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Buy vs Build – making the right decision for your push notification system

Last year, mobile app users grew a massive 31% year-over-year, with verticals such as entertainment, fitness, gaming, and eCommerce seeing especially impressive growth, in large part due to the radically altered needs of consumers. The message to mobile marketers is clear – as more of us incorporate apps into our daily lives, the greater the need to engage the new consumer … and the greater the need to quickly outrun the intensifying competition that’s creeping up behind you.

During the next 5-10 years, the most successful businesses will be laser-focused on nurturing customer loyalty and retention to pave the way to greater sustainability, profitability and long-term success. Every savvy marketer understands the value of both web and mobile push notifications and to maximize that critical loyalty and retention; executed well, CTRs on push notifications can be as high as 40%, the tiny tip of the proverbial huge iceberg when it comes to the advantages of a great push strategy:

  • When used as part of a data-driven campaign, push notifications can deliver an ROI that can reach 3500%. 
  • Push notifications in some verticals are starting to overtake the use of email marketing. Comparisons have seen push campaign engagement rates come in at 50% higher than their email counterparts. 
  • A single push notification to new users during the first week of app installation can boost retention rates by up to 71%.
  • Targeted push campaigns can enjoy CTRs as high as 30%
  • … and those unassuming cart abandonment push notifications enjoy CTRs of up to 16%

…. but you don’t need convincing – there are statistics galore out there that will tell you more of the same and reassure you that you’re doing the right thing by focusing on push to engage and retain. But what about how you do push? As consumers grow more sophisticated in their needs, and you scramble to keep up, the inevitable question rears its head – “Shouldn’t we be building our own push system?”.

For the companies who simply don’t have the resources – financial or human – or would simply prefer to have the heavy-lifting done by a messaging provider, buying will be the obvious route, not least because you get more bandwidth to focus on the important stuff like reducing time to market and growing your user base. But for those whose mobile marketing needs are highly sophisticated or unique, building your own messaging platform will be the option that many will consider because either

  • your existing messaging provider can’t meet these increasingly sophisticated needs
  • or you’d like a greater level of control in order to be able to deliver on your push strategy now and into the future.

… more often than not, these needs will be those of a larger enterprise that has the money, time, and people to commit to the long-term investment this route requires, but even then, there will be challenges to overcome that won’t be an issue if you opt to buy.

So which path is best for your business? Let’s take a closer look at each solution.

Build

User Opinion MonitoringAt its core, building your own custom messaging platform usually means that you’ve got unique business requirements that require a unique solution to fulfil them – but of course, it’s there’s a lot more to consider before you pass Go – here’s what you’ll need to consider, and the questions you need ask:

  • Building your own service will usually take months, and whilst time is a cost that larger businesses can swallow, for smaller enterprises, sparing six months or longer to focus on such a resource-intensive project is going to impact other areas of business. 
  • Can your marketing activities afford to do without a push strategy while you build this out? You can always buy in whilst you’re building – but you’ll need to budget for it.
  • Do your research early – if you’re building your own push notification platform, you’ll need to budget for the necessary equipment. Establish what that’s likely to be, and how that will impact your budget.
  • Does your purse have the bandwidth for the development resources that you’ll need to allocate to the build? Plan for at least 2 developers working full-time on the project, as well as someone to manage it.
  • Don’t forget to factor in project delays, alongside the financial impact if the project drags on longer than you anticipate.
  • … and source your developers early! The team working on your project will need to have specialist knowledge, so establish early on the key skills that your project needs, then make inroads to source these skills as soon as you can – experienced, knowledgable developers are like gold dust and may time to find. Key skills your team will need:
  • A robust knowledge of native iOS and Android APIs and Rest API calls
  • C#, Javascript, Java, Objective-C, Dart, TypeScript, C/C++ (and others)
  • Robust experience with building systems, unit testing, and code reusability, alongside optimization skills
  • Don’t neglect to consider the process of developing, adding, and testing the required security features that will prevent security vulnerabilities against threats such as unauthorized access and modification.
  • And factor in the cost for the hardware the system will require to maximize performance, speed, and delivery.
  • Plan for ongoing maintenance – bugs will occur, code changes will be needed, upgrades will be required, and system management will be part of daily life – your platform will need to scale as your business grows, so considering how you’ll manage this side of things needs to be done before the fact. Will you need additional team members to manage the workload, or can you manage long-term with your existing team? You’ll also want to consider the 24/7/365 support that you’ll need when something (inevitably!) goes wrong. Establish who will manage – and perform – manual tasks like segmentation and A/B testing – elements which can be exceptionally difficult (though not impossible with the right skills!) to automate.
  • And don’t forget ongoing hosting costs!

