Product Manager, Reteno
September 6, 2022
The competition for user attention is fierce. The average number of apps installed on a user’s smartphone is 35. But 1 in 5 people has more than 50! Just imagine how each brand must struggle to position itself as innovative, engaging, and always relevant.
One way to stand out among the numerous apps is to attach a notification badge to the logo. You’ve probably seen them but just didn’t know the name for them.
So, let’s take a closer look and answer the following questions:
An app icon badge is a small colored circle that appears on the upper right-hand corner of the app logo. It tells the user that there is a notification or message waiting for them, urging them to open the app. In reality, a badge can mean many other things – it depends on what designers decide to put in it.
On most phones (Android, iPhone), badges appear as red dots. On some systems, they can be blue. Badges can appear with or without an accompanying push notification. Again, it depends on who designs them.
Inside the badge circle, you generally see a number in white text - this is the badge count. It represents the number of notifications for a given user. The count can highlight unread messages, updates, content reminders, news feed cards, and other in-app features with a sense of urgency.
The email icon badge represents the number of emails – this is simple. But in most applications, the badge number is the sum of all notifications. For example, in the screenshot below, the app badge number for Twitter represents the number of notifications for new tweets, replies, retweets, and direct messages.
Some types of apps naturally have the highest retention rates: news, traditional banking, and sports. Perhaps, it’s because there is always something going on there, so users constantly feel the need to check in. Marketers for other types of apps can learn a lesson here – it’s important to create a feeling that something important is going on in the app.
The use of personalized messages and interactions is an effective tactic. For Duolingo, the winning copy in a push notification alone led to a 5% increase in daily active users. But what if you complement it with a simple visual trigger?
Icon badges are incredibly intuitive. They make the app appear active and dynamic without saying anything specific. They’re eye-catching, require minimal effort, and serve as a perfect complementary tool for other mobile marketing activities.
A UX designer and Medium contributor once wrote: “Push notifications and badges give an extra nudge for interaction, and this amounts to two-thirds of user engagement for a single application”. The statement is subjective but speaks true about badges as a useful tool for engagement.
The power of push notifications comes from their ability to dynamically change the way people interact with your app. Yes, they will still use the app on an as-needed basis. But on top of it, notifications and badges artificially create instances when users “need” to use the app. These tools create a channel that you can control, which many other retention tools can’t do.
There is a good chance that your app will be part of the user’s “inbox cleanup” habit. This is a practice of tidying up one’s apps and reducing the number of messages. So, a red alert on top of a mobile app icon can encourage users to open the app and read your messages more often. Otherwise, they will feel that they left something unfinished.
It’s not easy to resist finding out what a new notification is trying to tell us. To the brain, information is its own reward. So, we aspire to learn new things and are often driven by curiosity.
Badges can make users feel that they might be missing out on something good, and they won’t find out what it is until they open the app. It may be discounts, loyalty bonus points, or new content. You can also take advantage of FOMO to achieve high levels of engagement on social media.
Here is how you can get the full value of notification badges.
Once a badge steers excitement, the app itself needs to pick it up. The number must be clearly tied to something in the app – a message inbox, news feed, or in-app event landing page. Whatever it is, think it through at the design level.
The user knows why they got a notification badge, and they open the app. Once they see which in-app feature it was tied to, the count should instantly go down or disappear. Avoid forcing users into a complex clearing process – if the user no longer needs to be notified, the red dot should not be there.
Without a mobile marketing strategy in place, badging will lack focus and possibly fail to hit your user engagement goals.
Display badges in a way that helps your other marketing efforts. For example, if you are trying to increase your daily active users, schedule your content releases with badges.
Users can form psychological connections with your app if they see clear value in it. People want to receive helpful alerts, as evident from Google’s survey (source: Mobile app marketing trends and mobile landscape). The same is true for badges, too. As long as users trust you to be helpful, they’ll be excited to see the red alert and will act on it.
One of the most common bad practices for icon badges is having too many of them. 27% of users cite this as a reason to abandon an app (source: Mobile app marketing trends and mobile landscape). So, if your badge number is growing into triple-digits, you may need to rethink them.
You can also turn users away if they can’t understand what the badge represents. If they haven’t received any messages, there are no updates, but the badge is there, users will see it as an annoying distraction. Badges that don’t go away have the same effect – for users, they seem pointless, frustrating, and misleading.
It’s important for the badge to make sense for the app category, too. For example, app icon badges make little sense for clocks and other alarms, navigation apps, media controls, and digital media processing.
Not many people can comfortably ignore unread notifications. And anyone who has ever felt the urge to instantly click on an unread message notification understands how effective badges can be. As a brand owner, designer, marketer, or anyone else trying to capture value from app users, you can make badges work in your favor.
Consider app badges a part of the larger mobile marketing campaign. You won’t get the results you desire from badges alone, but alongside other promotional efforts, they will draw users in.
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