Mobile notifications are an essential part of working in the digital world. From attracting new business to providing customer support for existing clients, multiple business areas can make use of notifications and alerts. Today, there are various methods and options for delivering these mission-critical messages.
Enterprises can use SMS, messaging apps like Viber, push notifications, and, eventually, RCS. All of these have their virtues. SMS is on every phone, and while it is fairly limited, it is great for simple notifications and reminders. It can also be a good vehicle for cost-effective interactive services, like reminding a customer of an appointment and soliciting a confirmation (or a call to reschedule).
Meanwhile, “over-the-top” (OTT) messaging apps and push notifications can deliver a much richer experience, containing images and interactive buttons that can drive engagement. These often depend on a user downloading the app, of course, and so may not have the universal audience of SMS.
What is a notification?
The uses of notifications are almost as varied as the means of delivering them. They can be used as another advertising channel, offering services and driving customers to a business’ website or physical store. Then there’s the related area of supporting marketing initiatives.
Notifications can be used to alert recipients to a sale or to deliver discount codes and coupons. They can also be used to boost engagement — perhaps by keeping customers informed about the status of an order, or reminding them of an abandoned cart. And as mentioned, notifications can be used to deliver other helpful reminders, such as reminding airline users to check in, or patients about an upcoming appointment.
With the various communication options, purposes, and their combinations, it can be confusing to know how to structure a messaging and notification strategy. Below are some of the most important points to consider in order to make your business’ use of notifications as effective and relevant as possible.
A note on GDPR
The most obvious issue is getting notifications out to people in the first place. In many territories, companies need customers to opt-in to receiving their messages. GDPR is the most famous example of this, and companies operating in the EU need explicit permission to handle customer data. But consumer privacy is also a growing concern elsewhere and other territories are taking note — for example the state of California is leading the way within the USA.
In order to do business in these jurisdictions a company has to follow their regulations, even if it isn’t based within their territory. This means enterprises need to find ways to drive user opt-ins and build their audience, which leads to our first piece of advice:
1: Drive opt-ins
There are several ways of achieving this. Prompts appearing in in an online store’s checkout page can gather email addresses and permission fairly easily. Mobile numbers may be a little more difficult to get, but very far from impossible.
For example, you can gather customer mobile numbers and ask them to opt in when they fill out a customer survey. More directly, users can interact with brands over OTT apps like Viber. When they do this, Viber asks customers for permission before it will send them further messages, which is clear, unobtrusive and builds off a previously expressed interest.
Giving users options is always good, too — allowing them to pick what kinds of notifications to receive, and the frequency with which they receive them, will make the proposition more appealing. Plus, if they want to unsubscribe from one of your communications, having options means they don’t have to unsubscribe from all of them.
The most important thing is to clearly explain the value of opting in — in plain language. Let the customer know just what they will be getting, and why they should be interested in hearing more from you and your company.
2: Pick the right medium
In this instance, context is king. Enterprises need to know which messaging format is best for the type of notification it is supposed to deliver. Have a clear idea of what your use-cases will be and how your notifications are going to advance them. Are you trying to increase engagement? Improve customer service? Cut down on service costs by using pro-active/pre-emptive notifications?
Remember Marshall McLuhan’s axiom: “the medium is the message” (from the book of the same name). Often the means by which you interact with a customer will have a more lasting impact than the exact content of each message. Consider your objectives and which channel will best achieve them.
3: Know your customer
Marketers are very keen on customer research and Customer-Relationship-Management (CRM), and for a good reason. Knowing what individual customers have previously expressed interest in means you can segment your audience and target specific messages to specific segments. Brands can target customers based on what they have previously bought, rather than bombarding them with offers they might not be interested in.
You can also invite your customers to tell you more by setting their own preferences. This can be as simple as giving them a choice of which channels to receive messages over. Or you can do what travel company Kayak has done, and give people the ability to select alerts about deals or products they are specifically interested in. Remember that you’re sending notifications to people, not their phones.
