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Email vs push: who will win the customer activation battle?

Email and push notifications are two major channels for customer activation, and there's no doubt about that.

The death of email has been predicted for a long time. Yet, it remains the king of channels, the most used by far. Arriving later on the scene, push notifications have forcefully made their way into the daily lives of consumers and marketers.

Email and push are very different. Each has its specific advantages. In this regard, they are complementary. The combination of email and push allows for the creation of highly effective cross-channel customer journeys, as we will see.

So, there's no battle, but rather a complementarity to be sought, tested, and found.

In this article, we will present in detail email and push, their respective advantages, and best practices for effectively integrating these channels into your customer activation strategy.


1. Email: an essential tool in customer relationships

More than 360 billion emails will be sent in 2024 (source: Statista), and this volume is increasing year by year. Far from being dead, as sometimes proclaimed, email remains instead the main customer activation channel, the most obvious one. This is due to a number of advantages.

The advantages of email marketing

A wide audience

Email marketing continues to play a predominant role in digital communication strategies thanks to its ability to reach a wide audience.

With over 4 billion email users worldwide (source: Statista), this channel offers immense reach, allowing businesses of all sizes to contact their customers directly and on a large scale.

A customizable channel

One of the major strengths of email lies in its great capacity for personalization.

Emails can be customized based on the demographic data of contacts, purchase behaviors, and preferences.

Personalization can range from simple inclusion of the recipient's name in the subject/body of the email to recommending specific products based on purchase history.

In reality, there are few limits to personalization, provided you have these three ingredients:

  • Rich, up-to-date, and well-organized customer data.

  • Customer segmentation (we will return to this).

  • A scenario logic (marketing automation) that allows sending personalized emails based on the customer's behavior or lifecycle. Marketing automation enables pushing the logic of personalization to its maximum.

Precise metrics

Email marketing also offers the benefit of providing simple, effective, standardized, and precise metrics.

These metrics (or KPIs - Key Performance Indicators) are well-known to marketers:

  • Deliverability rate,

  • Open rate,

  • Click-through rate,

  • Responsiveness rate,

  • Conversion rate,

  • Etc.

The ease of accessing these performance data (in marketing platforms) simplifies the process of continuous improvement. The performance of an email marketing campaign is easy to measure, thus simpler to enhance.

Best practices in email marketing

The ROI of email marketing is on average 3,600%. €1 invested can generate €36 in revenue. The figure might be debated, but email is clearly one of the most efficient channels on the market. Inexpensive to use, it can contribute very significantly to a company’s revenue.

This requires using the best practices of email marketing. If we were to highlight just three best practices, they would be:

Database segmentation

As briefly mentioned earlier: the performance of email marketing relies on the personalization of campaigns, and the personalization of campaigns, in turn, relies on the segmentation of customer data.

Segmenting data (or segmenting customers) involves creating homogeneous groups of customers (segments) who share common characteristics. These characteristics can be behavioral (purchase frequencies, pages viewed), socio-demographic (age, gender), or psychographic (declared interests).

Segmentation enables the targeting of emails and allows your company to send messages that truly resonate with your customers, their needs, their interests, their current challenges.

Customer segmentation has become a standard marketing practice. Mass email marketing gives way to personalized email marketing based on relevant data and customer segmentation. This is the key to successful email campaigns.

Content and design optimization

The content and design of emails must be carefully crafted to capture the attention of recipients and enhance their engagement.

It is particularly important to carefully craft the subject line and pre-header of emails to encourage recipients of your campaigns to click and optimize the open rate.

The content, more generally, should be personalized, which ties back to the previous point. The tone should align with your target audience. The way you address retirees versus 18-25-year-olds (to use a somewhat stereotypical but illustrative example) should differ.

The design, on the other hand, should be both aesthetic and functional. It is also important to ensure that emails display correctly on all devices, especially mobile devices. This has become a prerequisite.

