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What email marketers need to know about a triggered push notification strategy

If you’re an email marketer, you might be getting asked to take on more responsibilities these days. For instance, though you may have only ever handled email, you might now be getting asked to handle things like triggered push notifications or SMS. But you might not know anything about those channels, so what’s a poor (formerly email, but now digital) marketer supposed to do?

We’ve made this transition ourselves; we started out our business focused on email, and now we can optimize the entire customer experience across channels – push, SMS, web, and social too. So come, take our hand, and let us guide you through.


How to mess this up

The very first thing we’ll do is talk about what a bad push strategy looks like so you can avoid these pitfalls! And a bad strategy starts with six words:

“We should try out push notifications!”

These words are coming from a marketing VP (you all know the type) at a large retail brand – Brand A.  So the marketing team takes this idea and runs with it, with no particular goal in mind other than “let’s try these and see what happens.” They decide that they’ll send a push notification to everyone who has ever downloaded their mobile app letting them know anytime anything goes on sale. There’s just one teensy weensy little problem: they sell literally hundreds of thousands of items, so there are a lot of things going on sale every day!

Customers are suddenly deluged with push notifications. Vegans are getting notified about a sale on pepperoni Hot Pockets, bearded gents are getting notified about mascara sales – the whole thing is a mess. Plus, those customers never stopped getting emails or social ads from the brand, so they’re completely overwhelmed! A mass opt-out takes place alongside a mass uninstallation of the mobile app.

“Well I guess push notifications just don’t work very well!” And until that VP leaves the company, no one ever sends a push notification again.


How to get it right

That sounded pretty bad, didn’t it? But while that particular experiment failed, it wasn’t the fault of the humble push notification. Your push powers can be used for good – so here’s a scenario to illustrate what that might look like.

A wise CMO at another large retail brand (Brand B) has asked their team to have a laser-like focus on increasing Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) this quarter. The marketing team looks at the tools at their disposal and wonders how they might achieve that goal with the help of push notifications.

After deep-diving on their data about which audience segments are the most valuable, they find that the shoppers who come in multiple times per week are the key. They decide to target the segment of their audience that is shopping with them every weekend to see if they can get them to make a second trip in mid-week.

Two days after their regular shopping trip, mobile app users get a push notification about a discount that expires within 24 hours. (This to ensure that they’ll have to use it before their next regularly scheduled trip.) They make sure to suppress these shoppers from receiving any emails during this time so that they can get clean data on push performance. Their idea works – it results in a significant increase in mid-week sales, and turns the weekly shoppers into power shoppers! Now the team can explore the next questions on the list – how can they use the power shoppers to act as brand evangelists? How can they re-engage unengaged shoppers? How can they turn monthly shoppers into weekly shoppers? Now that they’ve piloted their first successful experiment, they’re ready to do more!

Two roads diverged in a mobile app…

So Brand B seems a lot smarter right? Let’s break down five reasons why its team succeeded with push notifications while Brand A failed:

  • They started with a better goal. Trying out push notifications purely to see if they work or not isn’t really a smart goal. Brand B had a business goal and used push notifications to achieve that goal. Maybe you’re trying to drive increased app engagement to boost NPS scores, or increase sales with a particular segment, or perhaps re-engage customers who are ignoring your emails. Pick a single goal, and then think of how push notifications can be used to get there.
  • They targeted their audience. Brand B started with some data! They didn’t start out by sending push notifications to their entire audience. They picked a segment to test on first. What if that test had gone badly? They wouldn’t have poisoned the entire well, the way Brand A did. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in email, and it’s not gonna work here either.
  • They worked with other channels. Brands communicate with their customers across a wide variety of channels; when those channels work together in harmony, you have happier customers. When they don’t, customers can feel like you’re lurking around every corner or confusing them, and it can be a real turn-off! Plus, as Brand B saw, it makes attribution more difficult (and accurate data is already hard enough to come by these days).
  • They didn’t overdo it. They started with a single push notification before moving on to more. The #1 goal of any good push notification strategy is to not overwhelm your audience because once they opt out, you may never get them back in.
  • They tested and learned. Brand B didn’t try to build the ultimate-super-mega push strategy for the entire brand all at once. They started small, gathered data, made a decision, gathered more data about how that decision worked out, and then started thinking about expanding. The more testing you do, the more data you get, and the better decisions you can make. That’s why our entire platform is built around multivariate testing.

Brand B was indeed smarter about its push strategy, and the results show it. You can see evidence of this approach out in the real world too. If you’re an Apple TV+ customer who watches Ted Lasso, you’ll get a notification every Friday that a new episode is out (and if you love that show, it’s the best reminder you’ll get all week!). Then there’s Target, a master at curbside pickup. You let Target know when you’re on the way, and when you arrive, you get an immediate notification saying that the team know you’re there and they’ll be right out with your order. These are just a couple of the extremely thoughtful ways brands are using push notifications to create a better experience for their customers.

Listen, you know how to craft great customer experiences with email; now you’ve got another tool at your disposal. Start small, test often, make smart moves, keep a close eye on your app uninstalls, and one day, you’ll be the one telling people how to crush it with push notifications. And when you’re ready to start optimizing that push performance with some AI-powered multivariate testing, give us a call.

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