On the importance
of looking the part

(A marketing lesson from a bowl of chili)


Which tastes better to you?

You may have heard me from time to time harp on the importance of never mistaking a brand’s trappings for the brand itself.

This is not to say that brand trappings don’t matter. They do. To illustrate, I have invited a bowl of chili to join us.

A chef I know never serves chili without perching atop of it a fresh slice of shiny yellow bell pepper. Finding it hard to imagine that the slice contributes much in the way of flavor, I asked him why he bothered.

“A bowl of chili,” he explained, “isn’t much to look at. You don’t see still-life artists painting bowls of chili. The dash of yellow dresses up my chili and makes it look like it tastes better. If people expect it to taste better, it will.”

Do not scoff. Cheap wine with an expensive label fools even the experts. And audio cables with high price tags trick audiophiles into hearing a difference that isn’t there. It works the other way, too. Mix a few drops of blue or red food coloring into a bottle of milk. Blindfolded, the family would likely not notice the change. Drop the blindfolds, and watch how quickly everyone agrees that the milk doesn’t taste right.

In marketing, besides being what you claim (the brand), it’s important to look like what you claim (the trappings). Even the most cerebral and detached of us find it assuring when airline pilots show up in crisp uniforms, orchestra members don formal attire, and safari guides sport pith helmets.

Now consider a payment app. It’s a given that it needs to work and be easy, even a pleasure to use. But if you want people to embrace and use it, it must not just have but look like it has those qualities. This is where brand trappings come in.

Apps are not so different from food. While looking great cannot save an ill-conceived app, not looking appealing can do injustice to a great one.

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iPhone …
or Android
or Android
or Android
or Android
or Android … ?

Why “an AOS app” may not be enough

REMEMBER WHEN telephones were clunky, corded things you plugged into a wall and used only for the now quaint, so last-century practice of talking? And when offering phones in a choice of colors was a major step forward?

Girl w Rotary Phone

Thank goodness the Dark Telephonic Ages are behind us. So far behind us, in fact, that when you plop one of those relics in front of kids today, even the most smartphone-adept has no clue what to do with it. And what color is no longer the hot fashion question. With apologies to less prevalent operating systems, the hot question these days is iPhone or Android?

Trouble is, if you answer “Android,” it doesn’t exactly narrow things down.

Several iterations later, an iPhone is always an Apple product, resembles earlier iPhones, and on better than 72 percent of devices out there runs iOS 8.

Not so for Android. According to an article by TNW News writer Nate Swanner, 1,294 different Android manufacturers have unleashed 18,796 different Android models on the market—so far. More, if you break them out by available colors.

Nor do all Androids sing from the same music. This presents a challenge for the payments industry. Since there’s no telling which version of AOS a given customer’s device may run, it’s not enough just to have “an AOS app.” Apps need to work across as many software iterations and as many different kinds of device types as possible, and should undergo routine real-world testing to ensure a positive customer experience.

I am willing to go out on a limb and speculate that Samsung has the lion’s share of the Android phone market. I base this hunch on the fact that Samsung’s share is 43 percent, whereas nearest competitor Sony comes in at 4 percent.

Notwithstanding Samsung’s considerable lead, the number of Android manufacturers is six times what it was three years ago. I’m not sure whether to pity or admire upstarts hoping to take on Samsung. But then, giants aren’t impervious to challenge. Walmart overtook Sears as the world’s largest retailer. WordPerfect toppled WordStar, and then Microsoft Word toppled WordPerfect. Toyota overtook GM and, so far this year, Volkswagen is outselling Toyota.

Not to be overlooked, texting has overtaken voice calls. Something tells me the world has only begun to change.

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Wherein I
an important
new “product”

A significant event occurred last month in the payments industry.Yet for reasons beyond me, it went unreported in the press. You needn’t feel bad if the news didn’t reach you, for in fact it didn’t reach a lot of people. Moreover, you may not have felt its effects. It is only due to its immediate effect on me that I am aware of it and have decided to report on it. You can tell your friends you saw it here first.


Harrison is the one
on the right.

The event, which took place on July 3, was the arrival of Harrison Grey Wilcox. 7.4 pounds and 19.5 inches, if you must know.

Accuse me of abusing this blog solely to brag about my newest kid if you wish. I have two replies. My first reply is, “Yeah, so?” My second reply is a bit more involved, and actually has something to do with this financial services business that you and I are in.

Sometimes a technological innovation is so sexy that there’s a temptation to sit back, admire it for the thing of beauty that it is, and assume that the market will ooh and ahh right along with us. But the objective isn’t to solely to dazzle, nor solely to produce a return pleasing to shareholders, important as that is. Ultimately, products succeed when they make life a little better for real people living in the real world. That is the distinction between features and benefits, as any decent marketer knows.

“Make life a little better” is no exaggeration. Anyone who ever made a purchase by check in the 1970s or earlier knows just how painful the process was. (Note: I am way too young to have experienced that first-hand. I heard about it from my parents. Or was it my grandparents?) You had to dig for your checkbook, find a pen that worked, fill out the check and, doing the math by hand, record it in a register. You had to produce three forms of ID, which usually meant a driver license and two credit cards. Finally, the clerk had to run and find a manager to approve your check. All of this took place while a line of customers behind you grew longer and grouchier. I think it’s fair to say that the invention of a system that lets you simply wave your smartphone and leave has made life a little better. It’s faster, easier, less stressful, more fun, and a heckuva lot more secure.


