A push notification is a short message that appears as a pop-up on your desktop browser, mobile home screen, or in your device notification center from a mobile app. Push notifications are typically opt-in alerts that display text and rich media, like images or buttons, which enable a user to take a specific action.
Organizations use push notifications as a marketing or communication channel, but they can also be used as a security mechanism.
Push notifications were first equated with "Danger," but not in the typical sense of the word. While working as the Director of Design for Danger, the forerunner to Android, Matias Duarte and his design team developed push notifications in 2008.
In 2009, Apple released its push messages, or notifications, through its cloud messaging service, APNS (Apple notification service). The Apple-engineered service is now prevalent across iOS devices, from iPads to iPhones, as mobile push notifications for mobile users.
A push notification is a type of channel that works to leverage communication. Marketing is the dominant means for how developers and organizations, respectively, create and use push notifications. However, push notifications are applied nearly as often for civic communication and, less often, for security authentication.
There are several benefits to using push notifications. However, these are tightly tied to how well an organization plans and executes its use of them. Click-through rates for push notifications hover around 2% - 3% as a standard average across industries. To gain high engagement and user satisfaction, strategic timing, personalization and segmentation are key guiding posts for well-performing push notifications.
There are many reasons organizations benefit from using push notifications. These include the following:
The most significant benefit for push notification recipients is that the channel is a user-centric medium. Recipients can receive information on their terms and in their preferred space. They can also change device notification settings, or unsubscribe to notifications. This latitude of options counteracts notification fatigue, but also compels app publishers and organizations to create the most relevant content for a recipient.
Moreover, automation remains a key benefit for organizations, particularly where there is a need for immediacy, such as in delivering news, public service information, or for use-cases such as a highly personalized sporting event update or real estate alert.
If you've received a notification for a flash sale, travel deal or traffic update, that alert came from a push server that enables it.
Push notifications can be cloud-based or app-based, and are built to work with a server that provides the notification. An API can enable push notifications from cloud services as app and web push services. Once an organization requests a push notification, an API calls this service and sets the message in place to be delivered.
A push notification arrives on your mobile home screen or your lock screen. It can also appear as a notification on your app icon, or on your desktop home screen when launching your browser and also while in use.
Organizations send push notifications with text and most commonly with rich media such as emojis. Some, but not all, include a clickable link, or a call to action (CTA), which prompts a user to take an action like finishing a check-out, or engaging directly with a site or app.
However, push notifications do not perform democratically or evenly across browsers and operating systems. While the most popular mobile and desktop browsers support push notifications, from Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Android, the delivery and experience are dissimilar across these.
For Android users particularly, some rich media is unavailable for users who are less likely to perform regular phone updates. Furthermore, opt-outs on Android devices differ from iOS devices in that a user must opt out with a few manual steps, though Android has made this process easier in recent years.
Understanding the differences in device, browser and operating system limitations and permissions is important for organizations seeking to execute push notifications successfully.
There are many ways of applying push notifications, but these are irrespective of marketing strategies, and are conventional to the channel in general.
For marketing campaigns, the key to a strong push notification campaign includes well-executed segmentation and personalization. Organizations can lower end-user message fatigue and tolerance by monitoring the frequency and type of notification, as well as how it has been personalized, for the user.
Moreover, organizations see better results when notifications are segmented based on behavior patterns and user interests. As an example, a telehealth notification for every patient due for dental check-ups, sent from a health insurance platform, is a valuable way to support a patient’s health and make it easier to book an appointment.
Personalization extends from segmentation and includes content and timing that is unique to a specific user. A notification revealing a price decrease on an item viewed and saved on a site is one way to increase sales for e-commerce.
Almost every industry and sector have adopted push notifications that are tailored to their customers and audience. However, higher CTR is found in need-based spheres, such as finance, health, weather, traffic and also in hospitality.
What's more revealing in a successful campaign is how well a push notification meets a highly specific need, and how immediately that occurs. These are significant drivers for increasing conversion rates. It is more difficult to achieve higher engagement rates in retail and social media, where 81% of smartphone users turn off these notifications3.
Additionally, organizations that create push notifications with an emotive context, represented with emojis, often receive higher engagement rates than when they send plain text notifications with headlines, even when relevant information is included in both.
Finally, while much has been written on push notification strategy and marketing campaigns, security authentication is equally prominent in its application. Organizations, such as banking and healthcare, use push notifications for authenticating identity, delivered via a secure application.
Learn about chatbots, which simulate human conversation to create better customer experiences.
Natural language processing strives to build machines that understand and respond to text or voice data—and respond with text or speech of their own—in much the same way humans do.
Watson Assistant, IBM’s virtual agent technology, allows users to respond to push notifications when needed and complete the task at hand using conversational AI. Using machine learning and NLP (natural language processing), Watson Assistant learns from conversations in real time. This improves its ability to resolve customer issues the first time while removing the frustration of long wait times, tedious searches, and unhelpful chatbots.
1 Statista, July, 2021, Distribution of push notifications among smartphone users in the United States (link resides outside IBM)
2 Statista, July 2021, Distribution of push notifications among smartphone users in the United States (link resides outside IBM)
3 eMarketer survey June, 2021, Most US smartphone owners won’t hesitate to limit push notifications (link resides outside IBM)