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April 18, 2016

Expert Interview Series: Atim Ukoh on the Power of Mobile Solutions to Empower Consumers



Atim Ukoh is the Social Media Specialist at global brand protection firm Sproxil, where she manages digital communications for the company globally.

Sproxil was created as a response to the increasing death rate of individuals in emerging markets as a result of counterfeit products. Founder Ashifi Gogo had experienced the prevalence of counterfeit drugs growing up in Ghana and decided to create a solution to target this problem.

Atim recently checked in with us to share her insight on how consumers can protect themselves from counterfeit goods using mobile technology. Here's what she had to say:

How common are counterfeit goods today?

The penetration of counterfeit goods in both emerging and developing markets has increased significantly over the years. In some countries, counterfeit goods are present in open markets in higher volumes than the original products.

What do you think would surprise both business owners and consumers alike about the counterfeit market today?

The counterfeit market has become more sophisticated with time. The counterfeiters are getting clever about how they reproduce these products. Some replicate these goods so well to the point that even employees at the company that produce the original products have a hard time differentiating genuine from fake.

What's the impact of the proliferation of counterfeit goods? What are the risks to consumers of purchasing counterfeit items?

Over 700,000 people die every year from taking counterfeit medicines. That's equivalent to four fully packed jumbo jets crashing every day! Consumers are likely to develop short- and long-term health issues from consumption of these products. They lose money from the purchase of these items.

How can mobile technology be used by consumers to combat counterfeiting?

Mobile technology empowers the consumer to combat counterfeiting by providing an easy verification method to ensure they are purchasing genuine products. The Sproxil solution enables the consumer to text a unique pin provided on the product they are purchasing to a short code and they receive a response verifying that their product is genuine.

What are some ways consumers can use their phones/tablets to protect themselves when shopping?

Consumers should use their phones to verify that their products are genuine by engaging with the code provided to verify their product. They can also download the Sproxil App and use this to verify if their product is genuine.

What should businesses be doing to protect consumers using mobile technology?

Businesses need to understand that for the consumer to engage and enable them combat counterfeiting, they need to also take the right steps to make the process easier. Businesses need to implement the right mobile technology in their current supply chain that would eliminate counterfeit infiltration. Once they install the labels or pins on their products, they can also track when their products leave their factory until it gets into their consumers hands. This helps improve the engagement they have with consumers as the consumers are now sure that they are consuming protected products and the brand cares about them.

What's one of your favorite success stories for how mobile technology has been used to protect consumers?

There are many interesting stories of how the Sproxil Solution has saved lives. Our favorite is with one of our clients who produces anti-malarial drugs. Using the Sproxil solution, we were able to intercept stolen goods in their supply chain before they got to the retailers. We traced the goods to the counterfeiter's location and were able to engage law enforcement to handle the matter appropriately. This saved thousands of lives that would have consumed those products that they were about to alter and replicate.

Reach more customers with our mobile solutions. Try ClubTexting for free.

August 26, 2015

SMS is Helping Tanzanian Mothers Access Vital Health Information

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According to the World Health Organization, babies who are partially breastfed—or not breastfed at all—are vulnerable to serious illness if not death from diarrhea and other infections. Exclusive breastfeeding is subsequently recommended for the first six months of life, as it lowers the mortality rate among malnourished children in addition to shielding them from infection.

The Tanzanian government hoped to improve the health of newborn babies and their mothers by implementing a text messaging campaign some three years ago. Entitled Wazazi Nipendeni, which means ‘Parents Love Me’ in Swahili, the campaign provides subscribers with health information, doctor’s appointment reminders, and more through their mobile devices. Over 125,000 women have registered for the service, which has sent more than 5 million text messages so far. 

Mobile phone technology has become an invaluable tool for connecting with citizens in Tanzania and other African countries, no matter how remote their locations. According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory, the country has the highest text message rate per month in East Africa. 

While the country has made progress in preventing deaths from childbirth-related complications, it did not reach its Millennium Development Goal of “reducing maternal deaths to 193 per 100,000 live births from 454 per 100,000 by the end of 2015.” Tanzanian government officials cite HIV/AIDS, a lack of skilled health workers and proper clinics, little to no funding, and insufficient awareness regarding women’s reproductive health issues for this failure.

