Saturday 10 December 2016

Marketers and media getting pushy in a fresh bid to grab users' attention

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

The study invited over 400 participants to download the CNN, BuzzFeed News, or E! News apps. Half the participants had push notifications enabled. The other half had them disabled.
The study invited over 400 participants to download the CNN, BuzzFeed News, or E! News apps. Half the participants had push notifications enabled. The other half had them disabled.

How do digital businesses capture the rarest modern commodity: users' attention? There's no silver bullet, but increasingly push notifications are becoming a key weapon in any arsenal. These are the alerts most often sent by media apps that pop up on your phone's lock screen to flag breaking news.

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And they work. At least they do as a method of sharing news stories. A study from the Engaging News Project at the University of Texas found that mobile news app users who allow push notifications open their news apps significantly more often than those who don't allow notifications. They also found that notifications significantly increase knowledge of current events in some instances.

The study invited over 400 participants to download the CNN, BuzzFeed News, or E! News apps. Half the participants had push notifications enabled. The other half had them disabled.

After two weeks, the researchers found that 12pc of the users who didn't receive the alerts opened the news apps each day, while 27pc of users who had pushes turned on opened their news apps on a daily basis.

But push notifications aren't just for media outlets.

Urban Airship is a company that powers push notifications for the likes of News UK, Sky and the Wall Street Journal. It delivered 1.5billion push notifications in the 24 hours around the recent US election for around 400 media apps. So they know all about the media side of things. But its clients also include non-news brands like adidas, Walgreens and House of Fraser.

"There's no screen more personal than someone's mobile device and push notifications audibly and visibly light that screen up and demand attention, even if it's just a glance," says Nigel Arthur, Urban Airship's managing director for EMEA. "Push notifications have gone from being reminders to open an app, to being rich and actionable items themselves. Both Android and iOS now enable rich media and interactive buttons to accompany the message."

"Of the 15 verticals we've tracked year over year, 11 of them saw gains to average opt-in rates in the last year and only one - Gaming - saw a significant decrease," Arthur says. "These aren't small gains either, with average rates increasing by 44pc for Medical, Health & Fitness; 30pc for Finance and 21pc for Utility/Productivity. In fact, eight of the 15 verticals now have average opt-in rates above 50pc."

So with Christmas looming it's no surprise that Urban Airship predicts an increase in businesses relying on push notifications to drive seasonal sales. Indeed, Arthur believes that push notifications can replace the sturdy workhorse that is email as a tool for engaging with online consumers. "Last holiday season retailers sent 63pc more notifications compared to the year before and they also saw average notification engagement rates improve from 16pc to 18pc," Arthur says. "Different types of companies commonly report getting five times, 10 times and even 12 times greater response from push notifications than email."

But app owners need to be aware that there's a fine line between pushing and spamming. Just over one in five (21pc) of the subjects in the Engaging News Project research said they didn't like the timing and frequency of the notifications. So, Nigel Arthur believes that media companies need to be careful not to get too pushy. "Media organisations can provide everything users need to know within the notification itself and not always tease them for the app-open," he says. "Similarly, there are a host of in-app messaging opportunities that can engage users when they are already in the app. Beyond ensuring messages are as relevant and timely as possible, news organisations can also test which type of headline treatments garner the best results. "It only takes one bad notification for people to search for how to opt-out, or worse find that it is even easier to just delete the app altogether," says Arthur.

And it isn't just media companies that need to exercise caution according to Arthur. "We advise all our customers, to allow users to fine-tune what they get and what they don't, as less can be more on mobile," he says. "Users should be able to set explicit topics they want to follow and quiet times where they don't want to be interrupted, while businesses should actively determine users' implied interests from their app behaviours and notification responses. It's also important to realise that not every push deserves a shove."

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