Beat Your Competitors with Push Notifications Done Right

Getting in on the ground floor of a marketing strategy, before it becomes widely known and used, can give you a significant leg up in terms of marketing results. That’s what your 2015 target should be with push notifications. In this post, I help improve your understanding of this channel, which I consider an untapped goldmine.

A Rarely Used Marketing Channel

You might expect me to begin with compelling results from a marketing study. But truthfully, there’s no need. Just think about the apps on your smartphone (I’m sure you have a few dozen). How many sent you push notifications in the past week? The past month? The past year? Not too many, I bet.

It’s similar to how websites 15 years ago rarely had a newsletter subscription box. As I’m sure you experienced yourself, even for those who did have such a service, it was so experimental that most subscribers never received anything from the subscription, or if they did, it was sporadic rather than systematic.

How You Can Do Better: After spending time and money to create the ultimate app, don’t miss the reengagement opportunity provided by push. Push is the only way to remind users that your app exists, bolstering app usage and loyalty.

Asking for Opt-Ins at the Worst Time

The few apps that do ask you to opt-in for push notifications do so when you first install the app. Can you think of a worse time to ask for that? You haven’t had a chance to determine if this app is one you plan to use, or even keep for that matter. You haven’t seen any benefits of subscribing. You haven’t even received any explanation of how often you’d get these messages. As icing on the cake, Apple lets apps ask for push opt-in through a pop-up only once. That makes it even harder.

It makes me think of websites years ago, where you had to fill in long forms to subscribe to emails. Your mailing address, home phone number, mobile phone number, etc. were mandatory fields, even though they were clearly not needed for the subscription, and you weren’t given any explanation as to why you should provide them.

How You Can Do Better: Wait a bit after users install your app, and perhaps use it two or three times. At that point, if the user decides to keep your app, she may be more amenable to opting in for push, especially if you pitch it right by explaining the exclusive benefits and the reasonable frequency you’ll use.

No Personalization

If you’re like me, most pushes you receive are mass pushes. How many personalized pushes have you seen, beside service apps such as Facebook, Uber, or RunKeeper?

Again, like email 15 years ago, segmentation based on digital behavior, transactions, reactions to previous messages, or CRM information is very rare. Instead, pushes are often sent out blindly, on a mass basis, by nearly free tools.

How You Can Do Better: If you’re waking up the most personal device ever invented, a person’s smartphone, don’t blast an impersonal message. Use best practices in personalizing messages and engaging users. Relevancy and customization are key to avoiding the ultimate punishment—deletion—one long press on your app icon plus a short tap on the little cross and your app is history.

Stuck in a Silo

When was the last time a branded app let you choose to receive alerts by email, SMS, or pushes? Never? Thought so. As I discussed in my post on the mobile revolution’s effect on brand-consumer dialog, the most efficient marketing cannot exist in separate silos for different channels.

Just as email used to be in the hands of digital agencies, push strategies are often in the hands of mobile app agencies. One guess as to the expertise of these agencies. That’s right … mobile apps. One guess what that means for what channels they like to use. Right again … mobile apps only.

How You Can Do Better: Think cross-channel. App users are human. They receive SMS, email, direct mail, and calls; they visit websites, your points of sales, etc. To be the most effective and efficient, push strategies have to fit within your broader marketing strategy rather than being inconsistent or redundant.

No Preference Center

How many apps that offered you push notifications offered to let you personalize when you’d get them? How many let you set the frequency of pushes, their topics, or what would trigger them? Not many, I bet.

Like email used to be, it’s almost always “take it or leave it.”

How You Can Do Better: Push is intimate. It’s the ultimate way to get close to your customers. People check their phone over 110 times a day, and in the evening, as often as every 6 seconds! As a result, push can also be the best way to look intrusive. If you want to avoid users uninstalling your app, go beyond personalizing the push content. Keep your app users happy by giving them total control over your push notifications: their frequency, the time you send them, what days you send them, topics, triggers, ability to set up alerts they want, etc. Then, to keep things simple on your end, automate these complex segmentations with workflows, of course!

Unsubscribing is Complicated

If you use apps that send you push notifications, I have a small challenge for you. Try to find the screen where you can unsubscribe from push. You don’t have to unsubscribe, just find it. Not so easy is it? Most apps don’t even have such a screen; they entirely rely on the Apple notification settings screen.

Let’s say you do find it, somehow, go ahead and unsubscribe. You can resubscribe later if you want. I just want to point out something. Did the app ask you why you’re unsubscribing? Did it offer to reduce the frequency or modify the topics instead? If it did, please let me know the name of this standout app.

Again, 15 years ago, only the best-in-class sites provided a highly visible unsubscribe button, initiated exit surveys asking you why you were unsubscribing, or offered to change email frequency.

How You Can Do Better: At the risk of sounding like a broken record (yeah, I know those don’t exist anymore, but it’s such a great expression), you must give total control to your app users, starting with the opt-in and through each step of the process. Also, ask them for feedback and offer them more personalized options, especially if they’re trying to unsubscribe. It’s win-win. Reduced attrition for you, better pushes for your users.

Pointing to the Wrong Landing Screens

Too often, users clicking on push notices are disappointed. They land on a screen that’s unrelated to the push content, usually the app’s landing screen.

This is like email was years ago, when the art and practice of creating consistency between the message and the landing screen had yet to be mastered by most.

How You Can Do Better: Personalizing and updating app content can be a pain if you don’t have a powerful app- content management solution. Consider what’s available in the market. At Adobe, we offer some great solutions.


Smartphones are too intimate to mass-blast with impersonal push notifications, and it’s too easy to get trapped in the pitfall of doing “simple pushes” for now, swearing you’ll do better … later. Instead, take advantage of the rare opportunity provided by push notifications. Find the best-in-class app-centric interface and use the above tips to do better than your competition. Next, as with any other marketing efforts, remember to measure your performance. Finally, see the varied solutions available to further enhance your mobile marketing.