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The Green Sheet Online Edition

October 22, 2018 • Issue 18:10:02

MLS branding: part art, part science

By Dale S. Laszig

A blog post on Bouncepad got me thinking about payments. Published Sept. 23, 2018, "Is brand loyalty a thing of the past?" chronicles a shift in consumer behavior from brand loyalty to opportunistic buying. The authors suggest the Internet had a lot to do with the change.

"Pre-technological revolution, it was much harder for brands to get their names out there," the authors wrote. "Consumers were blindly loyal to businesses they had bought from before; they had built a trusted relationship with them and it was more difficult to find competitor's offers."

Sound familiar? In bankcard's pre-Internet era, merchant level salespeople (MLSs) competed with local banks. They showed up when merchants needed help, earning gratitude and referrals. Branded countertop terminals were popular; MLSs could see who they were up against just by looking at a terminal. Today they face numerous competitors, including independent software vendors and boutique service providers that specialize in vertical markets. Here are some thoughts on how to rise above the noise.

Project permanence

Cheap countertop terminals, like off-the-rack clothes, are designed to be used and thrown away. In the fashion world, disruptive companies with agile supply chains react to fashion trends by getting products to market with blazing speed. But leading brands, like Burberry, Tom Ford and Rebecca Minkoff, are fighting back, reducing runway-to-market times and challenging consumers to think beyond transitory trends.

In a September 2017 article by Elizabeth Segran titled "Is Fashion Week Irrelevant? Rebecca Minkoff and Anna Sui Weigh in," Minkoff said the fashion industry is changing, and iconic brands are trying to keep up. "We're modernizing by taking advantage of technology," she said. "We have a web store, where a lot of our current sales come from. We also do a lot of business through [Chinese social media platform] WeChat. 

Bouncepad bloggers pointed out that substandard products have a short shelf life. Consumers, exposed to hundreds of brands every day, are "constantly on the search for the brand with the best total proposition," they wrote. "Product, service and brand all contribute to the overall perception. This means brands have to be at the top of their game with a strong understanding of their target audience, creating products and messaging that meet their customer's expectations."

Find your niche

The Internet and communication tools like email make it easy for consumer brands, retailers and merchant service providers to reach a wider audience, but more difficult to become top-of-mind, noted the Bouncepad bloggers. "Word travels fast, and consumers find themselves with more choice than ever," they wrote. "Comparing prices, services and quality are much easier – there are even websites dedicated to it."

MLSs whose products and services are similar to their competitors need to stand out from the pack. Brand positioning can help. Developed in 1969 by advertising executives Al Ries and Jack Trout, positioning links your brand to a specific category in a customer's mind. The authors understood that marketing is dynamic and constantly changing.

Their book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, describes an overcommunicated world, where messages "prepared in the old traditional ways have no hope of being successful." To effectively compete, companies must "create a position in a prospect's mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company's own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well."

If a merchant services provider is dominating a particular territory or market, savvy competitors may look for another category to dominate. This dynamic has been playing out on a massive scale in the payments industry as legacy acquirers and startups leverage big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to create smart, connected commerce.


It is challenging to earn customer loyalty when brands compete for attention and digital technologies make products instantly available, Bouncepad noted. "With competitors like Amazon, which offers next-day delivery and rarely goes out of stock, brands need to implement technology to help eliminate inventory issues and make sure they aren't handing customers over to Amazon," they wrote. The authors cited a Chain Store Age study that attributes 24 percent of Amazon's sales to customers who tried to buy products that were out of stock at local stores.

Fast fashion is a growing presence in the payments and retail industries. It may take the form of cheap products, low interchange rates or shoes that are worn twice and thrown away. At best, it's a race to the bottom, a way to devalue and commoditize the products and services we sell. Whether merchants embrace fast fashion or oppose it by offering quality alternatives, MLSs can provide purpose-built tools and resources to help them dominate their chosen categories.

In our world, fast fashion might mean placing a cheap terminal on a countertop or shaving a few basis points off a processing agreement. Quality alternatives might be tailored solutions that address a business owner's physical and digital environments and target audience and economic conditions. While websites and chatbots can sell fast fashion, tailored solutions require a human, consultative approach.

Part art, part science

Brand Innovators held a Women in Brand Marketing Summit in New York City in October 2018. In addition to panel discussions and fireside chats, the event honored the top 100 women and "women to watch" in brand marketing, including payments and financial services executives.

In a fireside chat, Angelica Munson, chief digital officer at Shiseido, told marketers to think big, build your network, go to events and get to know people across categories. "Beauty and fashion are part art and part science," she said. "[They are] customer-centric, driven by data, but you can't have it without the brand DNA that makes you unique, such as the way someone speaks to you in a store," she said. "How do you use data to drive the acceleration of that art?"

London-based Bouncepad, with U.S. headquarters in Boston, designs tablet accessories. These hardware platforms sit behind and underneath POS tablets and could be considered commodities. And yet, when I think of Bouncepad, I think of an innovative company with great design ideas and an entertaining, informative blog.

What is the first thing you'd like merchants to think about when they think about your brand?

end of article

Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at dale@dsldirectllc.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.

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