Ez Texting

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March 30, 2016

The Play with 160 Characters

 

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‘Please ensure mobile devices are switched on before the commencement of the performance’ is not something you expect to hear as a theater patron. But that’s exactly what audiences at Fredericton’s Theatre New Brunswick were asked to do for Returning Fire, a play looking at the struggles faced by a former soldier trying to reintegrate into society.

Penned by local playwright Ryan Griffith, Returning Fire tells the story of a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces returning home from the war in Afghanistan. While trying to reconnect with a friend from his youth, the soldier is haunted by the ghosts of war and the spectre of PTSD, all too common among veterans. 

The play - set in Fredericton - recently completed a short run at the New Brunswick. It’s themes of lost innocence and battle scarred psyches have been explored by plenty of dramatists before, but the production takes a thrilling new approach to the theatrical experience, harnessing mobile technology to engage audiences in a way that pushes conventional boundaries. Indeed, Returning Fire not only dispenses with theater conventions - it largely dispenses with the theater  altogether.

The majority of the story is told through text messages. Ticket holders become audience members at 4pm, when the first text comes through. For the next four hours, the play unfolds as dialogue between the two principal characters, culminating in the revelation of a secret location in Fredericton where the physical denouement will take place. The anticipation builds as audience members converge at the location to witness the live reunion of the characters.

The playwright relished the challenge of creating an entirely new kind of theater using the lexicon of SMS. “It was a lot of fun to recreate that kind of dialogue,” he told the Aquinian. “For me, it was as fun to write as a normal play.”

A Griffith suggests, the appeal of the concept goes beyond a gimmicky use of technology. It’s about the effect that text messaging has had on the way we communicate: the abbreviations, the misunderstandings about intent and tone - even the agony of silence, which takes on a different dimension when the characters aren’t sharing the same physical space. 

Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones says Griffith’s work is “able to boldly challenge notions of what live theatre is… by exploring the use of technology in theatre.” 

That exploration was facilitated by Ez Texting, who provided the platform through which the drama unfolds. Morgan Jones says the production would not have been possible without us:

“The idea behind the play was to have two characters text messaging each other three and a half hours before the live play would start. The audience would then receive these text messages on their own phones. During the texts, they would discover where these characters planned to meet in the city of Fredericton, and could then travel to that location to watch the play. When we came up with the idea, we had no idea how we would do it. Thankfully, we found EZTexting.”

As other theaters consider producing Returning Fire, Morgan Jones hopes the unlikely alliance between mobile technology and drama will continue to develop, with Ez Texting’s SMS service his “first recommendation for bringing the play to life” in future productions.

The future of theatrical drama lies with those dramatists willing to break with convention. Although this is the first time text messaging has been used to stage a play, the innovation is part of a wider trend towards a radical reinterpretation of theatre as we know it. 

Returning Fire is a story about the isolation of PTSD and the difficulty of making human connections in an increasingly atomized world. It’s creator has not only recognized the role played by online communication in fueling and normalizing that atomization, but brought it to life as a distinct and vital character.

March 23, 2016

Do Good Week: Maintaining a Positive Company Culture

 

As part of this year's 'Do Good Week' we take a look at how you can inspire and maintain a positive company culture. 

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In order to do well in business, you need to maintain a positive company culture. What is a company culture and how do you create one that positively impacts your business, and therefore your customers? Company culture is a shared set of visions and values for the betterment of the company and those it serves, and it’s a collective effort to uphold those visions and values through every business decision and action.

 

Examples of a Positive Company Culture

A positive company culture is seen in the way leadership communicates with employees, in the enthusiasm employees have when performing their jobs, and in the effectiveness of the company to better the lives of its customers. Companies like The Disney Store have created a positive company culture by taking into consideration all of the above-mentioned points, and companies that are successful in creating a positive culture tend to experience enormous success.

 

The Importance of Positive Company Culture

It’s important that a company’s founder set the tone for a positive culture from day one. His or her visions and values can then be passed on to first-hire leadership, employee teams that are built subsequently, and any vendors or merchants that are representative of the company. It’s crucial that anyone who joins the company, in any capacity, is aware of the positive company culture that has been built and prepared to help maintain it. 

A positive company culture must be practiced and on display at all times in order to keep the business thriving. This means that anyone who is not on board with the culture that the company has created needs to decide to adopt a new attitude or face the consequences. Culture is that dire for a business’ success. 

