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March 27, 2015

Mobile Marketing is Going Hyper-Local

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Mobile marketing has taken huge strides towards fulfilling the potential of geo-targeting technology, allowing local businesses to make the most of their sphere of influence. The only way for geo-location techniques to go is inward, reaching ever-more specific parts of the local economy.

Mobile marketing is doing just that, placing an increasing emphasis on attracting foot traffic to brick and mortar retail outlets. The industry is now able to service international brands with bespoke campaigns in multiple locations using region-specific methods capable of targeting users to a single square foot. 

This ultimate refinement of mobile marketing tactics is a real game changer. A heady cocktail of beacons, GPS, location information gathered from existing interactions and other geolocaters is ushering in a new era of hyper-local mobile marketing so precise it’s hard to imagine how it could improve further.

Having such devastatingly effective mobile marketing tactics available at the local level is helping small businesses maximize their efficiency on tight budgets. For a relatively low cost, small businesses can quickly, reliably reach the widest audience they can serve, via a combination of in-app messaging, web ads, text messages, MMS and push notifications. 

So what next? With such sophistication already on display, where targeted mobile marketing could go now is anybody’s guess. Some mobile marketers are considering adjusting their services to allow for weather, which would let marketers better judge the prime time to pitch discounts. It might not be relevant to every business, but purveyors of ice cream or rooftop cocktails could really use knowing if it’s about to rain the moment they’ve sent their 50% discount coupon to hundreds of people. Other local data like traffic conditions may also begin to play a part in geo-location technology. 

The tools at our disposal allows imaginative approaches to marketing to flourish, unencumbered by technological limits. Nobody can say for certain what the next few years hold for mobile marketing - that’s why it’s so exciting. But if the rapid rate of change we’ve seen take place over the past decade continues, we can be confident that the mobile landscape of 2025 will look very different to the one we see today.

March 20, 2015

Did American Idol Help Kickstart the Text-to-Donate Fundraising Culture?

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Aside from launching the music careers of several aspiring singers, American Idol can also be credited with inspiring a new way to raise money for disaster relief. 

The show’s primary voting system, which allows viewers to cast votes via their mobile devices, became a springboard for AT&T engineer Marin Croak who realized a similar use for the technology as hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast in 2005. 

Instead of transmitting fan votes via text message to an operator, Croak came up with a way to pass donations via text to participating charities. The donation would later show up as a charge on the person’s cell phone bill.

However, Croak recalls, during this time, that the use of text messaging was not nearly as popular as it is today. According to an informal poll taken in 2008 on AT&T’s website, approximately 22% of respondents reported having learned to text as a result of American Idol’s voting system—an interesting perspective attributed to the powerful reach of AI. The subsequent increase in text messaging may have also helped prepared voters to become donors.  

AT&T who originally set up American Idol’s voting system in the early 2000s, placed a patent on behalf of Croak in October 2005. And although AT&T currently maintains this patent, Croak says AT&T is not seeking to make the patent propriety—which is great news for nonprofits and disaster relief programs.

For example, in 2010 text-to-donate made its first major headline debut during the earthquake in Haiti. The relief organization collected an unprecedented $30 million via impulse disaster-relief donations— a term which describes the ease and accessibility of this technology. What’s more, these donations were collected $10 at a time. Other significant text-to-donate relief campaigns have included Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  

Aside from generating these donations through a streamline system, nonprofits are now able to acquire donors, not just cash donations. Opening up this intimate communication channel may be more valuable than a $10 donation. Organizations can engage donors over time, build a relationship and collect future contributions. 

Notable organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, GlobalGiving, Mercy Corps, and Saving the Children have all established similar text-to-donate programs. 

Although Croak holds dozens of patents, she is particular proud of this one, which has made an enormous difference in the way people interact with their mobile devices as well as in the world of philanthropy.

 

March 17, 2015

New App Helps Canadians Pay for Parking via Mobile

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Toronto, Canada drivers will soon have a new mobile option at their fingertips, one designed to make parking easier.  

The Toronto Star recently reported that Canadian smartphone users may use a new app to pay for parking in the city’s outdoor Green P lots.  

