen of your app and the trail goes cold. “What did that message say again? And how do I find it?”

If you want your push notification campaigns to generate real results, it’s essential to keep your users within a seamless experience, so that when they click on a push notification to use a specific offer, they are sent to a meaningful location that builds on the information they already have.

There are two ways to make that happen:

1. Embed within the push notification a command on click to go to a specific location in the app. For example, if you’re promoting a bonus on real-money buy-ins (get a 50 percent diamond bonus on all diamond purchases today!), take people directly to the purchase screen for that item.

2. Deliver push respondents directly to an in-app message (or ‘rich message’ as they are sometimes called) that specifically follows up the push notification message with additional information and context.

5. Test Your Creative. Phrase an offer or promotion in the wrong way and you can guarantee a lackluster response. Get it right and you can drive engagement and retention to new levels.

So how do you get it right? A/B testing is the smart way to identify, using real user data, which language works and which does not. But unlike the A/B testing of changes in user experience, push notifications requires an immediate decision — you won’t get the chance to go back and try again.

For that reason it makes sense to consider a ‘micro-test’ ahead of each campaign you run. After identifying your segment, serve competing variants to a subset (perhaps 10 percent) of that group, and use response data to establish which phrasing was most effective in terms of clicks and conversions.

You’re then ready to serve the winning variant to the rest of your segment, right there and then, meaning that every time you send a push notification, you’re finding out — with real user data — exactly which version of your message will work most effectively.

Don’t forget, for some more regular promotions and messages it’s perfectly possible to A/B test over a longer period of time and ‘lock in’ successful variants. It’s a smart idea to keep experimenting with new alternatives, because in the app world, nothing ever stays the same.

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