Push Notifications Help Keep Customers Close

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Mobile push notifications are nearly ubiquitous. Even a year ago, 75 percent of European smartphone users polled stated they receive push notifications, and 26 percent receive several notifications a day, according to the European Technographics Consumer Technology Online Survey. Yet, despite their growing acceptance, marketers have some concerns.

Although customers usually have to download an app and then opt in to receive push notifications, "people don't want to alienate customers. You're talking about a really personal device that people take to bed with them and keep with them at all times," says Stacy Adams, vice president of marketing at mBlox, a company that facilitates delivery of SMS and push notifications.

The danger of push notifications is that they could annoy consumers, either with their frequency or irrelevant content.

However, customers might be more receptive than companies originally thought. According to a poll by mBlox, 80 percent of consumers indicated that downloading a company's app meant they were also open to receiving push notifications, even those with location-based targeting. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) have received push notifications from companies, and 86 percent of them found the notices valuable.

So what are successful marketers doing right?

"It's not good enough to just have an app. You have to have a strategy that is centered on building an experience and the categories the users want to get notifications on," says Responsys senior vice president of emerging channels Michael Della Penna. Some of the more useful push notifications he's seen have been triggered notifications for shipping alerts or flight delays. "The best apps provide an enormous amount of control and personalization," Della Penna says.

"To make the most of push notifications, you need to have a segmentation approach," advises Thomas Husson, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and author of the report "Push Mobile Engagement to the Next Level."

Using push notifications both for customer service and marketing is another way to gain consumers' trust. "A business that works with me in a customer care realm and does things that are valuable for me in that way makes me more open to receiving messages on the marketing side of things," Adams says. Retail banks, for example, can send mobile fraud alerts or low account balance notices, but also give consumers marketing messages, such as letting them know mortgage rates have dropped, she adds.

Push notifications are, by their nature, one-way communication, when many marketers want to work toward a more conversational approach with their customers. However, it's possible for push notifications to direct a consumer to a mobile app, where he could then open an online chat session or send a text message. Adams sees this as part of push notifications' future. "The holy grail is having more messages coming back from the consumer instead of just broadcasting," Adams says.

Della Penna says push notifications work best as part of a marketing ecosystem that acknowledges other messages consumers might be seeing. For example, you would only receive a push notification if a similar message wasn't opened in email.

This requires a level of integration that many companies have yet to achieve. "Mobile, and push notifications in particular, is still relatively new as a channel, and there is still a siloed approach. Marketers must do a better job at integrating this new direct communication channel into their existing marketing data warehouse, CRM systems, and their multichannel campaign management platforms. There is still more to do on the back end," Husson observes.

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