The Next Generation of Mobile Notification-Driven Interfaces Require a New Strategy

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With the promises of driving engagement of mobile apps, notifications have been around for years. While there are certainly success stories and a reinvigorated excitement with new interaction features with iOS8 (I’ll get to this in a minute), mobile notifications are at risk of going the way of email, or being perceived as spam 90 percent of the time, if one critical element does not change.

To turn failing mobile programs around and see any sort of meaningful ROI, any mobile notification sent must take into account a user’s current context. Any that do not will be as ignored as the hundreds of emails I receive in my Gmail Promotions folder everyday. More so, mobile presents marketers with an even graver challenge than being ignored – annoying the hell out of people on their highly personal devices with small (albeit growing) screens.

Contrary to popular belief, context is not location. Where I am standing at a given moment is only one chunk of the multi-part formula that makes something contextual and relevant (i.e., something that I would want and would motivate me to act). Derived from sensor data, ambient data and historical data, context involves everything from the customer’s identity, location, current activity and physical situation (weather, traffic, etc.), purchase history, movement patterns, cultural preferences, implicit and explicit intent signals and social graph. The only exception would be a notification with the highest immediacy requirements, such as a password reset request submitted or credit card being used outside the home country. These are messages that a person would want immediately even if they are standing with an umbrella in their hand on a street corner.

To start, marketers need to set and test what I call ‘Rules of Engagement,’ or the circumstances or limitations in which a consumer should be targeted. These should combine immediacy requirements and end-user context. As technology advances and options multiply, brands should also start categorizing notifications in various groups, which will help to both inspire creativity in mobile campaign planning but also ensure you are taking advantage of every possibility.

Before any brand considers sending notifications to their customers, they must have a smart, algorithm-driven notification system that takes into account the below considerations:

  • Notification trigger (or what automates a message to send). Triggers include things like a user action, an ambient data change derived from smartphone or other external sensors or a system event that includes pre-set time triggers. Personalization from historical data also needs to help define the Rules of Engagement in order to tailor to an individual’s tastes and preferences.

  • Immediacy needs / delivery mode: There are multiple deliver channels available today including push alerts (Local or Remote), in-app notifications and SMS (which works even if 4G LTE / data connection fails).

  • Call-to-action: With the new interactive notifications available in the iOS8 that allow a person to take action immediately without opening the push notification, the call to action becomes extremely important in planning mobile marketing campaigns. Call-to-action types include: information only, no response required; a response is required via a notification box; or a user is prompted to tap thru to the app to complete an action.

  • With a Rules of Engagement system in place, marketers can segment iOS8 users with non-iOS8 users to drive the best user experience.

  • Decay rules: While not available today, decay rules are something that future versions of iOS and Android will likely implement. Today, all notifications decay at the same rate; all are treated the same when the variety is infinite. Some notifications may stay relevant for two days while others might contain information that is relevant only for the next few hours… or minutes. The notification view should treat the longer-shelf life messages differently than the ‘breaking’ ones – by color, placement etc. The nature of other notifications might require a person’s attention longer or to take more in-depth actions (i.e., scheduling a doctor’s appointment) and should allow a person to put it on ‘snooze’ for a few hours or days after the first view.

  • Multi-screens: As Smart Watches, Google Glass and other wearables start to permeate consumer life and become important notification channels, a multi-screen approach to notifications will be required. Consumers may view a notification on one device but did not act on it. This should be shown, then, on their other screens (in a format that is optimized for the platform).

There is a gigantic opportunity to create the next generation user experience via interactive notifications but to take full advantage and generate ROI, brands need to be able to understand and act on context, respect immediacy needs and implement decay rules.

Companies’ system of engagement need to ultimately scale beyond smartphones and tablets into cars, airplane seat backs, TVs and all other screens we interact with today.

Brands need to challenge themselves to get consumers to act immediately beyond simply clicking through to a splash page to instead motivate specific behavior like booking a table for dinner or finding directions to a nearby store to try on items that I have saved on my wish list. But unless these messages are sent to me when I am hungry or have time and interest in shopping, these efforts – like so many other marketing efforts on mobile today — will all be in vain.

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