Apple Pay vs CurrentC: A Battle of Brand Extensions

When I was but a lad, I went to a seminar (yes, a real, live event that I actually had to leave the house for) put on by Bob Bly. I checked Amazon and Bly hasn’t published a book on copywriting in a few years, but back when I was starting out, he was the crown prince of freelance copywriting.

One story he told has always stuck with me. This may be a BS story he concocted just to make a point, but he told us of a fellow copywriter who, to be as frugal as possible, did his own landscaping, home maintenance, etc. Being as tight as he was with his money, he couldn’t understand why he didn’t have more of it. Bly’s answer was obvious. The guy was spending too much time saving money and not enough time making money. The lesson was: Do what you’re good at and let other people do what they’re good at. Easy enough, right?

I’ve applied this rule time after time in the ensuing years, and it’s always served me well. Sure, I did my own brakes one time and built myself a PC once, but those were mostly just to say I did it. Generally speaking, I let the experts do what the experts are trained to do. However, it was only in the last couple of years that I realized all this is really just a lesson in brand extension.

If my own brand is all about providing top-notch marketing and writing services to fintech companies, I’m truly stupid if I attempt to extend my brand into, say, landscaping – even if I’m only providing those services to myself. I need to stay focused on great marketing and writing, and let the gardener mow the lawn.

So what do lawn mowers have to do with mobile payments? Funny you should ask.

First, let me say for the record that payments have always been mobile. Cash is mobile. Credit cards are mobile. But of course, we’re talking about device-centric mobile payments. That’s a whole new ball game. And because it’s new, somebody needs to extend their brand into this space to fill the void. Should it be Apple and its partners, or should it be the retailer consortium known as the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX)?

First let’s look at MCX, which really has no brand of its own. However, its big backers – CVS, Best Buy, and Walmart, for example – do have well-established brands. What do they all have in common? They’re all retailers. Beyond the fact that they’re all retailers, they have no experience in payments and payment systems, nor do they have any experience in developing consumer technology products. This all raises a giant brand extension red flag for me.

On the other hand, we have Apple, a company whose entire brand centers around making the human experience cooler through technology. From what I can tell, Apple Pay does exactly that. And while one might argue that Apple has no experience in payments, the same can’t be said for Apple’s partners in this endeavor – partners like Visa and MasterCard, along with hundreds of banks and credit unions. In other words, Apple Pay seems like a very logical extension of the Apple brand.

The folks at MCX have been pretty tight-lipped about the specifics, so speculation about potential technical issues has run rampant. Will transactions be settled one at a time via ACH, much like an uncoupled debit card? Will consumers need to preload their CurrentC account? Will consumers need a separate instance of CurrentC on their phone for each retailer? If yes to these last two questions, will all CurrentC instances share a common balance?

These are questions for another time, and probably for someone else’s blog. In the meantime, from a purely brand-oriented perspective, Apple Pay seems to be the obvious frontrunner in the mobile payments race. Walmart should stick to what it does best: selling stuff for dirt cheap and providing fodder for websites like this.

That is all.

#payments #mobilepayments #brandextension

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© 2015 by John F. San Filippo

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