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In-app messaging vs. push notifications: What's the difference for mobile marketers?

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

The Kumulos team looks at the difference between in-app messaging and push notifications in mobile marketing

Man mobile windowIn-app messaging is something that mobile marketers are talking about more frequently. But, for those who are continually seeking to improve their app marketing, they might think that push notifications are sufficient for their marketing strategy.

However, mobile marketing should always be about targeted engagement. Personalization is key when it comes to app marketing. Gone are the days of generic marketing messages and in are the days of tailored messages to suit the needs of app users. A key part of this personalized mobile marketing strategy is app messaging. App messaging should be used to reach the user at the right time, with the right content, to engage them further with the mobile app.

The two most important ways of running app messaging campaigns are push notifications and in-app messages. So, what's the difference between in-app messaging and push notifications?

Push Notifications
Let’s face it, when you think about mobile app messaging, we all assume that we are talking about push notifications. Pretty much all mobile marketers use push notification marketing  because it’s easy-to-implement and it’s an industry standard. 

Push notifications let you deliver messages to the app user’s home screen on their mobile. It's like an SMS message, but coming from an app. Push notifications when they first came out were solely text and sometimes emojis. Now though, rich push notifications let mobile marketers include text as well as images, video and sound.

In-app Messaging
Recently, in-app messaging has become more common in mobile marketing. In-app messaging can be used to draw attention to new features, highlight special offers, better onboard new app users and much more. Overall, in-app messaging is a powerful tool to create more targeted user sessions. There are stats floating around the industry that say those who use in-app messaging see around a 30 per cent increase in uptake of app launches and a massive four times increase in app retention.

When to use Push Notifications and when to use In-App Messaging
It’s all very well having two fantastic mobile marketing tools, but when do you know when to use a push notification, or, when an in-app message would be better?

When to use Push Notifications
Push notifications are great for prompting immediate interaction and engaging app users who are not currently active in the app. Users who opt-in to push notifications are a great target audience. Opted in users tend to engage with your app on a regular basis – so much so that they engage around 90 per cent more than those who are not opted in.

Often though, the decision about when to use push messaging comes down to the content, frequency and timing of the messaging. If you get all three right then push messaging drives lapsed users back into your app and brings awareness to your mobile marketing campaigns.

However, don’t misuse push notifications. Note, they can be irritating for the user and ineffective if they lack context or purpose. Overdo push notifications and you will risk an app uninstall.

Overall, with push notifications, you have the power to engage users outside of your app at a chosen time. This content can act as a reminder to use the app. Or, it can notify the user of a special offer, or advise about app updates. In summary, when push notifications are customized, timely and justified, push messages drive big results.

When to use In-App Messaging
So, in-app messages are notifications which are displayed while the user is active within the app. Some people talk about native app content as essentially they are used to nurture users in the app and increase app session time. Because it is sent while the user is in the app, this type of messaging is very contextual. It’s success is very much dependent on having good app analytics as messages can be triggered based on user interactions.

Due to this tailored style, in-app messaging creates a more seamless progression from an app user’s initial session to the desired conversion.  If it’s done well, in-app messaging should feel like a natural part of the app. It should not feel like additional marketing. In app messaging can be used by mobile marketers to fine-tune app content or marketing strategy.

Another popular use of in-app messaging is to create onboarding experiences for new app users. A well structured flow of in-app messages can show new users the most popular app features. In fact, it’s one of the most common ways you’ll use in-app messages as it’s been proven that by implementing onboarding you can increase retention rates by over 50 per cent.

However, there can be challenges. Without the right tool to run in-app messaging, it can be difficult to implement and track. If you don’t have the right app analytics and know how to act on them, it’s hard to get in-app messaging right.

Although the in-app message can only be shown when the app is open, it’s possible for the app marketer to send the message and it will wait for the next app open. Therefore, the user doesn’t necessarily have to be active at the time of sending the message.

In summary, in-app messaging is the single most effective way of creating a richer app experience. This is due to being able to segment and tailor the target audience. In-app messaging creates a more valuable app session by providing the user with personalized messages. What’s more, it can funnel actions into becoming conversions.

Using both Push Notifications and In-App Messaging
As part of a wider mobile marketing strategy, push notifications and in-app messaging work best when used together and not separately. The key is to have layered messaging. For example, if an in-app messaging campaign is triggered by app opens, but you have a low open rate, you could consider running a push marketing campaign to prompt more opens. This way, you are using push notifications to re-direct users back into a funnel for your in-app messaging!

Most importantly, a structured approach to messaging means better app usage analytics and more engaged users. Most importantly though, the app user will feel that they are getting the best experience possible.

Choosing a tool for push notifications and in-app messaging
There are many solution providers who give you the tools to run push notification campaigns and in-app messaging so it’s worth doing your research.  For a complete list of providers, check out Business of Apps guide to push notifications.

Not only does Kumulos give you a tool for push notifications and in-app messaging but the mobile marketing automation platform, gives you app analytics and more - all in one dashboard. Kumulos is the first fully integrated mobile marketing automation platform to help you attract, engage, retain and monitize app users. Contact Kumulos for a demo, or take a free trial today.

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