Oxford Dictionaries announced this month that their “Word of the year” for 2015 does not contain any letters in it. The “word” their editors chose to reflect what people identify most with is a pictograph, or more commonly known as an emoji:

Smile

Emojis have been around for quite some time; however it wasn’t until recent years that this practice grew exponentially into a culture phenomenon. For instance, if you opened any communication apps or text messages of a group of millennials, you will find yourself staring at an assortment of different emoji exchanges. This phenomenon might be the most popular in millennials but certainly exists in other age groups as well. Generally, in the U.S., the younger the user, the more frequent emoji he or she uses.

This phenomenon is also not restricted only to the English speaking population. In fact, some argue that it all started from a messaging app from Japan.  Currently, it has also taken all the Asian countries by storm. For example, the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat is observing emoji exchanges surpassing textual exchanges for a significant portion of their users. Interestingly, in China, Emoji use is not as closely linked to age. Due to the difficulty of typing Chinese language for older population on their phones, emoji communication actually tend to be even more popular with the older audience. (My parents only send me voice messages and emojis on WeChat).

Internet exists as a means to achieve more efficient communication and information sharing. Therefore is it not surprising to see that due to the power of internet, our most efficient means of communication – words and language is being challenged and evolved. Indeed, Emojis do have an advantage over words in several aspects: They add authenticity and an emotional layer; they are shorter, more convenient and sharable; they are also ubiquitous, easily recognized and transcend most language and cultural barriers.

It is no surprise then to see messaging apps taking advantage of this popularity to monetize emojis. After all, this is not so difficult. Many messaging apps, such as Line and WeChat, now have a freemium model that charges users for specialized emojis.

However, the money doesn’t just stop there. By nature, emojis have very strong network effects. The value of an emoji depends on the number of people installed and the frequency used. And through its nature of sharing, the network effect is even stronger as users want to be linked to other users and share the emojis which helps to turn them viral. Monetization does not have to follow the service function directly, and this is where it gets interesting – monetization can come through indirect benefits in creative ways.

In retail and e-commerce, brands have taken notice of this trend and have evolved their communications strategies to attempt to insert themselves into the daily conversations of both existing and potential consumers. In the past year, more than a dozen of brands have incorporated emojis into their marketing efforts to relate to their audience in a “more fun and no pressure way”.  This makes sense. Emojis are a powerful form of promotion because they enable and empower self-expression, and allows brands to enter customers’ lives while being organic and non-disruptive.

For example: Taco Bell created their taco emoji. Mentos created emojis faces on Mentos candies. Ikea created “emotictions” including  furniture, pets, and Swedish meatballs. Old Navy created a website that analyze your top used emoji, then gives you vacation suggestions. You can order pizza by tweeting a pizza emoji through Domino’s. WWF lets you donate to their cause based on how many of their emojis you use. Foot locker created a “Shoemoji” for every shoe style they have… The list goes on…

With the emergence of this new wave of communication methods such as Vine and Snapchat, we see the way of communicating rapidly changing and evolving. We have moved from voice, to text, to pictures and still emojis, and more recently, to animated emojis and videos. In this wave of rapid change lie significant business opportunities, especially for companies that benefit from brand awareness and network effects. Companies who can truly enter consumer’s everyday communication while being organic, authentic, and non-disruptive in making money will find themselves a very powerful competitive advantage.

By: Mark Feng


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Burner App – Privacy and Flexibility in Mobile Telecommunication

Even though I was only going to be in Chicago for another seven days, I was nervous about giving him my phone number. I expected to find deals on craigslist, but $1,000 for 12 Montblanc pens was too good to be true. Was he setting me up to rob me?

Is this really the kind of person with whom I should be sharing my personal number? But if I don’t share a number, he’ll likely be thinking the same about me. I opted to share my number and despite my suspicions, he turned out to be harmless. He was a retired head of a private equity firm that was shedding some of his material things. I should be more trusting – or maybe I shouldn’t have to be.

Greg Cohn set out to address this problem back in 2012 with the Burner app (available on iOS and Android).

Burner provides a “privacy layer for your mobile phone that helps users take control of their identity in communications,” according to Greg Cohn, CEO of Burner, in a October 2015 interview with CNBC. His mission was to replicate the same flexibility people enjoy on the web on their phone. Just as people stand up and shut down email addresses for different purposes, he saw the same opportunity for phones.

