Do you really want
We’re sneaky®
as part of your brand?
Thoughts on direct voicemail messaging

cat-1309710_960_720CERTAIN MARKETING tactics, legal though they may be, can be troublesome. Today’s ambivalence du jour concerns direct voicemail messaging. 

As its name implies, direct voicemail messaging sends a prerecorded message straight to voicemail. Since phones do not ring and charges for minutes do not rack up, Do Not Call laws don’t apply. 

Companies that provide the service for generating leads claim (what else would you expect?) that direct voicemail messaging is effective. 

Fine, but sometimes there are other considerations, e.g., it can come across as sneaky.  

For one thing, consumers cannot block direct voicemail messages. For another, just look at the names of selected service providers. Names like Voicecasting might sound innocuous enough, but the field also includes gems like Slydial, Slybroadcast, and Callfire

Direct voicemail messaging appears to enjoy some popularity among financial institutions: 

The most frequent users of Ringless Direct-To-Voicemail are Debt Collectors, Financial Institutions and Student Loan Servicers. 

That excerpt comes from the Do-Not-Call Protection website, whose motto is “We help business to business, business to consumer and single-agents to comply with the Do Not Call Laws and Telephone Consumer Protection Act.” They’re not a consumer advocacy group, so by “helping to comply” they more likely mean “avoiding legal hot water” than “avoiding being annoying to consumers.” 

As I write, Direct voicemail messaging is facing new legal challenges. The New York Times reports: 

Regulators are considering whether to ban these messages. They have been hearing from ringless voice mail providers and pro-business groups, which argue that these messages should not qualify as calls and, therefore, should be exempt from consumer protection laws that ban similar types of telephone marketing. 

But consumer advocates, technology experts, people who have been inundated with these calls and the lawyers representing them say such an exemption would open the floodgates. Consumers’ voice mail boxes would be clogged with automated messages, they say, making it challenging to unearth important calls, whether they are from an elderly mother’s nursing home or a child’s school. 

… The commission is collecting public comments on the issue after receiving a petition from a ringless voice mail provider that wants to avoid regulation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. That federal law among other things prohibits calling cellular phones with automated dialing and artificial or prerecorded voices without first obtaining consent—except in an emergency. 

The United States Congress appears divided on the matter. (Congress divided? I know, you’re shocked.) Ars Technica reports

In March, a marketing company called All About the Message petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would prevent anti-robocall rules from applying to ringless voicemails. But the company withdrew its petition without explanation in a letter to the FCC last week, even though the commission hadn’t yet ruled on the matter … 

The Republican National Committee supported All About the Message’s petition, claiming that it has a First Amendment right to use direct-to-voicemail technology without any TCPA restrictions. Senate Democrats opposed the petition, saying that it would allow “telemarketers, debt collectors, and other callers [to] bombard Americans with unwanted voicemails, leaving consumers with no way to block or stop these intrusive messages.” 

I won’t wax partisan here, but I will point out that legislated regulations often overshoot, piling on onerous requirements no one had counted on. If you don’t believe me, I’d suggest brushing up on Dodd-Frank.

I’ll also point out that self-regulation is one of the best ways to avoid onerous government regulations. That’s why organizations like the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) urge members to police themselves. “These guidelines,” reads the introduction to DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, “represent DMA’s general philosophy that self-regulatory measures are preferable to governmental mandates.” 

From a marketing standpoint, I return to my above assertion that direct voicemail messaging, especially for lead generating, can appear sneaky. Upon finding a directly deposited voice mail message, many consumers react with How did that get there? instead of I’d better pay attention to this message. 

Unless you’d like We’re sneaky to become part of your brand, you might think twice before using direct voicemail messaging.

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An Apple and a Deere
walk into a tech bar
A tale of unlikely bedfellows

Apple-DeereReturning from a camping trip, Henry Ford, yes, that Henry Ford, saw a farmer repairing a car. That the farmer’s car wasn’t a Ford didn’t stop Henry, an irrepressible tinkerer, from hopping out of his own car, which was a Ford, to help. In no time the farmer’s car was running again, whereupon the farmer offered to compensate his unknown assistant. Henry declined, adding that he had all the money he needed. “Hell,” said the farmer, “you can’t have that much and drive a Ford.”*

That couldn’t happen today. Today, the more likely protocol would be to tow the car to a dealer, who would connect a computer to a port in the car, and then say, “You need a spark plug.”

I’m exaggerating only a little. Take, for instance, what has quite possibly been the farmer’s most trusted brand for 180 years: John Deere. The days when you can haul out your wrenches and have your conked-out John Deere tractor working again are numbered. Newer Deeres require the use of a special diagnostic tool that farmers aren’t allowed to own. Per an article by The Guardian’s senior technology reporter Olivia Solon:

Only manufacturers and authorized dealers are allowed that tool, and they charge hundreds of dollars in call-out fees to use it.

