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AI-Powered Push Notifications Will Become Critical for Publishers

Originally posted by Bill Nolte on Ad Exchanger

Publishers need to rethink their monetization strategies.

As the shift toward privacy takes away the low-hanging fruit of tracking users and selling user data, publishers need to play the long game – cultivating a dedicated audience by delivering authentic, high-quality experiences based on relevant content for their users.

One of the most promising monetization strategies coming out of this shift turns push notifications, an old technology, into a way to deliver AI-powered, hyper-personalized experiences. Using push notifications as a reengagement tool to build a loyal audience. In the process, this approach creates a natural long-term path to increase and enhance publishers’ programmatic inventory.

Rethinking push notifications’ bad rap: from spammy pop-ups to relevant reengagement

I’m used to getting pushback any time I mention push notifications. Push has a reputation as the modern pop-up: annoying to users; a cheap and dirty tool.

That’s because previous iterations of push strategies were garbage – too invasive and spammy, and not incorporated with an audience engagement strategy. Publishers often tricked a user into accepting notifications, then spammed them with as many notifications as possible, counting on a small portion to inadvertently click on something. It’s a crude, PPC-like model that gained popularity because it’s the easiest, fastest way to turn push into revenue for a publisher.

But it’s not sustainable. In fact, it works against a publisher’s core goal. That strategy cheapens the user experience and drives would-be engaged audiences away.

The new model completely removes the advertising component from push notifications. Push isn’t a direct revenue-generating channel for publishers. Rather, it’s a reengagement tool, a distinct platform for publisher and syndicated content, and ultimately an inventory creation tool for publishers.

In the new model, publishers use push notifications to engage with their most interested audiences. Not bombarding them with 100 notifications a day, but sending them a small number of personalized content recommendations that bring them back to the site day after day.

To further qualify a publisher’s best and most valuable audience, the push subscription offer might not come until the user’s third or fourth site visit. This gives the publisher more insight into what content a user wants, so they can deliver better push recommendations right from the start.

Through push subscriptions, publishers develop a one-to-one, sustained relationship with these highly valuable “power users.” Users see the publisher curating a hyper-personalized, hyper-relevant content feed just for them. Publishers see their content working harder, generating more impressions and driving more programmatic inventory that will drive ongoing value.

Enticing users with a clear value exchange

Even highly engaged users are wary of signing up for alerts. Marketer-focused push providers use innovative offers to overcome this barrier – most often with an alluring discount for subscribing.

Publishers also need to recognize that the promise of personalized content needs to be sweetened with an offer of immediate value. For example, a user might receive inside access to behind-the-paywall or restricted content, or a limited-ad experience. The publisher will quickly make up the relative cost of a sign-up offer through the increase in engagement and pageviews.

AI turns push into a hyper-personalized content platform

Many publishers already use push subscriptions for “breaking news” stories. But this approach is rapidly waning in effectiveness as users are numbed to the constant stream of urgency from every source. Moreover, breaking news isn’t personal by definition – and users crave personalized content.

The new model turns push into its own channel or platform for all published content and uses AI to hone that stream of content down to a personalized feed for every user.

For example, at Sonobi, our content curation and recommendation engine ingests all the content that a publisher produces – using AI to understand and categorize that content across myriad dimensions. When a user signs up for push notifications, we can see the content they’re currently reading, and then use AI to suggest the perfect content to bring them back to the site. That AI gets smarter over time, deeply understanding each user’s interests and preferences to make better recommendations.

But here’s the key: AI not only recommends the right content, it sends those recommendations at the right time, picking the day of the week or time of day when a user is most likely to engage.

This AI-powered optimization makes push a viable strategy for nearly any publisher. You don’t have to be the Wall Street Journal or ESPN, churning out an immense flow of content. AI helps you make the most of the content you do have, deploying it smartly and effectively to your highest-value audiences.

In fact, Sonobi is using this AI technology to provide supplemental content creation and syndication for some of our publishers that don’t have an editorial-first strategy – letting the AI define what types of content their user base will engage with.

Push should be a table-stakes strategy for publishers

Here at Sonobi, we made our name over the last decade by continually pushing publishers ahead of the curve – from pioneering header bidding to building a cookie-less ID product back in 2015, long before all the buzz.

Nearly every publisher turned us down when we first introduced header bidding, believing this approach was only associated with low-quality initiatives. But as large publishers began seeing serious value, others quickly jumped on board. Today, header bidding is standard in programmatic monetization – and it’s moved far away from any association with “cheap” demand.

That’s where we’re at with push notifications today: Sonobi and our clients are leading the charge in redefining push as table stakes for programmatic businesses that prioritize editorial content. The new model for push subscriptions will increasingly become part of an integrated offering in the programmatic marketplace that adds value with a relatively low lift.

I see AI-powered push subscriptions as a win for everyone: Users get the hyper-personalized, hyper-relevant content they crave via a content feed curated and delivered directly to their phones. Publishers get more out of their content, creating a virtuous flywheel – reengaging, deepening loyalty, increasing inventory and driving more effective, sustainable, user- and privacy-centric monetization strategies.

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