 

How to Create and Maintain a Positive Company Culture

The culture a company creates for employees, and for customers, will be slightly different from one business to the next because of factors like the nature of business, the business’ target audience, and business location, among others. However, in the end, a positive company culture will be focused on a few things, including clear communication, fair dealing, and the happiness of employees and customers. The following are some goals a business can focus on to create a company culture that benefits management, shareholders, employees, and customers:

 

Recruit the Right People

To create a positive company culture, start with a leadership team that understands and embraces the business’ vision and values, and then make sure everyone who comes on board in any other capacity is clear and accepting of the culture. When you screen employees, hold willingness to uphold your company’s culture as a “must.” This will help your business by getting the right people into your company from day one, which means less turnover later. 

 

Commit to Orientations and Ongoing Training

Make it a requirement that every person who comes to work for your company go through an orientation that specifically addresses the company culture you’ve created. Also, make periodic training classes a requirement so that employees can receive updates to your visions and values (as they might change according to the state of an evolving business) and reminders about your company’s ultimate goals. 

In addition to these methods of maintaining a positive company culture, it’s a good idea to foster company-wide communication at every level, consider recognition and awards programs for those who go above and beyond in upholding your business’ values, and generate an atmosphere of caring in which employees feel connected and comfortable with each other, like a family. 

 

March 21, 2016

Chinese Mobile Companies Muscle in on Apple and Samsung's Territory

 

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Do you like the idea of a cell phone that has all the latest technology at a cheap price? A lot of people in China do, which is why Chinese brands like OPPO and TCL are closing in on the mobile market that Apple and Samsung have dominated for years.

It’s likely that the European and United States markets will appreciate an all-the-frills cell phone for a steal, too. 

Little-known tech companies in China are hoping that consumers will find their low-cost Android mobile devices attractive and turn to them over the now-more-popular competition. Even small Chinese brands, such as Xiaomi and Huawei, are giving the front-runners in the industry a bit to think about in terms of product cost.

 

What Does the Future Hold for Chinese Mobile Brands?

At the recent Mobile World Congress, a wireless show that was held in Barcelona this year, TCL, Hauwei, and Xiaomi revealed high-end cell phones that are part of an ambitious plan to take over the market. Xiaomi usually launches its phones in China, but the company was compelled to announce its new Mi 5 at the Mobile World Congress and steal the show from its well-established competitors. 

Will there be an audience for this new type of Chinese smartphone? Probably, considering what AndroidPIT editor Shu On Kwok implies when he says, “The Chinese smartphone vendors have a very unique feature - it is the price.” 

In today’s market, it’s common to get a standard collection of features from one Android device to the other. With a large group of consumers not needing functionality beyond what’s typical and necessary, innovation might take a backseat to price.

With the new Chinese phones coming on to the market, cell phone buyers get nearly the same features as high-end Apple and Samsung model phones for a much lower price. 

 

What Do Consumers Really Want?

During 2015, Samsung’s market share declined, and Apple forecasted its first decline in revenue in more than 12 years. These companies are going to need to prove that their products are worth the significant difference in price if they’re going to succeed and keep dominating the market.

Apple has tried to keep a stronghold on the smartphone market by positioning itself as a company with many exclusive hardware and software offerings. However, consumers have often been able to get features on Android devices that are similar to the brilliance that Apple is touting, and these buyers are completely okay with that “close enough” ideology.

So, if “close enough” is good enough to keep people from buying Apple products, it may be all that’s needed to make them opt for Chinese brands that offer similar features and functions. Samsung has all but stated that it’s not concerned about the Chinese mobile companies. Its mobile chief, D.J. Koh, said, "We have other ideas,” meaning that Samsung is depending on technology beyond mobile phone features, such as a virtual-reality headset that offers a 360-degree camera and is compatible with the company’s Galaxy phones. 

It seems that Apple and Samsung might need to keep reaching beyond their mobile phone markets to stay dominant in the future, and they might need to adjust their attention to include the needs of gamers and other tech enthusiasts.  

February 19, 2016

SMS and the Customer Experience

 

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Did you know texting has been around for nearly 20 years? It’s hard to imagine life without it, and yet only recently have big businesses started to pay close attention to text and SMS messaging. Which makes you wonder, why now? What are they up to?

 

Texting Tipping Point 

The Pew Research Center reports that texting is the most frequently used app on a cell phone—97 percent of Americans use texting at least once a day. When compared to average email open rates (20 percent), text messages score significantly higher at 98 percent.

The numbers all point toward mobile, which is no surprise in 2016; the difference between what marketers know today versus 5 years ago is that the customer experience now begins is the palm of the hand. 

There are several reasons that businesses are more inclined to entertain SMS messaging. First, 15 years ago, a basic SMS plan was expensive: 10 – 20 cents a message. Thanks to unlimited text messaging, texting is more affordable. 