 

Next Steps

"We have realized that engaging women alone is not enough. We need to involve all members of the society to make the campaign more effective," Pamela Kweka, an official from the Tanzania Communication and Development Center, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

The campaign originally focused on pregnant women, but now includes men, nurses, and midwives. The idea is to educate all societal members, not just expecting mothers.

Subscriber Adelika Kessy nearly died during childbirth three years ago after developing anemia a few weeks prior. She did not receive routine check-ups simply because she was uninformed.

"I was feeling tired and weak. It happened so suddenly and I didn't know what do," Kessy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "I was too weak to give birth naturally, even after undergoing several blood transfusions. In the end, the doctors decided to carry out a Caesarean section."

Kessy, a 36-year-old housewife, is currently pregnant with her third child, and counts on the SMS service to alert her about clinic appointments.

November 03, 2014

8 Marketing Lessons Your Business Can Learn from Political Campaigns

Political campaigns are rife with successes and failures. And while they may drive constituents crazy during election years, businesses can glean valuable lessons from political campaigns. Here are eight lessons you can put into practice to benefit your business.


Political campaigns can offer businesses valuable insight into the dos and don'ts of reaching customers.

1. Embrace big data

Today, it's easier than ever to collect data about your customers. Big data played a big role in President Obama's re-election in 2012. You may not need to collect quite so many data points, but focusing on a few that are relevant to your business can help you determine how to best approach or persuade certain customers to buy, donate or engage with your brand.

2. Experiment with social media

Traditional advertising is expensive, so businesses have to stick with proven advertising methods to make the most of their money. Fortunately, social media offers the perfect opportunity for advertising experimentation because of the low cost of advertising and engaging. If you want to try something new, see how it lands on your social platforms first.

3. Meet with your advertising team more frequently

Politicians don't have the benefit of waiting months to see how their campaigns are going. They have to reevaluate their strategies every single day. And while that may be unrealistic for a business, more frequent meetings (weekly, for example) can be beneficial. Technology has made data collection easy, so there's no reason not to gauge your customers' responses to your ads frequently.


Don't be afraid to change your advertising campaign if research shows it's not being well received.

4. Choose your words carefully

One misspoken word can completely alienate important demographic groups. When it comes to advertising, choose your words carefully. You don't want to end up making a "binders full of women" mistake reminiscent of the Romney campaign (unless you want to end up on the wrong side of a viral meme).

5. Don't be afraid to show your personality

Where many politicians fail in this social era is the inability to connect with voters on a personal level. And if you can't connect with your customers in a more personal way, your business may be poised to fail, too. No matter what kind of image you want to project, you don't have to be stuffy and impersonal. Interject some personality into your ads and interactions - it will make your brand more memorable.

6. Keep ads consistent across all your advertising channels

You can't portray a hipster image on social media and a conservative image on television as some politicians have tried to do. Customers can sniff out inauthenticity from a mile away. Whatever you do, make sure that your branding and your message are consistent across all your advertising channels.

7. Go mobile

Sharing on mobile devices is easy--with a couple of taps, users can share your message with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and through other channels. Targeting mobile users through SMS messages is one of the best ways you can spend your advertising dollars. Club Texting can help you with this, and you can even try it for free.


Target mobile users through SMS messages to reach your customers on the go.

8. Encourage mobile users to take action

With mobile users in particular, it's important for businesses to use action statements rather than making polite requests. During the 2008 and 2012 political campaigns, analysts found that statements like, "Help get this message out" were more effective than requests such as, "Will you please vote for me?" So rather than making a hard sale by asking directly for a donation or purchase each time, mix up your messages to ask your customers to spread the word.

No matter how small or big your business is, these lessons transcend business size. By watching and learning from past and future political campaigns, you can gain valuable insight on ways to better connect with your own constituents -- that is, your customers.


August 09, 2014

Scottish Healthcare Gets a Boost from SMS

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Glasgow's Western Infirmary

Healthcare providers across the world are using SMS to stay engaged with consumers. Blood banks in India are increasing donor numbers. Discharge times in U.S. hospitals are being reduced by up to an hour. And in Scotland – where healthcare is managed largely under the auspices of the public sector – investment in SMS systems is helping patients stay on top of appointments, and even encouraging them to quit smoking.

