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Android 13 will require apps to ask for push notification permission. Here’s how to get ready

By John Koetsier March 22, 2022

Permissions and privacy are two pillars of the emerging new mobile app reality. Google announced last week that in Android 13, apps will have to ask permission before they’ll be able to send push notifications. All newly-installed apps will have to get user permission before they can send notifications, while existing apps will get grandfathered in after a short grace period.

Fail to get permission?

“If the user selects the don’t allow option, your app can’t send notifications,” says Google. “All notification channels are blocked, except for a few specific roles. This is similar to the behavior that occurs when the user manually turns off all notifications for your app in system settings.”

So what can you do?

At the strategic level, there are two specific things that you should always be aware of when both building your app and 

First and always, work hard to build trust now. Ensure that people using your app associate both it and your brand with honesty, transparency, and reliability. Fail at this, and you might as well forget everything else. Get it right 99% of the time but screw up once, and you might as well not have tried.

Second, build notifications into some of the core loops in your app experience. 

Make them natural, normal, and available at the discretion of the people in your app. For example, if you’ve got a battle game that sets up random matches between players, start keeping a record of who plays who. Then ask players if they’d like to be notified if a previous opponent is looking for a match. If there are teams or clans in your game, query players if they want to know when clan members are online or attacking.

There’s more to do tactically, and I’ll dive into that in a moment.

First, let’s take a look at what the actual change will look like.

Details of the Android 13 permissions change

For newly installed apps, notifications will be off by default. Existing apps that were installed before the Android 13 upgrade and previously had user permissions for notifications get a temporary grant to continue, but it’s not clear how long that will survive, or if it will be maintained through the process of an app update.

Once you ask for permission, users can:

  • select Allow
  • select Don’t Allow
  • Or, alternatively, make no selection but simply swipe away from the dialog

If they select Don’t Allow, you won’t be able to send any notifications, and you won’t be able to ask again unless they uninstall and reinstall your app. (Though they can go to Settings and make changes if you present a convincing argument at a later point.)

If they don’t make any selection, you also can’t send notifications, unless you qualify for a temporary grant, which your app can get by having existing operational notification channels.

Of course, all this change isn’t immediate. 

Android 13 is still in developer preview, with probably three or four betas to come, and a launch in late summer 2022. So you have some time. But once Android 13 launches, if you target lower versions of Google’s mobile operating system, you will “lose the opportunity to request the permission in the context of your app’s functionality,” Google says. 

And overall, the trend is clear: apps need explicit permission for notifications via a system-level toggle that Google requires app publishers to display to users within their apps.

It’s a good time to level up your push notifications game

So: how do you maximize opt-in?

Obviously, you’re going to pre-ask for permission before you fire the notification runtime permission. And there’s some needed thought behind that: what does your app do that people want or need to know about very, very quickly?

But in terms of the mechanics and tactics of running push notifications, there are some critical ways to succeed.

1. Use push notifications situationally

Personalization sounds great until you realize it’s often used like this: you bought boots three years ago … you probably need a new pair now … here’s an offer for a new pair of boots.

That’s personalized, but it’s not contextualized to your current situation

Unless the brand can read your mind, of course. Or unless data about your shopping habits is collected and used in a privacy-safe way. But even if those two things happen, there’s no guarantee of relevancy at the exact moment of engagement: you could have purchased already, or you may have decided against buying boots and going with boat shoes.

Situational is different.

Think: you have a trip today to San Francisco, and your travel app pops up to tell you there’s a rainstorm in the forecast. Suggestion: bring a jacket or umbrella.

“The idea behind situational messages is that the user feels that it’s actually exactly what he or she would have expected to receive from this brand in this specific situation,” says Christian Eckhardt, CEO of Customlytics.

2. Personalization still matters

Once you’ve situated a message contextually, fine-tune it by making it personal. A retail app that has been granted location permissions might notice that a customer is traveling to San Francisco, correlate that with the local weather, and notice that there’s a jacket or umbrella in an abandoned shopping cart.

Now there’s a good reason to send a message. And you’ll know if it was successful pretty easily:

“You can proxy relevance fairly well with click rate … whether that’s a push or an email, or in-app message, if the interaction with that is high, that gives you a good indication that your relevance is high.”

 – Andy Carvell, partner at Phiture

There’s a good reason to work on this: personalized notifications see a 3X to 10X boost over general broadcasts.

3. Reserve push notifications for high urgency, high usefulness messaging

Be honest: push is inherently intrusive. 

(Just think about the name itself for half a moment.) 

Social platforms, in particular, tend to have a lot of notifications, and if they’re not urgent and useful, they run the risk of annoying people just enough to dig through their settings, find the right place, and toggle them off. (And that, by the way, is a significant commitment of time and negative energy.) Marketers and live-ops managers really have to discipline themselves, because a focus on short-term gain to meet budgets or targets can result in long-term pain as ever-larger fractions of your active users become less and less targetable via push notifications.

“Push notification … I would typically reserve for urgent stuff … high urgency, high usefulness as well.”

 – Christian Eckhardt, CEO of Customlytics

4. Don’t be afraid to push the right things

Look, an email mailing list that never gets used gets no unsubscribes. 

I pretty passively built up an email list over a year or so on my website, but never really used it. When I saw that it was about 1,200 people, I thought I’d import it into Twitter’s newsletter product and started updating people. Well, cleansing removed about 200, and at every email since, a few people drop off.

The same will happen when you start to use push notifications.

As long as it’s not extreme, a huge percentage, that’s normal. As the saying goes, ships in harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships were made for.

Use the tool. Some will drop off. Accept it. Understand that those who remain are people who want what you’re offering. And, if you’re doing it right, those numbers will increase over time.

5. Go anti-marketing

The messaging should not feel like a marketing message. 

I know that the age-old use case for push notifications has been the abandoned cart, and I’ve even used that example above, when it’s paired with other data. But we see so many ads in so many places I would be very cautious about putting anything that reads as marketing message in a push notification.

The focus is being helpful, being timely, being thoughtful, and making your customer/user/player experience better.

6. Ensure push notifications are part of an overall lifecycle marketing strategy

Push notifications don’t exist in a vacuum.

“We made a big investment in lifecycle marketing very early on, so that enables us … to send push notifications, in-app messaging, email, and build custom journeys or essentially canvasses that people follow … and we can alter those based on who you are, the segment you fall into, or your editing style.”

 – Jeff Roberto, VP of Growth Marketing, PicsArt

Sure, they’re a tactic. But tactics exist in a fabric of strategy, and divorced from that context, are disconnected, unexpected, and potentially jarring to the user experience.

Ensure push is just a part of a comprehensive plan that focuses on customer and user experience and success first.

Need some insight? We’re happy to help

There’s a ton going on in the mobile growth space. We’re more than happy to help at any time. Singular has been at the forefront of many changes the mobile marketing, including Apple’s shift to SKAdNetwork. We’re preparing now for Google’s shift to Privacy Sandbox for Android

Book some time, get a demo, or check out one of our industry-leading webinars.

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