Additionally, the devices we use to text now are much more sophisticated. Remember typing messages using the number pad and T9? Today, most cell phones are equipped with full keyboards that make texting faster and more efficient. These factors have made it much more cost efficient for businesses to utilize texting in a meaningful way. 

 

Big Business Learns to Text 

So, what exactly are companies planning to do with texting? 

Big businesses are focusing on existing customer behavior, which in this case means texting. Based on statistical data, businesses view texting as the preferred form of communication. Instead of asking customers to call a 1-800 number, they’re going to meet customers where they already are—via text.  

There are three ways texting will be integrated into big business to ensure the customer experience is managed from this new mobile point. 

First, contact centers will incorporate SMS messaging with traditional voice calls to help customers solve problems faster, reduce wait times, and follow up. Normally, an agent handles calls one at a time; with texting, an agent can take multiple inquires simultaneously, effectively reducing wait times and increasing productivity. 

Second, smart notifications will be used as reminders and to set up appointments. 

Finally, desk phone messaging will bridge SMS messaging and MMS into a regular desk telephone, giving mobile employees access to multiple text sessions at the same time. 

 

Text to Buy 

Ironically, the social behavior of texting hasn’t chanced the customer’s experience; rather it has changed customer’s expectations about what that experience should be. In this case, texting is the path of least resistance to settle all kinds of customer issues. However, it’s also open season for innovation and integration of new technologies that will allow customers to buy things via text—something I predict we’ll see a lot more of in the near future. 

 

 

 

January 03, 2016

The App That's Keeping Tour Operators in Touch with Tourists

 

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There’s a new app designed to keep tour operators in contact with tourists while on their way to local attractions. Recently launched in New Zealand, the app was developed by Auckland-based company Skoot in a joint effort with JUCY, Tourism Radio and Putti, a Spark Ventures company. The app allows businesses to cater to tourists planning the next leg of their vacations. 

 

A Plethora of Functions

Skoot is available as a smartphone app that may be mounted to a rental vehicle. It offers a variety of functions, including onboard GPS navigation, safety messages, information on local activities, WiFi hotspot, and accommodation options in real time. The app also allows tourists to make purchases through stored credit cards on their smartphones. 

Skoot CEO Hayden Braddock notes the app is a built-in audio tour guide that recognizes user location and automatically provides information on over 1,600 local tourist attractions.

“Throughout their journey, Skoot is designed to keep tourists engaged with both local information and relevant promotions - served by audio and digital display feeds,” says Braddock. “Each business on Skoot will effectively have control over their own application which is able to be accessed and used within the Skoot application or on its own in the APP Store. The retailer gets the benefit of being able to create and manage their own app and content in real time, update deals, products, info, branding etc. Tourists will only have to download the one app when they travel around.”

Braddock added that he and other company members believe this is the first time something like this has been done. He also noted that the app will be linked to its nationwide 4G network that allows up to five other devices to use the WiFi hotspot when installed in a rental vehicle. 

 

Future Uses and Safety Promotion

Future incarnations of the app will include a click-to-call function using VoIP. The feature makes it possible for tourists to call and book local attractions for free.

“Tourists are also able to redeem digital vouchers which appear as they close in on local attractions and purchase their tickets at discounted rates using a preloaded credit card,” says Braddock.

The app promotes road safety by helping tourists navigate New Zealand roads and deal with assorted conditions as they arise. Drivers will be alerted to safety hazards such as high crash areas and one-way bridges, as well as when to stay left or slow down. 

Braddock commented that the app will provide more opportunities for the company’s business partners in the future, such as payment methods that encourage tourists to purchase promotional tickets to events and attractions and subsequently expedite their entry. Businesses will also be able to tailor their offerings based on the season, proximity, and other factors. 

Whether the app will be usable in other countries is unknown at this time, however its benefits make the possibility very real. 

December 22, 2015

Google Brings App Streaming to Mobile Ads

 

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Google launched a new way to find information last month, even if such information is locked up tight within a mobile app. The search engine’s “Trial Run” gives consumers 60 seconds of playtime before deciding whether they want to make the app a member of their home screen. Google made it so advertisers pay only when a consumer installs the app rather than every time someone opts for a trial run. That way, advertisers are paying for those truly interested in the game, not consumers who download on a wing and a prayer. 

"The immersive demo increases the likelihood that an install is coming from someone who enjoys playing the game," according to the blog post written by Google director of mobile ads Sissie Hsiao and product manager Pasha Nahass. "Users get a taste of the game before going through the download process, and the app developer attracts better qualified users who've chosen the game based on their experiences in the app."

