Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guest Post - Ringtones for the Blind Part 2

Yesterday, Laura described the ringtone project for the Perkins School for the Blind. Today, she takes us through the often-difficult process to it successful conclusion.

Although our web administrators at Perkins are very talented, ringtones were not within their scope. Therefore, I began to investigate what other organizations were doing in terms of branding and marketing.

First, I emailed and telephoned the organization which had been reported in the press to have created Obama’s website. The company is called mStyle and, of all things, happens to be located in Boston! The emails I sent to the address posted on their site bounced back (not a good sign for a company in the technology space) and the telephone messages I left – three in all – were never returned.

Next, I Googled ‘ringtone downloads’ and ‘creating ringtones’ and other similar phrases and found a number of articles promoting this as a new way of reaching a younger audience.

What I discovered in my research was that some websites:
a) clearly had problems with the downloads (The National Zoo in Washington, DC has a message “Due to temporary technical problems, the ringtone samples and store are offline”)
b) worked through a consolidator of some kind (meaning that you are sent to a website which is not your website, and the consolidator makes money),
c) made the ringtones available, but not for free (in some cases as a donation to the cause as in the case of this Unicef campaign against violence in Kenya)
d) made the ringtone downloads so difficult to find that I never found them, although they had been cited in articles about ringtones (Ford Mustang, Porsche)

I ended up finding a new company called Myxer, which responded immediately to my email. The VP of Business Development called me back within an hour. When I explained to him what I was trying to do, he told me that although much of what they do is to enable people to make their own ringtones, or to download an artist’s ringtone, they also work behind the scenes with companies like Friendly’s Ice Cream to provide free downloads.

One of the ways Myxer makes its money is by showing ads on the text message you receive once you have requested a free download from a specific artist.

If your company or organization agrees to pay the equivalent of the cost of the ad placement, Myxer will not show ads and just provide your ringtone download without showing any other company’s advertising. This is the direction I chose to go in. Nonetheless, I had to give up the requirement that the delivery of the ringtone would be branded only with the Perkins brand and not with a third-party provider. When a visitor downloads the ringtone from the website (or from Friendly’s), you receive a text message from Myxer directing you to the Myxer website to finish the download.

Myxer was incredibly courteous to work with, turning their organization inside out to get us up and running in our very short timeframe. Moreover, they offered to provide the service for free until we reach a certain number of downloads, believing that our cause is worthwhile.

And we are up and running…

Still, this has not been easy. We have had feedback that people can’t seem to do the downloads – partly because they don’t understand how their cellphones work, and partly because the technology is complicated.

As was reported in a recent article in AdWeek, the technology is not really ready for primetime yet. Apparently this is due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • A large number of carriers, all having their own restrictions
  • A wide variety of equipment with varying capabilities
  • The type of message being sent, with some phones unable to receive some types of messages

This was validated recently when I attended a luncheon at which the CEO of Nokia spoke. During the question and answer period, I briefly described my own foray into the world of mobile marketing and asked him whether there was any initiative among various manufacturers of equipment as well as providers to standardize the technology and make it more universally accessible. He indicated that this is a very important question and although there are explorations being made, there is no solution at this time.

Our initiative is intended to be international since the Perkins Brailler is sold all over the world. But, the problems only escalate when you are talking about ringtone downloads with carriers in India or Africa.

All in all, quite a learning experience! But until the technology matures, this is still going to be a difficult road to traverse.


Anonymous said...

Laura, congratulations on finding creative solutions to the various obtacles in your project. Ringtones really are a challenging technology and I agree that the range of providers and phone technologies are to blame for a great deal of the confusion. (I am a bit of a nerd but my cell phone always manages to confuse me!) As is often the case, a good technology partner is worth their weight in gold - it sounds like you have found a good one!
Thanks for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading about a former fellow-student's work!

Unknown said...

Alisa, good to hear from you! The update to this is that I am currently in Madrid, with a new smartphone. I decided to try the download to see how difficult it would be to take the technology cross-border. To my surprise, when I texted the numbers, exactly the same way I would in the States (no +1 or +001) it downloaded easily! I am not sure what will happen in a less 'Western' country, but I can assure you, I will try it as soon as I have the opportunity. And if any blog readers are willing to be beta-testers for me, I would be very interested in knowing what happens in China or India or Africa...

Anonymous said...

I read your article, which I came across after several hours of "googling" about ring tone technology. I have a project idea very similar to yours (but with different audience and goals), and it looks like I will be following your footsteps. I must say your article was very detailed and informative.
My project will be heavily Africa based. Although I leave in the US, I have huge contacts in Africa, mainly Nigeria and will be happy to have some of my buddies try your download there, just let me know what exactly you want. One problem we might have to deal with though is the fact that in those developing nations, the mobile service may not support smart messaging and data plans.