Your customers are inundated with messages every day from friends or family, work colleagues, and marketers among others. Notifications from their banks, news organizations and fitness bands also land on their mobile phones. Let me show you the home screen of my iPhone.

A summary of my communication (or lack thereof) shows:

  • 24,998 unread personal emails (okay, mostly from marketers)
  • 4,937 unopened work emails
  • 272 unopened SMS messages
  • 45 unopened/read messages on WeChat (these are from marketers)
  • 0 unread notifications from Facebook (and I average 23 per day)
  • 0 unread notifications from Slack (and I average 87 per day)



I still use all of these communication channels, but I pay more attention to some of the channels than to others.

Here’s what is happening:

  1. My email inbox has been overrun by emails I no longer read or want.
  2. I continue to download new communication applications. Each time I do so, I am very selective about who I add into my new circle.
  3. I pay most attention to those applications that offer value to me in the form of entertainment or as in the case of Slack, collaboration with a very small group of trusted colleagues. These messages are extremely relevant to me – and personal.

Marketers and really anyone looking to engage with consumers thought they had checked the box with gaining consumers’ trust when they gained permission to send emails. Think about how many times you’ve made a purchase online and the box to “receive additional promotional materials” is already checked for you. You have to opt out rather than opt in.

Mobile came along and changed the game. Now digital business professionals and marketers worked hard to drive app downloads. They wanted to own their mobile moments with their customers on mobile phones. Each download was considered a win.

But then consumers stopped opening or using the applications. Only a few marketers have realized that they have to do more. Now if Marketers want to reach consumers, they have to gain consumer permission to receive push notifications.

The bar keeps moving for marketers who want to reach consumers on their mobile devices. Permission lies with each application. At a time of hyper-adoption when consumers can switch apps in less than a minute and migrate their base of friends or colleagues in a matter of days or weeks, marketers can’t rest.

Engaging consumers requires a new skill set. Marketers or digital business professionals who want to engage consumers through notifications or conversations on their mobile devices must:


  1. Establish trust on many platforms. Forrester Research refers to this as borrowing mobile moments. A handful of companies – Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Yahoo! among others – own a disproportionate number of mobile moments with your customers. As a marketer, you must gain permission to engage with your customers not only on your own app, but also on the apps of your ecosystem partners.
  2. Leave behind your PC-paradigms. As Forrester’s James McQuivey says, “When brands adopt new technologies, they do old things in new ways. When they internalize a technology, they do new things.” Too many professionals are doing old things in new ways. They are carrying email paradigms to mobile devices. These tactics will fail. Notifications sent daily or based on time will fall short as will lengthy messages and lines to web pages.
  3. Use context to initiate mobile messages. Consumers expect immediacy, simplicity and context on mobile devices. Targeting may work for you in the near term, but it is a band-aid. Only context matters in initiating messages to your customers. Ask them to pay bills when they are due – not days beforehand. Tell them a flight is late as soon as possible so they can take action. Remind them to pick up prescriptions that are ready when they are in the vicinity of a store and can take immediate action.
  4. Build your own best practices. The right message frequency depends on context. There is no fixed expectation from your customers. You need to use mobile analytics or marketing automation solutions to do A/B testing and define your own best practices. If you are sending out coupons for 10% off my next purchase in a clothing shop, once a month is probably often enough. If a tornado is headed towards my home, sending a message every 30 seconds may not be often enough. Test, fail, learn and develop your own best practices.