Push notifications are part of what makes mobile technology awesome.
Here’s something that you couldn’t do a few years ago: Without having your email program open on your phone, you might look down and see an icon that tells you that you have a new message. Touch the icon and you’ll open the program, where you can read, respond, delete, whatever.
Of course, that’s just the most common example. Push notifications can do all kinds of things. This includes helping mobile marketers establish and build a dialogue with consumers.
This powerful tool was popularized by Apple’s Push Notification feature in iOS 3.0 back in 2009 (ancient history by mobile marketing standards). Apple’s cool new feature let apps send information to a user’s phone even when the app wasn’t in use.
Now, thousands of apps come with bundled adware that shoves marketing onto smartphone screens. But many of these apps don’t give any warning about the ad invasion when the user is signing up to download the app (or maybe the warning is buried in the fine print of the “terms of service”—and let’s face it, ain’t nobody got time for that).
Technology writer Juli Monroe recently wrote about how push notifications are wearing out their welcome:
“Why do I need Dropbox to send me notifications? When I downloaded the Dropbox update today, I noticed that it now wants to notify me when someone shares a folder with me. I already receive an email for that. I don’t need a push notification too. Guess who’s getting removed from Notifications?”
These kind of annoyances were inevitable from the beginning. A lot of mobile marketing firms work with app developers looking for ways to make money from their software. By bundling their adware with applications, these marketers are reaching millions of new smartphones each week.
Applications that contain push notification and icon ad technology often fail to include any disclosure about the adware before installation. When the app makers are sneaky about this kind of mobile advertising, it makes it difficult for users to get rid of the adware once their phone is invaded. They may not even know which app snuck it onto their device.
Ultimately, the user should be in charge of what notifications he receives or doesn’t receive. Marketers can reach the user with relevant and timely messages, but they have to remember that moderation is important.
Another thing: Not only can “pushing” come to “shoving” when the notifications aren’t wanted, these messages can also drain the consumer’s phone battery, on top of bothering them constantly. That’s a guaranteed way to get them to end the relationship.
Unfortunately, the rising number of annoying, unwanted push notifications from advertisers is going to dilute the efficacy of this marketing tactic.
So how do you keep from becoming one of the bad guys?
It’s easy. Follow the example of The New York Times. The newspaper’s popular app doesn’t bombard users with unwanted messages. Instead, it sends informative and relevant messages that readers actually want. Another app that gets push “right” is the fitness app from Fitocracy. This one reminds customers to work out according to the fitness schedule they’ve set for themselves. There again, push doesn’t come to shove, and the user is getting what they clearly signed up to receive.
Do do push the right way. Segment your audience based on demographic data and their behavior on your site(s). One-size-fits-all isn’t going to cut it. Keeping your notifications relevant to your audience (and served up at just the right time) will keep you from bothering the people you’re trying to sell to.
Make a schedule. Limit the number of message you send. And make sure you’re offering real value and engaging content. Location-aware notifications are great, and so is breaking news if it’s news your user really wants to get.
Also, you need to be aware of Apple’s rules about sending messages that contain advertising. Apple will reject apps that use push notifications to send advertising, promotions, or “spammy” messages. Your relationship with the iPhone maker needs to be kept intact or you’re going to have a rough time.