When I decided to write this article, it was intended to highlight the nuisance that is the mobile app push notification, especially for dating apps. They’re ever-present and an easy target for complaints from users. The more I dove into the subject, the more I realized there was a bigger issue at play: user experience and brand trust. Ironically, the apps “helping” us find relationships are the ones breaking our trust with incessant notifications. With more consumer touchpoints than ever, brands are more and more becoming their digital identity. So what are brands doing about it?
Pushing Us to the Edge
Since the launch of the App Store in 2008, app design has gone through many stages. Five years ago, with the launch of Swarm by Foursquare, Matthew Panzirino of TechCrunch announced we were in the third phase of apps: apps as service layers. This designation included new differentiators such as IoT and interactivity within your mobile device, and of course, push notifications. Five years later, what phase are we in now?
Push notifications offered brands the opportunity to get right in front of consumers’ faces, without needing users to actually use their app. Who could say no to that? Consumers, it turns out. At that time, the app industry was still relatively small, compared to what it is today, and novelty apps filled users’ phones to the brim. But this couldn’t last forever, and the app stores’ requirements addressed bad players and over-notified users, aside from requiring user opt-in:
‘4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information. Abuse of these services may result in revocation of your privileges.’
– Apple App Store introduction to requirements
There are countless articles on how to increase user opt-ins or push notification click-throughs, but they tend to gloss over one important question: why is your brand sending a push notification? Is it to get the user into the app? Is it to offer a deal or promotion? Is it performing a function of the app, like a reminder?
Many times, it’s not in the interest of the consumer that’s getting the push notification. And this is a problem for brands. Eyeballs have always been the goal for marketers, and for good reason. But when it comes to digital, your presence is your brand. You may be concerned that not enough users are visiting your app every day, but are push notifications the answer? It’s time brands ask the question: what value is this app bringing to the consumer?
I sat down with UX/UI Specialist Stephanie Mikuls of Inspiring Apps here in Boulder, CO, to get a designer’s perspective. Shortly into our conversation, Stephanie hit on a point that shifted my way of thinking:
Max: ‘How, if at all, do apps play a role in user wellness?’
Stephanie: ‘Most of the time, a brand or individual creating an app starts out with the best intentions. They want to provide value or fulfill a service or making something easier for their users. But somewhere along the way, whether in design, or budgeting, or business pivots, this goal gets lost. It turns into the optimization game, and the final product may only provide a shadow of the intended value.’
This doesn’t mean all apps are marketing ploys or all push notifications are the bane of every user’s existence, but it highlights the fact that brands are playing a role in our everyday lives, and they need to remember that.
Now, back to the app that started this whole investigation: Bumble. Bumble was released in 2014 and quickly became one of the dominant dating apps. Its intentions are noble; give women control of mobile dating interactions and create a safe-space that had quickly deteriorated on apps like Tinder. Five years down the line, where does it stand? If you’re not a dating app user, you may not be familiar with the ‘Time is running out!’ notifications users receive, sometimes multiple times a day. How do these urgency-filled, panic-inducing notifications align with Bumble’s values?
Really, it seems these notifications are fulfilling one function: get users back into the app so they can see more ads and revenue can go up. But the byproduct could prove costly to Bumble and apps that follow similar practices: alienate users and create a frustrating experience that reflects only on the brand, causing a decline in membership and subsequent decrease in revenue. Not to mention, with an increasing focus on digital wellness the nonstop notifications are next on the chopping block for consumers. When it comes to a subject as personal and vulnerable as dating, Bumble should understand that their shame evoking notifications are only furthering the poor perception we have of dating.
That is what brands need to remember when it comes to mobile apps and their general presence on digital: success is only as good as the user experience. With that, here are some things to keep in mind, not just as you start out on a new venture, but to continuously keep you in check on your brand’s digital presence:
- What value is this feature/product providing our users?
- What value is this feature/product providing the brand?
- Why are users using this feature/product?
- Why wouldn’t users use this feature/product?
- What can we learn from user drop-off?
- How can we learn what keeps users?
The more brands understand how their products and digital presence play a role in consumers’ lives, the better that experience can be, and that should be our number one focus as marketers. The moral of the story: Stop telling us we’re “missing out” or you’re going to be deleted and replaced like a toxic relationship.