Why Traditional Push Notifications Are Pushing Mobile Gamers Away

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Push notifications are annoying. Sure, it can be nice to get one saying that your rideshare service is rolling up, but the vast majority of push notifications just feel like clutter. And, like email, the more user adoption we see on mobile apps, the more users will begin to opt out of push.

The push notifications that people do like, are the ones they consider “important”. What’s considered important includes business, travel, utility and productivity, sports, and (interestingly) charities and nonprofits, according to Urban Airship’s Mobile Engagement Industry Benchmarks report. The industries with the lowest opt-in rates for push are gaming, gambling, and food and drinks apps. Overall, though, the trend is downwards: the average opt-in rate has dropped 3% since 2013 across all industries, which puts it at 42%. This number is not terrible, but it does mean that over half of the population sees push as useless.

We decided to take a look at the industry with the lowest opt-in rate, mobile gaming, to see how you can salvage your push-wary users.

Why Are Users Opting Out?

In mobile gaming, the answer is pretty simple: you don’t want to enter the app unless you want to play the game. Special offers or promotions or reminders are useless when you’re at work and have to be thinking about the business, not how well your livestock is doing on Farmville. Users don’t want game reminders popping up on their phone at inopportune times.

As Semil Shah of TechCrunch wrote, “Many mobile users doggy-paddle aimlessly through an ocean of push notifications.”

However, interestingly, mobile gamers are actually more loyal, churn less, and remain in the app longer than any other industry customers. So the problem isn’t that mobile gamers don’t like mobile gaming; the problem is that they don’t like push notifications.

Zynga Finds Another Solution

Gemma Doyle, Head of VIP Operations at Zynga (the makers of Farmville, Hit It Rich, and Zynga Poker) has been a huge proponent of what she terms two-way push systems. Unlike traditional push notifications, which are largely a marketing tool used to encourage the customer to spend more, two-ways are an engagement tool. They include a call-to-action rather than being simply informational (e.g. “New product update!”, “Obama signs petition!”). From the action you can engage with the brand in-app via chat, interactive FAQs, or any other engagement prompt.

Two-ways encourage customers to use the app, rather than just purchase. The user journey in this case is different. For instance, say you have a product update: traditionally, you would send emails to your customers announcing and explaining the new feature. The email probably gets deleted, and the user is not informed as to how to use the new feature. With engagement push notifications, though, you send a push saying “check out the new ways that you can earn coins in level 42” and then direct the customer from the push into the in-app FAQ page about the new feature. In the FAQ page, the user can see photos and videos on the new feature (important, since users increasingly rely on video), and then directly engage with it since they are already in the app. It is a more direct journey and an easier way to communicate with customers. You can also solicit feedback (“You’ve been playing for 30 days, we’d love to get your feedback!”) and send users into support (“You’ve been on level 41 for 5 days– want some tips?”).

These types of push notifications are particularly valuable to companies with ad-based business models, like most news apps. Rather than selling a product or products, they are selling the app itself, the time that a user devotes to the app. This means that bringing users into the app to do something is highly valuable.

Similarly, gaming apps make money based on how much their users interact with the app. Highly engaged users are likely to spend more and invest in upgrades. The goal for these apps is not to sell a thing, it’s to sell the app itself. For this reason, inundating users with informational push notifications will only drive them away. You don’t want to tell them about something they can buy, you want to engage them with your app.

Informational Vs. Engagement Push Notifications

There is a time and a place for traditional (informational) push notifications– I know that I like knowing when there’s a 50% off sale. But it’s crucial to note that too many of these, especially in gaming and news apps, can become like spam. It is unique to mobile that you can both inform and engage by bringing your users into specific areas of your app. Don’t overlook this capability by just shoving push notifications down your users’ throats; woo them into your app and engage them with your brand.

Entrepreneur Ariel Seidman writes, “it’s hard to over-hype the power of mobile push notifications. For the first time in human history, you can tap almost two billion people on the shoulder.” But what happens when you tap that person on the shoulder, they say hi, and then keep walking? Engagement push notifications are about enabling the conversation following the shoulder tap.

Published July 20, 2016
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