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Push Notifications

Push it real good: How marketers can give consumers the notifications they really want


By Lawrence Weber, managing partner innovation

October 30, 2015 | 6 min read

I heard someone say they were going to get their phone out and 'go' on the internet the other day. That term struck me as being not only quaint but somehow at odds with how I interact with my life digitally.

It's time for marketers to take push seriously

Take a fairly normal day in my life last week.

A WhatsApp message from my wife with a picture of my adorable children, my banking app telling me those same children are merrily spending their meagre future inheritance on iTunes, my dad on Facebook messenger telling me he’s spent my meagre future inheritance on some winter sun and a notification from BBC news telling me Spurs have inexplicably lost a very winnable Europa league tie.

Aside from the moments when I actively look for distraction or have a specific task to complete, my digital behavior is increasingly driven by push rather than pull. More interestingly I’m increasingly interacting with the people and things I care about most either in the notification layer itself, or via a handful of apps that have gained a friendly stranglehold on my home screen and therefore my life.

As consumer behaviour changes around the increasing sophistication of the notification layer and the ever strengthening power of the platforms, it should also be prompting brands and their agencies to think about how they might behave in the future too.

The naked brands of the notification layer

Whilst the current mobile-based notification experiences are an unstructured mess, Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are working hard to fix them and create a coherent layer above the current web experience.

Through a combination of learning from our own micro interactions with notifications (ie swiping) improving the preemptive machine learning of 'tap on the shoulder' services like Google Now and building compelling voice layers for delivering and acting upon audio notifications – like Siri, Cortana and Amazon Echo – digital services will become better and better at learning how to help me make sure I pay that bill, make that train, remember that birthday. Which as an individual is great.

From a brand perspective though, it forces you to ask whether you have a legitimately useful app or data service to exist in this new gateway layer. If you do, you need to think about a) how you can use push notification with the level of sophistication you use email. B) how you create a data layer that helps consumers make sense of the world around them. And c) how your brand personality comes across in the smallest and most interruptive unit of marketing.

There’s great opportunity if you can find a way for your brand’s inherent usefulness to come through.

Partnerships win when power lies with the few

Once you’ve moved from the top notification layer into the messaging services and social networks we spend most of our time in, things get no less challenging.

According to recent US research, 79 per cent of time spent within apps is spent within only five apps and 44 per cent of time spent on websites is spent at only five sites. Right across the generational spectrum our online behaviour is becoming less promiscuous and more concentrated on a small number of partners. The web’s summer of love is very much over.

It’s of course still very legitimate to capture people’s attention within a platform like Facebook and drive them to an owned property to take your next desired action. However sometimes the best way to leverage a platform is not to fight its power but to use it to your advantage.

For example, the new brand opportunities in Facebook Instant Articles have been brought about by a partnership of convenience between publishers and Facebook and the new content and payment layers being built on top of WeChat and Facebook Messenger are testimony to the power of partnerships, however uncomfortable they may feel.

What’s the next part of the ecosystem you could own?

Michael J. Wolf, founder and managing director at Activate, recently said that major global platforms are looking to build a full stack of tech and media specialisms from content through to internet of things. His tip to the future startups of the world is to look at the gap in a platform’s stack and build a product to fill it.

I think brands could take a similar approach to finding the next channel or technology to engage consumers in, establishing a foothold and a point of view about how to behave in that channel before it becomes part of that closed stack or even creating the rules for that part of the stack yourselves.

That kind of approach takes a reasonable amount of bravery and a commitment to staying the course in unchartered waters, but it pays off in the long run. Brands like Unilever, Barclays and John Lewis are making long term investments in finding out where the next set of innovation are coming from.

And what of agencies? We’ve got to help our clients navigate the new rules of push, by working alongside, not in spite, of the platforms that are drawing them up and by being useful, creative and brave.

Same as usual really.

Lawrence Weber is managing partner innovation at Karmarama and co-chair of the IPA Brand Technology Group.

The IPA Brand Technology Group is exploring the impact technology has on the consumer experience. It aims to bring together the best agencies and brands to provide a single point of view and leadership on key challenges for the communications industry and the wider technology community.

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