Mobile Engagement: When to send SMS, push notifications and in-app messages

Florian Steps is Senior Manager Global Solution Strategy at Mapp Digital. Florian works with leading global brands to define and execute their long term vision, goals and strategies for digital marketing. Florian has over a decade of experience at the forefront of digital marketing and e-commerce. Mapp Digital is one of the largest, global independent marketing technology companies. Our Customer Engagement Platform, with integrated Data Management Platform and customer-centric services assist mid-market and Fortune 500 companies maximize return from digital marketing executions.

People are consumed by their mobile devices, with mobile usage continuing to grow. The question for marketers is what is the best mobile engagement marketing channel in order to reach out to customers for each specific purpose? In this article, I will look at when is it beneficial to use SMS, push notifications or in-app messaging.

Why SMS?

SMS still matters in the age of smartphones! SMS provides an easy and immediate way to interact with customers directly in their personal message application. But if done incorrectly, you run the risk of your subscribers opting out of your messages all together.

There are many advantages to using SMS in your marketing mix: SMS is a great messaging application that can deliver customers information necessary for using your product or service. Those interactions are simple, short, and get your message out quickly. The main advantage is that, your customers don’t even have to install your app, which means if your brand doesn’t have a mobile app, this is currently the most relevant channel for you.

the problem with SMS is that it’s considered an old form of messaging

The problem with SMS is that it’s considered an old form of messaging, and is disturbing and obnoxious. More than that, SMS is delivered via your private messaging – a space consumers don’t necessarily want brands to be.

With push, you are able to opt out, but with SMS you can't – you are stuck with receiving what comes to you. Though it is easy to use, it is limited. You have to have the phone numbers of customers to text them. Your brand is required to receive the customer's permission to send these texts. You are also limited in the information you can gain on individual users, which is crucial in a world where digital marketers strive to get a holistic view of their customers.

If your brand has an app for smartphones or tablets, SMS are disconnected from it and are not able to be triggered by user's behaviour within the app. Remember, some SMS messages can irritate customers no end, creating a negative attitude toward your brand. In addition, SMS is very costly especially if you are a global organization.

So, what about push notifications?

Firstly, it’s useful to understand the difference between push notifications and in-app messaging. In short,

Push notifications are what get people into your app, whereas in-app messages guide them through the app and enable marketers to reach all who are not opted into push. Using a combination of both is how you extend your reach to all app users.

A well-executed push notification strategy is a sure bet to increasing mobile engagement and retention, as well as the lifetime value of your users. However, push notifications can be easily misused. It is especially useful with customers that have downloaded the app and stopped interacting with it. With advanced features such as push actions, you can get your users to interact without opening the app.

I believe that push notifications are a great option for brands wanting to target customers on a day-to-day basis, without barring the costs of text messages. In fact, many brands look into this as a key decision factor when deciding to develop a mobile app for their brand.

Push notifications offer a way to direct users to your app, app store page, website, landing page or any specific area within your app (deep linking). You can also encourage them to perform an action using push actions. Remember that, with push notifications, your customer is always up to date, even if they haven’t opened the app.

Another refreshing aspect about push notifications is the ability to personalize content, not only based on demographic attributes but also around user behaviour within the app. You can even enable a push preference centre where users can customize content specifically suited for them.

with push notifications, your customer is always up to date

Push Notifications are a great way for you to promote a CTA. The beauty of push is that this can be done in a fun, fresh and exciting way. For instance, rich media, interactive push notifications, emoji's and more – you are meant to have fun with it, especially if you want your users to have fun reading them. Oh, and push notifications are much cheaper than SMS.

However, there are some disadvantages. When it comes to iOS, if the user is not opted in to receive push – they won't. If they are, but you are sending too many messages, or irrelevant messages, or sending them in the wrong time, your users might uninstall the app all together.

These challenges can be easily solved by using a mobile marketing automation platform, like the one push notifications can be easily misused. Push notifications are still considered a bit intrusive. They need to be used sparingly otherwise your users could end up deleting your app.

In most cases they are not visually attractive. Instead they consist of text with a simple CTA. This is where in-app messaging comes in as a complimentary action.

Push notifications enable marketers to send attractive offers to encourage users to open an account/sign in to your app. This is a great way for your brand to collect personal information, and to connect their app profile with the information you have on your CRM for a holistic view.

You can also utilise ‘push’ to reactivate dormant users. Many users become dormant after 48 hours. Send them a push notification to remind them the value your app provides. Adding a discount or coupon may help in reactivating their interest with your app.

Or sending your customers a reminder that they accidentally forgot an item in their cart is a great way to boost revenues and decrease abandoned carts. You can also send loyal customers exclusive offers, coupons or VIP content. This is a great way to provide value in a small package.

The pros and cons of in-app messaging

Remember walking into high school and being completely lost on your first day? A new school, new classes and new expectations; basically, it was like you were standing on foreign ground. But then you met with your guidance counsellor and the air lifted.

In mobile engagement marketing, the guidance counsellor is your in-app messaging. Customers left to their own devices would be like a high school student aimlessly wandering the halls not knowing which classroom to enter. A guidance counsellor helps you identify what content interests you, what classes to take and what fits you.

In-app messaging allows you to engage, promote and guide your users through your app. Getting a user into the app is the first part, the challenge is to engage them once they are in the app.

This is where in-app messaging comes in. Instead of leaving the user to navigate the app on their own, the in-app messages help them use your app and navigate accordingly. Once inside the app, you can send them rich HTML messages, coupons, videos and social content. So here you are combining the rich aspect with the right type of content.

When it comes to brand awareness, you don't want them to get this as a push notification, as there is no CTA. But within the app this is not considered intrusive. If it's cool enough, they may take a look, but in the middle of a meeting they may just delete the app altogether. The beauty of in app messaging, is that users receive a message without a random interruption. They are already in your app and interested to see what you have to offer.

within the app this is not considered intrusive

However, its worth bearing in mind that with in-app messages, if they are not done right, can end up harming the user experience in the app or feel too much like advertisements. If the messages are not sent in real-time they can present irrelevant content. These messages are also only relevant to users who are in the app, and users that are not currently inside the app will miss out on them.

With many users deleting an app after only 30 days sending a welcome message is a great way to promote what your app has to offer and keep them on track.

That said, in-app messages allow you to target your customers based on behaviour and location. This allows you to send relevant offers when they are near your store.

In-app messaging is also a chance to provide more value to your customers. Send them service updates on their account or any recent purchases. You can also identify when they need support and enable them to talk to you in a single click.

Increase your push opt-in users by delivering in-app messages when they use the app for the first time – explaining what they will gain from letting you send them notifications. Why not use push as a teaser (short text) followed by a rich in-app (even with a video)?

So how do you choose the channel for your mobile engagement marketing strategy?

The secret is to mix two or even three of the above channels, and use each of them for the relevant use case, at the relevant time and for the relevant users. To make it easier in you, many integrated marketing platforms can support all three of these channels, and all that’s left for you is to decide when to use each of them, and for which purpose.

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