The latest development in the Scottish Government’s fledgling relationship with SMS technology has seen mobile marketing company Incentivated develop a ‘Find My Nearest’ service specifically aimed at helping women get to breast screening centers. A public advertising campaign is currently promoting the service. By texting their postcode along with the keyword SCREEN to 61611, Scottish women will receive a reply giving details of their nearest screening center, and ask that they call for a screening appointment if they have not had one in the last three years.

Headed by the Scottish Breast Screening Programme, the scheme divides the country into six regions. Postcodes sent into the service are cross-checked against the government’s database of mobile users. The reply message differs according to region, and is sent as soon as the person’s location has been determined.

Gail Lyall, Senior Marketing Manager for the government, says:

"Creating awareness of the importance of the role of breast screening is hugely important to ensure we keep increasing the numbers of women that detect breast cancer at the earliest stage. The audience we are targeting are hard to engage, so when we have their attention to act, it is imperative we make things as easy as possible for them. SMS allows us to provide a quicker customer journey from call to action to making that important appointment."

It’s no surprise that Holyrood has opted to use Incentivated. The tech firm has a well-established relationship with the government, and already provides a wide range of SMS services, including a program for the Scottish Children’s Panel that allows citizens to text in for information on taking part in public hearings designed to improve child safety in the home. The service was an enormous success, prompting 1700 SMS requests in the first week alone.

Scotland also provides a text service for people trying to give up smoking. Users text in the date they would like to quit, and a daily reply helps them count down to the big day, as well as sending tips on staying off the cigarettes for good.

August 03, 2014

Scented Text Message Startup Still Smells Victory After a Taste of Failure

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Vapor Communications, a company that transmits aromas via text message, has failed to meet its $150,000 crowdfunding goal on Indiegogo – but is promising to press on with the money it did raise. 

The technology was partly invented by Harvard University professor David Edwards. It has thus far raised close to 30% of its goal, with 176 backers pledging $47,000 to the project. Despite falling well short of their target, Vapor Communications will continue to work towards a viable commercial version of the technology. Plans are afoot to move their office from Paris to Cambridge later this year, and a company statement said:

“We expect that the evolution of the product over the coming months will increasingly attract the interest of consumers.”

Vapor Communications was founded last September as a way to bring Edwards’ oPhone hardware to market. The oPhone comes with small ‘scent cartridges’ that communicate with an app on the iPhone. Pre-sales were strong, with the $149 retail price seeming just right to enthusiastic food bloggers and others with an interest in sharing scents.

But critics suggest that this need to buy extra hardware is an impediment to success. In a world governed by cloud-based data and in-built apps, the less physical stuff you need to accumulate, the better. The vast majority of smartphone experiences require nothing more than a download, which makes apps like oPhone and oSnap a hard sell.

Nevertheless, the developers’ aims are laudable. It’s true that a huge part of our eating experiences are influenced by aroma, and that there is plenty of interest in communicating smells in the same way audiovisual content is shared. Whether that interest extends beyond those in the food industry to the consumers they serve remains to be seen. If and when then happens, the oPhone will be well placed to meet the demand. For now, lovers of madcap tech concepts can only hope Vapor Communications continues to grow in it’s new UK home. 

July 31, 2014

Text Messages Used to Curb Teen Drinking

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As student activities go, binge drinking and text messaging are two perennial favorites. Now, a group of researchers have figured out a way to use the latter to combat the former.

A recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine suggests data collected and support offered via text message can reduce future instances of binge-drinking in young adults.

Lead researcher Brian Suffoletto, M.D. and his team designed the trial and won funding from the Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF). The research – which is the first of its kind – aimed to see if SMS messaging  could collect data on college drinking habits, deliver feedback and ultimately change drinking behavior in young adults. The findings are due to be published in August in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

According to Dr. Suffoletto, more than 50,000 adults between 18 and 24 arrive at emergency rooms on a daily basis in the United States, all seeking treatment for alcohol related problems. The research team performed a randomized trial of an SMS program with 765 young adults who were discharged from four emergency departments in Pennsylvania.

Participants were divided into three groups. One group received a series of automated text messages each week, asking them about their drinking plans for the weekend. A follow-up report compares their actual consumption. If the group anticipated having more than five drinks during a 24 hour period, participants received a warning text and a request to lower alcohol consumption during the week. Those who agreed received positive reinforcement and strategies for cutting down; those who refused to lower their consumption received a text message asking them to reflect on their decision.

