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Email Marketing Alternatives: Are Push Web Notifications and Chat Bots the Answer?

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.

Find out what alternatives may be best for you!

Find out what alternatives may be best for you!

I had a conversation with a networking friend of mine about email marketing. We talked about the challenges of getting people to subscribe to our email lists these days. My lists have plateaued for a while. I get some new ones, some older ones drop out, resulting in zero gain. My friend, who has an audience not too different from mine, is having the same issue. Okay, so I might be able to chalk that up to some regional or market trends.

But then I listened to a podcast by a popular online marketing expert. He reported observing a similar trend in the past few years.

While this is frustrating for all of us who use email marketing, I have to say that I’m not totally shocked by this trend. Information overload is causing people to either unsubscribe or not even subscribe in the first place.

Your email customer and prospect lists are a valuable asset to your business, no matter what business you’re in. So, yes, you should continue to pursue building your lists.

But if people don’t want to subscribe via email, what are some of the alternatives you have to engage potential customers and fans? Here are a couple that I’ve run across. But, like everything else in marketing, they are not without challenges.

Push Web Notifications

If you have a smartphone, you’re probably familiar with push notifications. These are the “alerts” that pop up on your phone with information from one of your installed mobile phone apps. When you install an app, you’ll often see a pop-up message that asks if you’d like to turn on notifications (or alerts, messages, etc.). Then you select “allow” or “don’t allow.” If set to allow, these notifications will pop up on your phone even if the app is not open and active.

Push web notifications work pretty much the same way, just on your desktop browsers. You may have seen these appear on your desktop as you visit sites on the web. After you select to allow notifications, alerts will pop up when you are using the browser, regardless of whether you are currently visiting that site or not. You are also given the option to block these notifications.

Because most people have a smartphone these days, this is not a stretch for them to accept—or opt in—to these alerts. However, I do have to say, from a personal perspective, I was a little concerned when I first started seeing the allow/block invitation boxes popping up on my browser screen. I had no idea what that meant and thought it might be a security alert about the site! So I hope that at some point, these invitation boxes will be a little more explanatory to encourage people to allow (or opt-in).

Another word about the invitation boxes. They look different on every browser and they are not available for all desktop and mobile browsers. This will not help gain user acceptance and opt-ins either. But this is still an evolving area.

The good news is that users do not have to share their name, email address, or other information to receive them. This can be reassuring for many users. As well, it won’t load up their email inboxes.

A concern for marketers is the future of desktop devices. As mobile phones and tablets continue to chip away at desktop usage, and if mobile browsers don't accommodate push notifications, this could be a marketing solution with limited applications.

Like email marketing, push web notifications require marketers to use them judiciously so that they don’t become the new spam! Some segmentation is possible so that users receive only relevant notifications. But as with email marketing, too frequent notifications will only result in people blocking future notifications.

Then there's the whole distraction issue when things pop up unexpectedly and divert attention from more important matters. Every interruption can decrease productivity. So whether you're a marketer or user, use push web notifications with care.

Facebook Messenger Chat Bots

This is another permission-based subscription alternative that utilizes Facebook’s Messenger function. When users opt-in to receive messages, an automatic “chatbot” reply responds, giving the user more information, link to opt-in incentive, etc.

Going forward, the marketer can then send Facebook messages to these users via the Messenger app. These messages can make special offers, link to new content (blog posts, podcasts, etc.), offer customer service . . . the uses are almost unlimited. It can be set up so that if the user responds in a particular way, a new chat bot message sequence can be launched to provide more information or assistance.

Because Facebook Messenger messages have very high open rates (I’ve seen estimates as high as 80 percent!), a chatbot system is of high interest to marketers. But like email marketing, it can easily be abused, resulting in users opting out of the chatbot or, worse, being offended by the marketer as my personal story illustrates.

My Experience with Facebook Messenger Chatbots

I received an invitation to one of these chatbot systems from a popular blogger that I’ve been following for years. I was totally curious about how it worked. Here’s what I experienced.

Opting in was easy and I immediately got a reply message with more info. Intrigued by how it worked for sure.

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Then I started getting a LOT of messages from him. Part of the message flood was caused by him not limiting his message to a few short words. So one broadcast spilled over into three or more, requiring me to scroll through screens of stuff on my phone. As well, the frequency of these messages started increasing which further annoyed me.

