During last week’s inaugural Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA), a conference for wireless industry professionals, providers from across North America spent a lot of time discussing the possibilities and implications of 5G, the next generation of wireless networks. Refreshingly, these and other conversations were often framed within a theme of corporate social responsibility. MWCA showcased the industry’s responsibility to give back and highlighted how evolving mobile networks will enable broader internet access, as well as power better technologies, to help the disadvantaged.

sprint picBridging the digital divide

One of the key initiatives MWCA featured throughout the show was co-sponsor GSM Association’s “Case for Change,” which outlines how the mobile industry is helping achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Case for Change documents the connected life stories of individuals across the globe and highlights how carriers are working to improve consumers’ lives. Sprint has already shown how its 1Million Project, which brings free devices and connectivity to one million low-income high school students in the US, supports Case for Change.

Closing the digital divide is an important topic across the industry. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called closing the digital divide his top priority. He also emphasized that expanding broadband internet access is a bipartisan issue—everyone agrees that we need to improve accessibility. This sentiment was echoed throughout the conference. What remains uncertain is just what internet delivery methods will close the divide—wired, cellular, satellite or something else. But, as Executive Chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation Mitchell Baker stated, eventually questions like wired vs wireless won’t matter. What will ultimately matter is using whatever mix of technologies is necessary to deliver the richest network.

Empowering individuals

There were many examples of ways better connectivity is enabling new innovations that enrich consumers’ lives and help the underserved. For instance, AirFox replaces ads that consumers would typically see when surfing the internet with ads from its own network. As users browse the internet, they earn AirTokens for each ad they see. The users can then redeem their AirTokens for mobile data on their prepaid plan, and they can also cash out their prepaid balance to pay utilities, or transfer money to family and friends. Through this model, mobile data effectively becomes currency, enabling the underbanked to gain access to more capital and greater economic mobility.

At AT&T’s Smart City space, I learned how Erich Manser, a visually impaired runner, completed the Boston Marathon by using his smartphone and the camera on his smart glasses. His smart glasses connected with a remote guide who saw what his glasses saw, and verbally guided him along the route in near-real time.

Technology for good

When we think about how connectivity and new technologies are disrupting and transforming industries, it’s always important to consider how these innovations can be used for good. For marketers, we can emphasize the positive stories that come out of our own interactions with customers, as well as the CSR initiatives that extend the brand’s goals for greater good. We should constantly be asking ourselves, “How has my brand made someone’s life better today?”

43% of consumers say companies partnering with charities/non-profits are making a positive impact on people’s lives.

Mintel Trend ‘Moral Brands’ underscores the importance consumers place on ethical and moral brands, as they increasingly look for companies to be charitable, ethical, or environmentally responsible at both local and global levels. Mintel’s US report on attitudes toward charities and non-profits finds that 43% of consumers agree companies partnering with charities/non-profits are making a positive impact on people’s lives, and a third say these companies care about issues beyond their business. Doing good not only contributes to the health of society as a whole, but also helps drive positive brand perception.

Empathy

There was another theme that emerged alongside CSR at the show, which also contributes to the perception of moral brands: empathy. During multiple marketing- and content-focused panels, the topic of empathy cropped up repeatedly. In one panel, RYOT Co-founder and Head of Brand Molly Swenson discussed the humanizing effects of using virtual reality for news coverage. In a separate session, Condé Nast VP of Emerging Products Arlie Sisson suggested that maybe empathy “is the new customer-centricity.” Being a moral brand is about helping marketers and consumers put themselves into the shoes of others.

Ultimately, I think PayPal CEO summed it up well when he said during his MWCA keynote, “Doing good is being a customer champion.” Giving back to society and championing customers go hand in hand—and better connectivity will make it easier to do both.

 Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the US and Canada.

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