Buy

It goes without saying that in general, buying a push notification platform is the less complex, more affordable option for most businesses – the time and resources required for building your own system will always need more planning, more money, and more manpower purely because of all the challenges you’re likely to encounter pre, during and post-build. Here’s what most – though by no means every business, can expect when they buy in:

  • What are your business goals? Are they unique enough to warrant a system build, or can a bought system accommodate your needs? Don’t write off buying before you’ve researched a range of push notification systems – most vendors now offer far more sophisticated system capabilities than they could even dream of a short time ago, so establish exactly what it is you think you need and talk to the experts to establish whether you really need to build your own, or whether your requirements can be met by partnering with a vendor.
  • How well will a paid solution integrate with your existing technology stack? Will you need to replace or upgrade existing solutions in order to accommodate  – and are you willing to do so?  Either way, integration is going to be less expensive than building your own system.
  • Push notification providers will have the skills needed to manage most business requirements, so you don’t have to worry about committing to what can often amount to months sourcing the right talent for your project.
  • Most providers can get you up and running quickly with push notifications – when you partner with a push notification provider, your marketing activities can continue apace with little or no interruption to your push strategy efforts; you’ll be able to instantly capitalize on the tools provided by a push notification vendor, something that building your own cannot promise. 
  • … along the same lines, building your own system tends to put the brakes on a lot of other activities you’re used to undertaking to grow your business. Buying in means you can start focusing on driving new subscribers to your app straight away instead of waiting until your system is built.
  • Buying means you can focus on bringing your app to market far quicker than building your own system will. 
  • Functionality and features such as segmentation, localization, automation, and A/B testing, to name just a few, are usually yours to deploy immediately – no developers, no over-time, no manual labor required.
  • Push notification providers tend to offer a vast range of features that you can take advantage of straight away in order to drive subscriptions, engagement and retention – think rich media messaging, intelligent delivery, advanced analytics, and localization. These features can, and often do, take months to build out in an own-build system.
  • When you buy, security is par for the course – in our experience, this is a biggie. You’ll almost certainly be working with mountains of personal data every second of every minute of every day. The reassurance that someone else is taking care of this non-negotiable side of app management can be a huge factor in deciding whether to build or buy, especially in the current hack-a-day climate.
  • Whilst building, managing, and maintaining your own system is costly and requires long-term commitment, resources, and people, buying guarantees far greater reliability – you won’t need to worry about software (and hardware!) upgrades, 24/7/365 support and availability, nor scalability as your business grows – and what can be the mounting costs of hiring skilled developers to maintain your system into the future.
  • It’s not unusual for businesses that build their own push systems to encounter problems with messaging, particularly when it comes to user segmentation. It’s these issues – subscribers getting irrelevant messages, or worse, receiving messages when they’ve unsubscribed – which can cause endless issues for the developers (and marketers!) of own-build systems and will often be what brings them to Kumulos. When a business buys, these issues simply don’t occur, so they can get on with focusing resources on the things that matter.

Conclusion

With the right strategy in place, push notifications can engage your audience in ways that provide real value, elevate loyalty, and boost retention. For those businesses where messaging is the key element driving growth, opting to build could well be the preferred route, provided the finances and resources are in place to bring the project to a successful conclusion, and beyond.  Our advice? Don’t write off push providers before you’ve established whether or not they can provide what you need! Push providers are often working at the forefront of innovation and can offer a veritable cornucopia of capabilities, so figure out exactly what you need, and do some thorough research to find out if a third party can deliver. 

For everyone else, the key aim is to focus on growing your business without worrying about the cost and complexities that building and managing your own push system inevitably brings.  The same caveat applies – establish what you need from a vendor, then set about finding the team that best fits your requirements. If you’re still unsure about which direction to take, talk to us we can even give you a free demonstration of our platform to make it easier to decide which path is the right one for you – we’ve got form in helping growing businesses to make better decisions around their push strategy.  Get it right, and both you and your customers can look forward to a long and happy relationship.

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