“City-owned Toronto Parking Authority unveiled a free app and said that, by the end of spring, motorists should be able to use it to pay to park — and remotely extend their time if needed — at all outdoor Green P lots that currently use ‘pay and display’ machines,” the report notes.

In today’s world, cities and municipalities in every shape and size are using mobile apps, iBeacons, and similar options to aid local residents in finding parking and paying for parking tickets. Since mobile apps are utilized to make innumerable familiar chores more convenient, it’s no surprise it’s extended to parking.  

The mobile app as well as cell phones and web browsers may be used to make payments, and signup is free. Registration is straightforward, and only requires a quick download and mobile number entry to receive and subsequently enter a verification code. The final step is creating a PIN number. The app is available wherever Green P Parking signs are found, i.e. non-gated, off-street parking lots all over the city of Toronto. 

Ticket enforcement officers check license plate number and payment standing after parking, and the only fee drivers pay is the normal parking rate. There’s no service charges or other fees associated with the app.  

"This kind of approach makes sense," said Mayor John Tory at a recent news conference held to unveil the app. "Our role isn't to fight the future, it's to embrace the future."

Tory also added that he believed Toronto  has been “frozen in time," and vowed that the city is set to use modern technology in its services. “I think we have actually ended up behind other Canadian cities in a number of instances and I am determined to see us where we should be,” he said, saying the app will give residents "the best possible parking experience."

The mayor also noted the app will “make lives easier for people in the city.” 

Green P Parking lets drivers know when their parking is about to expire, and allows them to add more time, whatever their current location. The credit-card based system is set to launch next year. 

 

March 16, 2015

Has Mobile Marketing Become a Technical Profession?

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These days, extensive technical expertise is required for any company to enjoy marketing success. Mobile attribution, or discovering how a mobile user found out about and signed up for an app or service, is considered a technically-challenging task. It’s also one that has had a serious impact on how companies approach marketing. 

Doug Milliken, the vice president of global brand marketing at Clorox, remarked in a panel at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit that mobile marketing has become a “technical discipline.” The session was moderated by Ashu Garg, general partner of venture firm Foundation Capital. 

Milliken referred to another CEO with a technical background who enlightened him about this shift in marketing. 

“It’s an important insight,” he said. “It’s a huge period of innovation, the greatest period of innovation in the history of the profession. And it’s all being done by computer scientists and engineers,” adding that “deep expertise” is required for success as a marketer.  

Today’s marketers must now analyze and deal with sizable data sets, and subsequently link together automated platforms so as to run mobile marketing campaigns in real time.  

Jeremy Wacksman, vice president of marketing at online real estate site Zillow, agrees that understanding the technical side of mobile marketing is essential. The site receives 90 million visitors per month, with company heads spending some $75 to $100 million a year on building an audience. Since 75% of Zillow users now come in via mobile, the company has more economists and data scientists than performance marketers. Wackman says what marketing efforts are driving users to their app is challenging.

Clorox, in comparison, spent $10 million to $20 million a year on marketing, and while perfecting campaign strategies was once a top priority, “good enough” campaigns are now considered the norm. 

“You optimize it as you go,” Milliken said. “That’s a very hard thing to do. But now we add in the cost of delay. You may lose hundreds of thousands of profit if you delay a month. So good enough is better. We’re a younger company, and the market is you test. If you are wrong, you make a change. But you learn a lot faster.”  

Milliken added that real-time strategic marketing is now the company’s focus. 

Marketing used to be about print campaigns, such as those featured in magazines, newspapers, mailers, and billboards. Now it’s all about mobile devices, as the information people want about brands and services are merely a screen touch away. Figuring out new ways to encourage people to use apps and visit mobile websites is marketing’s future. 

 

March 12, 2015

The Best LTE Phones Out There

In the world of mobile, Long Term Evolution (LTE) devices are regarded as the heir apparent to the current generation of 3G technology. Already the standard for smartphones, all that needs to happen for LTE to cement its place and earn its name is for the inexorable rise of smartphone adoption to continue.  

If you’re looking to upgrade to a new smartphone, the wealth of options available can be a little overwhelming. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the very best LTE phones on the market today:

 

iPhone 5S

Apple’s fastest phone yet, the 5S come with a raft of new features including a fingertip reader, 10-hour battery talk time, high quality screen resolution and 64 GB built-in memory. Though it’s drawn some criticism for it battery life, which some feel could be longer, there’s no doubt that the 5S continues to justify the hefty pricetag (unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Apple abstainer). 

