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Not just a bunch of hot air: The push notification opportunity

Urban Airship’s office is just down the street from 1000watt. The Portland-based company took off in 2009 when it helped launch the very first app to use push notifications (Tap Tap Revenge by Tapulous). Fast forward a few years and this past May, the company announced it was serving over 65,000 apps, and had served over 20 billion push notifications.

What is a push notification?

Basically, it’s a way for an app to send (“push”) information to you even when the app is not being used. On the iPhone and iPad, this is done through a badge, a banner or pop-up message.

So, for example, if you have a sports app with push notifications enabled, you could be notified of the latest results of your favorite teams, even down to minute-by-minute score updates.

They are an incredibly powerful feature, but they do require some restraint and management. If left unchecked, notifications can quickly spiral out of control.

On the flip side, for application developers, notifications are gold. Not only do they provide killer  functionality, but also they secure long-term engagement. Once a user has taken the time to set up and customize their notifications, they are unlikely to move on to another, competing app.

No surprise then that a recent survey by Appcelerator and IDC identified push notifications as one of the top two services that developers want to integrate into their applications in 2012.

This is real estate, so what?

Back in 2006, when I joined Prudential Northwest Properties, we developed an email-based product that alerted buyers whenever new properties hit the market. Thanks to some proprietary technology, we could claim that we would deliver those updates within 15 minutes of a status change.

Back then, it was a pretty big deal, especially in a super hot market. Today, I suspect nearly every big brokerage in America has something similar in place.

The problem with email is that the recipient has to know that the email has arrived in their inbox and be there to open it.

Enter push notifications.

Go to school on Redfin

Take a look at Redfin, which this week announced they’re bringing push notifications to their property alerts.

From their blog post last week:

We’re calling these notifications Mobile Instant Updates because they work the same way as our emailed Instant Updates, but they kick it up a notch.  Where emailed Instant Updates hit your inbox when a home goes on the market that meets your saved search criteria, or when the price drops or status changes on one of your favorite homes, Mobile Instant Updates trigger a message on your iPhone or iPad’s Notification Center as soon as that happens. Serious home buyers should think of that notification as a starter pistol going off, and start moving fast!

I see push notifications as a monster opportunity for real estate – not just to help consumers, but to support agents as well.

Think about it. Lead routing could become more immediate. MLS software could become more responsive. CRM tools could become more proactive.

Browse through Urban Airship’s Customer Spotlight section and you’ll find a number of interesting ways companies are using push notifications to connect with consumers, customers and colleagues.

It’s pretty heady cool stuff. And more than enough to let your ideas take flight.

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5 Responses to “Not just a bunch of hot air: The push notification opportunity”

  1. Kelly Mitchell says:

    You read my mind. We just introduced push notifications (a few of them I might add) to our custom solutions. The opportunity to stay connected with consumers is there. The real estate community has more opportunity than they know to make a huge impact on the consumer. Love that it is starting to take shape in the app realm.

  2. Cre8tiveApps says:

    Push Notifications are a powerful tool that can be easily overdone. As you point out, it is easy to spiral out of control and companies run the risk of alienating their users. Therefore, I think it does need to be done with some restraint. It’s not hard to anger a customer over what they deem is too much spam hitting their phones. I personally have deleted some apps because they kept popping up with notifications way too many times. It’s one thing to say “I want your info”, it’s another to constantly pop content on my screen via notifications. Apple also has some guidelines on how to use Push Notifications.

    We are adding Push Notifications to our House Hunter: My Agent app to allow agents to send relevant and timely info to their users. However, we also have a unique approach to how and when notifications are handled.

    I am personally excited about Push Notifications for the real estate space, but from a realtor’s perspective, unless you have your own app developed, how can you leverage this in your business? Will realtor.com let agents push notifications to clients in their area? will they allow listing updates to auto push to clients? I guess that is part of the beauty of our approach, House Hunter: My Agent is locked to each realtor so notifications will only go to clients using their version of the app.

  3. Kirk Eisele says:

    I’m not sure I see a lot of consumer value in push notifications of new listings. (Unless the market get over-heated again.) Most engaged buyers are still batching their review of new properties to evenings after work, etc so a new listing in the middle of the morning and another one in the afternoon isn’t that likely to impress them as valuable. More likely just noisy.

    I think you are right on with lead routing to agents though. One benefit could be from an accountability standpoint. If a brokerage is implementing a response time expectation an installed app requirement could prevent an agent using not checking email as an excuse for a slow response time, etc.

    Fun to think about…

  4. Matt Daimler says:

    UrbanAirship is a great service. We rolled their API into our iPhone and Android apps earlier this year with ease. Currently we are only alerting on new comments between folio users (i.e. agent says something about a property to the buyer), but we may consider additional alerts in the future and it’s great to have UrbanAirship do all this heavy lifting for us.

  5. David Marine - Coldwell Banker says:

    The concept of push notifications is great but it seems like every app these days prompts to allow for them that i automatically hit “don’t allow” on every single one.

    The option for the push notification needs to be communicated/promoted/exposed within the app to make sure the end user doesn’t over look it.

    Good post.

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