For marketers, mobile apps present an unprecedented opportunity to always be a mere arm's length away from our customers. And we can know more about them than ever possible before: where they are right now and where they've been—and even the direction and speed at which they are traveling.

But the battle for screen time is fierce, and the cost of entry for a lasting mobile relationship transcends campaign-style thinking.

So, how do you get mobile right? You have to start with de-emphasizing old measures of success such as open rates and time spent, and you have to end with adopting a service-first, sales-later mentality that allows you to continually deliver delight on the most personal, and arguably most valuable, real estate in the world—each customer's individual smartphone or tablet home screen.

Push notifications are the peanut butter to mobile apps' chocolate, making apps more sticky and delicious by not requiring them to be open in order to provide value to users.

Push notifications are opt-in messages that arrive on the home screen of mobile devices and can be customized with unique sounds and multimedia, including video and form fields. And they come in a variety of flavors—customer service alerts, social updates, new content availability notices, relevant and requested offers, breaking news alerts, weather alerts, traffic alerts, reminders, and location-specific alerts.

But not all push messages are created equal and the personal nature of mobile devices demands that marketers treat this newest communications channel as a privilege.

Through our extensive interactions with push-enabled apps and with consumers, we've created a set of best-practices that we call the Seven Rules of Good Push. They are a Bill of Rights of sorts for customers who have trusted you by opting in to receive your messages. We've written these rules from your customers' point of view.

1. Good push fits into my ever-changing schedule

Your apps should have an easily accessible control panel where, in addition to specifying the types of information they want to receive, users can define a "quiet time" by adjusting a setting so that no messages are delivered between, say, 10 PM and 7 AM.

Recipients should be able to specify which days of the week they want to receive messages, or block out days on which they never want to be bothered. Make these settings easy to find and easy to change.

2. Good push engages me with relevant messages

Segmenting and targeting different messages to different users is a tried-and-true marketing strategy for increasing relevancy and response. Multiply the importance of doing this by two—maybe three—to ensure that these home screen messages are a welcomed interruption versus an invasive annoyance.

Messages should consider everything you already know about your customer: what they've purchased, downloaded or shared; where they are and where they've been; and any other customer and behavioral data from your other systems.

3. Good push allows me to personalize my experience

Give your customers a preference center where they can tell you what they want, how much of it they want, and when they want to get it. )

The more exact they can be in controlling the push content, the happier they will be to see it arrive—and, over time, the stronger the personal bond they will feel with your app.

In the following image, you can see how the Canucks hockey team offers an extremely customizable preference center.

4. Good push is consistent with your brand

Consistent communications over time is a key element in building a strong brand, and marketers go to great lengths to ensure consistency in voice, tone, and visual treatment. The same should be true of push messaging. Marketers should be able to craft messages without technical involvement, then preview them to be sure they appear as intended across a variety of devices, so customers aren't confused.

Rue La La's lead copywriter (see following image) experimented with different forms of messaging to interject the brand voice into its daily reminders. In the first month of using push messaging, Rue La La was able to finesse its messaging to be more effective and compelling, increasing its push clickthrough rate tenfold, and its number of app user sessions 25%.

5. Good push delivers an entertaining and engaging experience

The goal is for users to look forward to your push communications. Sometimes just a glance as the message crosses their home screens will deliver the timely value to build allegiance to your app, such as being the first to hear about breaking news or sports scores. But if they open the push, they should be transported to the exact content that triggered their interest. Adding multimedia such as video and surveys can cement the value exchange, offering a fresh and engaging experience.

6. Good push serves me better and better over time

Every time a push message is sent out, the obvious questions should be, Was it effective? Did the customer respond to it? Which messages caused immediate app opens versus delayed app opens?

Good push dictates that customer responses be monitored and analyzed in order to finely tune engagement—and deliver more and more value to them.

7. Good push adapts to fit my current situation

Your push notifications should be smart enough to adapt to a users current situation, including her ever-changing location. However, a change in location alone is a blunt instrument; nobody wants offers pushed to them with every step they take. Relevant apps consider everything they know about the user, bringing context and location together to deliver amazing service on a silver platter.

* * *

One can argue that push messaging is the most powerful marketing channel ever created. Customers opt in, and you can reach them anytime, anyplace—at an extremely low cost, and with unprecedented insight.

With Good Push, you can be at the center of your user's life. But with Bad Push, you risk causing WTF (want to flee) moments that are viewed not just as an annoyance but as an invasion of personal space. And that can lead to not only turning off push—your app's voice—but also deleting your app entirely.

See more on good push marketing in the following presentation:


(News on Mobile Phone image courtesy of Bigstock)

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Brent Hieggelke is the CMO of Urban Airship, a globally deployed high-performance push messaging platform that enables top brands to deliver exceptional customer service experiences and grow mobile engagement.