Building a successful mobile app is difficult.

Companies spend significant amounts driving consumers to install their apps, and by some estimates, apps that aren't opened for a second time within the first 12 hours after download can see churn exceeding 50% in some categories.

Push notifications can be an effective tool in the fight against churn, and an effective marketing channel generally, but cutting through the clutter can be tricky given the proliferation of apps using push notifications.

Fortunately, according to mobile marketing platform Leanplum, marketers can increase their push notification opens dramatically by employing personalisation.

By just how much? After analysing more than 1.5bn push notifications sent between January 2015 and March 2016 by apps large and small, the company found that certain kinds of personalisation can increase open rates by a whopping 800%.

Specifically, Leanplum looked at four different factors that seemed to impact push notification opens and suggested that:

If you can personalize any combination of [these] factors...there’s a good chance you’ll see high user engagement.

Platform

There are significant differences between how push notifications work on iOS versus Android.

For example, on iOS, push notifications disappear when a user unlocks the screen on her device.

Whereas on Android, push notifications remain present until a user takes action to remove them.

Additionally, on iOS, users must opt in to push notifications whereas on Android push notification permission is opted in to by default.

Consequently, just 42% of iOS users opt in to push notifications.

Likely because of these platform differences, push notifications are opened on Android at double the clip as iOS, but they aren't opened as quickly.

In fact, on average, iOS push notifications are opened within 10 minutes compared to nearly 50 minutes on Android. Here too, differences between user experience on these two platforms likely drive different behavior among users.

With these figures in mind, companies looking to maximise their open rates should explore segmenting by platform and seeing how specific personalisation techniques work on each platform.

Content

Not surprisingly, personalising the content of push notifications can deliver a 4x lift on open rates, boosting the 1.5% average open rate seen with generic notifications to a much more respectable 5.9%.

There are numerous ways to add personalisation – incorporation of a customer's name, gender, an event or action that she took, etc.

Interestingly, while personalised push notifications are much more likely to be opened, users will often wait longer to open them.

The median time to open a generic message is over 25% higher, but as Leanplum notes, this isn't necessarily a bad thing:

If a user receives a generic message at an inopportune time, they may dismiss it without a second thought. However, a user may react differently if they receive a relevant message tailored to an action they want to take, also during an inopportune time.

That person may instead wait for a more appropriate time in their schedule to open the message.

Delivery Type

Timing is everything, and that's true when it comes to push notification open rates. Many companies schedule their blasts, but this fails to deliver the best results.

Even when time zones are taken into account, cultural differences often mean that scheduled delivery doesn't maximise opens.

Instead, according to Leanplum, companies that use machine learning algorithms "which accounts for users’ individual engagement patterns" produce far greater open rates.

Not surprisingly, fewer companies are using such a sophisticated technique to time push notification deliveries.

But applying an algorithm isn't the most effective approach.

Leanplum says that distinction belongs to behavior-based delivery, which involves sending push notifications in response to specific actions users take.

For example, a travel app might deliver a push notification when a customer books a flight, or a music app might notify a user when new music from a favorite artist becomes available.

Less than 100m of the more than 1.5bn messages Leanplum analysed were based on behavior, but the open rate for these push notifications was 8% – a massive 800% greater than generic notifications sent immediately.

This suggests that companies taking advantage of behavior-based delivery may be able to realise an unfair advantage, at least for the time being.

Geography

Finally, Leanplum found that users in North America opened push notifications at a higher rate, and more quickly. The company notes...

One theory for North America’s quick opens: the majority of North American apps send all push notifications at one time, rather than delivering them during localized times for users around the world. 

This is a reminder of the importance of personalisation that takes into account user locations despite the fact that notifications scheduled by time zone still underperformed compared to those scheduled by algorithm or behavior.

Patricio Robles

Published 27 May, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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