The format is designed to offset recent Google research that found one in four downloaded apps never gets used. Trial run ads are currently behind one third of all mobile app revenue, with advertisers very willing to pay more for them because they result in actual downloads. Of course, if the consumer downloads and ignores the app in question, it’s not worth much to advertisers. This new option subsequently offers the chance to increase brand awareness by ensuring the person will (probably) use the app. 

 

Changes to Interactive Ads

Google also announced an HTML5 ad for interactive interstitial ads. The idea is to create a customized user experience designed specifically for every advertiser’s app. The search engine touts the ads as providing creative freedom to advertisers who utilize HTML5 as opposed to a standard template. Interstitial ads give advertisers the chance to display products through galleries and point out personal branding options. Global fashion retailer Zalora, for example, is using the feature so consumers can swipe for exclusive offers. 

"We understand that experiences on mobile need to be made for mobile, and an ad is no different," Hsiao and Nahass said. "We're continually exploring new and better ways to build out interactive formats for the small screen."

Both of these possibilities are still in the beta testing stage and therefore available to a handful of advertisers. 

“You can buy ads, you can get apps installed. But a lot of apps are used once or they’re never used, even after they’re installed,” Hsiao noted, emphasizing that the formats are designed to pair app developers with the right users. “We found that 1 in 4 apps is never even used, and there’s often this ‘try once’ experience, and then [the app is] never used again,” Hsiao adds.

Google noted that app developers interested in joining the beta should contact their account managers. 

 

December 07, 2015

Holiday Party Calendar

Planning a holiday event is one thing. Making sure everyone shows up at the right time and place is another. To help you manage the party season more effectively, we've put together a Communications Calendar. Don't let anyone miss the memo. Or the fun. Happy Holidays!

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November 30, 2015

What Does the Mobile Messaging Boom Mean for the Customer Service Industry?

 

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When you need to get a hold of a customer service representative at your bank or another business, do you often feel your only choices are waiting forever on the phone or getting lost in a barrage of “press one for this” and “press two for that” options? Sometimes, these options don’t even get you to the person you need to speak with.

Instead of waiting around on the phone for hours, or getting a wrong department or being hung up on, consumers are finding mobile messaging an effective customer service solution. And, they’re loving the convenience of taking care of issues via mobile, so that they can go about their business while they wait for someone to solve their problem.

Is mobile messaging the way of the future for customer service? Let’s take a look at how SMS messaging might be the best way to communicate with companies going forward.

 

Customer Service and Changing Times

Traditionally, consumers have experienced many troubling scenarios with customer service reps, including phone calls that were never answered, dropped phone calls, poor connections to overseas call centers, and calls that did not get to where they were supposed to go after being led down a rabbit hole of “press” options. These customer service experiences are certainly not desirable service experiences for the customer. They’re nightmares that have the potential to turn off consumers from engaging with a brand.

Regardless of how much, or how well, a business markets its products or services, if its customers can’t get help when they need it, consumers likely turn away from the brand. Brand loyalty is only a possibility when a company can help a customer appreciate its products and services. To increase brand loyalty, many companies are turning to text messaging as a way to easily and effectively communicate with their customers.

 

Why Mobile Messaging?

Consumers have pretty much created the new wave of customer service communication for themselves. They are demanding mobile messaging as a customer service option because they feel more in control when they can simply leave a message as they would to a friend, and then have a person get back to them via text. There’s no hanging on the phone, no navigating customer service forms on websites, no hang-ups without having a question heard, and none of the other traditional customer service problems. Consumers like being able to use iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and other messaging apps to state their issue and go about their lives as the business looks into the problem and gets back to them.

Of course, this only works when a company puts structures into place to receive mobile messages and sets aside time to diligently reply to mobile messages—a task that many businesses have dedicated themselves to. As consumers show they don’t have the time, or the inclination, to deal with customer service issues of the past, companies are listening and making mobile messaging to customer service a reality to build brand loyalty.

November 01, 2015

Mobile Helps Propel UK Adspend to Record Highs

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According to the Advertising Association/Warc, UK ad spending hit a record high in 2015. Spending increased by 5.8% to reach £9.42bn in the first half of the year, and mobile is predicted to exceed the billion-pound barrier for the first time. Digital channels remain the force behind this growth, as Internet spending is up 13.3% for H1 to £3.9bn. Mobile makes up 79% of this growth, with ad spending increasing more than 52% to £1.08bn. 

Growth is noticeable throughout the industry, including both television and cinema forms. Only print has seen a decrease in revenue. 

