Push notifications from apps have become a vital channel in direct digital marketing. No wonder, as push notifications show extraordinarily high interaction rates and can be used very effectively to respond to triggers in mobile contexts. We will demonstrate what push notifications in digital marketing can do, for which applications they are suited and which tasks marketers need to take on in order to use push notifications in a successful way.
Push notifications are a relatively new channel in direct digital marketing, so here is a brief explanation of the concept. The precondition for push notifications is that the user has installed an app of the company running the marketing or its partners. The company can then use the app to send the user messages to his smartphone even when the user does not actively open the app. The push notification appears on the smartphone, similar to an SMS or WhatsApp message and usually (but not necessarily) links to content in the app.

Uber Push Notifications

Uber Push Notifications

High Open Rates, More Frequent App Use

Whether mobile emails, SMS, social media posts, messages from WhatsApp and other mobile messengers, a large number of (marketing and service) communication channels require the attention of the smartphone user. So where are the benefits of app push notifications? Push notifications are particularly attention grabbing and personal. They reach the user directly on his permanent companion – the smartphone – and are in the best case personalised and adapted to the context of use in real time. Since users tend to receive by far fewer push notifications than other messages and push notifications are also separately displayed (individual notification with headline and logo of the provider instead of “You have 8 new messages in 3 chats”), they have significant stand-out. According to a current study by Thanx, push notifications achieve open rates between 47% and 80% depending on factors such as timing, occasion or relevance. Engagement rates (i.e. click rates) vary depending on the sector between 12% (retail) and 40% (finance and services). Since they are directly linked to the app, push notifications are particularly suited to create regular activity in the app. Apps which send push notifications to their users, on average show a 26% higher open rate and 92% higher retention rate than apps without push notification (Urban Airship). Studies by Kahuna and Localytics came to similar conclusions. According to Flurry Analytics, 1.85 billion users employed mobile apps globally in 2015. 52% of app users use push notifications (Localytics). This opens a great potential for marketing and service communication via app push notifications.
However, not only smartphone users are a suitable target group for app push notifications. The channel is also suitable for smartwatches, connected cars and other networked (mobile) terminal devices which allow the installation of apps. The increasing relevance of the Internet of Things will potentially open up new deployment scenarios and with them potentials for app push notifications.

Take into Account Mobile Contexts of Use

Let’s get back to the smartphone. What do possible deployment scenarios look like? In general, app push notifications can be used to send any marketing or service communication. For example, news apps which push braking news on your smartphone, travel apps which alert you about a flight delay, gaming apps which tell you that someone has beaten your record or shopping apps which notify you about the dispatch of your ordered products. Very effective are e.g., remarketing messages for abandoned shopping baskets in the shopping app. The communicated content should always refer to content or activities in the app. In order to e.g., communicate news on the (hopefully mobile-optimised) website, email marketing would be more suited. It may be sensible to refer to other channels when there is only one opt-in for the push notifications, i.e. you are not allowed to send the user emails (or SMS, WhatsApp messages, social media posts, etc).
App push notifications are particularly effective when they take into consideration the mobile context of use. This means the location but also the related information such as e.g., weather or traffic. According to a current study by Gettings and Goldmedia, 56% of German smartphone users share their location with companies several times per month in order to be able to use location-based services. Here, the communicated content can be adapted to the context and the changes to the contexts can serve as triggers. Context-sensitive app push notifications can be used e.g., to lead users who

  • enter a geo-fencing area to the PoS. The user receives a push notification promoting e.g., special offers, discount actions or events at the PoS. Even temporary coupons are effective. “Miserable weather today. . Find shelter in our branch in 1 Sample Street and brighten up your waiting time with the latest collection from your favourite brand. 20% savings today!” If the user has no time at the moment, he can save the promoted products e.g., in the app or have them sent to his address.
  • Refer to sights, activities, restaurants etc. on holiday. “A real insider tip: Would you have thought that you can find the best Italian restaurant in town in this inconspicious building at the north end of Sample Plaza?”
  • During events (concerts, sport, expos, conferences, markets, etc.), refer to offers at the event location or provide information on the event schedule. “We compliment player XY for his spectacular goal. Learn everything important about his career so far.”
  • Send click&collect transaction messages. “The article you ordered is in stock in our branch at 2 Sample Street. Don’t wait for your parcel, come an pick it up directly. We have a little surprise for you. Everything is ready and waiting for you at our service counter on the ground floor.”
  • Refer to locations of transport companies. “Your taxi will be with you in 5 minutes.”
  • Connect users. “John Smith, your favourite from the Sample Dating Community, is near you at the moment. Use your chance and ask him if you can invite him for a coffee.”


What to do

App push notifications are not witchcraft, to really use its potentials, you need to fulfil a few tasks.

  1. Identify Mobile Trigger and Deployment Scenarios: See above. Firstly, you need to identify for which communication purposes app push notifications can be used sensibly and which mobile triggers exist. To do this, you should be familiar with the customer journey.
  2. Integrate Contexts: In order to use mobile contexts, you need to integrate the sources from which the information about the context comes (e.g. bluetooth beacons which determine the location or meteorological services) via API with the used marketing automation technology.
  3. Create Realtime In particular with location-based services, speed counts. A push notification with location reference makes no sense when the user has already changed his location. The technology employed must therefore be able to capture the data which only becomes known when it is triggered (e.g. the location in case of entering a geo-fence) in realtime and fed into the communication.
  4. Offer Additional Benefits: Users get in touch with companies via a large number of channels. If you want your user to use push notifications, as well, you will have to provide an additional benefit which is not available through the other channels e.g., location-based services.
  5. Communicate With the Focus on the Customer For app push notifications as well as for all other marketing channels the following applies: Communication is the most effective when it is customised, e.g., adapted to the current requirements and context of use of a customer, such as his interests, his willingness to pay and his location. The basis for this forms the user data which is continuously collected at each touchpoint and is centrally compiled in a profile. Every user is activated with the correct communication exactly at the point in his lifecycle when his attention for the communicated information or the likelihood of a purchase or the required action is at its highest. According to a study by Localytics, customer-centred push notifications convert 300% better than “mass messages”.
  6. Take into Account the App Usage: Particularly relevant for the profiling of users and therefore the creation of a comprehensive user understanding is data from the app usage. For example, the frequency of a user’s app usage can be a good indicator for optimising the send frequency. A user who only accesses the app once every two weeks would probably not be happy about several push notifications per day.
  7. Integrate with Other Tools: App push messaging is not a autonomous channel but only unfolds its full potential in the interplay with other direct digital marketing tools (e.g. email. social media, SMS, web or mobile messengers such as WhatsApp). To understand the customer journey you must also know which channels the user employs for which purpose so you can approach him optimally across all channels. The different channels should complete each other, i.e. refer to each other as well as pick up on the communication from each other and thus address the user consistently at each touchpoint. If a user has, for esample, looked at certain articles in a newsletter, these articles can be promoted via app push notification.
  8. Create a Single Customer View: In order to achieve consistent cross channel communication, all channels must be able to access the same updated data in realtime. This is called a single customer view.
  9. Generate Opt-ins: You should always obtain legally-compliant and sufficient consent (opt-ins) to be able to send users app push notifications. In many apps, push notifications are pre-configured. However, as long as these are not an elementary part of the app service (e.g. with taxi services), push notifications should only be sent after the explicit user consent. According to a study by UrbanAirship, users who have actively given their opt-in for push notifications, show an app open rate of up to 388% higher than users who have not done this. It is recommended to offer users a choice of e.g., frequency and content of push notifications per self-service. This also prevents opt-out.