Using app notifications for marketing could kill your app

I’ve noticed a recent trend in which app development companies misunderstand the purpose of app notifications and try to use them as a marketing tool.

App notifications are a means for your app to communicate timely information to your user that your *user* thinks is important and that is part of the service provided by your app. For example, the Mail app uses notifications to show that a new email message has arrived. Uber uses notifications to show that your car has arrived. Starbucks uses notifications to show an update to your account balance.

Never ever make the mistake of thinking that a notification is in any way similar to your email list. A single marketing notification could, in fact, shut down your company. Imagine this sequence:
* User’s at lunch talking with a friend
* Her iPhone pings
* Expecting something important (to her), she pulls her phone out of her purse
* A notification says “Schedule a ride with Lyft!”
* Seeing the WTF look on her friend’s face, her friend asks “what’s up”?
* Lyft’s soon-to-be-ex user says “stupid notification from Lyft saying I can schedule a ride with them. Duh, that’s why I installed the app.”
* Soon-to-be-Lyft-user’s friend says “huh, I use Uber. They don’t spam.”
* Ex-Lyft user turns off notifications for Lyft to prevent notification spam. Or, just deletes the app and installs Uber.

A non-useful notification is likely to get users to turn notifications completely off for your app. I just did this for “Curbside”, who decided to notify me that I could place an order through them (duh, that’s why I installed the app), and for Lyft, because it notified me randomly that I could book a ride in their app (albeit in a different context, and gender, than in the story above).

Even if your app sends useful notifications (both Curbside and Lyft rely heavily on them as part of their services), a single marketing notification can get your app notifications turned off. That, of course, means that 1) if the user does use your app again, they’ll miss important notifications, and 2) they may have complaints because they didn’t receive a required notification (eg their order is ready or their driver is outside). More likely though, if they have to choose between notification spam or using another app, they just won’t use your app. If your business relies on that app, that marketing notification may have just shut down your company.

Think very very carefully about the notifications you send, and make sure they’re only a necessary part of the service your app provides. If your marketing team is bugging you to add notifications “to increase app engagement”, send them to this article. 😉