App Marketing

Saving push: 5 mobile onboarding and UX lessons from SmartNews

Marne Litfin
Content Manager
Topics

Is there a future for push notifications? With mobile users opting out now more than ever, we invited two guests to join our latest webinar, where we discussed where push belongs in your mobile marketing strategy today.  

This webinar is packed with insight from three different perspectives: SmartNews’s Fabien-Pierre Nicolas, Head of Growth/Marketing US, and Leanplum’s Nick Pataky, Product Manager for End-user Experiences, and Adjust’s Team Lead for Technical Account Management US, Justin Feinman.

Below you’ll find just a short excerpt from their discussion. Want to listen to the entire webinar? You’ll find it on YouTube here.

Justin Feinman, Adjust: Can you tell us more about what Leanplum does?

Nick Pataky, Leanplum: Leanplum is a mobile marketing platform built for engagement. Brands rely on Leanplum to help them orchestrate multi-channel campaigns, from messaging to in-app experiences. Leanplum helps brands accelerate growth and build long-term customer relationships, and is one of over 1000 partners integrated with Adjust.

Justin: And what about SmartNews – can you describe what you do? Can you give us an overview of your growth stack for push looks like?

Fabien-Pierre, SmartNews: SmartNews essentially does  two things. We're a technology company. The core technology, which was built by our two co-founders, allows machine learning to do news discovery. Instead of having humans curate and decide which news you get to see or not see, like some other apps, we really focus on making sure we integrate social signals and trusted sources to deliver you the digest that you need to have. Beyond that, we're really focused on surfacing trending topics. We also work with publishers. Essentially, we allow them to keep 100 percent of the revenue they generate on their page. Our monetization is ad-driven, but we don't take any revenue on this aspect.

When it comes to attribution and growth (growth accounting is a more technical term), we use Adjust. We have recently added Acquired.io, which obviously we use for accounting, integrating the spend, as well as automating some of the bidding process. So, that's essentially our growth stack on the attribution side. For automation (push, AB testing and in-app messaging) we use Leanplum. We also have one data solution that we're using, Chartio. For ASO, we work with apptweak, Mobile Action, and Google Play Console. Finally, we’ve built our own ad tech for Japan. In the US we’re using Facebook Audience Network as well as AdMob (when it comes to the monetization of our native ads).

Justin: Thanks for that overview. Let’s dive in to push notifications. Why does push matter to SmartNews?

Fabien-Pierre: Push has been around a long time and is truly unique to mobile. Both Android and iOS, Apple and Google, have iterated on push – what you can send, when, and how push permissions work.

But as someone who came from mobile gaming and then mobile utilities, I don’t think I appreciated how much push notifications really are a core product of user experience until I joined SmartNews. Why does push matter for SmartNews? For us, our monetization is really through the time people spend in the app, and the amount of content they consume. So, the core metrics when it comes to usage are daily active users (DAU) and we see a very strong correlation between the operating of pushes, and DAU.

When new users come in, if they’ve received a push that is meaningful to them (and breaking news often is) within the first six hours of the experience, their seven-day retention jumps significantly. For a push-disabled user versus a push-enabled user, the seven-day retention is 33% higher. It impacts the time they spend in-app, the number of sessions and so on. So push for us is really important, even more so in the US than in Japan.

Fabien-Pierre: When you take a look at the specific topics people bring up in their reviews of the app, push notifications are among the top three or four features that they really praise. For us, this is a very strong signal that it is important to treat push as a product, and not just think of it as a channel.

By that, I mean we constantly iterate on our approach and refine it, like you would with any other of your key app features.

Justin: How have push notifications evolved at SmartNews?

Fabien-Pierre: When our co-founders started the company, they had the vision that machine learning will solve everything, when it comes to news and the way to engage with news on mobile. And while machine learning does solve a fair amount of issues that existed in other apps that just rely on human curation, it doesn’t fully solve everything. For example, we started out in Japan, which only has one time zone – we gave users the possibility to pick, essentially, from zero to four pushes a day to receive at specific times.

But that was it! We started the journey in a pretty basic way. The content and bidding team started seeing pushes that were coming in, generated just by machine learning – and they did not meet the expectation of a quality news experience. Our Team Lead set out to build a team to review our regular push notifications; machine learning would suggest a list, and the team would validate it.

The other aspect was breaking news – and our users getting their news in a timely manner. Now we have a team that discusses really quickly when something break – if it’s worth sending a breaking push to our users. They’re there to oversee what the machine generates. We’re not necessarily hiring editors, but people who are fans of news, who interact with news content. We definitely still have machine learning at the core of what our product is, and when it comes to real news discovery or surfacing hidden gems that you won’t find in other apps, this is truly what machine learning does best.

A few months ago we rolled out to all of our users a personalized discovery experience called ‘For You’, which essentially learns from your engagement the type of news you appreciate reading about, and brings more of that to the surface beyond the top news of the day. The future for us is to essentially blend in. We’ll still have the breaking pushes and programmed pushes, but will start injecting more personalization in the pushes as well.

One failure we had as a team along the way was when a colleague of mine, myself, and some other team members deployed Leanplum and we were excited to work on onboarding. The first topic that came through was ‘Hey, we need to do a better job priming for push’. We tried so many different locations to prime for push, from very early on to later in the app experience, with a lot of different creatives to highlight the different aspects of added value, but essentially we failed. We failed to make a significant dent in the number of people who turned on push notifications, versus just asking them right off the bat as soon as they installed the app. We learned that users already have a very specific idea of the value that push notifications will provide to them. The push priming wasn’t giving them more context.

So what we did was go from push priming to push redemption mode: essentially, we re-asked permission to users. This was successful and added a few more percentage points - three to four percent more users to essentially come back and do push opt-in. This generated a clear business benefit to our iOS audience. We learned that it’s okay to ask again.

The future for us now, and what we’ve been testing in Leanplum, is trying to add other elements to onboarding, which right now is very minimalist. We’ve considered that we don’t really have an issue with push opt-in on Android. In iOS, we think push redemption is our way to go.

Want to find out more about how SmartNews re-prompts users to opt in to push notifications? Listen to the entire webinar here.

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