 

Moto X

The Moto X features a variety of proprietary Motorola apps and enhancements, and promises an all-day battery life. On the downside, the camera has been described as “inconsistent,” and the phone lacks features now demanded as standard by many smartphone users (such as 64GB or removable storage options). Several recent updates have improved the phone’s speed, and if you’re after an Android experience for an affordable price, the Moto X is an attractive option.

 

Samsung Galaxy S4

Hugely popular following its launch, the Samsung Galaxy S4 remains a firm favorite among LTE fans. It’s not as speedy as other models, but other features more than make up for it. Primarily, HD voice, which brings a clarity that has to be heard to be believed.

 

Motorola Droid Maxx

The Motorola Droid Maxx offers efficient connectivity, a long battery life, touchless control and hands-free features. The display could be sharper, and the phone only works with Verizon, which network scrutineers may balk at.

 

Nokia Lumia 1020 

Renowned for its sizable 41MP shooter, the Lumia 1020’s LTE speeds are fair even when browsing the web. It supports Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and LTE bands 2, 4, 5 and 17. Best of all, the camera is peerless, so it’s a good LTE option for people who take lots of pictures.

 

HTC Droid DNA

Again, this device is exclusive to Verizon Wireless, which will be a big no-no for many consumers. Luckily, the HTC Droid DNA more than makes up for it with a sharp screen, very fast download and upload speeds, and a first rate camera.

 

Blackberry Z10 

The Z10’s “modest” 4.2-inch display makes it one of the more portable LTE smartphones around. The inclusion of NFC features means it’s easy to transfer content between handsets and other enabled mobile devices without the need for network connectivity.

 

March 10, 2015

SMS Helping Sierra Leonean Become 'Citizen Reporters'

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Advances in text messaging have extended to social causes, including those fighting disease and providing assistance to third-world communities. 

International development charity Christian Aid launched “SMS Voices” in January of last year, working in partnership with ENCISS, a Sierra Leone-based governance program funded by U.K. Aid and the European Union. The program is designed to help elected officials and citizens maintain an open dialogue, and was created by Radar, a U.K. communications nongovernmental organization.

SMS Voices trained 45 volunteers from Sierra Leone’s Bo and Koinadugu districts, including farmers, traders, students, and teachers, to become “citizen reporters.” Throughout 2014 they used text messaging to report issues of concern to their local councilors via anonymous micro-reports. Issues raised included the lack of teaching materials in schools, conflict among local groups, unsafe roads and bridges, clean water access, female genital mutilation, teen pregnancy, inefficient waste management, and violence against women and children.

Messages were received by nine participating elected officials, who were instructed to respond to micro-reports through text messaging and explain to reporters their plans to rectify these issues in their respective communities. Some said they would investigate, while others claimed they would bring the issues up at council meetings or alert the relevant police officer or mayor. Whatever the decision and outcome of the reports, an effective dialogue was indeed created between officials and citizens. 

Over 300 reports were sent during the 12-month period, and towards the end of the year some two-thirds concerned the Ebola crisis. Volunteers discussed how households were affected by quarantine regulations, reported regulation breaches, and shared concerns about infection.

“During the rebel war there were no mobile phones; now with Ebola, communication is possible,” remarked Martin M B Goba, deputy chairman of the Bo District Council. “During my time in quarantine, I was able to communicate with my ward development committee with an immediate response.” Goba lost several family members to the disease.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s helping me to improve on my job and to know the problems in my community, so that I can find solutions to them,” he added. “It has improved my interaction with civil society and shown me how to act immediately and promptly to community concerns.” 

The project has demonstrated the possibility of running low-cost, innovative programs in low-resource environments, such as within Sierra Leone, where less than 10 percent of the population have access to electricity, and a mere 2 percent use the Internet. 

“I have seen change,” remarks volunteer Evelyn Turay. “I have now seen council officials in the community raising awareness on issues around teenage pregnancy and early sexual activities [of young people] which I have been reporting on.” 

As the program progresses, it’s increasingly obvious that text messaging provides a powerful tool for helping third-world communities stay engaged and empowered.

