With apologies to Bill Gates, content alone no longer reigns supreme. In our mobile-driven, user-centric world, context is the big game in town. It’s also one of the chief reasons the experience on mobile devices is superior to PCs – and why mobile (read: apps) is rapidly eclipsing the web (read: tethered browser).
By “context,” I mean the way good apps make sense of a user’s environment, and deliver meaningful interactions accordingly. Always with us and aware of our location and activity, mobile devices use context to deliver an enhanced experience in a way the poor old blind-and-chained PC never could. Push notifications are one of the most common and proven forays into what we call “contextual engagement” – a fancy way of describing how knowing things like a user’s location or local weather can make for better, stickier, more useful app experiences.
While push notifications aren’t new, they remain one of the simplest and best methods of contextual engagement. As entrepreneur Ariel Seidman has observed, “It’s hard to over-hype the power of mobile push notifications. For the first time in human history, you can tap almost two billion people on the shoulder.” Of course, with any power comes responsibility – and don’t we know it. With almost 210 million devices running Appcelerator-powered apps, there are huge masses of notification API calls sent each day, ultimately reaching tens of millions of end users.
And with the Appcelerator Platform now including two new push notification features based on geography and time of day, the opportunities to create meaningful, user-centric experiences look pretty interesting.
Rain or Shine, Push Has You Covered
Geo-based push notifications allow apps to automatically supply users with relevant information based on their current location. Whether it’s a retailer alerting users nearby of a special offer or a restaurant chain spread the wording of a new location for those in the neighborhood, push notifications that use geographical context can make sure users get the info they want at right time and in the right place.
In the case of our customer Homes.com, geo-based notifications alert prospective home buyers when they’re near a property of interest. The app then notifies them anytime a new listing comes up nearby that fits their criteria – swimming pool, wine cellar, tiger cage, you name it – by sending a push notification suggesting they stop and check it out.
These kinds of use cases are only the beginning. What if that same retail app also knows it’s raining, and based on past purchases, that you’re are an avid biker? Not only can the app serve up a special offer on a rain coat or umbrella, but the retailer can personalize the alert even further, sending a coupon for a new set of clip-on fenders and pair of overshoes – or suggest a safer biking route nearby. Through that interaction, the retailer increases meaningful touch points with potential customers – while at the same time, tracking the user’s response to tailor future engagement even better.
Ready, Set, Push
Time-based push notifications enable an app to automatically trigger messages based on a pre-determined schedule. Using this “scheduled” push, companies can prepare all notifications in advance, setting their send date and time, as well as frequency and duration. (Appcelerator’s time-based push notifications can also be sent using the device’s time zone, so no matter the user’s time zone, recipients will get it at the designated time.)
Here are just a few examples of how this can be (and already is) put into practice:
- A retailer notifies customers of a yearly sale one week before (and again on the day of);
- Marathon organizers remind runners to pick up their registration at least 24 hours before the race;
- Casual (and take-out friendly) restaurants use time-based notifications with frequent customers, asking them on certain days if they’re interested in their “usual” that day and starting to cook (or not) pending their response; and
- Multinational corporations deliver relevant information to employees spread across different time zones and offices.
We’re Just Getting Started
Whether alerting users of news, special offers or product updates, push notifications need to be used both judiciously and with relevancy. They shouldn’t just be used as an email replacement or mobilized spam. Instead, push should anticipate user needs – providing timely, relevant prompts, even (or especially) to questions the user might not have known to ask.
Inside the enterprise, it’s still early days for contextual engagement. But very soon, almost any company in the world will be able to engage its audiences – whether employees, customers, prospects or a subset of the three – in relevant conversations that anticipate questions or needs. Now’s the time to build a habit around delivering personalized, contextual and relevant information.