Case Study: Push Notifications and Social Media Reach


ADOTAS – In the discussion about what mobile devices promise for the consumer/brand relationship, there’s been a lot of talk about how apps can deliver push notifications to mobile users, alerting them to special offers, directing them back to the app or to a website, or sending out any kind of message to keep the app or the brand behind it in the user’s mind at specific times or in specific areas.

Push notifications can be a powerful and efficient element of an advertising campaign. “It’s at least a triple opt-in,” explained Brent Hieggelke, CMO of Urban Airship, which powers push notifications and in-app purchase for other companies — the user has to discover a brand, then find and download the app, then subscribe to receive the notifications. “They’re in the center of the dartboard of the most engaged customers you could have,” he said of those users. But as with any other element of an ad campaign, it can be a challenge to determine the degree to which push notifications actually drive engagement. To that end, Urban Airship decided to measure the engagement power of push notifications by looking at an app the user would probably never even think about after initially downloading it. Onavo is an app that compresses data in smartphones and tablets to clear space for more data (and, as such, to save money). Unlike, say, a major retailer, an Onavo user probably wouldn’t see the Onavo name over the course of an average day anywhere other than in their device, and if it did its job, it would simply sit in the background. So, Onavo implemented Urban Airship to deliver push notifications to tell users, as Hieggelke put it, “Remember that app? Let’s see what else they’re doing.” The notifications drove users back to the app to show reports of the data and money they were saving, and encouraged them to spread the word via social media. “People like to earn social goodwill,” Hieggelke said, and as a result, “[Onavo’s] social presence skyrocketed.”

Hieggelke went on to explain that functionality is “the second wave of app development,” following presence, which was the first. “The customer’s in charge,” he said of this phase. “They get to decide what they want to see and when they want to see it.” And when the messages are about functionality and service, the theory is that the user feels less put upon than when they’re bombarded with unsolicited messages. “Marketing is best served when it’s just a service-based message,” Hieggelke said. “That’s the new way.”

Below, you can read the unabridged text from the case study Urban Airship created following Onavo’s three-month-long push notification campaign (or you can see the case study with graphics on Urban Airship’s blog):


Slashing Mobile Costs and Spreading the Word

How Onavo used push notifications to merchandise its value and virally grow its customer base

Onavo, launched in April 2011, puts smartphone and tablet users in control of their mobile data usage. Using compression, simple reports and basic tools, Onavo helps smartphone users get the most out of their data plan and save money with no effort required.

Performing its magic in the background, without users even opening the app, Onavo turned to Urban Airship to continually update users on cost-savings achieved in order to grow app engagement and stimulate word-of-mouth and social recommendations.


Onavo, a utility app for iOS and Android, puts users in control of their data plans by compressing data, tracking usage, and saving them money. Yet these perks were being forgotten because users received them regardless of whether they actively engaged with the app or not. In order to demonstrate just how much the app was benefiting users, Onavio implemented Push Notifications to keep users up-to-speed on their account usage data and savings. This resulted in a booming increase in this information being shared on Facebook and Twitter, as well as increases in opens, retention, user satisfaction and broader awareness.

“Being a utility app that runs seamlessly in the background can be a double-edged sword: users can easily forget about your service. Push notifications, with their ability to increase interactions and awareness levels, were important in providing a solution to that problem.”

– Dvir  Reznik, Director of Marketing, Onavo

Objective and Solution

Onavo’s challenge was incentivizing users to actively come back to the app so they could understand what it did for them. Since the value to users was simply having the app rather than repeatedly using it, Onavo wanted to give people good news that would draw them back in to the in-app features, reminding them that their data and money was still being saved.

Onavo decided to message users when they had saved certain amounts of data – such as their first megabyte, 100 megabytes, or first gigabyte. This way users would continually be reminded of the great benefit they get from Onavo, while also being supplied with an easily sharable anecdote. Preferring an off-the-shelf service instead of more complicated alternatives, the Onavo team implemented Urban Airship’s Push Notifications into their app.

“We didn’t encounter a single problem with installation: it was a very straightforward, fast and easy implementation. From changing what content we wanted to send to the actual delivery, there were no major issues. We were quite pleased.”

Dvir Reznik, Director of Marketing, Onavo


Onavo saw a massive increase in user engagement upon integrating push notifications into their app. Since people love to save money for themselves as well as for their friends, they not only saw increases in retention and app opens, but increased sharing across social networks helped Onavo reach and retain significantly more users.

Onavo’s Results Using Push Notifications

75% Awareness Increase

50% Overall Satisfaction Increase

30% Increase in Shares and Mentions


  1. Great case study, thanks Brian and Onavo for sharing all that detail.

    It would also be interesting to test different push creatives for each service message, so Onavo could establish whether the content of the push message itself influences open and action rates.

    Urban Airship is a great platform for delivering push messages and tracking the engagement they promote. It’s harder for app publishers who use their own push backend, since to use UA’s analytics you need to deliver your pushes over their platform.

    Is there a push analytics platform that measures response independent of what push messaging back end you use? Yes, there is


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here