Yellow dart missing the target
Technology / 07.17.2018

A plea against push notifications

Push notifications are part of the zeitgeist; a quick image search for ‘notifications shirt’ proves that. It has become clear to me that these well-intentioned distractions are less about keeping me ‘in the loop’, and more about increasing someone’s Daily Active Users count. Now, I don’t believe these two are at-odds. In fact, I think product marketers and app developers are more empowered than ever to significantly decrease churn and abandonment by taking a moment to empathize with users.

Millennial wearing push notification t-shirt.
Consider a reviews platform like Yelp. As a ‘discovery engine,’ they deal in ratings for restaurants, bars, fitness studios, and the like. Not only do they want to you check with them before making dinner reservations, they also want your feedback after dinner as that content is their most valuable asset in capturing additional users. A location-based notification prompting me for a rating the moment I’m leaving the restaurant is likely to be dismissed, and may even leave a bad taste in my mouth with respect to having the Yelp app installed. Waiting until my geo-coordinates are static, such as after I’ve been home for an hour, would be a lot better time to ask me for a favor.

Another good example is Tinder. A while back, I got a push notification touting above-average matches during a winter storm.

An example of a push notification from Tinder.
Initially, I was pleasantly surprised to see metrics used in an attempt to get me to engage. However, it’s disappointing to see the Tinder marketing team conflate a ‘win’ on their end with an impetus on my end. A surge in use is great news for them, but unless you prove value to me, I’m not inspired to contribute to that success. Personalize it; mention the increased visibility of my profile, or reveal how many new users have registered in my area since the last time I opened the app. Understanding who I am, inferring what I value, and aligning your messaging to the ways you can positively impact me is fundamental to converting me.

Facebook Messenger is a slightly different beast. It’s important that I’m quickly made aware of messages sent to me (hence the phrase instant messenger), but after repeatedly dismissing notifications from a rather active group chat, I’m curious why the Messenger team can’t crack the code on predicting when I need fewer interruptions.

My point is not just to “reword the copy and time the notifications better,” but to think comprehensively about the recipients of your campaign. It will likely require a sea change in the way these initiatives are conceived and evaluated. I’ve heard that “one ‘ahh shit’ wipes out a hundred ‘atta boys’.”  I think marketers need to take that to heart. These are not display or television ads; I can easily eliminate your channel to me, either by disabling notifications or completely removing your application from my phone.


Understand that each notification I dismiss equates to diminishing loyalty to, and esteem for, your brand, and optimize for the lowest failure rate possible. It may require more focused, bespoke campaigns for smaller cohorts, or a ‘cooldown’ period between a dismissed notification and the next attempt to reach out to that user. But it will be worth it.

Joe Haaga, Former Full Stack Developer at Grafik
Joseph Haaga

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