There is much to be said about the best practices for designing and crafting email marketing. What is essential to remember is that the way an email is written, copywritten, and formatted has a significant impact on the performance of the emails.

Deliverability management

Logically, deliverability directly impacts the performance of an email campaign. An email is "delivered" when it lands in the recipient's inbox. Deliverability is a real challenge in email marketing.

The deliverability rate of your emails refers to the percentage of emails that reach your contacts' inboxes. It is estimated that a rate of 95%, or even 97% if you want to be top of the class, should be aimed for.

To optimize this KPI and thereby the performance of your email campaigns, you must take care of your sender reputation, ensure that your contacts have agreed to receive your emails (opt-in), and regularly clean your email lists to remove those who are no longer receptive to your messages.

To learn more, check out our article dedicated to email deliverability.

2. Push notifications: a rapidly growing channel

Push notifications have carved out a significant place in the arsenal of channels available to marketing teams. Several strengths explain the success of push notifications (web or mobile).

The strengths of push notifications

Instantaneity and responsiveness

Push notifications have the ability to reach users instantly and elicit an immediate response. Unlike emails, which can remain unchecked for hours or days in an inbox, push notifications appear directly on the user's lock screen (mobile) or computer screen (web notifications).

This immediate visibility is one of the major strengths of this channel.

This feature makes push notifications particularly effective for conveying urgent information or time-limited offers. Push notifications encourage users to act quickly.

High engagement rates

Push notifications have an intrusive nature that is mitigated by the fact that they are accepted. Indeed, it is not possible to send a web or mobile push notification to a client without their consent (opt-in).

Thus, push notifications enjoy maximum visibility and explicit consumer acceptance. This explains why the engagement rates for push notifications are significantly higher than those for other communication channels. The open rate for push notifications exceeds 16%.

Geolocation and precise targeting

Web and mobile push notifications offer advanced targeting capabilities, particularly in terms of geolocation. It is possible to send push notifications based on the current location of the user. For example, this allows businesses with physical stores to push specific offers when a user is near a store.

The ultra-targeting of push notifications enhances their relevance and ensures that messages are sent when they are most likely to lead to a conversion.

To delve deeper into this topic, read our article on the different types of push notifications where we revisit the main benefits of this channel for businesses (and consumers).

The keys to an effective push strategy

The performance of a channel depends on how you use it. Here are some tips for building an effective push notification strategy.

Relevance and added value of messages

For web and mobile push notifications to be effective, they must bring value to the recipients. This is fundamental.

This means not only personalizing content based on the user's data, purchasing behaviors, and preferences but also ensuring that each notification provides clear added value, whether it be:

  • Important information (news, scoop, software update)

  • A significant reminder (an operation to finalize, an offer expiring soon...)

  • A significant offer (a gift, a discount, a promo code...).

Frequency and timing of sending

The frequency and timing of sending push notifications must be chosen carefully to avoid consumer fatigue.

Sending too many notifications can irritate users and lead them to disable notifications or even uninstall the app. It is therefore crucial to test and analyze user responsiveness to find a balance that maximizes engagement without overwhelming them.

The timing of notifications should be adapted to user habits. The best time to send depends on the content of the message, the nature of your service, and the habits of your users. It is determined by conducting A/B testing.

Complementarity with other channels

Push notifications should not operate in a silo. They need to be integrated into a broader multichannel marketing strategy, becoming part of customer journeys, marketing automation scenarios that involve email, SMS, social media...

For example, if a user receives an email announcing a new product collection, a push notification could be sent a few days later to remind the user to check out the collection if they have not yet opened the email.

This cross-channel approach not only ensures consistency in communication across different channels but also mutually strengthens them.

3. Email and push: a winning complementarity

As you've come to understand, email and push notifications don’t have to be at odds. They are complementary.

Use cases combining email and push

Push notifications (web or mobile) and emails are distinct in form and function, but they complement each other well when integrated into the same customer journey. Here are three examples of customer journeys that combine email and push.

