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In-app push notifications - a replacement for email?

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By Colin Grieves | General Manager, Experian Digital Media Services

June 18, 2012 | 4 min read

In-app push notifications are a feature of iOS, Android and certain BlackBerry handsets that allow apps (both native and third party) to send notifications to the user. iPhone users will be familiar with these as a message that pops up similar to an SMS, accompanied with a little '1' on the app icon. The ability to send these notifications is either a feature of your app, or you can use a third party software development kit (SDK) to enable you to send messages to the users of your app.

This can be a very powerful way of engaging with your customers that is more personal than email, but slightly less intrusive than SMS. There are, however, some major considerations that brands need to be aware of before embarking on a campaign involving in-app notifications:

1) apps often have a limited 'shelf life' with many not being used once downloaded

2) notifications should primarily be used to nudge users to interact with the app, rather than promote an unrelated product

3) users of a particular app do so because of the provided functionality/entertainment of the content. If you exploit this with unrelated marketing messages you are likely to alienate the user

4) in app notifications can be disabled by the user

5) ad hoc push notification deployment is not normally a standard functionality on most apps and therefore will need to be build into the app either by the developer or by using a third party SDK from a technology provider. This will, in the case of the Apple App Store, require resubmission and approval from Apple

If the above points have a common theme, it is that the only messages that users want to receive on this channel relate to the functionality of the app itself. To take this example further, imagine that you have the ‘Sky Go’ app on your phone, enabling you to view your favourite shows on your mobile. It is unlikely that you would be happy to receive marketing messages, for example offering discounts on other services; but you might be interested to receive more information about new channels or shows becoming available.

Such an attitude reflects the key issue with in-app push notifications - there is a very narrow scope of messages that will be effective using this means.

Remember that these customers are in most cases your most loyal or high value clients. And in-app notifications can be an extremely powerful way of engaging with a subset of your users or customers. Additional tools such as third party notification technologies are able to geo-target app users, providing an additional layer of targeting. And these technologies are not limited to plain text - marketers are also able to send rich media messages using push notifications, opening up a wealth of opportunity to deliver high-quality content.

Marketers can therefore view in-app push notifications as a valuable addition to their portfolio, giving them the ability to reach out to customers in a new fashion. There is a very precise line to be trod with this method however, and marketers risk alienating customers quickly by going down the wrong path.

The flexibility that email provides is a key benefit over in-app notifications. Email delivers a much broader range of information, from news about the brand to highly personalised purchase suggestions. Needless to say, email campaigns need careful management and targeting to boost open rates and click throughs, but marketers need worry less about running the gambit of consumer irritation as they must when using in-app notifications. Once the right balance of timing, frequency and content has been struck, email is still the best way to reach customers.

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