With the burner app, you have the ability to create limitless new phone numbers for multiple purposes all for small fees. It’s a world where if you’re looking to keep various aspects of your life separate you can easily do so with different phone numbers, but without being encumbered by multiple phones. It might have been assumed that the true market for such a technology is limited to drug dealers, but three years into operations he has proven a sizeable market demand for this product.

In the early stages of mobilization, Mr. Cohn had a variety of strategies to consider. Should they focus on market penetration by giving away the app for free and allowing for free use of the app to accelerate market adoption? Such a strategy could prove effective if Mr. Cohn was looking for a quick exit from Burner, but he had other things in mind.

By 2015, Mr. Cohn was convinced sufficient demand existed for the product and opted to provide a seven-day free trial that would include 20 minutes of call time or 60 text messages to entice new users. After the short free trial, users would be charged tiered fees from $4.99 a month for a line that automatically renews each month to a variety of packages from around $2 to $5 a month for a variety of features.

But this wasn’t always the case, it’s unclear what may have been going on with Burner from 2012 to 2014, but in 2014, Burner announced they’d be providing one year free trials of the Burner app possibly due to an influx of funding and competition.

My own assessment of what was happened just prior to 2014 is Burner was reacting to fears of new market entrants and potentially looking at an exit. Such is based on Burner’s encounter with Hushed, a similar product that launched in 2013 threatening Burner’s market share with comparable pricing and mobilization strategies. In this encounter, Burner learned about the importance of protecting it’s intellectual property the hard way.

Hushed provides similar features with slightly varying back end functionality. Hushed utilizes data whereas Burner utilizes cell phone minutes for calls. The similarities are so striking that Mr. Cohn directly called out Hushed as a clone of Burner. In response, Hushed highlighted minor differences and stated firmly, “Burner does not have intellectual property rights in this area.” Battles ensued, but as evident by the current market penetration of both Hushed and Burner, there is plenty of market space for both.

And if there is one thing learned from the CEO of Big Skinny Wallets, you don’t have to be first to market to prove profitable. In 2015, there are so many competitors in this space on the app store, it’s surprising Burner was able to maintain a fairly dominant market share. In October 2015, Burner was the number one utility app in the iOS app store and in the top ten of utility apps in the Android play store.

Greg Cohn is featured in a variety of articles and was recently featured on CNBC where he “app developers recipe for success.” With multiple reports citing earnings in the seven figures annually, Mr. Cohn knows how to turn a profit. By focusing his launch strategy on creating a sustainable transactional business model, he’s established a profitable platform that he can continue to scale. With a strong mobilization strategy to gain market share, addressing people’s demands for privacy and greater options for telecommunication, Mr. Cohn has, indeed, found the recipe for success.

Thank you Greg Cohn, my craigslist ventures can continue unencumbered by my fears about giving out my phone number, but wait dangerous people have phones too. They could still be looking to rob me, what would they need my phone for anyway. Maybe I need to be more careful – but maybe I shouldn’t have to be – is there an app for that?

More data on Burner:

Burner is available on iOS and Android, and comes with a free trial that lasts seven days, 20 minutes, or 60 messages.

Pricing is as follows;

Premium line for 4.99 a month, unlimited texts, minutes, and pictures. Automatically renews every month. Buy Credits

3 Credits 1.99

8 credits 4.99

15 credits 7.99

25 credits 11.99

Packages :

Picture burner, Cost: 8 credits, includes 100 texts, ability to send pics, 50 minutes of call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Mini burner, Cost: 3 credits, includes 60 texts, no pics, 20 minutes of call time, and auto-burns in 14 days.

Text-only burner, Cost 5 credits, includes 250 texts, no pics or call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Standard Burner, Cost: 5 credits, includes 150 texts, no pics, 50 minutes of call time, and auto burns in 30 days.

Unlimited burner, Cost: 8 credits, unlimited texts, no pics, unlimited minutes, and auto burns in 30 days.

 References:

Watch small video featuring CEO Burner Greg Cohn

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/19/an-app-developers-recipe-for-success.html

Burner Website

http://www.burnerapp.com/about/

Is Hushed app a clone of Burner – a column

http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/13/when-is-it-more-than-inspiration-burner-ceo-calls-out-hushed-as-an-obvious-clone/

About Burner Column

http://www.theverge.com/2014/12/18/7414869/burner-phone-theres-an-app-for-that

Trial and Free for 1 year announcement in 2014.

http://www.burnerapp.com/press-release-november-20-2104/

By: Randall Trani


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