Retargeting and reactivation scenarios

A user shows signs of disengagement, no longer uses the app, no longer opens emails? A retargeting and reactivation scenario is needed. Here, the email and push combo can be very effective.

For example, you could send an email reminding the user of the benefits of the app or offering valuable content. If this email is not opened after a few days, a push notification can be sent to capture the user's attention in an even more direct and immediate way.

Onboarding and loyalty journeys

The onboarding journey is a sequence of messages sent to new users who download an app or sign up for a service. The goal is to properly welcome new users and support them in adopting your app or service. Good onboarding leads to customer loyalty.

Here's an example of a journey (or scenario) involving email and push. A user signs up. Following their registration, they receive a welcome email providing detailed information on how to start using the service or app. Later, push notifications are sent to guide the user through their first actions. The notifications thus take over from the traditional welcome email.

Cross-promotion and event-based triggers

Cross-promotional and event-based triggers are also effective when combining email and push. For instance, if an upcoming event or promotion is relevant to a particular segment of users, you might start with an informative email. If the event date draws closer and the user hasn’t interacted with the initial email, a push notification can serve as a timely reminder.

This strategy ensures multiple touchpoints, which can increase the likelihood of user engagement and improve the overall effectiveness of communication efforts.

Event campaigns

Email and push notifications are also highly effective in the context of event campaigns. Combining the two can increase the visibility of your events and boost registration rates.

For example, you might send an email to announce the event well in advance, providing all necessary details and possibly a link for more information or to register.

As the event approaches, push notifications can be sent sequentially to remind the user of the upcoming event, encourage registration if they have not yet done so, or provide last-minute information.

The benefits of an integrated multichannel approach

Using emails and push notifications together in an integrated multichannel marketing strategy offers several significant advantages that both enrich the customer experience and improve business performance.

A 360° view of the customer

Integrating push notifications and emails into a multichannel marketing strategy facilitates the consolidation of data and information collected about your customers, their behavior, and their preferences.

In other words, the centralization of marketing actions in the context of multichannel scenarios simplifies the centralization of data.

This provides a 360° view of the customer, which enables continuous improvement in targeting content, offers, interaction timings...

Integrating channels (especially email and push) thus serves as a tool for data unification and customer knowledge.

A smooth and consistent customer experience

When push notifications and emails are carefully coordinated, they help create a seamless and frictionless customer experience.

The company can thus leverage the strengths of each channel:

  • Emails can be used to provide detailed information.

  • Push notifications can be used for reminders or urgent actions.

The harmonization of channels, made possible by their integration into scripted customer journeys, ensures that the customer receives the right message, at the right time, and in the most suitable manner. This results in increased customer satisfaction.

Optimization of results and ROI

Well-designed multichannel marketing scenarios optimize conversion rates and reduce the cost of messaging.

As seen earlier, push notifications can be used to re-engage users who have not opened an email, thus increasing the chances of conversion without significant additional costs.

By improving the relevance of solicitations, you increase the ROI and performance of your marketing actions.

Key takeaways

Emails and push notifications each have their distinct advantages. We've explored their differences. Best practice involves weaving these two communication channels together wisely in consistent marketing automation scenarios.

Email and push should not be seen as opposing forces. They complement each other.

To conclude, their joint use in custom marketing scenarios requires the use of a multichannel activation platform like Actito. With Actito, you can create scenarios for cart abandonment recovery, onboarding, reactivation, or referral programs that seamlessly and logically integrate email and push (and other channels as well!).

Implementing a cross-channel activation strategy involves using a cross-channel platform.

If you are considering enhancing your use of push notifications and creating integrated multichannel customer journeys that include email and push, we invite you to get in touch with us. Together, we can explore the best ways to achieve your goals.

About the author


Isabelle Henry

Head of Inbound and Growth

Always on the lookout for new skills and always ready to launch new marketing projects at Actito, I rely on my personal experiences but also on everything that is happening in the digital world to continue to learn, educate and share with you through inspiring content. My little extras? Video editing and photography!

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