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Glossary term

Push notifications

Quick definition

A  push notification, or a push message, is a direct, real-time alert from an app that a user receives on their phone or other device.

Key takeaways


●     Businesses use push notifications to capture the attention of customers who  might not be interacting with their brand in the moment.

●     Push notifications are a great opportunity to build trust in your brand, as long as your notifications aren’t aggressive, irrelevant, or too frequent.

●     There are several types of push notifications that your business can employ, including informational, geo-locational, and promotional notifications.

Kevin Lindsay is director of product marketing in Adobe’s Digital Experience (DX) business and has been a leader in product marketing for Adobe DX for over ten years. Kevin has focused on things like optimization, personalization, digital asset management, and customer journey management.

Q: What is a push notification?

A: A push notification is a direct, real-time alert from a brand’s app that a user receives on their phone or other device. Businesses use push messaging to capture the attention of customers who might not be interacting with their brand in the moment. If you have a mobile device that uses Apple iOS, your push notifications can appear in your notification center or your lock screen. The Android operating system uses a similar method for their mobile devices.

Q: What are the benefits of push notifications?

A: From a consumer engagement perspective, it’s nice to be notified immediately of certain milestones, offers, and other alerts, rather than having to consistently open a mobile app or log on to a website.

For example, a banking institution might have a mobile app with a push notification service specifically to alert customers of strange activity on their credit cards. Let’s say there’s an unusually large purchase on a credit card. The bank can send a push notification to the customer who might be home watching television in the evening. The customer sees the important alert when they pick up their mobile device. Clicking the notification immediately brings them to a yes/no window asking for confirmation of the purchase. The customer is pleased their bank notified them immediately, rather than waiting for the next time they log on to check their bank statements.

From marketers' perspectives, interactions such as the banking example create trust between customers and the brand, ensuring customer retention. Push notifications also enable customer engagement that might not happen otherwise. The bank customer wouldn’t have thought to open their banking app while busy with other things, but because of the push notification, they were able to have a positive experience that built trust.

Q: What’s the difference between a push notification and an SMS notification?


A: A push notification is native to an app. When you receive a notification, it will have app identifiers, like the mobile app icon or company logo.

It’s important to make the distinction between an app’s push notification and just an SMS notification. The word “push” means that the notification is strictly in the app’s domain, which means interacting with the notification will be a much more branded experience. 

SMS notifications, on the other hand, are just text messages that aren't connected to an installed app or game. Usually, it’s just text, sometimes with an interactive element. Most of the time, it’s boring for the user, because it’s not meant to engage.

Q: What types of businesses and industries would employ push notifications?

A: There are many types of businesses and industries where push notifications could be beneficial.

Travel and hospitality businesses make great use of push notifications. For example, say you’re leaving on a business trip later this afternoon and your flight is delayed or your gate has changed, but you don’t realize it yet. If you have your airline app installed, you could get a push notification from your airline announcing that important information has changed on your flight itinerary. Clicking the notification opens the app and brings you to a window with highlighted updates.

Or, say you’ve made it to your destination, and you’re on your way to your hotel. If you  have the hotel app installed, you could receive a push notification that your room is ready.

Referring back to the banking example, organizations in the banking industry can use push notifications to keep their patrons informed about potential fraud, new deposits into their accounts, and unusual purchases.

From a retail perspective, your favorite retail apps can notify you about things from order shipping, to sales, to special offers.

These are only major industries that would benefit from push notifications. But any company with an app would most likely benefit from using push notifications.

Q: What are the different types of push notifications?

A: There are a few types of push notifications that serve different purposes.

Informative push notifications keep users up to date with timely alerts about reminders, important events, and updates. An example of an informative push notification would be your social media app telling you that you have received five new subscribers.

Geo-locational push notifications only occur when a user enters or exits a certain location. An example of a geo-locational push notification would be your weather app updating you on the local weather of the town you’ve just arrived in.

Catch-up push notifications are meant to encourage engagement with the app. An example of a catch-up push notification would be your meditation app sending a notification at night inviting you for a quick breathing exercise.

Promotional push notifications update the user on special offers, sales, and giveaways to encourage the user to make a purchase. An example of a promotional push notification would be your app store announcing a drop in price for a popular game.

Recurrent push notifications occur at a certain time or day to remind users to engage with the app. An example of a recurrent push notification would be your fitness app telling you how many total steps you walked at the end of the day.

Q: Are there any best practices for using push notifications for your business?

A: Though there are many guidelines for proper push notification etiquette — such as not sending too many — a lot of companies don’t follow them as closely as they should. The logic behind this decision is that many people have dozens of apps on their phones and they’re receiving so many different kinds of notifications. Brands feel they can’t slow the pace of their notifications for fear of getting lost in the crowd.

One of the best push notification practices is to give users the choice to customize their push notification preferences. Giving customers this choice will make them feel more in control, as well as more appreciative toward the brand for understanding their needs. Customers will tune out brands that are too aggressive with their push notifications or they will just turn off notifications in their phone settings.

Q: Why would you use push notifications over things like email, text, etc?

A: The best reason to choose push notifications over email, text, and other platforms is the immediacy that comes with them. However, some messages are more appropriate for email and less so for push notifications. For example, an ecommerce brand probably wouldn’t send a push notification with a user’s order confirmation number, shipping number, and total price for the order. This information would be much better as a longer email that the customer can save for future reference. Brands need to figure out the right balance across different channels and interactive media to optimize their customers’ experiences during moments when the brand isn’t on their mind.

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