Before online marketing was a profession, people didn’t need spam blockers, there was no blackhole list, and CAN-SPAM literally meant a can of Spam. Today, we just accept spam as a part of email and bad email campaigns tend to see open rates of less than 3%. Fortunately, apps have brought us new engagement channels, such as push and in-app messaging, which free us from the evil of spammy, untargeted, impersonal marketing. Unfortunately, many people simply think of these channels as mobile extensions of web messaging, which creates poor engagement and will ultimately condemn them to junk mail’s notoriety.
Bad marketing gave email a bad reputation, and made it harder for the rest of us to get the most out of this channel. Please, help me save push and in-app messaging from this fate.
“Check out today’s deals!”
“Don’t miss today’s news stories!”
“We miss you, come back!”
We’ve all received these pushes. A fun experiment is to install many apps on a phone you don’t use and let it sit. You haven’t engaged with these apps so they have not had an opportunity to build a profile about you and therefore, most of the messages you will receive will be like those above: impersonal emails, bordering on spam, that have been shrunk to fit into a push message. Of course, there are some exceptions, but by and large apps that send push messages to everybody like this are missing the point.
Push is a direct line of communication from an app to a customer. They arrive on the customer’s phone in real time. They compete for attention with every other app that is sending messages. And because interacting with these messages brings the user back into the app, push notifications compete for attention with whatever task the user is already performing. A good analogy is to think of push as a text message from the app to the customer.
Great push messages are an extension of the app experience outside the app. It should be difficult to tell if the message is a marketing outreach or the app simply doing its job. Consider a message from a taxi app notifying you the car is one minute away. This is personal - it relates to your car. It is actionable - you will walk outside. It is a quick interaction - you don’t even need to launch the app to get value. It is worth the interruption - you don’t want to miss your car.
Given the real-time, personal nature of push, it is important to send relevant and actionable messages. Below, are some common patterns that tend to indicate this isn’t happening.
Push messages provide a chance to build a relationship with a customer. Every push should be considered not as an individual campaign, but as one of many interactions with your customer. Does your next push message make the customer’s use of your app more personal and efficient or, will it drive opt outs and uninstalls?
Unlike push, in-app messages are only received when a user is in your app. This means they have already committed to engaging, but rather than reward them with a personal, bi-directional experience, they are often presented with static images on landing pages and banners that feel like the pop-ups (which browsers automatically block for us on the web).
In-app is more than just messaging. Pop-ups with text and images are not in-app messages. Instead, in-app messages are a native part of the app experience and they should take advantage of:
Just like push is an extension of the app experience out of the app, in-app messaging is an extension within the app. If you use this for simple text strings and popups, then users will learn to ignore them. Real value is created when the user is more successful because of the interaction they had with your message.
There are some other clever ways to engage users, such as with remarketing, but today, the most popular app channels are push and in-app messaging. With these and all future channels, the trick will always be to think of each channel’s capabilities and strengths independently. Instead of asking how to adapt your current engagement strategy to a new channel, instead ask what the channel is capable of and what the user’s expectations are.
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