What Our 200 Billion Delivered Milestone Means

Last week we celebrated a huge milestone of having sent our 200 billionth push notification. In fact, it was this week last year when we celebrated sending 100 billion push notifications—the culmination of our entire 4.5 year company history. That’s right, in slightly less than 12 months we doubled the volume of push we’ve ever sent.

Some are going to say that’s a lot of lighting up device home screens and stopping people in their tracks. And to be sure, 200B is a lot of zeros. Without added context, it’s just a vanity metric, offering a high-level observation of our company’s growth and the industry’s accelerated adoption.

However, on breaking this number down and considering new trends and technologies, the real implications start to emerge.

User Controls and Targeting Ensure People Get What They Want
This past summer we supported the official app for a major, month-long sporting event. In total, it sent 1.9 billion notifications, so that fans would know when their favorite team scored or advanced in the standings. All of these were targeted push notifications based on which teams app users wanted to hear about.

Another sports app, the US Open, went beyond favorite player and tournament standing alerts to engage its on-site audience with beacon-targeted pushes deep-linked to a rich daily schedule of events, matches and signings. Last-minute ticket offers were targeted to a small subset of its app audience most likely to respond, including those currently in the Tri-State area, who had been at a ticket booth on-grounds and had looked at tickets within its app—300,000 in all. This level of targeting avoided hitting people who feasibly couldn’t attend, while achieving an unheard of clickthrough rate of 32% of recipients clicking the “Buy Tickets Now” button.

More recently for the 2014 mid-term elections ABC News gave its app users and mobile web site readers the choice to receive all election alerts or key alerts only, in addition to choosing statewide races of interest. Surprisingly, 49% chose to receive all updates with 51% selecting key updates only. By giving users greater choice, ABC News was able to send 33% more push notifications and serve up three times as much mobile video (40% of it was live video tied to notifications) than the 2012 mid-term elections.

When users are given control and when businesses leverage what they know about users for targeting, people are happy to receive push notifications and sometimes lots of them. For businesses, the extra effort to send highly targeted notifications pays off handsomely with response rates four to seven times higher than notifications broadcast to most app users. Plus, the people that get them are more likely to stay opted in and maybe even help drive new user acquisition by socially sharing great alerts.

Notifications are Key to Seizing the Mobile Moment
As one of the most active industry research firms in the mobile space, Forrester Research has noted that “The mobile mind shift is the expectation that your customer can get what she wants in her immediate context and moments of need. This shift means the battle for your customer’s attention will be waged in mobile moments — any time she pulls out a mobile device (Re-Engineer Your Business For Mobile Moments, Forrester Research, Inc., Jan. 24, 2014).

According to Forrester, “Mobile moments are shrinking into micro moments -- triggers that require only a glance to identify and that deliver information that you can either consume or act on immediately. … The combination of real-world location and a customer’s shared history with a company creates the context that allows you to present the precise interaction that makes sense in a micro moment,” (Micro Moments Are The Next Frontier For Mobile, Forrester Research, Inc., Sept. 8, 2014).

New Capabilities Advance Notifications as the User Interface
From Apple introducing Interactive Notifications (similar to Android’s Rich Notification format) where people can take actions using buttons embedded within the notification itself, to wearables and new apps like Yo and Wut where a central user experience is notifications themselves rather than opening apps, the future and growing influence of notifications seems very bright indeed.

Some very smart trendsetters have noted this growing influence and are advancing the idea of invisible apps and notifications as the interface. Here are some key excerpts and links to complete articles that are very much worth the read if you have the time.

“Lock screen notifications require next to zero effort to dismiss. Compare that to an email, an SMS or a Facebook notification. Those usually pile up and require you to open the application to consume the content and perform an action. … When the notification becomes the interface the engagement model changes from entry point into an actionable item. That’s really powerful - specially when combined with deep-linking and background processes.”
Tomaz Stolfa, co-founder, Layer, “The Notification is the Interface”

“Until now, notifications have been a blunt instrument for apps to try to get our attention. … With time, notifications will only get smarter, and the companies that best understand this new way of communicating with its users will bring us just the right amount of information at the right time. … As consumers, we're always craving a less complicated, more personalized experience, and the new notifications improve upon apps' original value.”
Om Malik, partner at True Ventures, founder of GigaOm, “Your Smartphone is Getting so Smart, You May Never Need to Look Past the Home Screen”

“…. very soon, you may not need to open an app at all in order to interact with it. It still lives on your devices, but its interface entirely resides on the layer on top of your phone: the notification layer. … we’re definitely getting closer to a mobile world where apps can exist largely as smart push notification services. And the incoming group of wearable devices will only accelerate this trend.”
M.G. Siegler, general partner at Google Ventures, “There Is No App: The Notification *Is* The Message”

“Now, we’re entering the age of apps as service layers. These are apps you have on your phone but only open when you know they explicity have something to say to you. They aren’t for ‘idle browsing’, they’re purpose built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors, location, history of use and predictive computation. …These ‘invisible apps’ are less about the way they look or how many features they cram in and more about maximizing their usefulness to you without monopolizing your attention.”
Matthew Panzarino, editor at TechCrunch, “Foursquare’s Swarm And The Rise Of The Invisible App”