Email and Push Notifications: A Time For Each, But Never Both

By: Kahuna | March 29, 2016 | Campaign Strategy, Mobile Marketing


According to a recent study by Informate Mobile Intelligence, Americans are now spending a stupefying 4.7 hours per day on their phones. That’s almost a third of our day! While shocking, studies like this one have become so common we’ve grown numb to the ever increasing amount of our time we spend absorbed in a screen.

But one thing that always bothers me about these studies is the “Shame on us” tone they usually take. Their hypothesis is that American’s just have bad habits and little self control, but in truth, I believe lazy marketing is largely to blame.

A recent research study found that participants had to deal with 63.5 notifications on average per day, mostly from messengers and email. Considering that the average American is awake for just over 15 hours a day (we sleep for an average of eight hours and 42 minutes according to the most recent U.S Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey), this means that we get more than 4 notifications every hour.

New research conducted by British psychologists shows more than half of the smartphone use — 55 percent — consisted of short bursts of less than 30 seconds of activity, which, is indicative of checking a notification or email. One could reasonably deduce that notifications account for over half the time we spend on our phones, and marketers can fix that.

A Better Notification Style

I’m a huge fan of the NBC show “The Office.” In one of my favorite episodes, BJ Novak’s character Ryan pitches his new idea for a tech startup called WUPHF. I’ll let the clip below speak for itself.

This episode first aired in 2010. Back then it seemed like such an absurd concept that it was impossible not to laugh at it, especially with Ryan pitching it so hard. But if you aired that same episode today, I bet some of the humor has rubbed off and the bit now hits a little too close to home.

Sometimes it seems like marketers have based their entire messaging strategy on that fictional startup. Receiving notifications on multiple channels is the actual default setting of most of the services we use everyday. Get a message on Slack? They’ll also send you an email about it. New connection on LinkedIn? Prepare for a push notification and an email with the good news.

Now these services provide users the ability to setup their own notification preferences, but that’s extra work for a user when it’s easier to just delete the app off their phone. It’s a lazy default setting for marketers and creates extra work to clear two notifications when one is good enough. And with tools like Kahuna to track behavior across channels, it’s completely preventable.

So let’s look at each channel and how you should think about your messaging strategy for each.


Email is a long form content channel. You can add infinite amounts of text, html, images, and even video. They’re delivered to a users inbox and are read at the users leisure. They can be saved for later or deleted.

Message Use Cases

Confirmations: Anything that users need to keep for their records should be sent via email. This includes booking information, order confirmations, and receipts.

System Updates: These are things like password changes, or other changes to an online account. A user will likely want to retain these for their records.

Long-Form Content: Anything over 100 characters or so belongs in email. Mission statements, policy updates, a letter from the CEO. Email is perfect for all of these.

Multimedia Content: If it includes images or video, email is the channel for it.

Non-Contextual Promotions: For promotions that don’t need user’s current context, like annual sales, email works best.


Push notifications are short bursts of information. They are delivered right to a users home screen and are read in context. They are deleted once a user clears them from their phone.

Message Use Cases

Status Updates: Think of things like shipping status, flight delays, or weather forecasts. All of these are quick bits of information that are perfect for push.

Time-Sensitive: Think of services like Uber. For time-sensitive information like when your car arrives, use push notifications or text.

Account Activity: Small bits of information like a new follower or a new event invite are simple enough to deliver over push notification.

Messaging: When a follower sends you a direct message or posts on your wall, an email is overkill. A simple deep linked push will suffice.

Contextual Promotions: Mobile gives you the ability to target users by location, and push notifications are the only channel on which to accomplish this.

Email and push notifications both have their place in a marketing strategy, but it is almost never together. Unburden your users from over-messaging and start being strategic about what messages you deliver on each channel.

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