Push Notifications: Overused Annoyance or Underused Marketing?

Since the release of the Apple Push Notification Systems (APNs) in 2009 and Google’s implementation a year later, push notifications have transformed countless businesses and markets. Travel, ridesharing, sports, financial services and media apps are just a few examples of the kind of apps that routinely ask users for permission to send them notifications.

In spite of the transformative nature of push notifications, many companies (including yours) still fail to properly utilize them.

What Push Notifications Represent

In no uncertain terms, push notifications represent one of the greatest marketing opportunity in recent history. Marketers and advertisers have traditionally had a multi-pronged challenge:

  1. Get their ads/information noticed.
  2. Ensure the right people—their target demographic—see the ads/information.
  3. Make their ads/information stand out in the sea of competitors.

Push notifications solve each of these issues. Because of their very nature, push notifications are easily noticed and are sent to individuals who are already interested in your company’s products or services (otherwise they would not have downloaded your app). In addition, the limited screen space ensures that your notifications have very little competition.

In view of these clear advantages, why are so many companies failing to use them properly?

Fear of Annoying Users

One of the single biggest reasons companies don’t make proper use of push notifications is a very conservative approach, mostly driven out of the fear of annoying customers.

The only problem with this fear is that it’s based on a false premise. Before receiving push notifications, a user must agree to accept them, especially on iOS. This means the user has specifically agreed to receive them and wants to reap the benefits, whether that’s receiving important information, special offers, or other tangible advantages.

As a result, rather than fearing that customers will be annoyed, companies should embrace the opportunity push notifications offer and the permissions users have already given you.

Fear of Losing Customers

Closely related is the fear of losing customers. Many companies believe that if they use notifications it will scare customers off and cause them to abandon their app altogether. As with the fear of annoying customers, as long as push notifications are used properly, this fear is largely unfounded.

In fact, according to Dimensional Research, the main reasons impacting a user’s view of an app and company behind it are crashes/freezes, slow performance, difficulty using, price, heavy battery usage, low user reviews, using too much storage space, missing features or heavy data usage—in that order. Push notifications are nowhere on the list.

As a rule, people don’t delete an app because of push notifications. The worse case scenario is that they simply turn them off.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (aka Lack of Knowledge)


The third reason most companies improperly use push notifications is because their fear of doing it wrong ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because they approach push notifications without fully understanding their value or the proper way to use the marketing tools, they end up making mistakes that do annoy their users.

Some of these mistakes are sending irrelevant notifications, notifications that are too generic, as well as sending them during off-hours when they are more likely to annoy than help.

How to Use Push Notifications Properly

According to Andrew Chen (general partner at Andreessen Horowitz), one of the best ways to ensure customers get the most from push notifications is to take the opportunity to educate them. A short, swipe-through splash screen on your app’s first run can be used to highlight the benefits push notifications bring to the end-user and why users should turn them on.

Mr. Chen also highlights the importance of using a custom notification screen to ask permission to send push notifications, rather than going straight for the system permission screen. This gives you the ability to “pre-screen” whether someone is willing to accept notifications. If they do, then go ahead and call the system permission screen. If not, ask them again at a later date once they have seen and experienced the value of your app.

Knowing how your users are using your app and sending them notifications when it will matter the most are also vital steps to ensuring the proper use of push notifications. Above all, use notifications to push relevant, customized information to your users so they experience real value from what your app offers.

As with any part of development and marketing, push notifications come with their own unique learning curve. By mastering it, however, your company can take advantage of one of the greatest marketing tools at its disposal.

Take Embrace for a test drive and start improving your app today.


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