fans at a concert

At its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple announced changes coming to iOS 10 (now available in beta) that will make push notifications more powerful than ever. 

These “rich notifications” are 3-D touch enabled, meaning with a long press users will be able to view photos, watch videos, listen to audio or see maps update in real time, within the notification itself. 

Apps will be able to use all of these new capabilities to create rich, interactive and powerful notification experiences for users ... or more accurately, the 45 percent of users that opt in to notifications on average. 

Pushing Beyond Push Notifications 

Enter the less well-known, but just as powerful in-app messages. In-app messages are more subtle and can reach all users, including those that don’t like the “pushy” nature of notifications lighting up their lockscreen. 

In-app messages can take different forms including banner-style notifications that show up within an app session. 

In-app message centers go beyond the temporal nature of in-app messages to offer a designated content marketing channel within apps where messages persist. Marketers can drive users to new content awaiting them in message centers through the use of badge counters on app icons, and messages can include rich content like photos and videos, forms and surveys, and mobile wallet passes and social feeds. 

While businesses can use push notifications, in-app messages and message centers to reach specific audience segments with tailored messages, it’s the rich content and now-or-later viewing that message centers provide that support a wider variety of experiences — from promotional and editorial content, to lifecycle campaigns and transactional order and shipment confirmations that recipients may want to refer to repeatedly. For example, Starbucks sends coupons and promotions as well as its “Pick of the Week” songs available to download in iTunes via in-app messaging. 

We found users open and read these message center messages eight times more often than they tap or swipe on push notifications. High-performing retail apps have a 49 percent read rate for in-app messages in the message center, whereas only 41 percent of iOS users even opt in to receive push notifications from retail apps. 

How to Create Great Customer Experiences via In-App Messaging

Getting in-app messaging right can be tricky. Here are four things brands should make a priority to create memorable and meaningful customer experiences:

1. Start by Experimenting: Identify Users’ Favorites

In-app messages are easy to use and easy to set up so brands can get started with minimal investment. Start by trying these three formats: banner style in-app notifications, full-screen rich landing pages and brand-expirable content in the message center. 

After A/B testing various in-app messaging copy, buttons and layouts, refine your strategy based on which combinations users engage with most. Every message they respond to, including buttons clicked, can enrich their profile, providing a better understanding of what formats and content they respond to most.

2. Add Value with Interactive Conversations

App users are a brand’s most engaged and valuable customers. When they download the app, they’re signaling that they want to interact with the brand. 

From that moment, brands should talk to customers about more than sales promotions. Make messages interactive by asking users for feedback and their preferences. For example, ask “Huge sale next week. Would you like alerts on all products or specific ones?” to start a conversation. Then customers can click a button that says “All” or “Specific,” which leads them to in-app preference selections. 

Remember: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Brands have found that repurposing content previously shared in email newsletters and social media can work well when shared via a message center. 

3. Segment Users with a Data-Centric Approach

Based on users’ in-app behaviors, brands can customize messages for specific customer segments, such as new users or users that looked at a particular product in the last week. Consider setting up automation to target customers abandoning a shopping cart, alerting them when those items go on sale. Data show that highly targeted messages get four to seven times higher response rates than messages broadcast to all app users. 

4. Tie Mobile Moments Together

In-app messages aren’t standalone experiences. They work best when paired with push notifications, mobile wallet items and deep links to create rich and interconnected experiences. Combining in-app messages with push notifications results in more than double the read rate than in-app messages alone. 

Concerts and sporting events are a natural fit for this kind of strategy. For example, they can leverage geotargeting and beacons to send nearby users a push notification with a deep link to an in-app message about the upcoming event. Beyond offering rich content and offers, brands that have implemented this strategy have seen up to a 35 percent conversion rate for ticket offers. 

A Dedicated Connection to Customers

Apps today have a wealth of customer insight available to ensure engagement efforts are as valuable to users as they are to the business. With in-app messaging, apps can go beyond the confines of their opt-in audience to engage all users with rich content that can inform, inspire and drive action. 

In an age where email readers sort promotional content to the side, and social networks algorithmically limit the reach of content, message centers offer a dedicated content stream that’s as easy for users, as it is for non-technical marketers. With data proving the effectiveness of message centers and four times as many retailers adopting them this past holiday season, the word is getting out.