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. 😉

Published by

Grant Grueninger

Grant's been in Software Development and computer-related consulting for over 20 years. He also studied music composition at UC Berkeley and USC. Having learned programming in Silicon Valley in the shadow of Lockheed, he's passionate about good, bug-free software development. He also enjoys quality music composition, but defines "quality" using the criteria of well-produced recordings and well-crafted pieces. As such many pop songs, especially those produced by Max Martin and his associates, match the definition. He maintains this blog in his spare time, using it to share information that either he cares about or thinks others will care about, hoping that those two criteria will at some point meet and garner mutual interest.

2 thoughts on “Using app notifications for marketing could kill your app”

  1. Ha! I think you got it, but I essentially did just that. Installed Lyft to try…at some point in the near future. Received incessant notifications after about 1-2 months of having the app on my phone. Had to look up how to make it quit notifying me. Easier to just say bye bye to Lyft app.

  2. Same here! Got *really* sick of Lyft’s spam notifications. Found several twitter and reddit pages where people were complaining about it and ONE YEAR LATER it’s still going on. Uninstalled the app.

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