Even if you’re sending an appointment reminder rather than marketing material, knowing your customer helps set the appropriate tone for your business. After all: people don’t want notifications from their doctor or bank filled with emojis.
4: Don’t spam
This might be one of the most important parts of a marketing strategy. In builds on the previous 3, but it could reasonably be #1. There are plenty of things you can do to ensure you avoid being targeted by spam filters, but to avoid the perception of being spam can take just as much forethought.
Being perceived as spam is death to a company’s reputation, and it directly damages conversions into sales. So it’s important to make your messages as relevant as possible to the consumer.
Don’t “batch-and-blast” generic content. And make the number of notifications you send appropriate to your use case: a news organisation might send out 3 to 5 a day, but that doesn’t mean an electronics store should.
5: Adapt to the format
Each channel has its own strengths and weaknesses. Once you know the which you want to use (see point 2 above), you should tailor the message you want to get out to the particular format. After all, if you are sending out a weekly or monthly roundup of news articles, or various new products, you would logically use email since it gives you the space and formatting flexibility to deliver the desired experience.
The same logic applies to notifications. If the notification comes with some call to action — perhaps a targeted marketing message offering discounts on a range of clothing — then richer text options such as app messages might be more appropriate. The message would not only inform the customer of a deal but also provide pictures and links to multiple items that are part of the deal.
GMS’ push notifications are great for those projects where you want immediate visibility with the added used of rich media. They can also send transactional information, with quick reply options to simplify and streamline customer interaction. You can also use 2-way SMS services: if a customer is due for an appointment a reminder can be sent out with a request to confirm, so you don’t lose money on no-shows.
6: Iterate and experiment
Utilise your analytics to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Have clear goals and test your strategy to gauge its effectiveness. Whilst it’s important to keep style — and especially branding — consistent, don’t be afraid to tweak elements and experiment. Sometimes, even something as small as button colour might make a difference to your engagement or conversions. An effective reporting tool will let you sift the results and see what is working and what isn’t. GMS’ own platform provides customisable, real-time feedback to help identify which notifications are getting the best possible response for your use-case.
7: Make sure your infrastructure is organised
This point is critical, particularly if you are a small company, or just starting out with your mobile notification strategy. Whilst the cost of messaging can stack up when you factor in volumes, it is still cheap compared to the background infrastructure involved — and that includes getting your existing internal organisation aligned.
There are various services mentioned above — such as CRM databases and analysis software — that need to be organised and implemented. You’ll probably need staff to look after your notifications, from strategy to crafting. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that different aspects of messaging will be owned by different departments within the business. These disparate parts need to work together to ensure a cohesive strategy (and to avoid spamming customers with too many messages from too many sources) which brings us to…
8: Develop and grow
It’s not just the notifications that need to be iterated — internal processes for managing your notifications will need to develop too. Analysts Forrester recommend you start with small, high-value messaging to get started (they cite password provision at Caesars’ Palace in Las Vegas, NV.). Build up to more nuanced use-cases and concerted campaigns as you work out how to structure your internal processes. Forrester also recommends having a dedicated project manager for notifications, who can provide that crucial cohesion (properly empowered to say “no” sometimes to other departments, to avoid over-messaging).
As you learn what works and grow your notifications strategy, you can start to codify your best practices. Ad-hoc procedures can be simplified and turned into rules, and you can build a team or working group as you expand your notification use. Eventually, you can start to leverage industry insights and your own findings to automate your notifications, targeting releases based on time or location.
A quick google search for advice on notifications brings up a diverse range of results. Some of it is specific to certain sectors. Some of it is specific to certain messaging types (actually, a lot of it is specific to push notifications). None of it offers a one-size-fits-all template for how to effectively manage notifications. Because there isn’t one.
The efficacy of your notifications can depend on the distribution and demography of your customers, the size of your enterprise, and the maturity of its notification and messaging deployment. By having a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and keeping these 9 pieces of advice in mind, you can start to build a truly effective strategy.
Find out more about how GMS messaging services can help enterprises excel with mobile notifications today.