100B messages and 500M users say push still works — for messages that matter

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Apparently, people care about stuff that matters. To them, at least.

In the largest study of push notifications ever, Urban Airship says that average opt-in rates are highest for apps in categories like business, charity, travel/transportation, and utility/productivity. Meanwhile, they’re lowest in mobile gaming, food and drink, and retail apps.

Average opt-in? 43 percent.

That’s a two percent decline from the previous year. The biggest drop was in retail, where average opt-in rates dipped from 46 to 37 percent. On the other hand, however, Urban Airship says that high-performing apps achieve notification opt-in rates of over 50 percent, while “multiple industries” are over 70 percent. And, those who do push well see four times the engagement and twice the retention of other apps.

Medium Push Notification Opt-in Rates by Industry

Why the slight overall decline?

“As more and more apps turn to notifications … it’s natural users will become more selective about which apps they allow to send push notifications,” Urban Airship CEO Brett Caine said in a statement.

The flip side, he added, is that there is no other business-to-consumer communications channel that achieves at least one-third of the audience opting in on average

The perennial concern of digital marketers, of course, is that the push windfall will end as consumers tire of messages from brands. And many users clearly do opt out. But not all, and the clear message is that push, done well, is still a powerful tool: high-performing apps achieve 45 percent higher opt-in rates than medium-performing apps.


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One tactic that works is occasional humor.

“Once you get a handle on personalization and segmentation, you can push the envelope,” says Kahuna’s Adam Marchick, who related what 8Tracks — a Pandora competitor — recently did. “After trying it first with a tweet they used humor … and it worked. They starting doing pushes to lapsed users: ‘Come back, we miss you, we can change.’”

samsung_galaxy_s6_s6_edgeBut flooding users with messages is — as should be obvious — counterproductive.

Retail, which saw the biggest decline in opt-in, clearly saw the results of over-eager marketers lusting for quick wins. Major retail apps doubled their sending volume on big shopping days last year, Urban Airship says, and the resulting tidal wave was poorly targeted. Better segmentation and personalization, the company says, would have resultsed in 4-7X higher response rates.

(And, perhaps, in fewer consumers tuning out and turning off push.)

Urban Airship bills itself as the leading mobile engagement platform — and our research bears that out. This particular study spans 3,000 apps in use by 500 million users who were sent 100 billion push notifications throughout 2014, so it’s an extremely comprehensive overview of mobile user engagement and opt-in rates.

One interesting question for the future: what will Apple Watch and its “glances” do to those numbers?

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VentureBeat’s VB Insight team is studying email marketing tools. Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.

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