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Marketers favor in-app messages over push notifications for contextual content

Push notifications and in-app messaging go hand-in-hand together, but it seems some marketers are relying more heavily on in-app messages these days to tackle some of the limitations from push notifications.

As mobile apps become more sophisticated and rich, there is an increased focus on in-app messages as a way to drive repeat usage. In-app messaging also gives marketers more room to experiment and test app features to determine what resonates strongest with consumers.

?Push notifications are great because you can reach users even if they're not actively using your app,? said Spencer Burke, mobile strategist at appboy, New York.

?We're starting to see the limits of push, though? he said. ?Push only accommodates a limited amount of text and poorly timed notifications easily frustrate app users.

"In-app messages will only reach a user when they open the application, but they support more feature-rich content, like images, links and longer copy.?

In-app messages
As more marketers develop second- and third-generation mobile apps, leveraging sophisticated in-app messaging is a growing interest from marketers to create engaging experiences.

In fact, an executive from Office Depot last week at eTail East cited in-app messaging to differentiate its mobile strategy from others (see story).

One of the drawbacks of push is that it hits all app users and can be difficult to implement with contextual, relevant content. In-app messaging on the other hand can be tied to personalized, relevant offers and deals.

Take Starbucks, for example.

The brand has mastered in-app messaging to send out coupons and offers in addition to recommending apps and iTunes downloads. Since the content is not necessarily time-sensitive, in-app messaging is a better option than push.

In-app messaging can also be used to help marketers fine-tune app content strategies.

For many brands, mobile is moving towards focusing more on retention and engagement than acquisition, in which apps play a key role.

Push notifications can be a pricey mistake to fix as opposed to in-app messages that can be rolled out more subtly and tested without compromising the user experience.

Additionally, in-app messaging can be used to boost net promoter scores, according to Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics, Boston.

?A great use case for in-app messaging is transactional net promoter score, which allows marketers to get a sense of how their users feel about a specific transaction, which can be used to improve the app flow, rate features that are highly valued or ignored,? he said.

?It also allows publishers to create micro-segments of their users based on satisfaction that can then be leveraged for future communications, for example, rating apps.?

In-app messages are also being used to gauge user feedback in real-time or push a user to a section within an app that a marketer is heavily promoting.

There are several challenges with in-app messages, though, the main one being scale.

?In-app messages can have the context of a customer, taking into account their demographics and behavior, allowing for a personalized message rather than the generalized message in a push notification,? said Scott Wasserman, chief technology officer of Artisan Mobile, Philadelphia.

?The drawback, however, is that customers have to be in your app to see your messaging,? he said. ?It also requires extra time to implement in-app messages effectively and make them look like they are a seamless part of your app.?

Smarter push
As the momentum for push notifications is wearing down from consumers who feel bombarded by messages, marketers are forced to rethink the push notification model.

Luring a consumer to open an app is getting tougher as consumers download more apps, meaning that generic push notifications that apply to a wide group of users are becoming more of a surefire way in deleting an app.

However, some brands that have traditionally relied on push notifications for time-sensitive content are experimenting with new ways to keep push notifications relevant.

Gilt Groupe, for example, relies on push notifications to get consumers to use the app to access daily deals. The brand is now testing personalized copy that lists the top daily sales recommended for individual shoppers, according to an executive who spoke at eTail East last week (see story).

ESPN and The New York Times are other examples of publishers that leverage push notifications to send out timely news alerts to consumers.

According to Brent Hieggelke, chief marketing officer of Urban Airship, Portland, OR, marketers can expect to be able to tie together multiple pieces of information about app users? preferences, behavior and location for more comprehensive app strategies in the future.

Despite the different use cases, brands looking to make the most of their app messaging strategies should use a combination of in-app messaging and push notifications to increase retention.

?This isn't a fight-to-the-death technology match-up,? Mr. Hieggelke said. ?These approaches are complementary, and the better you know the customer, the more you can distinguish which to use and when.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York