 

March 05, 2015

SMS Alert System for Pregnant Cows is Up for Design of the Year

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There are some weird and wonderful uses for SMS messaging out there, but one of the innovations up for this year’s Design of the Year award is milking the technology for all its worth.

The 76 nominees were announced last week by London’s Design Museum; they will go on display from March 25 to August 23, with the winner announced in June. Designs range from new Norwegian banknotes to high-profile projects like Google’s self-driving car.

But the gadget that’s got us most excited is a new SMS-based monitoring system that tells farmers when their cows are going into labor. If you’ve never had any experience of dairy farming you’ve probably never even realized such a gizmo was necessary, but the brilliantly-named Moocall is a promising solution to a problem that’s largely invisible to the general public.

The gadget hooks onto the tail of a pregnant cow and sends a text message to the farmer when the animal is within an hour of giving birth. It uses 3-D motion sensors and a roaming M2M SIM card to ascertain when a cow is going into labor. Other birthing monitors exist, but they are notoriously invasive and uncomfortable for the cow. Most farmers simply opt to keep vigil over pregnant cows in order to maximize the chances of a live birth. Moocall promises a reliable alert system that causes minimal discomfort and frees up vital resources that would otherwise be spent on watching and waiting. 

Designer Niall Austin first conceived the device for use on his own farm in County Offaly, Ireland, and hopes to break into cattle markets in North and South America. He told Irish Tech News: “Losing a cow and calf during birthing process is heart-breaking and very often completely preventable.” 

Created with the help of Irish tech firms Motech Engineering and Dolmen, Austin’s innovation went through a long development process, with a series of prototypes - tried ‘in the field’ so to speak - helping them shape the design to withstand the elements and the animal’s clumsy heft (sorry, cows - no offence).

Moocall is another example of the diversity of SMS messaging. If it didn’t send a text message it would require some other pieces of hardware for farmers to receive the alerts. That would drive the cost up and give farmers more hassle. It would also make the gadget a much less marketable product. By combining sophisticated birthing monitor technology with the simplicity and near-universal availability of text messaging, Moocall seems to provide a solution to a major setback facing dairy farmers worldwide.

February 25, 2015

DEA Accepting Tip Offs Via SMS

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The McAllen, TX branch of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has turned to text messaging to simplify citizen reporting of potential drug trafficking. DEA Assistant Special Agent Steve Jenkins in the branch office remarked that text messaging is another way to help residents feel safe in their community. 

"We're trying to get the message out to the community that hey this is available and it’s a way for them to help keep the streets safe," Jenkins said. 

Entitled ‘TIP 411,’ the anonymous program makes it possible to text a tip after witnessing possible drug activity. Tipsters can simply type TIP 411 into the “To” line, then use the message box to type RGV with either an image or a description of the crime. Jenkins says the tip will be passed to the DEA office, who will act accordingly. The number of anyone who sends a tip will not be viewed by the DEA agent.  

Jenkins also noted the new system allows the office to keep in anonymous contact with tipsters, as opposed to phone call where the information flow ends once the person hangs up. Texting is also much less personal, and therefore makes it easy for someone to provide information without feeling uncomfortable.  

The DEA hopes younger people will use the program, as it was designed for youth interested in keeping the community safe.  

Other cities, such as New Orleans, El Paso, and Albuquerque, have enjoyed success implementing the program. Anyone who uses the program must be connected with a cell phone provider. 

“This is a way for (the public) to anonymously provide the information to us and communicate back and forth with a DEA agent, via text message,” Jenkins added. “Then, if at some point they no longer want to communicate with us, they can send the word STOP in the message and all communication will be cut off with the agent.” 

Once the tipster texts the word “Stop,” the DEA has no way of getting back in contact with the person. 

Reports of the program have been met with somewhat mixed responses from the public, with some in favor of the idea, and others very much against it, saying the program isn’t particularly safe and is yet another wasted effort in “the war on drugs.” 

Is the program a good idea? Time will certainly tell...

 

February 18, 2015

How Do My Customers Use Mobile?

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In order to develop a highly-effective mobile marketing campaign, you must first understand how audiences, specifically your audience, interacts with mobile technology. Ask yourself the following essential questions and gain invaluable insight into consumer mobile habits: 

How Are My Customers Using Mobile? 

