Pushing your mobile app users to the brink

Does your mobile app keep pushing the same incessant notification at your users day after day in a desperate attempt to get their attention? Or are you sending out multiple push messages per day but finding that your users are getting “push fatigue,” which is eerily reminiscent of email fatigue? Even worse, are they deleting your app and disengaging from your company or your brand as a result? If so, it’s time to think hard about your push strategy and whether you are engaging your app users or instead “pushing” them to the brink.

It’s instructive to think back to when push notifications first entered the scene on mobile apps, but even more instructive to think back to the beginning of Internet email. Do you remember how empowering and filled with possibility it felt at the time? Suddenly you had the power to contact any person with an Internet connection, anywhere, anytime. This was a truly revolutionary development in human communication, and we are living with its effects today—some good and others not so good.Email now carries letters from grandchildren, phishing emails from your “bank” asking you to log in and change your password, newsletters from causes you deeply care about and from spammers pushing the worst Internet snake oil, and a whole lot of pure noise. In fact, the current “digital native” generation is increasingly abandoning email in favor of instant messaging, and so are many of their parents. With the mess that email has become, it is no wonder why. We should ponder this situation to see how we can keep history from repeating itself with the current generation of technology, including mobile push notification services.

Since push notifications appeared with Apple Push Notification Service and Google’s Android Cloud to Device Messaging and later Google Cloud Messaging, their usage in apps has also run the gamut of usefulness over time. I love getting notifications telling me when my packages are due to arrive or when someone has bid on an online auction item. I also appreciate notifications that send me a great deal to a retailer that I frequent, alert me when severe weather is on the way or let me know my bank deposit has cleared. These notifications are relevant to my life in clear, uncomplicated, non-distracting ways.

However, lately I have found myself with several apps that ping me at the same time of day with the exact same message, begging me to show them some attention. The trouble is that we live in a hyper-connected, media-saturated world, with many screens vying for our attention. There needs to be a compelling reason for me to pay attention other than some app reminding me it’s still there and I haven’t opened it in a week.

In today’s age of ubiquitous smartphones, tablets, computers and the inevitable “next screens” coming such as wearables, there are a few key guidelines that will make your users happy to get a notification. Having happy users translates into positive experiences with your app and therefore your company.

1. Personalize your message to the user

It’s frankly amazing that in 2014 there are still messages going out to customers in any channel that are not driven by customer profile data. This data exists in most organizations, but the tricky part is to integrate it effectively with your mobile application and the push notifications you are sending to customers. There will always be some “broadcast” notifications that customers will find useful such as sale announcements, but you will easily double your app open rate if you effectively use customer data to create personalized offers.

2. Be unified across channels

We live in a world of mobile devices and smartphones, but it’s important not to forget other important existing channels—especially your web channel—when you develop your marketing and notification strategy. Messages across these channels should be driven by common customer profile data, marketing campaigns and branding to establish a clear, consistent voice to the customer. Adoption of a cross-channel marketing platform can be key to achieving this objective. IBM MobileFirst has the capabilities to help you put together a unified marketing platform across channels, including web, email and mobile.

3. Provide user controls

Remember that in the age of smart devices, the user reigns supreme. If your application doesn’t work well, doesn’t look good or annoys users with information they don’t want, it’s a two-second process to delete the app from their smartphone. With push notifications, where the choice the app gives is most often just “Do you want to allow this application to send push notifications (Y/N)?” it is up to you to figure out what that user cares about, and that can be a tricky game.

A best practice is to provide a further level of customization for push other than the “on/off” switch, allowing the user to dial up or down the notifications in your app and provide customization by user needs and interests. The IBM Xtify platform provides the ability to customize notifications by app user and deliver them to a secure notification inbox in the app. This allows the user to manage them over time, possibly saving coupons or loyalty rewards for future use.

4. Make the value clear and unambiguous

Notifications work best when they are lined up with the interests and needs of the user. However, often app notifications seem to only be concerned with generating the next transaction or generating app opens without taking user needs into account. If you can clearly articulate the value of the notification in the users’ own terms, in the context of their lives, they will find the notification, and the app, much more useful, and it will stay on their device. Statements like “Now I know when my package will arrive” or “Now I can get my favorite brand sports jacket on sale in time for winter” will indicate that you’ve truly satisfied the user’s need.

Hopefully this post has given you some food for thought about your own push strategy across devices and channels. I believe that these tips will secure your app’s spot on your customers’ devices and in their lives. If you’re looking for a market-leading, cross-channel marketing platform for smart devices and web, take the time to check out the IBM marketing and merchandising solutions, including IBM Mobile Push Notification, and follow me on Twitter @AckermanGreg to continue the conversation.

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