“Advertising’s resilience points to the strength of the broader economy in the first half,” said Tim Lefroy, chief executive at the Advertising Association. “The UK leads the world in eCommerce and the trend to mobile means serving the public better ads in the right place at the right time.”

Ad spending is expected to demolish the £20bn barrier in 2016, with the Advertising Association’s media breakdown is as follows:  

  • Radio: Radio ad spending decreased by 2.2% to £116m in Q2, branded content excluded. Full-year growth is expected at 3.0% in 2015, and 2.3% with branded content included.
  • TV: Spot advertising “recorded solid YOY growth of 2.9% to £1,144m in Q2, compared to a quarter in which the FIFA World Cup was held last year.” TV spot advertising also enjoyed a fantastic Q1 via ad revenues rising to 11.5%. An “increase of 6.7% is forecast for 2015 as a whole.” 
  • Out of Home: YOY growth was strong at the beginning of 2015 with an increase of 9.7% in Q1, though it decreased 3.6% to £249m in Q2. 
  • Regional Newsbrands: These newsbrands saw a decline of 7.2% in ad spend in Q2 2015 compared to 2014. This “represents a 12.1% drop for print (to £246m) and a 24.0% increase for digital revenues (to £55m).” 
  • National Newsbrands: Print ad revenue decreased by a staggering 19.2% Q2 2015 to £239m. Digital ad spending, in comparison, increased 5.9% to £51m.
  • Magazine Brands: Ad spending declined by 6.8% in Q2. Print advertising saw a 11.0% decline to £168m, while digital saw an increase of 5.2% to £70m. 
  • Internet: Internet ad spending included a 12.8% increase in Q2 2015, which was followed by “revised growth of 13.9% in Q1 (+1.1pp).” Mobile made up 79% of total internet growth during H1, resulting in ad spending of £1,079m (up 52.1%). 

Cinema and direct mail ad spending saw increases as well. Separate Advertising Association research indicated the UK as the biggest mobile advertising spenders in Europe, and the third-highest spenders in the world following the United States and China. 

October 04, 2015

APUS and InMobi Team Up to Capture Chinese Mobile Market

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How does an already-huge company reach more mobile users? It teams up with another huge company in a quest to, together, dominate the Chinese mobile market, among others. 

Chinese start-up APUS and Indian mobile advertising firm InMobi are forming an alliance to reach a hoped-for 500 million new users in China, India, and other countries by 2016.

InMobi is the leader in customizing Android software. InMobi is India’s top mobile advertising firm. InMobi, in fact, competes with Facebook and Google in the $100 billion worldwide mobile advertising market. It’s one of the only Indian start-ups to make a profit and it already reaches about 1.4 billion devices.

 

What’s in It for APUS? 

The new partnership will help APUS earn advertising revenue from ads run on InMobi’s platform. APUS will likely see a boost in its user base and enjoy a share in the huge Indian smartphone market. 

APUS’ flagship product lets Android users customize the home screens on their smartphones. APUS hopes to gain more than 80 million users as a result of the deal with InMobi, which will lead to hefty profits.

 

What About InMobi?

InMobi will gain access to more than 200 million additional users by partnering with APUS. They’ll have exclusive access to all APUS users in India, which total more than 25 million. 

This partnership is the first of its kind between two of the fastest growing tech power companies from China and India. The time is right for APUS and InMobi to make this move, as the smartphone markets in China and India are growing rapidly.

APUS and InMobi’s deal comes after recent media reports that Google has plans to re-enter China. This partnership is important for InMobi if it wants to secure a stronghold in the country. Google pulled its services out of China five years ago, largely because it refused to self-sensor search results.

 

What’s Next? 

In an official press release, InMobi said, ““InMobi will share its vast expertise in India to help APUS establish a larger footprint in India, enabling an increased user base and market share. In return, APUS will engage in monetization partnership with InMobi….”

InMobi offered, ““InMobi will provide local expertise to APUS to help them understand the unique Indian app market and will aid in user acquisition programs including providing guidance localizing the APUS app experience and acquiring the right talent to help APUS India grow as APUS aims to make its app climb to the top five in the local Google Play store.” 

The big goal is APUS “becoming the leading Android user system in India by the end of 2015 and acquiring more than 80 million users in India by 2016.” 

However, this deal is not the only big thing on the horizon for InMobi. The company is placing heavy bets on its new mobile advertising product, Miip. Miip gives customers curated lists of products they might be interested in, based on their previous choices and their personalities.

InMobi is currently estimated to be worth about $2.5 billion.