Americans are addicted to their smartphones. A recent report by Flurry Analytics revealed that Americans spend about 2 hours and 38 minutes a day glued to their mobile devices, with 80% of that time spent in/on mobile apps. With over 700,000 apps available for download in both Google Play and the Apple App Store, it is safe to say that apps have reached critical mass. With this intense competition, brands and mobile app developers are forced to reevaluate tactics for growing user retention and engagement rates, which is increasingly difficult. Some brands — like ESPN and Yahoo — are embracing the philosophy of "less is more" by consolidating their overall portfolios of mobile apps and redesigning their "everyday" apps to appeal to overloaded users. But many other are embracing push notifications, which are proven to quadruple mobile engagement rates and double retention rates compared to apps without them.
The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal leverage push notifications as tools to break important news. Retailers like Sephora and Gilt use them to support time-sensitive flash deals. Airlines like United use them to keep travelers up-to-date with flight statuses.
While push notifications can be incredibly useful, many mobile app developers and brands have resorted to using them as a cheat to achieve coveted retention and engagement. In some cases, it's starting to backfire. We're beginning to see a tidal wave of push notifications from mobile apps that alert users of every mundane activity, irrelevant sales promotion, or social network update. Essentially, these push notifications just add more digital noise and drive users to tune out or even delete certain mobile apps from their devices. Just yesterday, I received a last-minute Ticketmaster alert to purchase concert tickets for a band that I don't like for a concert in a city that I don't live in. On other days, the activity in my Facebook life causes my phone to constantly buzz. But then again, Facebook's aggressive use of push notifications is well documented.
Evaluating the value of push notifications against the noise that they create is a slippery slope. Given the proven success of these alerts and with strong retention and engagement rates viewed as the Holy Grail, we need to find a palatable solution for future app development.
Here are some guidelines that brands and mobile app developers need to consider:
1. First decide if the mobile app is brand appropriate. Does your brand have a proper mobile channel strategy in place that fits into your brand's overall business objectives? How does this mobile app fit into that strategy?
2. Does the mobile app legitimately create value for your consumers? If not, then don't build it.
3. Focus your mobile app — don't water it down. What are the one or two features that will help drive mobile app engagement and retention?
4. Create social engagement layers for your mobile app that encourage users to come back. Why would they care and what would move them to share your mobile app?
5. Use push notifications only when necessary and make sure the content in your push notification is relevant and personalized. Create a push strategy the same you would create an email strategy. Push notifications should not equal SPAM.
6. Deliver the notification at the right time to the right audience in the right context. Segment. Push content to specific groups based on their individual profiles and behaviors. Push notifications should be geo-targeted, audience targeted, and time-sensitive.
7. Use analytics and social listening to continuously improve your app by tracking what consumers care about. Your app is a work in progress. Analytic services like Parse are helping brands and agencies best determine if push notifications are working.
Average users have 41 apps on their mobile devices — and that number continues to rise. Utilize push notifications appropriately to help bring attention of your mobile app. Don't let your mobile app's greatest asset for driving retention and engagement become it`s greatest nuisance as well.
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