They had to invent this before they could invent your smart phone.

The roots of this faster, easier, less stressful, more fun, heckuva lot more secure solution stretch farther back than you may think. Some credit surely must go to Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptiste Falcon who, in order to bring the textiles industry into the 1790s, came up with a loom-controlling device that used punch cards. Their loom was a big success, and their punch cards were a bigger one. Innovative uses for punch cards followed until, in 1890, the United States government for the first time used punch cards to tabulate census data. This was thanks to a machine designed by Herman Hollerith, who was the first to think of using punch cards not just to control machines but to tabulate data. Not long after, Hollerith started The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. You may have heard of it, especially after it became International Business Machines, that is, IBM.

Progress accelerated. Punch cards gave way to magnetic tape, which gave way to an evolving series of magnetic disks, which gave way to an evolving series of laser disks, which gave way to … well, here we are today with pocket-sized devices that make Captain Kirk’s communicator look laughable and pack more computing power than housefuls of 1950s electronics.

Messieurs Bouchon’s and Falcon’s innovation in the late 18th century had profound effects on life in the there and then. Imagine their wide eyes had they been given so much as a glimpse of the changes brought about almost daily today by their great-great-great (and so on) grand-invention.

Holding Harrison in my arms, I can’t help pausing to think about the world of convenience and security that we’re building today, and wonder what it will look like by the time we turn it over to him and both of his (adorable) big sisters.

It drives home to me that what we’re doing with ones and zeroes matters not just in business, but at the human level. Over time, it may end up mattering a lot more than we can possibly anticipate. So let’s do it right.

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“Treat”: A Clinkle in Time

Whatever happened to Clinkle?

You may recall not long ago when an app by the name of Clinkle was on the tip of every tongue in the payments industry. The brainchild of wunderkind Lucas Duplan, Clinkle looked to be a game changer. No longer. According to Forbes, the company is struggling, losing dollars and employees en masse.


Clinkle had its start when Duplan, then 19, set to work on a mobile wallet app. It promised to be more secure than NFC by transmitting payment data over a short distance via high-frequency sound, and less cumbersome than QR codes and other POS procedures.

Two years later, Duplan wowed investors with his in-progress app—while not fully revealing it to them. Perhaps thinking that Duplan was keeping back details to protect his revolutionary approach, investors showed their enthusiasm by handing over an unprecedented $30 million in seed capital.

Clinkle was off and running. Soon it boasted 70 employees in lavish offices in a not inexpensive part of San Francisco. Duplan tried to impose a corporate culture à la Zappos. Yet despite growth and boasts, no one was quite sure what Clinkle was or how it worked. Rumors of a lack of underlying substance began bubbling up and multiplying.

Hopes rose early in 2014 when Duplan announced the recruitment of former Netflix exec Barry McCarthy and former Yahoo global search general manager Chi-Chao Chang. Chang showed up for his first day and resigned less than 24 hours later. Business Insider reported that “… Chang found the product and its marketing strategy in poorer shape than he anticipated.” McCarthy’s LinkedIn page shows he remained with Clinkle for six months.

Late last year, the app launched with 100,000 beta users, mostly students, including the student body of Weber State University, which is in my home state of Utah. Yet this beta app was a far cry from what Duplan had hyped to investors. Renamed “Treats,” it was no longer a payment app, but a novelty rewards app. And high-frequency transmission was not part of it.

The press pulled no punches. TechCrunch.com ran with the headline, “Mobile Wallet Laughingstock Clinkle Finally Launches To Let You Pay Friends And Earn Treats.” The brief article went on in mocking terms. A Wall Street Journal blogger had this to say under the headline “High-Flying Startup Clinkle Turns Into ‘Treats,’ a Debit-Rewards Program”:

The company revealed to TechCrunch on Tuesday that it has rebranded its app to the name “Treats,” a program that lets users send “treats,” or “rewards,” to friends.

If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Unlike typical rewards card programs, users do not earn points for themselves. Instead, for every seven transactions, they get a “treat,” which they cannot use personally but can send to friends.

In a Business Insider article dated April 14, 2014, writer Alyson Shontell reported that the high-frequency transmission feature wasn’t working because it was easily compromised by background noise. Meanwhile, NFC technology, whose initial unpopularity Duplan had hoped to exploit, appears to have reversed course and is catching on. Shontell goes on to suggest that working for Duplan and McCarthy was far from pleasant. That may or may not be so, but then, not many successful CEOs are celebrated for their sweet bedside manner.

What does the future hold for Clinkle/Treats? It remains to be seen.

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I don’t mean to brag.
Okay, maybe I mean to a little.

Matt 40 to Watch

For some reason and for the third year in a row, Bank Innovation has shown no better judgment than to include me on its list of “2015 Innovators to Watch.”

The 2015 refers to the year, not to the number of innovators, which is a good thing, because 2,015 innovators would have made for a long article. In fact they kept the list to 44, and I’m grateful and honored to be on it.

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