T-Cash Mobile Payment system to be used for rebuilding Haiti

As I was working through my term paper on mobile payments I came across a new one-of-its-kind mobile payment system was launched in December of 2010 in response to devastating earthquake in Haiti that took hundreds od thousands lives and left millions homeless. T-Cash is mobile service that provides full range banking services to anyone  in Haiti who is subscribed to a Voila wireless carrier. I thought it was a perfect example of how business does well by doing good. The video below has details of the service.


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Mobile call to actions by nonprofits

Again after scouting around the web for the latest mobile news I came across the pool of nonprofit campaigns that exemplify a great use of mixed media like print, video, mobile and the web. These campaigns should make for-profit counterpart of featured nonprofit organizations companies green with envy.

One important thing to note is that I uncovered both campaigns at a great  Mobile Inc blog, but I enjoyed the campaigns so much that couldn’t resist the temptation to repost them. Not really sure if it qualifies as a blog post, regardless of that enjoy the videos and feel free to act on them, donate, and support the great causes featured in these campaigns.

Campaign by Reporters Without Borders

I found it very compelling call to action campaign. What a great and thoughtful media mix. Everything from the print materials, QR code, website, and the video works well together, seems very well coordinated and keeps the reader/consumer/potential supporter engaged with every type of media and a transition to a new media.

“Voices” Campaign by United Nations

I liked the implementation of this campaign as well. Very creative use of SMS, compelling messaging and storytelling components worked well for the campaign. I can definitely see myself taking an action if I was walking o the street and saw the posters. Again good way of mixing the traditional campaign tools with mobile.

Now I have just one question. When are we going to see such compelling campaigns implemented by brands?

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First things first. What is QR code and why do we need to know about it?

We knew about the rise of mobile technology and anticipated that it is about to change how companies do business and reach consumers. Well, that day has come and we are behind already, desperately trying to catch up with a pace of new technology while assessing how that impact our business and consumers. We also understood how complex the world of mobile is and how many different components it consists of.

One of the components that I just recently got acquainted with is the QR code. Here is the taste of QR code that I enjoyed tremendously. It certainly gave me ideas about what ways of enhancing my personal brand and I am hoping it will also convince you of the QR code’s coolness factor.

Now if that leaves you intrigued, I am happy to provide more information and overview of the tool. QR code (or Quick Response) stands for two-dimensional code that you can easily capture, read and “act on something” with a smart phone or dedicated QR barcode readers. If it helps you to understand the concept, think of Universal Product Code (UPC), a barcode that has been a regular part of shopping experience all these years. UPCs are fairly limited and are only capable of storing up to 20 digits, and can easily be corrupted, while QR codes are more sophisticated way of encoding are encoding information in the form text, URL, or other types of rich media.

Although majority of US consumers haven’t heard of QR-codes, it has been developed back in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in Japan, where it is used commonly for marketing and other purposes.

Here is how you can engage with QR code and consequently your favorite brand, people, products if you choose to:

  1. Search for a QR code reader application on your smart phone. There are plenty, choose whichever strikes your fancy. I usually pick based on the user ratings, utility provided and price (free being my strong preference)
  2. Download and application
  3. Choose one of the featured QR codes below and see for yourself what it does.

If implemented well, QR codes are a cost effective way to provide more information and drive consumers online. The consumer interaction with QR codes can measured and interpreted allowing brands to gain insights and learn more about how consumer engage with the brand and whether that engagement leads to a sale.

Having said that incorporating QR codes should be conscious, strategic and consistent with the brand and it has to serve a PURPOSE, otherwise a badly implemented QR code (hinting at Microsoft’s tags) campaign that doesn’t provide a great user experience can be damaging.

Once user are engaged, it really doesn’t take a long time to spot a stellar QR code campaign. Since my primary interest is fashion marketing, I was curious to see if fashion brands were incorporating QR codes. Here is the absolutely beautiful Louis Vuitton  QR code developed Tokyo-based creative agency SET using artwork from Takashi Murakami to promote the work that the two have done together.

Louis Vuitton QR code

The code sends you to Loius Viutton Japan mobile website that displays clean uncluttered page with most relevant to information. This QR code blew my mind.

