A push in the right direction

Stressful, disruptive, irrelevant? Push messages have a bad reputation, but used correctly they can actually help to strengthen customer relationships. E-retailers and finance companies are breaking new ground with proactive push messages that help us make smarter choices.


Proactive push messages can help us stay up to date and make smarter choices. There is also a tendency to individualize content to a greater extent.

Most people today live their lives with their cell phone within easy reach at all times, and it is quite usual for them to pick it up 150 times a day on average. It is often messages from various apps that demand our attention. A study conducted by the European Journalism Observatory (2016) revealed that cell phone users receive an average of 10–40 messages per day. Fully 23 percent of those asked stated that they had deleted an app because they found the messages either disruptive or irrelevant.

The psychology behind push messages

The perception of push messages dips from interesting to irrelevant when messages are sent too often. In that case, they stop fulfilling an informative function and become disruptive and stress-inducing, especially if they are accompanied by an audio alert. 

The attraction power of the messages is founded in both behavioral science and the design of the user interface. There is a reason why the notification symbol is red – this is a color that signals haste, which is one way to attract your attention. The same applies to push messages; they are designed in such a way that they all appear to be equally important. 

Chris Marcellino was one of the developers who worked on push messages for Apple. In a 2017 interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, he explains that the technique has a range of advantages, but that the impact is also founded in our reward-based behavior – “the same thing that makes us seek out food, comfort, warmth and sex.”

In recent years, however, push messages have gained a reputation for raising stress levels and breaking concentration. But they need not be used in a way that makes us lose focus on what is important. There are messages, and then there are messages. For consumers, push messages can make everyday life easier, inspire a change of behavior, and give a nudge in the right direction. Findings from the study by the European Journalism Observatory indicate that people are positively disposed toward push messages about information they consider worthwhile.

Proactive push messages

Instead of not realizing there is no money on your payment card until you take out your wallet to pay at the checkout, you can be made aware that you are low on funds and be offered help to deal with the situation. Several banks and finance companies also run services to remind customers about invoices that will soon fall due for payment. 

Proactive push messages can help us stay up to date and make smarter choices. There is also a tendency to individualize content to a greater extent. 

For messages to be relevant, they have to provide added value and give the user the chance to act on the information directly. Using the data that banks and e-retailers collect, users can, for example, get help in making better decisions regarding loans and forecasting risks in their share portfolio.