From generic and text-based to dynamic and personalized, push notifications have come a long way in regards to communication. And they’re popping up everywhere — making push notifications an essential part of customer engagement. In honor of the 10th anniversary of push notifications, let’s hop in the DeLorean to trace their evolution, then head back to the future to predict where they’re going.
The birth of push notifications
Turn on the time circuits, and we’ll return to 2009. Avatar is smashing box office records, The Black Eyed Peas are climbing the charts, and Apple has launched APNs (Apple Push Notification System) for iOS apps. Sure, Blackberry has been sending out email notifications since 2003, but the iOS 3.0 update is different. It finally brings push notifications out of the email space and into a new era of multi-channel messaging.
Borrowing from the BlackBerry playbook, Apple has users reaching for their phones when they hear that “ping.” Although these generic, text-based messages may not look like much, they offer the first opportunity for mobile engagement campaigns.
Android users will have to wait until 2010 for Google to launch C2DM (Cloud-to-Device Messaging), but there’s no doubt that push is going mainstream.
Brands get more sophisticated
It soon becomes clear that mobile apps are goldmines for customer data. Brands start experimenting with segment-level personalization and send out messages based on customer behavior. New campaigns are built around event-based messages such as:
- Basic cart abandonment
- Transactional push
- Basic re-engagement
Enter geo-fencing and geo-targeting
Remember when your phone’s GPS drained your battery in minutes? Those days are over. The latest smartphones have improved their technology, allowing you to match your search results to your exact location without sacrificing battery life.
This is great news for brands as location-based marketing creates even more opportunities for push notifications. Retailers can send messages to remind customers about store credit when they’re nearby, and travel brands can send booking information when customers reach their destinations. Brands are now able to send messages at the right time and to the right place.
Android pushes past text-only
Let’s jump ahead to 2013. Push notifications have been limited to text…until now. Android releases released Rich Push, which supports images and push action buttons. (iPhone users will have to wait until next year for these).
Rich media images make push more visually appealing, while push action buttons allow for personalized calls-to-action. Brands can instruct users to visit a website, make a purchase, or leave a review, all without opening the app.
Google launches web push
Let’s move on to 2015. Push notifications are popping up on the desktop version of Chrome.
That’s right, push has crossed over from mobile to the web, bringing real-time, personalized messages with it. Chrome users can opt-in to receive updates from their favorite sites, and brands can keep them engaged with relevant, personalized content.
- Basic geo-targeting
- More advanced cart abandonment
- Cross-device and cross-channel campaigns
Cross-device campaigns will prove to be the secret sauce that desktop needs. They’re 60% more effective at in-store conversions than desktop-only and influence an average 24% incremental rise in-store visits.
Going around the carousel push
Our final stop before we return is in 2016. Apple and Android announce support for carousel or multi-image push, also known as Push Stories. But Apple takes it to the next level by supporting rich media such as GIFs, video and audio. Push notifications have matured from simple alerts to vehicles for information, making them less like SMS and more like social media.
The here and now
Welcome back to the present day. Brands have enough data to send highly personalized messages in real-time. Messages are richer, more useful, and part of campaigns as diverse as:
- Push stories
- Dynamic abandoned cart
- Advanced location and geotargeting
- Cohesive, cross-channel campaigns
- Individualized recommendation campaigns
Machine learning, with its ability to quickly interpret data, helps Android and iOS make recommendations and send notifications based on app usage.
Yet the customer data required to create these highly personalized experiences poses an ethical dilemma over customer privacy and security. To address these concerns, Google and Apple have announced:
- Updates to location permissions that give iPhone and Android users more control over when an app can track their location.
- Apple’s single sign-on (SSO) feature, which allows users to create app accounts without giving permission to access social account information.
What does this mean for brands? Simply put, today’s push notifications should be fun, interactive, relevant, and as secure as possible.
The future of push notifications
As technology improves, push notifications will become richer, more interactive, and more personalized. Users have come to expect notifications that provide relevant information and tailored customer service and brands will have to keep up or risk losing out to more thoughtful, tech-savvy competitors.
At the same time, we’re living in the aftermath of GDPR and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and that means consumers and governments alike are becoming more privacy-conscious. Tech giants like Apple and Google have responded by taking steps to improve customer privacy and security while giving consumers more control over the notifications they receive. Brands will need to respond, too.
The way forward? Putting the customer experience first when it comes to your push strategy. Brands that persist in sending generic, un-personalized push notifications are effectively inviting their users to disable communications in this channel. To avoid that outcome, marketers need to clearly communicate to their customers what kinds of messages they’ll be sending via push, how that outreach will add value to their user experience, and then back up that promise with personalized, thoughtfully segmented messages.