i.20: Wingspan's Michael Cleary

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What do luggage carts, baseball cards and online banks have in common?

"At the end of the day, a lot of business issues are the same--people, product," says Michael Cleary. "Whether it's baseball cards or bank services, the customer has to want to utilize your product."

He is in a good position to make that judgment, as exec VP-Internet marketing for online bank WingspanBank.com. Before taking the top Wingspan marketing post in July, he was president of Smarte Carte, which manages airport luggage carts, after leaving the top marketing spot at baseball card marketer Pinnacle Brands.

Wingspan launched in July with an ad campaign from Gardner/Nelson Project, New York. "If your bank could start over, this is what it would be," touts the tagline.

TV, print, radio, online and outdoor ads plug the online bank with no mention of its parent, First USA, which itself is a unit of Bank One Corp. The separation was intentional to give Wingspan its own identity, apart from the bricks-and-mortar of Bank One, says Mr. Cleary.

"A brand can't be everything; Dial is soap and not deodorant. We wanted our brand to be as defined as possible," says Mr. Cleary.


Wingspan's clients include Mr. Cleary himself, who opened an account at the online bank before joining the company this summer.

While the clientele is mainly early adopters of technology, Mr. Cleary says the value proposition will evolve over time to compete against traditional institutions.

Right now, he says, Wingspan is working on projects focused on the customer experience online to create new customer messages.

For someone from a package-goods background, where it takes six to nine months to get a product to market, the entrepreneurial spirit of an online business is exhilarating, says Mr. Cleary.

"We're very much a start-up. The ability to work with your client and change the product is really exciting," he says.

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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