What we can learn from the latest 'ATMs'

| by Alicia Blanda
What we can learn from the latest 'ATMs'

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The Safe Water Network has introduced an affordable "water ATM" in India. Paline LLC has launched America's first "pizza ATM" at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Sprinkles has installed its "cupcake ATMs" in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, New York and Washington D.C.

There is only one thing, though … these aren't ATMs.

ATM is an acronym for Automated Teller Machine — indicating the association between the physical machine and the financial institution.

A true ATM connects users with their financial accounts to perform balance inquiries and withdraw or deposit of funds. Some ATMs provide additional functionality, enabling charitable donations, dynamic currency conversion and bill payment, but their core purpose is the transaction of basic banking tasks that were once performed at teller windows.

Vending machines, on the other hand, were introduced in London in the early 1880s to accept coins in exchange for postcards. The first vending machines in the United States were installed in 1888 to dispense gum on New York City train platforms.

These coin-operated machines were designed specifically to provide goods in exchange for money. Today, vending machines dispense any number of items from soda and snacks to DVDs and electronics — and now water, pizza and cupcakes.

So why, with news stories reporting the end of cash and the rise of ATM skimming activity, would companies choose to tout their vending machines as "ATMs"?

Because a story headlined, "Cupcake vending machine opens in New York City" is not news. Vending machines have been been dispensing prepackaged cupcakes for decades.

But … swap out "vending machine" with "ATM," and suddenly it's a whole new thing with a whole lot of interest.

The goal isn't to be 100 percent accurate. The goal is to get attention.

So, what can ATM and payment companies learn from this?

These "not really ATM" companies have taken advantage of two main marketing points:

1) Be first. Consumers love novelty so much that the first company to offer a desirable product or service is practically guaranteed initial success. While purveyors of water, pizza and cupcakes were not first at vending, they were able to fudge the truth just enough to create an identity as the first at something specific.

In the case of the "cupcake ATM," the novelty helped the business take off and expand to new locations throughout the U.S.

2) Make connections. The Safe Water Network, Paline and Sprinkles recognized that consumers would get the connection between vending machines and ATMs. Changing their language from "vending" to "ATM" allowed the companies to convey a clearly understood message while providing the novelty the companies were looking to interject.

Your turn. Think about your products and services — how you operate; your service; your statistics, products, locations, or some other aspect of the business.

Now think about how you can communicate the uniqueness of that feature to your customers. It just might result in a headline to compete with the latest "ATMs."

Topics: Branding

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