A second group received a text query about total alcohol intake, but did not receive any pre-weekend messages or post-weekend feedback. The third group was a control group, and did not receive any text messages.

At the three month stage, participants who were exposed to the text message encouragement had decreased their drinking by 1-2 occasions each month (from a baseline of 3-4). Nearly 15% of the intervention group reported complete abstinence.

Researchers speculate that frequent text messages raised self-awareness about alcohol use. This sort of ‘mobile intervention’ could, if implemented in emergency departments across the country, not only curb teen drinking, but alleviate the daily burden placed on hospitals because of alcohol poisoning and other alcohol-related admissions.

July 08, 2014

New Mexico Joins the Growing Clampdown on Distracted Driving

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The rate at which states are banning texting while driving is one of the most dramatic displays of legislation shifting with popular public opinion in recent memory. Forty-four states have now added their name to the list of jurisdictions in which all drivers are banned from texting.

The drive to reduce road deaths has been remarkably free from distractions – and few could oppose such well-intentioned laws (those few being, so far, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma). The latest state to say ‘no’ to distracted driving is New Mexico, where a ban on all texting and driving took effect last Tuesday.

Under the legislation, drivers are prohibited from sending or reading texts and emails – even if they are at a stop light or stuck in traffic. New Mexico motorists are also banned from searching the web on smartphones or other mobile devices, but the law does allow them to pull over to the side of the road to send or receive SMS messages. Anyone in breach of the text messaging law faces a $25 fine for a first offence, and a $50 fine for subsequent violations.

According to the bill’s main champion, Santa Fe democrat Senator Peter Wirth, the law will “save lives and make roads safer.” "New Mexicans need to understand that texting while driving is six times more dangerous than drinking and driving," Wirth continued. "If you have to look at your phone, pull off the road."

Before the Legislature updated their distracted driving laws, New Mexico’s strictures on texting and driving extended only to teenage drivers with a provisional or learner’s license. Expanding that to encompass all drivers means New Mexico joins 43 other US states and a growing number of other North and Central American jurisdictions to have banned all texting and driving incidents.

Similar laws are being passed all over the world. The legal response to such deadly behavior has been swift, and reflects a wider societal intolerance of activity that puts irresponsible drivers and other road users at enormous risk.

There are some caveats. New Mexico will allow a text to be sent from behind the wheel in an emergency situation, provided the message is being sent to a medical team or emergency service unit. Nevertheless, this new legislation is a resounding victory for the majority of drivers who recognize that the only text message important enough to endanger lives is one that intends to save them.

June 23, 2014

Will the Cellphone Sweater Really Take Wearable Tech to the Next Level?

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“Smartphone” has passed well and truly into the lexicon, and some would have us believe that “smartclothes” are next. At least, that’s the message from a group of NYU students who have come up with a prototype for a hooded sweatshirt capable of sending preset text messages.

During a demonstration, the designers showed off the smart hoodie’s three triggers: touching the hood, touching the sleeve and rolling up the sleeve. Each action results in a different, pre-programmed SMS message being sent to a pre-determined recipient. 

If you’re still scratching your head wondering how many applications there could be for such limited capabilities, join the club. Many industry analysts have questioned how users will forsee the type messages they need to send at short notice – and so surreptitiously.

There are a number of other obvious limitations. Like how do you wash an item of clothing with built in electronics? And how sensitive is the technology? Is there a risk of accidentally sending a text message?

The designers say the main objective of the smart hoodie is to help people in emergency situations. With 911 texting now being adopted by law enforcers across the continent, you can imagine how a preset message might help someone in trouble. You find yourself embroiled in a bank robbery, or an outbreak of public violence, and the smart hoodie could alert authorities with the villains being none the wiser. But are there enough hyper-cautious folk out there who would actually pre-program such paranoid messages and then wear the same item of clothing every day, just in case? Without washing it in between?! Plus, 911 texting programs require users to text their location in order for the authorities to find them. How would this help if you’re out in a random public place?

Even worse, couldn’t texting police about an ongoing bank robbery make you look rather suspicious? How, they might ask as they shine a light in your face in some dingy interrogation room, did you know to preset the message? It sounds like more trouble than it’s worth?

