Push Notifications: Is this the death of email newsletters?

Estimated reading time: 5 min

In the world of Digital Marketing, there is a constant need for innovation to stay ahead of competitors and create the next novel experience in order to sell to customers. We saw it first with the use of email marketing communications in the 90s which was a bandwagon – everyone jumped on board and our in-boxes got swamped with newsletter.

Nowadays there are a plethora of services available to the digitally savvy, but how effective are they, and are they likely to oust the tried and tested methods?

So our thesis is that email newsletter subscriptions are falling because we get too many of them. EdgeRank removes the free postings by businesses on Facebook and Twitter is too crowded.

BUT people want high quality content.

So how can we deliver content from our website without using a newsletter or social media?

To answer this question, let’s look at a relatively new service to enter the market, Push Notifications  and how they compare to our most powerful channel at present, the good old fashion email/newsletter subscriber list.

So before we go any further, what exactly are Push Notifications?

Push notifications are simply alerts that pop up on your computer or mobile, on demand when the publisher releases something of interest to you.

“Hmm well this sounds kind of invasive though…“

I hear you. Pop-ups generally are annoying and frustrating, however these alerts only appear when you opt in to the list. A cookie is placed in your browser and each time the publisher wants to send out a notification, every browser containing that specific cookie receives the alert, regardless of whether they are browsing the web or not. In some ways they are less invasive than the hassle of having to enter your contact details to download an eBook. 

To find out if Push Notifications were a worthy substitute or indeed even a necessary supplement to our tried and tested marketing methods, we asked ourselves the following questions:

Are consumers growing weary of newsletters and email marketing?

I recently unsubscribed from at least 5 different brands’ emails because of the constant bombardment of marketing material. If others are finding themselves doing the same, does that pose a risk to the future of email marketing communications? And if so, are Push Notifications a smarter way to engage?

Are people still interested in content?

The old adage that ‘content is king’ may have held weight in the past, but do customers actually want to receive endless articles and information related to products they might purchase? With every brand under the sun fighting for your attention as a consumer, how much is too much?

My answer is yes. Emphatically. Good content gets liked, shared and commented upon.

Will people actually engage with these invasive interruptions?

My initial thoughts are yes, if used sparingly. Too much of anything can be bad. I feel the key to making the most out of Push Notifications is moderation. Subscribers aren’t going to respond well to being pestered several times a day while they browse the web. But they may be interested in what’s been going on if it is restricted to once a week, for example. Similar to SMS notifications, users must interact with the push notification in order to view it or close it. Compare this with email, where readers can simply delete, filter, file or ignore without having to open the message at all. Push notifications by-pass this barrier to opening email by displaying the message title straight away. 

You have to respond one way or another!

Would Push subscribers never have joined the email list anyway?

Perhaps. Even if there is no clear preference for one over the other, having both allows your brand to capture your audience’s attention in a medium that works for them. Without having to provide an email address, we may never know who has opted in to Push Notifications, which makes communicating outside of Push challenging unless we can cross-match against other subscriber actions.

With email and push running simultaneously, which one performs better?

We ran Push Notifications for the second half of February on a client website. Our provider of choice was OneSignal – a service that promises to remain free forever! An interesting claim, but what’s the REAL cost? I suspect Edward Snowden would fall off his стул (chair) in frustration  – let’s save it for another day.

Results from Push Notifications test

  • At the beginning of February, we had 5,334 email subscribers. At the end of the month, that figure had risen to 5,426 – a gain of 92 subscribers.
  • Push Notifications began on February 15th. Two weeks later we had 63 push subscribers.

Our Push Notifications were promoting the same material as our emails, so which one performed better?

Our blog article “Plan, Develop and Write – Content Training Workshop” was published on both. The newsletter received a respectable open rate of 30% and a Click Through Rate (CTR) of 1.4%. The Push Notification received a surprising CTR of 21.43%!

The Push list is much smaller than the email list; that is a significant difference.

This was obviously only one campaign and we have not yet built up a data set large enough to draw significant conclusions.

So do we think Push could supersede email? Well the jury is still out on that one, we’ll continue to test them both and come back with our conclusions in the future.

In the mean time, what do you think about Push?

4 replies
  1. Johanna
    Johanna says:

    Hi Rebecca, I agree that ‘push’ is OK if not too frequent. Weekly sounds about right.

    Not very original feedback, I’m afraid, but, hopefully, still of value.


    Johanna 🙂

    • Jeremy Peskey
      Jeremy Peskey says:

      As a user Johanna, your feedback is certainly of value!

      I suspect many consumers (as opposed to marketers) will share your opinion.

      Marketers will be competing for a very limited number of notifications within a consumer’s browser.

      As more websites begin offering this service, I suspect as consumers, we will become far more reluctant to subscribe to them all!

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Bridget
    Bridget says:

    As a user, so far I’ve said no to every push notification request. Why? Too many interruptions at someone else’s convenience rather than when I want to deal with them. Then again, I’m the kind of person who has rules set up to file my newsletter emails out of my inbox to a separate folder I can look at when I have time. I may not be entirely ‘standard’.
    That said,
    – I’d expect a higher CTR from something which pops up as it creates an impression of urgency. However, unless that leads to higher conversion, does it really help?
    – I suspect there is still a first mover advantage. People only have a few sites sending push notifications. As the number ramps up, it may be more difficult to get permission to send them – even if you stick to the once a week rule.
    – clear ability to block notifications might also help. There’s regulation in most countries about unsubscribing from email newsletters. How does this apply to push notifications? Unless people have a clear and obvious way to turn them off when they don’t want them any more, I suspect there will be backlash.
    – what happens when I close a notification? It’s lost and gone. So as a marketer, you get one chance and one only with each push. Emails hang around a bit longer in people’s inboxes. This also makes timing – especially timing across recipients’ timezones rather than your own – even more important for pushes than for emails.

    All in all, very interested to see how this goes over time. It is still early days.

    • Jeremy Peskey
      Jeremy Peskey says:

      Hi Bridget,

      You make some excellent points!

      Like you say, it is still early days and an oversupply of alerts bombarding people will certainly result in an increased reluctance to subscribe to them.

      On the other hand, if they’re used extremely sparingly and only for things such as flash sales. live webinars etc etc I’m sure they will prove effective – especially to those who do not wish to disclose personal contact information in exchange for content.

      Would I be willing to do away with email campaigns as a marketing channel because of push alerts? Mmm not just yet!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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