Commentary

Push, But Don't Be Push-y

"Dad - I know."

"But I was just saying..."

"Dad - Stop!"

My daughter was on to the universal SMS cancellation code long before the MMA and carriers made it standard. My attempts at verbally short-messaging what I took to be helpful and necessary parental tips (under 140 characters, I am sure) were canceled regularly pretty much from the time she was three. At some point in the early teen years it was so hard to get a response from her that it felt as if the Dad App had been wiped from her home screen altogether. I know how you app makers feel when users get frustrated with your push messaging.

Now that she is dealing with the anticipatory anxiety of entering college, the Dad App is back. My text box runneth over with questions about schedule, books, potential majors. With my wife a college instructor and me a former prof, we are the go-to sources now. We have value to add all of a sudden. It is good being the Dad App.

And I am coming to see that the association between parenting and messaging is not misplaced,. The more we know about apps as a platform, the more it seems as if they have absorbed from the phone itself that sense of intimacy users already bring to the medium. At last month's OMMA Mobile, MTV's Colleen Fahey Rush premiered research that shows how users value apps almost as friends and companions. Recommendations rather than promotion are how we discover apps. And although we are quick to reject these app suitors when they prove wanting, we really embrace the ones that prove valuable and entertaining. It is kind of a touch relationship.

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So when it comes to pestering users with push messaging, brands have to take special care to maintain the relationship without over-sharing.  According to a new survey by msw loop, about 94% of iPhone and Android users let their apps send messages at least sometimes (52%) or always (42%). In fact, of the users who do allow push messaging,  more than 42% say that two to three messages a week are acceptable and almost 40% say that four or more messages are tolerable. That may seem surprising but in one sense it speaks to the level of intimacy we establish with apps. Once they are in our trusted circle, we are ready to maintain a regular relationship with them. 

But as with any relationship, when an app violates that trust, users have a tendency to treat it as a kind of betrayal and punish the brand. When users feel push messages have been over-used about 37% turn them off and about 34% simply ignore them. The mobile research firm makes an interesting point about how users respond to over-messaging: http://blog.surveyappresearch.com.  Having messages ignored by consumers may be worse than having them simply turned off, msw loop says.  It means consumers are tuning the brand out altogether, making it difficult for the marketer to re-establish the lines of communication and trust.

Interesting but I am not so sure which is worse. If your users turn messaging off, you need to find a way to re-make the case that your messages have value. If consumers ignore your messages but keep the channel open, then at least you have a chance to surprise them with something noticeable.

And what is of value in messaging? It isn't brain surgery. Special offers, coupons, sales, VIP offers and "members only" offers were most cited by users. According to msw loop, coupons are the best acquisition tool; this value seems to be enough on its own to entice many users to subscribe to messaging. I think the prominence of "special," "member" and "VIP" in that list is just as telling, however. Just as an app should act like a friend, loyal users most appreciate being rewarded for granting the marketer this special level of closeness. If you just treat mobile as you do email or direct mail or your Web site, then you are missing the point of the platform. The intimacy quotient is different in kind and depth from other channels, and it permeates everything about mobile media. I only exchange text messages with a handful of people in my life. The very few brands I have let into this special line of communication should understand and respect that they have been included in an inner circle. And even among my closest contacts, too much messaging can drive me up the wall.

"Declaring a major - Mom wants me to do accounting"

"But you love art history. Tell her I vote for art history."

"Are you just screwing with her, now?"

"Just a little."

"She's glaring. I think you are about to be told you 'haven't changed'"

"Try 'philosophy' on her."

"OK, Dad stop. You're pushing it. Signing off."

3 comments about "Push, But Don't Be Push-y".
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  1. Jonathan Madnick from Mobile Ecosystems DC, August 4, 2011 at 5:06 p.m.

    STOP is a nice command for SMS from short codes. Turning off Push takes a bit more effort. But what is really missing from Push notifications is Reply.
    If I get a notification, I'd like to respond with a Thank You, or That's Useless.
    Let me give you feedback and nuance it.

  2. Steve Smith from Mediapost, August 4, 2011 at 6:08 p.m.

    Agree Jonathan that push notifications are a bit of a different animal from pure SMS, although marketers use the text channel too as a push mechanism that has to obey the same rules of the road. And on the iPhone the pop up system notifications actually looks just like an incoming SMS. But I agree that a reply mechanism for app notifications would be ideal. Still SMS marketers don't make much use of the two-way path in texting. I rarely get prompted to give input. Polling, short user-gen content, all of it could make SMS campaigns real dialogues.

  3. Edward Hunter from Loop Analytics, August 5, 2011 at 9:22 a.m.

    I don't know that I agree that shutting down push takes more effort. Granted, normally you can text STOP back to the sender of SMS, but with PUSH, you can prevent the app from ever sending the first message, you can shut down the ability in settings after the fact, or, you can even flat out delete the app altogether. I also wonder if the one way nature of the PUSH message has an advantage over SMS (aside from being largely free ;)), in that, consumers might feel that PUSH is a more 'informative' channel, more in the comfort level and less a dialog than SMS.

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