Utilize analytics to determine how your target audience is using mobile. Are they using tablets or smartphones? Android or iOS? Are there certain times of day they shop the most, whether in store or online? Which mobile advertising tactic is therefore the best option? Once you discover exactly how your target customer base is using mobile, you can develop a customized marketing strategy to reach them through the most effective channel.  

Who Are My Competitors?

You and your entire team should download competitor apps and learn how they keep their customers engaged. This provides ideas, and otherwise helps you understand what’s working for other players in the space. Once you know what’s working (and what’s not), you’ll be better equipped to devise a plan that eclipses them. 

What is the Cost Per Download? 

Knowing the cost per download (or per customer acquisition) while launching your app is important when it comes to budgeting. Development is just one side of the coin. The financials also have to make sense when devising a proper price point.

Should I Use In-App Advertising? 

Popular apps such as Twitter allow in-app advertising and mobile advertising. This is an effective way to market your app or business to the masses, but it’s important to choose well-known and relevant apps that make sense for your consumer base.  

What About Social Media?

Mobile social media platforms are another efficient, effective marketing option, and one that offers near-immediate access to app downloads and web site conversions. 

Apps versus Mobile Sites?

At this juncture, consumers tend to favor apps over mobile sites, such as social media, email, and news apps. A mobile-friendly website is still a good idea, however, whether or not your company offers an app. 

Location-based Advertising?

If you haven’t jumped on the location-based advertising bandwagon yet, now is the time. With the massive proliferation of mobile phone use, location-based mobile marketing presents a highly-efficient way to attract new customers while keeping current ones engaged. Experiment with geo-fences and iBeacons, and craft marketing interactions with users as they enter or leave stores. Whether it’s sending suggestions, exclusive coupons, information about daily promotions, or anything else relevant to your brand and consumer base, it’s definitely a good idea to try location-based advertising via mobile web and text marketing. 

Do a little research through trial runs before committing to one or several mobile marketing strategies. Without knowing what your customers are after, you’ll be hard-pressed to create a mobile marketing campaign that works. 

 

February 17, 2015

Why Mobile Shopping Apps are Less Popular Than You Think

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Mobile shopping apps may be the latest buzz in the mobile marketing realm, but user behavior presents a different story. Consumers are all about convenience and exceptional customer service, and aren’t finding much help from mobile shopping apps at present. Apple is one company hoping to change that. 

The main reason these apps aren’t popular? Many of them take too long. Simply going to the store to make purchases is still considered the faster, more efficient option by many consumers. Users also believe in-app shopping doesn’t help “get past checkout” any quicker, so again speed is a huge factor.  

Having to “leave the app” to obtain shopping assistance also contributes to mobile shopping apps’ lack of popularity. One in four shoppers are likely to abandon their purchase and the brand entirely when this occurs, because the app is simply too complicated to deal with.

"You would never consider creating a shopping experience where a customer would have to completely leave the showroom floor to get assistance," says John Hibel, director of marketing at Contact Solutions. "That would be a horrible customer experience, and you know it would jeopardize sales. In the same way, you should never consider building a mobile shopping app that forces the customer to leave to app to get assistance."  

The lack of useful discounts and coupons is another mobile shopping app complaint, as 54% of shoppers in a recent survey noted such perks would significantly increase their interest in mobile shopping apps. 

So how to make mobile shopping apps more user-friendly? Apple might have the solution, at least in regards to the payment issue. The tech giant launched Apple Pay in the fall of 2014, and promised a secure, much faster digital platform for purchasing anything and everything, both in-store and online. Supposedly safer than checking out via debit and credit cards, the app is expected to have an “immediate impact” on mobile shopping. 

Consumers do the majority of their mobile shopping in the comfort of their homes, and are hankering for easier, more effective ways of shopping with various personal devices. 

"Mobile commerce is growing rapidly, and there’s an amazing race going on to win customer mindshare in the mobile moments that matter," Hibel notes. "Most consumers have a handful of apps they use frequently, and the rest get used rarely or just sit idle and forgotten. You want to do everything you can to be one of those frequently used, top- of -mind apps. To do that you’ve got to find ways to make your app sticky and get your customers to engage with it regularly."