Push Notifications – How to Use Them Correctly

Push notifications are a great tool that is being poorly handled. People often turn off push notifications for certain apps permanently because they are disruptive, invasive and annoying. Notifications often come at inconvenient times and are too often irrelevant to the user.

However, push isn’t the problem, how it is used, and misused, is the issue. Companies who take the time to understand why, when and what the purpose of push notifications are will find that their customer engagement improves, not diminishes, with push.

Let’s get started with the best practices for push notifications:

  1. Be timely: The user’s behaviour, location, or preference triggers the notification.
  2. Get personal: The content of the push appeals to the individual user.
  3. Make it actionable: The push makes it clear what the user should do next.

Marketers have come up with a huge number of reasons why push should be used and how to make them relevant. The problem is that any good marketer can justify the how, what, what and when of sending their campaign to the masses.

What really matters is putting yourself in the shoes of your customer. From your customer persona, you should have a clear understanding of who you are communicating with and what they want to hear from your business.


Some apps flood your phone with notifications in those 10 hours you switch to sleep mode. When you arise to begin your day, your screen is filled with little icons reminding you that sleeping is not an option in a world that never stops.

Rather than alerting your customer to every whim that takes the fancy of another 5-minute celebrity, concentrate on things that actually matter. By sending timely/relevant notifications that your customer has agreed to matter to them you will increase engagement and deter churn.

Let’s take a look at some examples.


NZBlood – Blood Donor App

This useful app let’s blood donors in New Zealand know the relevant information, like where the next blood bank will be stationed, if it is time for their next donation or if they have an upcoming appointment.

The push notification that really stands out is one sent to the donor when their blood is used.

Relevant/Timely: Yes. The notification not only thanks the person for donating but also helps them to engage with the difference they are making in the life of another person.

Personal: The copy is short and targeted. The donor is given an opportunity to feel good about what they’ve done, while the actual information is private.

Actionable: Yes. The user can share a selfie using a frame that helps to promote the service and influence more people to become blood donors.

Pique curiosity


Relevant/Timely: Sending pushes at peak times for smartphone use (after work, before bed) mean that a notification is more likely to be seen.

Personal: Use your brand colours and really focus your copy on creating a smart headline that can be understood at a glance.

Actionable: Include a link to your article, blog, website or promotion.

Social Media


Relevant: Social and communication apps are among the highest-opened, and people want to know immediately when someone has responded to them.

Personal: Just letting the user know, ‘Miss Jones replied’ is more than enough. People don’t want their personal communications on display.

Actionable: Make sure it links directly with a CTA like ‘read’.



The wellbeing app will let you know when it’s almost time for bed.

Relevant/Timely: Users specify their ideal bedtimes using the Fitbit, which sends a reminder so you know to get ready for bed.

Personal: The user has set the device and is expecting to get this notification.

Actionable: Nothing directly actionable. But since this is a daily user-defined reminder, it keeps the Fitbit app front and centre, where it’s likely to be opened more regularly.

Push notifications are more useful to marketers than the people receiving the notification. They have become the new email – except that there is a push for that too. Push notifications, while controlled by the user, tend to be largely ignored. While they are helpful for busy people taking international flights or advising weather warnings, they are best avoided when you have many other tools at your disposal that are far less invasive.

While people want to know when their credit card is used, or perhaps receive breaking news alerts for their region, push notifications used to promote your business, such as a sale or general advertising, will be largely ignored. Those who overuse social media will fast find people turning off notifications in droves. Push notifications are for urgent matters – finance, weather, political instability, appointments. They are not used well for updating people on your importance as a musician or your company handling a humanitarian crisis. Allow people space and they will appreciate finding you and following you without being hounded daily.