Here is another one developed by the same agency for Coca Cola. QR code takes users promptly to SET Japan website.

Coca Cola QR code

I was truly excited to try them out, which is a good test of how well the campaign was implemented. On the other hand why wouldn’t you be excited to engage with these QR codes? They are not only pleasant to look at, but they also work very well and consequently win more respect for the brand in my eyes.

So the question is if QR codes are so great, why its adoption in western countries, particularly in the US has been so slow? There are several factors that make QR code usage hit-or-miss proposition, too risky and too uncertain for brands undertake.

Low awareness by the consumers. Unless the consumer is aware of QR Codes, it doesn’t make much sense for a company to incorporate QR codes in their marketing efforts.

Lack of standardization. The vast majority of mobile manufactures resisted pre-installing QR code readers on their handsets because there is not one unified standards. UPC’s success and worldwide adoption was primarily because it became a standard. As a result consumers have to download the various apps to read QR codes implemented with different standards.

Safety and security issues. QR codes can be easily defrauded, because it can reused over and over again by taking a photo of the code, which is especially concerning when it comes to using QR codes for payments or coupons. Another concern is a malware, that can be activated by scanning a QR code, so there has to be a certain level  of awareness and trust by consumer.

Overall, QR code can a powerful tool to engage with consumer and drive them to a desired destination whether it is a website or store, as long as it was done in a conscious day with a specific purpose in mind. Also consumers need to be educated and provided more information on the tool in order to maximize their user experience and avoid the pitfalls of adopting newest fads.

P.S. Both images and the video were originally posted on Mural Mutlu’s blog Mobile Inc, which I found to be a great resource for following the newest and the best in the mobile field.

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Why I Love Utility Apps… How Can You Not?

So we live in a world of constant disruption. Nothing is what it seems at first, our houses are in an underwater position, hottest electronics we own become obsolete within one year if we are lucky, and we are slaves to our jobs instead of being the other way around. The only comfort is the morning cup of coffee and our beloved mobile apps that tell us when our bus is coming, prepare grocery shopping lists, store our groupons, guide us to our destinations no matter where we are. Whatever we are striving for, you can be sure, there is an app for that.

It is pretty amazing how fast apps established a very prominent presence in our lives. I for one can’t really imagine how I used to live without Googlemaps and OneBusAway on my iPhone. It is true, they are not always reliable, and buses are rarely on time, but I appreciate having that information because it gives me a greater control over little pockets of idle time.  I often use that time to grab coffee on my way to the bus stop, or it to mentally get ready for the day ahead instead of stressing over “stupid late bus.” So I thought why not explore the world of apps that are purely Utility.

Once you delve into the world of utility apps, it is easy to get lost in them. There are apps that can do pretty much everything short of tying your shoelaces. Based on my personal use of apps, I mentally divided them up into two categories: Short-Lived  apps and It-Has-Potential apps. Short-Lived category to me represents all the cutesy-looked-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time type of apps that add extra physical utility to your device. A flash light, camera zoom, alarm clock, mouse track pad and etc. They are fun and cool until you find a new cool toy to play with. Then follows a tearless bye-bye.

It-Has-Potential category of utility apps on the other hand provide me with a valuable addition to my everyday routine and provide more of an intellectual utility. It makes my device and me smarter and more efficient. Good examples are apps that allow us to keep our affairs in check like banking, networking, organization apps that save us time and money by extension.

Obviously I am a big fan of utility apps, since I feel like they add the biggest value to my life on daily basis. Although gaming is a no value-add activity for me, so I was never taken by gaming apps. Someone needs to convince me otherwise. Instead I will be discussing GroupMe app.

Couple years ago when I was making a transition from a feature phone to a smart phone I was talking to my friends that were divided into two distinct groups: Blackberry and iPhone users. Blackberry users’ main argument for sticking with the phone was the feature that allowed to send text messages within Blackberry community at no charge and of course the fact that majority of their contacts at the time belonged to Blackberry, so switching costs were considerably high. And iPhone was just cool…

GroupMe is defined as a free group texting and conference calling that works like a private chat room over SMS, or reply-all text messaging by its publishers. This application allows a non limited communication with your contacts within the app. You can create groups, administer them, divide them up into various categories (friends, cross fit group, colleagues, PTA and etc.) and continuously communicate with all your groups without worrying about going over your sms plan. Who doesn’t hate paying exorbitant fees for going by one or two texts?