We haven’t even mentioned airport security – that’s a whole other can of worms right there. Compared to that, the benefits of wearing a secret texting device pale. And there are a few minor advantages we can think of. Tapping your sleeve is, to date, still perfectly legal whilst driving; perhaps the system could help in the fight against distracted driving by giving motorists a way to let their family know they’re getting close to home. 

If you have a busy work day ahead of you before picking a friend up for dinner, the smart hoodie could be a convenient way of letting them know you’re going to be late, without interrupting that overrunning conference call.

These applications seem pretty trivial next to the pitfalls of owning such an item. It seems unlikely that the wearable text message device – at least in this prototype form – will catch on, but it’s an interesting new direction for SMS technology, and we await the next innovation with interest.

 

 

 

June 16, 2014

911 Texting Now Available to the Deaf

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Not only did Manitoba recently become the first Canadian province to provide it’s citizens with a 911 texting service, it has also made the platform available to the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired.

The new wireless text messaging program is the first of its kind in Canada. Unveiled last week by Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS), the system requires hearing or speech impaired people to first register their wireless devices. 

Text-to-911 software has proven popular with law enforcement services all over North America. In May, the four major wireless carriers in the United States have been emergency SMS capabilities as an alternative to voice calls. It’s important to note, however, that the FCC says Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T only support text-to-911 in areas where dispatchers are already equipped to receive SMS.

For those areas, using the technology is very simple. Users simply type 911into the number field, and state their location and the nature of the emergency in the body of the text.

The National Emergency Number Association states that call centers equipped to receive emergency text messages can field SMS in a variety of ways. Centers without the latest SMS technology can simply upgrade their systems.

It’s hoped that more communities will adopt the technology over the coming year, and it could take several years before implementation is nationally adopted.

According to the FCC, anyone who sends a text to 911 via Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, or AT&T in an area where the program is not yet supported will immediately receive a "bounce back" text informing them that their text could not be delivered. If you find yourself in this situation, you would then need to make a voice call to emergency services.

The advantages of text-to-911 are clear. In certain criminal situations, it’s not always possible – or advisable – to bring attention to yourself by talking on the telephone. Emergency text messages could save lives in such situations. Nevertheless, the FCC and law enforcers stress that when contacting 911, the first choice should always be to place a call, with SMS suggested only when a phone call is impossible or dangerous.

June 06, 2014

SMS Improving Farmers’ Lot in Emerging Markets

Mobile technology is making a major positive impact on the lives of rural workers and farmers in some of the most remote, deprived parts of the world. Since 2007, It’s estimated that individual farmers have made up to $4000 in additional profits, and saved up to twice that amount, figures that represent a significant ROI for struggling businesses in developing markets.

It’s all thanks to the pioneering work of mobile-based agri information hub Reuters Market Light (RML), a service specifically designed to help farmers by forwarding timely alerts regarding relevant agricultural information. It works like a watchdog, issuing vital information at every stage of the agricultural season, from pre-sowing to post-harvest. So far, millions of farmers across the globe have used RML, which tailors information to each farmers’ personal profile so they only receive relevant text messages. The service includes the following features:

  • Local market crop prices
  • Local weather forecasts
  • Advisory information to improve productivity
  • Advisory information to reduce risk
  • Latest agri information that could impact prices or costs

As a safeguard against unscrupulous middlemen and a globalized food chain dominated by multinational corporations, RML is unimpeachable. The impact has been felt especially strongly in India, a country whose rapid economic growth in recent years has barely raised the living standards of many rural communities.

Examples of the real-world impact of the program are legion. One maize farmer learned of the spread of bird flu in time to store his produce and wait the crises out. Forbes recently ran the story of a grape grower who began exporting produce to Russia after RML informed him that prices were higher there. Another 1.2 million farmers in India use the system to optimize their chances of survival.

It’s not just India. As China’s telecommunications industry grows at an astonishing rate, their contribution to the world of mobile becomes increasingly significant. In Kenya, mobile phone payments are helping reduce crime stats in a country plagued by literal daylight robbery; one quarter of Kenyan GDP now flows through the M-Pesa mobile payment system.

Studies have shown that introducing ten mobile phones per one hundred people in the developing world can add up to one percent to a country’s economic growth. We’ve seen compelling evidence of developing countries getting a leg up from SMS. Between making services cheaper, creating higher expectations among the citizenship, and offering greater choice, the future just looks brighter with mobile.