And then there was the issue of seeing the alerts (or the red dot with the number of messages noted) that I had a message in Facebook Messenger. Since many of my networking friends connect with me via Messenger, I open the app on my phone to see what’s up. Then I see it’s these promotional messages.

I got so irritated with it that I unsubscribed. Now my Messenger messages are back to their normal frequency AND only from my real friends.

In theory, this is an interesting non-email, permission-based marketing alternative. But if marketers give in to the temptation to overuse and abuse this type of system, it could easily drop those high open rates and cause high unsubscribe rates.

Additional thoughts on what works now instead of email marketing

Over to You . . .

I'd love to hear from you on these email marketing alternatives.

  • Would you use push web notifications or Facebook Messenger chatbots to market your website, blog, or business?
  • Would you subscribe to them as a user?
  • As marketers, should we just accept that our email marketing results will not be what they were in the past?
  • Marketers, if you won't be investing in email marketing alternatives such as push web notifications and chatbots, what do you plan to use instead?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 09, 2018:

Bill, even though I'm always looking for new marketing techniques, I also don't jump on every marketing "shiny object" bandwagon. And these two methods seem like shiny objects to me at the moment.

I'm watching and waiting since I don't see a relevant tie-in for marketing what I'm doing. And, God forbid, I tick off some of my precious loyal followers!

Thanks for chiming in, as always! Glad it's nice where you are. We've got snow for Cubs home opener today. Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 09, 2018:

Hi Larry!

My hubby just deleted Facebook apps from his phone, too. Sounds like a trend. :)

Even though you're retired, your mindset is in the right place for your writing. You write for your own pleasure and to be of interest and service to your friends and followers. I think many marketers are only thinking of scale and larger numbers, forgetting that building a community is done one person at a time.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts in the conversation! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 09, 2018:

Mary, you've pointed out something that I think these site owners forget. When a visitor hits a wall, they'll walk away. You're not alone in that.

I don't think it's a question of taking your marketing seriously. I think it's more about taking your readers' concerns seriously. If you think about the user experience, you're ahead in my book.

Thanks for adding that point to the conversation! Have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 09, 2018:

Flourish, you're not alone in your low or zero tolerance for pushy marketing. I think your attitude will become the norm. I think that's why I'm hearing more marketing experts pushing inbound and content marketing.

I, too, have really like seeing the yes/no value questions in recent emails from a number of vendors, including the likes of Amazon.

Thank you for stopping by and for the kind words! Have a lovely week ahead!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 09, 2018:

They may not be beyond my ability to learn, but they are beyond my willingness to learn at this time. And that's what it boils down to for me...time...I just have to pick and choose my marketing tools based on the amount of time I have.Still, great information!

65 today...spring for one day...I'll take it!

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 09, 2018:

A very interesting read, Heidi. I for one keep facebook just for personal messages. I don't want into having apps on my tablet or smart phone for marketing purposes. I guess I am from the old school as we say. I like to keep my marketing with people I know and friends of theirs. I am retired, Heidi and my main purpose of writing is to keep my mind sharp and to give me something to do that I can do at home. That is why I like HubPages so much.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 08, 2018:

I see these when I open some articles with some preventing me from immediately reading what I want to read so I just click,"No, thanks". Some are difficult to get rid of immediately so I get out of the page without reading the article. There is as you said information overload that I really don't care much missing one article. I don't like subscribing to these and I don't think I will use these either. Maybe, I don't really take my marketing seriously.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 08, 2018:

I trust nothing about Facebook, never did and now I really don't since Sheryl Sandberg's recent discussion about users having to potentially pay if they would want to opt out of ads. I think the platform is ripe for some upstart competition, but I digress.

These days there are so many sources that want to send you marketing "stuff" and much of it isn't valuable. My threshold for opting in, subscribing, etc. has gotten higher and my tolerance level for the kind of monkey business your blogger friend tried has gotten lower. Marketers need to provide something rare and valuable (I like the special 20-50% off coupon alerts I get from one craft store, for example). I've also appreciated communications that ask yes/no was this valuable to you.

Great article, Heidi. You are a marketing diva.

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