Mobile Wallet's Branding Problem

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The mobile marketing industry today is heavily weighted towards SMS/MMS and app push, but wallet, beacon and chat solutions are gaining momentum. Some of the most exciting new opportunities for mobile marketers, with an immediate positive ROI, can be found in mobile wallet solutions. Why then have these solutions been overlooked and not received the traction they deserve? Well, mobile wallet has a branding problem.

I mention mobile wallet here, and so feel compelled to explain just what I mean by "mobile wallet" -- which is the first problem. When the average person thinks of a mobile wallet, the image of the tradition leather-bound billfold comes to mind. Most people envision mobile wallet as their phone replacing the functionality their physical wallet provides, primarily with payments. With so many mobile payment solutions and initiatives driven by massive tech and retail giants, it is hard to not focus on payments.

However, the mobile wallet we're talking about is the one that launched when Apple introduced Passbook in 2012. This mobile wallet is the loyalty/gift card, tickets and coupon solution that allow a brand to create a living, breathing relationship with a consumer after they add a "pass" to their wallet. With a pass installed, brands can push updates to consumers and trigger messages based on any data in their profile, most importantly real-time location. Brands and consumers can eliminate those plastic loyalty or gift cards in their physical wallet or key rings, and clipped paper/email coupons. All of these will be carefully organized and filed in your wallet app, natively.

Let me be clear, this is one native app on your phone where you, the consumer, decides what brand content you want to capture. Once you tell the brand you want their content, they've earned the right to send you updates where or when applicable. If the brand abuses that right, the consumer simply deletes the pass with the touch of a button. Google slowly but surely caught up to Apple, and others like WeChat and AliPay have joined the mobile wallet fray. Unfortunately, that pesky word "pay" crept into the conversation when Apple re-branded their passbook "Apple Pay" and Android quickly followed suit with its Android Pay.

The growing acceptance and popularity of mobile payments is, however, creating a unique opportunity for marketers to link transaction and engagement. Marketers can alert customers of sales, provide information, and accept payments without users ever having to download an app. Creating a seamless path for brands to engage and transact over this channel is critical to success.

It seems like a no-brainer that with the maturity of the mobile payments market this solution would take off, but hesitation remains in the U.S. market, and here's why.

First, the average consumer probably doesn't know the difference between mobile wallet and mobile payments, as they are being lumped together by vendors promoting the solutions. What's worse, buyers at brands are looking for two very different solutions. One is a marketing sell; the other is an operational/IT sell. So 75% of the marketing on either side is being lost in translation, since no one knows which vendor pitch to pay attention to.

Second, brands are still app crazy! The C-suite is, and has been, demanding marketers build apps without a real plan. Before they know it, they've spent $500,000 or $1 million and are nowhere near the number of downloads or transactions to justify that investment. A gloomy cloud now exists over mobile investments, with brands knowing they need to invest but terrified about where to allocate those funds.

How can we overcome these challenges? A good place to start would be an open discussion between mobile marketing wallet providers and marketers. Thought leaders in the mobile space must come together to specifically define what a marketing mobile wallet is, and then rebrand or reposition their messaging to reflect that. Everyone seems comfortable with calling the content a "Pass," so what if we on the marketing side simply ditched the term "Wallet"?

If wallet providers can't agree on exactly what the platform is for, how will consumers ever understand? A well-defined stance on mobile wallet will also help marketers and brands understand why they should, or shouldn't, create an app or wallet card, and prevent a lot of misplaced investment.

Let's start by admitting we have created confusion, and then shine a light on wallet marketing's functionality, which is getting lost in the noise.

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