This past week, Barclays Bank launched a Pingit wearables store. Not exactly an Amazon for payment devices (as you'll see), but nevertheless an interesting moment in payments. Last month, Mastercard launched its own restaurant, which appears to be a combination of rewards strategy, incubator, and brand extension. But by brand extension, are we really talking about lifestyle branding.? After all, this is what the best brands in the world offer. Think of Disney, Ritz Carlton, and Martha Stewart (arguably the first real lifestyle brand). These are strategies that entice and delight consumers by creating a world you want to live in, one that represents your aspirational self.
Have financial services finally come to their lifestyle branding moment? It's entirely possible since I believe that lifestyle branding is the next developmental cycle from the customer experience. But that's the tricky part of lifestyle branding, it not just offering amazing customer service (American Express) or a wide expanse of products (Chase) or a simple, elegant solution (Square). It's the next step up from these differentiators; a very big step up.
If lifestyle branding represents consumers' aspirations, financial services companies that want to reach that level have to imagine themselves as the creator of a world where consumers want to live. The challenge is to elevate the lowly and ubiqutous credit or debit card into a gateway to a better life. A life where one is prosperous, informed, secure, and has access to opportunities to make themselves and their families better.
This is the huge difference between traditional banks and fintech companies. Banks are designed to manage risk. Fintechs are designed to reimagine information and its uses, in other words, create a world that users want to live in. This doesn't in fact, make all fintechs lifestyle brands, but the lines are blurring.
MasterCard has the vision and capital to make a run at creating a lifestyle brand. Their big challenge is making the world forget they're a card network. The redesign of their logo, creating a sound profile, and its many public investments in under-developed regions around the world, for example are all part of this strategy. Barclays Bank doesn't resonant in the same way. Pingit is a payment brand, very successful, but not on the same level.
Apple on the other hand, can claim lifestyle brand rights, but so far, this hasn't translated into them taking a leading position in financial services. And that's the bottom line here. Are we really talking about lifestyle branding or a financial services eco-system? If we reframe lifestyle to eco-system, I believe this more closely aligns with where most of the financial services market lives today. Creating an eco-system or environment that makes consumers want to transact within that brand (such as WeChat), is what these organizations truly want and need. It is still the transaction itself that is profitable, but the path to capturing more transaction forms and types lies in building an attractive and desirable home for them.