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Trouble in marketing land: are notifications the key to survival?

Technology & Data

Trouble in marketing land: are notifications the key to survival?


Marketers are losing engagement with consumers, focusing on the wrong metrics and arrogant about branded apps. We’re in trouble. Douglas Nicol and Aaron Fuller say notifications are the key to cut-through without wastage.

Douglas Nicol copyIn 2016, we added 16 zettabytes of data into the world that didn’t exist the year before. For context, one zettabyte is 152 years of HD videos.

There were 3.5 billion searches on Google. We watched a billion hours of videos, sent 500 million Tweets and over 200 billion emails. Every single day.

While volumes will continue increasing, the universal resource that governs the outcome of all these actions and data is finite, and it’s becoming harder than ever to get hold of. Our most precious resource is time itself.

Gaining time in your customer’s life is no small feat. There are countless media, tactics, creative options, targeting techniques, technologies and shiny tools built for the sole purpose of attracting their attention. All you want in return is three seconds of their time to demonstrate how you’re going to improve their life.

Between work and home, we get – on average – more than 150 emails per day. If we’re on a handful of social sites and platforms, add to that hundreds of posts, Tweets and comments. What’s more, your customers are receiving more relevant content and ads, served up thanks to improvements in data and technologies that are getting better (slowly) at understanding what matters to you.

All this before we’ve done an ounce of work.


Something’s got to give

Aaron FullerWe’re on course for trouble in marketing land for five reasons:


1. Email can’t handle it any more

Every brand wants to increase the frequency of engagement with consumers to meet growth targets, but this requires a breadth of channels. Consumers can cope with greater frequency if comms are personalised, relevant and channel diverse.

Too much emphasis is placed on email marketing to carry the burden of increased frequency because it’s the default choice. So many brands have invested heavily in email technology and smarts. We have to end this mono-channel thinking as it’s destructive and threatens to diminish returns.


2. We’re falling behind with how consumers communicate today

Australian consumers have significantly readjusted their communications preferences in the last three years. In the quest for a simple interface with family and friends, they’ve moved an increasing amount of that valuable time onto messaging apps. Our research, performed in conjunction with Dr. Suresh Sood at UTS, shows that on average, 11.8 million Australians use messaging apps to send or receive messages 15 times every day.

Typically, we run four to five one-on-one conversations with family and friends at any point in time. The price of this increasing involvement with an encrypted, highly personal channel is that users of messaging apps have decreased use of email (down 46%), phone (down 41%) and traditional social media apps (down 35%).

In short, things are changing. New communications channels like chatbots on messaging apps are relatively unexplored. We need to keep up with where consumers are, otherwise we risk being left behind.


3. We delude ourselves with the wrong metrics

Marketers are comfortable looking at metrics like email open and click-through rates and think their job ends there. Although open rates have remained relatively steady, there is evidence of click-through rates declining. In the US, for example, click-through rates on average have declined from 3.5% to 3.1% in the last 12 months (Epsilon 2017).

So, what’s happening with the largest single user of email marketing in the US: the retail sector? It has recently been identified that only 33% of retail email recipients have ever bought a product. And only 15% have ever bought more than one product over time.

These are consumers who receive an average of five emails from the retail sector each week. This longitudinal type of metric is lost in the blinkered measurement of open and click-through rates. It makes sense that we need to look more holistically at what engagement is achieving for the business rather than living in the process of marketing.


4. Email has become the new Tinder love child

Consumers are taking a more brutal, Tinder-like approach to their inboxes now. Two years ago more emails would have been opened, clicked through or unsubscribed to. As we’ve become more time poor and obsessed with living our lives through our phone, we’re less inclined to use email as last-click behaviour, and less likely to unsubscribe.

Many unsubscribes functions are at the bottom of emails and they take time to find. Most of them need at least two clicks to complete the process. That’s three-to-five seconds that most of us are not prepared to give up. So, we swipe and delete. Even the delete action is optional depending on what’s competing for our time.

Email also feels more like Twitter – it’s short and sharp with minimal copy, but it’s less direct and personal.

While the relevance of messages has improved, and targeting is more solid, consumers just don’t have time to read more than 150 emails every day. Email performance needs to be re-assessed in the role it plays in the path to purchase, and – more importantly –  how we understand the new rules of email in driving outcomes and growth.


5. We’re becoming arrogant about our branded apps

On average, we spend five hours a day on our phones, and 85% of that time in apps. However, 84% of that time is spent on just five non-native apps. There are now a million apps in Apple’s App Store, and the rate of new apps being added is slowing. That’s because the cost of getting a consumer to download a new App is escalating. If you’re a bank, it makes sense to offer customers a banking app but too many non-utility based brands expect, somewhat arrogantly, that the consumer should come to their App and engage.

Maybe we need to think more humbly about what suits the customer and where they want our brands to be in terms of channel choice.

Let’s experiment with new channels and new metrics that work better to improve customer experience. Only by doing this can we increase frequency of communications in a way that is acceptable.


Enter stage left: notifications

This is where the new game will be won. Communicating with customers on a channel that gets noticed nearly every time, before the app is opened, the site is browsed or the inbox read. Notifications.

Notifications play an intimate role, as they stand between humans and the need to connect to the world.

Typically, push notifications appear as a message that pops up on a mobile or desktop device. They pass the three second test with flying colours as they’re short and often visual. It’s like having an A4 note on your front door every night telling you something – rather than a flyer that happens to be inside the local paper you grabbed off the front lawn.

Over the next few years, there’ll be an arms race for companies and apps to increase permissions for users to receive notifications.

The challenge is persuading consumers to leave their notifications on for your brand.



Source: On Message Datafication Research 2017


The notifications landscape today

Notifications can come from apps, messaging apps and browsers. Notifications from browsers have huge potential across many different desktop and mobile browsers. Here’s an overview of the browser and notifications landscape as of June 2017.


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Think of this as the starting point. What comes next is understanding not just what to communicate and when, but how to ensure notifications take the best of machine learning, open API’s and previous behaviour to predict the next best notification to send.

Google home and other voice products will also become a more common member of the family at home and work. They’ll also open up the role of notifications connecting you not just across devices, but across physical locations.

We have the privilege of developing the first new communications channels in 10 years, Notifications and Messaging apps. It’s up to all of us to think bigger than the current high-risk status quo.


Douglas Nicol is founder of On Message.

Aaron Fuller is head of marketing at Qantas Ventures.

Further reading

Image copyright: ximagination / 123RF Stock Photo


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