Everything about this app is streamlined from initial download, approving your cell phone number to creating groups and starting a chat. All of that took me maybe two minutes. It also allows you to link up your account to Twitter and Facebook, just in case you feel extra social and want to get your extreme multitasker badge. Come on, admit it, we all have crazy, texting-at-all-times-of-the-day-and-night friends that we get annoyed with especially when it comes to reviewing our mobile bills. Now there is an app for that too. Let them exercise their passion and text away while you get on their good side by staying cool and supportive. Not only it doesn’t cost you anything, it actually saves you tons of money and text-loving friends!


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Ah, the first assignment of the quarter… Fashion Mobile Apps

Since I am getting ready to graduate at the end of this quarter and currently pursuing jobs in fashion marketing, I have been paying a lot of attention to all things fashion. Fashion industry is doing a lot of interesting things with their customer engagement efforts online, and getting comfortable with ever evolving digital environment. So I decided to do a little exploration of useful mobile apps, plus I never pass up an opportunity to look at beautiful things, which is why fashion is so appealing to me. I am very well aware of the Devil Wears Prada aspects of the industry as well, but luckily I know how to push back when needed and I am much more interested in engaging with customers and learning about emotional aspects of their interactions with brands. But let’s go back to practical task at hand…

I relied on the industry expertise of Refinery29.com and chose apps for experimenting based on the  8 Mobile Fashion Apps Worth Downloading article. Although paid apps looked very interesting, you never eat the dessert first. Let’s leave all the fun stuff for later in the quarter when emotions are running high and exhaustion creeps in to lift our spirits. So I downloaded free Lucky at Your Service app and the process was smooth and painless.  The app had an option of signing up through Facebook Connect, which I agree is a great feature if you want a streamlined registration process and… have no inhibitions about online privacy.  Personally  I have backed out many times from using the app, because by signing up through Facebook Connect, users  also give permission to access all of their data on their Facebook account. It is the same reason I have very few apps on my Facebook account. I just don’t feel comfortable with the idea of my data being accessed my fifty different applications on my Facebook and on my Iphone, so to me Facebook Connect is double edged sword, which I use mindfully.

In this particular case, I decided to go all in and sacrifice bits and pieces of my data for the greater good of the class. Registration process was smooth, although it looked as if the content of the actual magazine was dumped into the app, the same titles (editor’s daily picks, spring clothing and shoes and etc.). My eyes were wandering and stopped at the Deal of the Day feature, however when I clicked on the feature it told me “Come back tomorrow for exclusive offers and deals!” I was sad and bored, so I did what I wasn’t planning to do… I left the app and went exploring further. This time I followed my the familiar route, or the extension of website that I have already been using for quite some time now. So I decided to download the app for the ShopStyle, the fashion search engine devoted exclusively to searching fashion items. All the big search engine players pale in comparison in terms of the relevance and the variety of results.

The experience of downloading and registering were easy, but this app stood out to me as relevant, easy to use, uncluttered and easy on the eye. It had a great search functionality obviously, and I thought that the filtering and refining feature was much better than on the website. Go figure.  The app also allows you to favorite items, put items on a sales alert, share items and news with Email, Twitter and Facebook communities (short and sweet) and finally to buy the item by forwarding to a retailers site. Everything about this app was right to me, except when the interaction with third parties, in this case retailers started. I would have preferred to store my payment information in my ShopStyle account, instead of entering it for each single purchase, but hey, I guess it is a fashion search engine after all.

So the long story short, Lucky app has a long ways to go, so thumbs down in terms keeping me engaged. ShopStyle, I am getting ready to sing serenades. I spend so much time on it, that I am late submitting my assignment for almost two hours now. I give it thumbs up for keeping me entertained, delivering on the results that were relevant to me and… also for making it difficult to actually purchase things. Harmless window shopping from the comfort of my home at its finest!

ShopStyle app really is all about shopping in style no matter where you are: at home, on the bus, at school, or just wandering around. And I am also pretty sure that I will be most likely to do fashion searching in my ShopStyle mobile app rather than the website from now on.


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