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Audience segmentation can do a lot to help marketers adjust the messages they send to make it more likely that recipients find them valuable. But there’s another tool that can help respect your customers’ messaging preferences that too few marketers are leveraging effectively: Notification channels.

Your customers have preferences. That’s true when it comes to the websites they browse, the apps they download, the products and services they choose to pay for—and it’s especially true when you’re talking about the messages they receive from brands. Just because a consumer is interested in receiving your brand’s weekly newsletter doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re open to getting promotional SMS when you’re having a big sale.

Audience segmentation can do a lot to help marketers adjust the messages they send to make it more likely that recipients find them valuable—and features like Braze Intelligent Channel can allow brands to automatically adjust what channel each individual customer receives messages in. But there’s another tool that can help respect your customers’ messaging preferences that too few marketers are leveraging effectively: Notification channels.

What Are Notification Channels?

In essence, notification channels are a unified way for brands to organize and manage the push notifications that they send—think of them as a sort of device-level preference center for push.

Notification channels can separate out the push notifications that an app sends into different groups (for instance, promotional versus transactional), allowing both brands and users to have more control over the messaging experience.

Why Were Notification Channels Introduced?

Notification channels were first introduced by Google back in 2017 as part of the release of Android Oreo—and the announcement was seen as a way for Google to further its mission of providing consumers with positive, relevant user experiences. The announcement followed similar moves, including the introduction of new functionality on Android the year before that allowed users to opt out of push notifications by simply long-tapping any notification they received.

What Are the Benefits of Using Notification Channels?

By adding notification channels to Android, Google allowed end users to control their receipt of push messages, so that they can be alerted to the types of messages they want most, while opting out of the ones that don’t interest them. For example, instead of opting out of all of your notifications, a user might opt out of low-priority messages only, or promotional messages only, or some subset as opposed to all of your pushes all at once. This gives you the opportunity to let users opt down instead of out.

That may mean that some members of your audience may not see every push you send them. But it also means that they’re likely seeing the push notifications you send that they’re actually interested in receiving—and that they’ll have less reason to opt out entirely of push or uninstall your app. It’s a win-win for brands and consumers alike.

Does My Brand Have to Use Notification Channels?

On Android, notification channels are mandatory. That means that push notifications must include a “Notification Channel” designation and within each of those notification channels, the visual and auditory behavior that is applied to all notifications sent to users in that stream must be defined.

Some brands choose to just have a single notification channel, removing the nuance that notification channels are meant to create (and increasing the chances that a recipient who’s not into that flash sale push you just sent will turn off all notifications from your brand for good). In general, it’s smart to separate out transactional and promotional push at the minimum, similar to how many brands handle email sending IPs. That said, while a more nuanced approach will make it easier for users to self-personalize the messages they receive from your brand, it can also take a little more work to get set up.

Why? Well, setting up notification channels takes engineering resources. Your marketing team can define what the notifications channels should be and which messages will fall into which bucket, but your engineering team—or a tech-focused agency—will have to implement the different channels before you can start using them.

How Should Marketers Plan Which Notification Channels to Create?

The first step is to develop a hierarchy of types of notifications from those that are most essential to users (e.g. flight cancellations for an airline app; sales confirmation for a retail app) to those that are low priority in nature.

Each group should have a distinctive experience that is consistent with the content and context of the message. For example, a last-minute flight cancellation should clearly be a high priority alert, with a concise message accompanied by a type of warning or alarm sound; there is no need for fancy images, emojis or videos. A request to participate in a fun survey, on the other hand, which is likely to be considered a much lower priority message, probably shouldn’t include an alarm noise and might be good place to leverage snazzy graphics via your customer engagement platform’s rich push capabilities.

Other factors to consider when organizing your notification channels include types of users, level of engagement, lifecycle, and goals. Remember that your number one objective is to provide value to your users. That means finding the types and numbers of channels that are “just right.” If you have too few channels, users will be disappointed in their lack of control over the notification experience and will be likely to block all of your messages. If you have too many channels, your messages will lack the clarity and consistency that establishing a solid brand requires.

How Can Marketing Teams Make the Most of Notification Channels?

Establishing the optimal number and types of notification channels is just one piece of the puzzle. You need to be sure that your brand’s notification channels mesh seamlessly with the rest of your messaging strategy. That way users will be more likely to stay around (and not opt out of any channel) as well as stay engaged (and keep coming back to your app). Here are five best practices for push notifications that should remain top of mind as you develop your categories:

  1. Keep Your Eye on the Prize. Every single push notification should be part of a larger strategy that drivers users toward the intended goal. You may break the process into steps or milestones that lead to the ultimate goal or conversion (e.g. download app, engage with app, make purchase through app), but the path through those steps should be clearly understood, mapped out, and tracked.
  2. Always Personalize. Users are quickly turned off by one-size-fits-all messages. So make sure that your intended message is a good match for the group of users you send it to, based on their interests and behaviors. Personalization is no longer a nice-to-have, but essential.
  3. Ensure that the Medium Matches the Message. Mobile push notifications are an awesome marketing tool. But so are in-app messages, email, web push, and the rest. Be wary of relying too much on a single way of reaching your users, especially since cross-channel messaging drives up to 800% higher engagement rates.
  4. Be Proactive. Don’t wait for users to opt out of notification channels that don’t interest them. Instead, show them that you value their ability to choose what’s right for them individually by developing a preference center for your app or website. Then invite them to determine which notification channels they want to be part of using in-app messaging.
  5. Know When to Stop. Just because you CAN send an unlimited number of messages doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Be on the lookout for diminishing returns and stop adding straw long before it threatens to break the camel’s back. Otherwise you risk more than just opt-outs from your push notifications—you risk losing the customers altogether.

Anything Else?

Here at Braze, we’re all about keeping up with the latest technology so that you can deliver the best experience possible to your customers easily, every time. That’s why both our software development kit (SDK) and dashboard offer support for the notification channels you’ve defined in your app. You can also specify a fallback channel for push messages that don’t include an explicit channel selection (like those you set up before Android Oreo was available).

Interested in digging deeper into push notifications? Learn how organizations like NASCAR are leveraging the Braze and its push notification platform to drive mobile app engagement then explore the ins-and-outs of this channel with our exclusive Push Notification guide.