Messaging is a key component of mobile marketing campaigns, and there’s plenty of data to explain why.

Bizness Apps found that users who opt in to push notifications engage with the app 3x more than those who don’t. Similarly, Leanplum discovered that the mere act of sending push notifications increases user retention by 20 percent, while sending personalized messages bumps that number up to 7x.

The specifics may vary, yet the trend is clear: push notifications are a powerful engagement and retention tool.

But why does this happen?

If you search the keyword “push notification” on public platforms like Twitter, many users give the impression that these messages are unwanted. In spite of this, the data shows that push helps more than it hurts.

With data as our guide, we’ll go over a few likely reasons for why push notifications help user retention — and why some mobile teams still underestimate them.

Push Notifications Are the Most Powerful Reminder

It’s pretty much a fact that there are too many apps in the world. The average mobile user still downloads two to three apps per month, yet the average retention rate for these apps after 90 days is less than two percent.

How many apps can a person reasonably use on a daily basis? The average user spends most of their time on only five apps, regardless of how many they’ve downloaded in total.

Implicitly, we can conclude that users don’t always fall dormant because they dislike the app. Many people stop using apps due to oversaturation, competition from similar apps, or even simple forgetfulness. But because these users never developed a negative impression of your app, they’re the easiest ones to win back.

For disengaged users who shelve your app without giving it much thought, a single push notification could be enough to rekindle their interest. Since push notifications reach users outside the app, they’re the perfect tool to remind people of the value your app provides.

Emails get lost in overflowing inboxes, and in-app messages only work on users who launch your app frequently. Push notifications are the best of both worlds: timely, skimmable, and wide-reaching.

Personalized Push Notifications Are Different From Generic Blasts

When we talk about push notifications, some users — and even some app publishers — think of generic blasts sent to the whole audience. While there’s a time and a place for these messages (like if you release a critical app update), they’re generally disliked by consumers. Send generic push blasts too often and you’ll come across as spammy.

When users complain about push notifications, more often than not, they’re talking about these generic blasts. In reality, personalized push notifications enjoy a much higher open rate, suggesting that most users aren’t turned off by them.

Again, the specifics will vary, but we’ve seen that personalized content and/or triggers can increase push open rates up to 800 percent.

In either case, the secret is to personalize everything you can, from message send times to the copy and content itself. Users who obtain real value from your messaging are more likely to stick around, and less likely to complain about it on social media.

Push Notifications Can Be Valuable in Themselves

Previously we discussed push in terms of demonstrating value to dormant users, but the best messages can even provide value to seasoned users.

Consider a retail app: the most active and engaged users are the ones who’ll benefit most from curated recommendations sent via push. They’ve already contributed many hours of browsing history to the app (plus a purchase or two), so it’s easier for the app team to send product recommendations that make sense. More data means better suggestions.

At worst, these notifications could miss the mark — but at best, they result in a virtuous cycle where better messages bring more conversions, which in turn bring even better messages.

News apps are another good example. While it’s tempting to optimize your push notifications to drive more clicks to your app, “clickbait” messages can do more harm than good. After all, you don’t want a higher push notification open rate if it results in more app uninstalls. For news apps, delivering the full headline — or alternate copy that summarizes the article — might deliver more value to users.

Earning and maintaining push notification privileges is a big part of mobile marketing. To accomplish this, it helps to deliver messages that people genuinely enjoy. A news app user might open the app less often if the push notifications are too good at summarizing the story — but they’re also more likely to stick around in the long run, because the app is filling their need.

How can Push Notifications Deliver the Most Value?

Putting these points together, the trend is clear: push notifications improve retention because they reactivate dormant users and provide value to engaged users.

For mobile teams, the next step is to make this information actionable. How can app publishers craft messaging campaigns that truly engage their audience?

As with many things in marketing, data is the place to start. Mobile marketing platforms like Leanplum make it easier to schedule messages across the entire user lifecycle. The most effective messages are triggered by user behavior and personalized with user-specific content, so the best way to increase push notification engagement is to make your data work for you.

About the Author: Stefan Bhagwandin writes content for Leanplum, the most complete mobile marketing platform. He follows startups, technology, and the many points of interest that fall in between.