Push Notifications vs. In-App Messaging: What's the Difference for App Marketing?

Mobile is personal. It’s the channel that is most tailored to user interests than any before it, which means app marketing has to be less about blatant agenda pushing and more about targeted engagement. App messaging techniques are a key part of this strategy, working to reach the user at the right time, with the right content, to engage him or her further.

Push notifications are the current darling of the space; most marketers use it often because it’s an easy-to-implement industry standard. In-app messaging is on the cusp of wide spread adoption, and is primed to create more targeted, purposeful user sessions.

Not sure which is right for you? We’ve got the need-to-know below.


Push Notifications

Phone screenshot

Push notifications allow you to deliver messages to the user’s home screen or while he or she is using a different app. Great for prompting immediate interaction and engaging users not currently active in your app, push messaging directs attention to a desired action. Users who opt-in for push notifications are a high-value demographic, as they tend to be more engaged with the app on a regular basis. But often, push messaging comes down to three key considerations:

  • Content
  • Frequency
  • Timing

When done right, push messaging drives latent users back to your app and brings awareness to mobile campaigns. However, there are limits to your ability to customize push messages, and they won’t be as tailored to user behavior as in-app messaging.

A second concern: misuse. Push notifications can be irritating and ineffective without context or purpose, or if it is only ever product-specific. When misused, push marketing is no more effective at promoting app usage than banner ads are at encouraging website visits. Overdo the notifications, and you risk a frustrated user or an uninstall.

Takeaway Pros

With push notifications, you have the power to engage users outside of your app whenever you’d like. This content can serve as a reminder to use the app more frequently, notify the user of a special offer or sale (as many flash sale companies do), or identify important updates. When they are customized, timely and warranted, push messages drive big results (for additional insight, check out our post on creating successful push messaging).


In-App Messaging

In-app messages are notifications displayed while the user is active within the app itself – also referred to as native app content – that create a structured nurturing process and prolong session time. This form of messaging is highly contextual and rooted in analytics, and can be triggered based on user interactions.

Example of in-app message from game app

Because of its tailored style, in-app messaging is better at delivering based on user context and expectations, creating a more seamless progression from initiated session to conversion. In-app messaging should feel like a natural part of the app, not additional marketing, and can be used by marketers to fine-tune app content or promotional strategy.

One of the best in-app use cases is for mCommerce; identifying when users are most likely to buy and delivering promotional in-app offers at the optimal time, which boosts conversions and purchases. In-app messaging also allows for extended experimentation, with A/B testing and various contextual options to see what resonates most with users.

But this comes with its own set of challenges. Without the right tools, testing of in-app messaging is difficult to implement and track. Plus, once a user qualifies, it’s not easy to remove him or her from that test, sometimes to the user’s dismay. It’s hard to get right, because you need to understand and act on your analytics. We’ve outlined five ways brands can win using in-app messaging to address this bottleneck.

Takeaway Pros

In-app messaging is the most effective way of creating a stronger, richer app experience by segmenting and tailoring to target audiences. It creates a more valuable app session by providing the user with personalized messages, and can funnel actions to conversions.


Using Holistic Strategy to Make Push and In-App Messaging Complimentary

Here’s the secret sauce: like most modern marketing techniques, push and in-app messaging are most successful when used together as part of a larger marketing strategy. Employing both techniques ensures that your app meets different needs through appropriate means.

But they don’t just exist separately; layered messaging can work in tandem. If your in-app messaging campaign is triggered by app opens, but you have a low open rate, consider running a push marketing campaign to prompt more opens. By using push notifications to re-direct users who have fallen out of a desirable funnel and in-app messaging to control visitor flow, you can focus the user toward a desired action.

A holistic, thoughtful approach to messaging means better app usage analytics, more engaged users and higher mCommerce revenue. And, just as importantly, the user will feel that he or she is getting the best experience possible. 


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