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These Mobile Innovations Are Quietly Changing the World
Innovation is more easily measured in small steps rather than great leaps. The big leaps, like Google’s Project Loon and Facebook’s Internet.org, are gunning to be the Internet of the future, but it’ll likely be years before their impact will be measurable in real time. Meanwhile, there’s a host of innovators quietly building products that are already connecting the developing world through its lowest common technological denominator: the mobile phone. They are finding ways to reach the mobile-first consumer who has limited to no Internet access — the consumer who makes up a crucial part of the emerging markets that brands often struggle to engage.
We’ve put together a report on emerging markets and the challenges and opportunities they pose to marketers: read the full report, Global Marketing 2.0: A Richer, More Connected World.
The products here are part of a larger narrative: one that’s built on increasing connectivity to the emerging market consumer, in a bid to create economies of access that will increase consumption and improve lifestyle.
First, there’s technology that is bringing people online and giving them ways to access information without traditional Internet access. Then, there’s a virtual marketplace that connects them with global brands. The next two products improve standards of living by building new connections: patients with hospitals, and community members in disease- and disaster-prone regions with crucial resources.
At Transition, we heard UNICEF’s Rajesh Anandan talk about the increasing degree of connectivity reaching the world’s poorest. Anandan and our other speakers told us how marketers can grapple with this more connected world, and we think there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the thinking behind these innovations. For brands and the teams building them, this means their addressable market is growing, and the means of engaging these markets is rapidly expanding alongside.
1. Innoz: Taking the Internet Offline
The offline Internet sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what Innoz is. It wants to plug the gap between the five billion people without Internet access and the connected world. Using SMS, Innoz’s app SMSGyan works on an incredibly simple framework: you text the system a question, and it crawls the Internet for answers and responds. Innoz co-founder Deepak Ravindran sees the app’s biggest win as its ability to integrate into the SMS platform without costing its users the additional charge of data plans to access the Internet. Its monthly plan lets users access the “offline Internet” for less than a dollar a month.
And its value proposition for brands: it’s a platform for multiple Internet companies — Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Foursquare — to reach unconnected masses. Just as the first wave of social business rode off of the success and adoption of Facebook and Google, the second one might need platforms like Innoz to reach the rest of the world.
2. Jana: Building a Customer Journey through Mobile Data
Jana’s mCent app turns mobile data into currency: it gives users free mobile data as a reward for downloading and trying sponsored apps. It’s helping Amazon and Twitter reach unconnected parts of the world, by incentivizing and turning would-be users into loyal customers. It also collects data on mCent users’ app usage history and word-of-mouth conversions when they got friends to sign up.
Jana gets to the obstacle that brands face in emerging markets: gaining recognition and adoption among consumers who have smartphones, but can’t afford costly data plans. Indians use about a tenth of the data per month that Americans do, and if the poorest mobile users are making 20 cents a day, they’d be spending close to 15 percent of their monthly wages on a $7/month data plan.
HelpMeSee’s mobile health application speeds up the treatment process for cataract patients in developing countries. Using the app, health workers can share patient data and cataract images to the nearest hospital or health clinic almost instantly. The hospital receives the data and enrolls the patient for surgery, cutting down the turnaround time from two days (spent manually delivering critical health records)” to a few minutes. HelpMeSee ran a pilot in India and completed almost 100,000 eye surgeries. And the best part? Its system can operate without Internet, storing the data and syncing it later.
HelpMeSee has created a solution that addresses the problem of Internet access in rural areas, and its integrations with Google Maps and altitude measurement software give health workers crucial insights: the closest hospital for a surgery, and the time for a patient to get there depending on the terrain. It’s designed with rural, remote areas in mind. And it closes the loop by providing a total picture of patient care: the patient’s results from surgery are recorded within the system.
4. UReport: Monitoring Social Change in Real-Time
UNICEF developed U-Report to streamline grassroots social mobilization in Africa. Think of its mission as a far simpler, real-time effort to monitor issues of health, education, and hygiene at the local level. Users of the app, called U-Reporters, respond to questions from UNICEF via text — giving them real-time updates about ongoing issues like disease outbreaks and natural disasters — and the responses are analyzed by a UNICEF team who shares them with NGOs, governments, and civil society leaders.
In one of its most remarkable use cases, U-Report connected people to life-saving services during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Development often hinges on the decisions of policymakers far removed from the problems themselves. Products like U-Report approach the problem at its root, and harness the most valuable resource to do it: people. It’s global-to-local problem solving at its core.
Most important about these innovations is that they don’t operate as siloed products, waiting on user adoption and risking premature obsolescence because adoption doesn’t reach critical mass soon enough. They were built as platforms, or built off of existing platforms, significantly lowering costs that might otherwise be passed on to users.
Platforms, Not Products
We may still talk in terms of products, but the key for innovators is to think in terms of creating platforms, upon which other products can easily be built and distributed. A platform isn’t just the end solution to a consumer’s problem, it’s a bundle of services that allows others to build products on it. And this is as impactful for brands as it is for social entrepreneurs, because they now have access to previously unreachable markets: Amazon and Twitter have made their apps discoverable through Jana’s app store in regions that were difficult to penetrate because of limited mobile data usage.
An open source platform, like the one RapidPro has built for mobile app developers, is a powerful tool for entrepreneurs to build and scale their mobile products. U-Report is powered by RapidPro’s open source software, which also powers apps to assist and track polio and ebola health workers, provide them with real-time alerts and educational messages, and peer support.
Global Problems, Local Solutions
The problems that innovators like Jana’s founder Nathan Eagle are trying to solve are universal. But the solutions they are going after come from a deep understanding of the environments, culture, and preferences of the audience they’re targeting.
As our world gets increasingly connected, we are moving beyond a “no internet, no access” mentality. Brands and the marketing teams building them will be faced with the exciting challenge of finding creative ways to reach these consumers. And we’re looking forward to the ride.
Download the full report, titled Global Marketing 2.0: A Richer, More Connected World, for complete insights on how marketers can realign with the priorities of emerging markets.