Not only that. The days when you can call the conked-out tractor yours are also numbered. In much the same way that you don’t own the songs you “purchase” from iTunes or the books you “purchase” on your Kindle or Nook—you merely have licensed access—John Deere contends that farmers don’t really “purchase” Deere equipment. In an article for Wired entitled “We can’t let John Deere destroy the very idea of ownership,” Kyle Wiens wrote:

It’s official. John Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.

In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker—told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Before you hurry out to picket John Deere, you should know they’re not alone. You may have noticed from Wiens’s article that General Motors sides with Deere. In his article “General Motors, John Deere want to make tinkering, self-repair illegal,” Extreme Tech writer Joel Hruska observes:

GM, meanwhile, alleges that “Proponents incorrectly conflate ownership of a vehicle with ownership of the underlying computer software in a vehicle.”

Not that farmers are taking this sitting down. Last week, TIME’s deputy tech editor Alex Fitzpatrick wrote …

… farmers nationwide have banded together in support of the so-called Right to Repair legislation. These bills, which have been proposed in at least 12 states, would require equipment manufacturers to offer the diagnostic tools, manuals and other supplies that farmers need to fix their own machines.

To which Deere spokesman Ken Golden replied:

Customers, dealers and manufacturers should work together on the issue rather than invite government regulation that could add costs with no associated value.

Which sounds great in theory. Trouble is, when those in power say Let’s work together, sometimes it really means You little guys need to see it our way. Indeed, the legal course Deere et al are taking could easily be seen to err in that direction.

And now, in a case of unlikely bedfellows, Apple has joined the fray.

So has AT&T, and they’re siding with Deere and GM. Fitzpatrick continues that the Right to Repair movement …

… has come up against an unexpected opponent: Apple. The iPhone maker and world’s largest public corporation by market capitalization has been lobbying state lawmakers in opposition to the bills. The argument … is that they could result in subpar repair work or … make consumers vulnerable to hackers.

But …

Right to Repair advocates say that Apple … wants to maintain control of its share of the approximately $4 billion smartphone-fixing business … Apple makes an estimated $1 billion to $2 billion a year fixing iPhones compared to approximately $120 billion to $200 billion selling them.

I see legitimate arguments on both sides. It’s reasonable that consumers want the right to repair their own stuff, including the right to ruin it. Yet the tangled world of copyrighted codes introduces legal nuances that consumers may not fully appreciate. Moreover, when consumers tinker with and ruin their purchased products, it can take only a matter of hours for the social media to cast the manufacturer as the bad guy.** I’ll be interested to see how this plays out long-term.


* From The People’s Tycoon by Steven Watts. Knof, 2005

** A dry cleaner who ruined a friend’s necktie tried to blame Nordstrom for selling him “a tie that can’t be dry cleaned.” Yeah, right.

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Is this how clients react to your brand?

Is this how clients react to your brand?

NOWADAYS it’s a fairly easy matter to infuse digital banking with brand trappings like logos, colors, and consistent font use. But that’s not all there is to branding.

At least, not anymore. Today there’s this thing called brand personality. And while you can train tellers to smile—well, you can try—making a smartphone smile is another matter entirely. (Emoticons? Give me a break.)

Branding began as a simple thing. Before literacy became fairly common in the U.S., marketers drew inspiration from cow butts. Why they were looking at cow butts in the first place is a matter best left to speculation. The point is, they found they could set apart their products the same way ranchers set apart their cattle. Namely, by emblazoning them with brands.

Thus product brands began life as simple marks. In a world where a pound of baking soda had always been a pound of baking soda, a package displaying a hammer-wielding arm was all it took to stand out, spur sales, and launch a phenomenon known today as brand loyalty.

It was all well and good until other marketers started branding their products, too, which they did almost immediately. Suddenly, a mark alone was no longer enough: It needed to stand for something. Like, say, consistent quality.

And that was all well and good until other marketers decided their brands needed to stand for consistent quality, too. This was great for consumers, since it promoted quality overall, but less great for marketers, since in time consumers realized that one brand of laundry detergent performed pretty much like every other.

Which, ironically, brought about a return to not-branding. Readers may recall from the 1980s an onslaught of generic products: Plain white packages bearing unvarnished commodity names like, say, “Saltine Crackers,” over the not terribly compelling “Suitable for everyday use.” Generics eventually gave way to so-called store brands, which today abound and succeed. Why shell out a few cents more for Uncle Ben’s when Kroger’s brand rice is indistinguishable to the average taste bud?

In this environment, a mark and consistent quality are no longer enough. That’s where brand personality can help. There are two kinds. (Bear with me while I oversimplify. It’s either that or I write a post way longer than this one.) There was the kind you might enjoy—say, Axe’s slapstick humor—or the kind you might identify with—say, Abercrombie & Fitch for the self-identified stylishly sexy.

Brand personality is at once easily duplicated and not so easily duplicated. Just as no two people are alike personality-wise, there is an infinite array of possible brand personalities. Trouble is, marketers often fail to appreciate the value of nuance. That’s why just about every market sports a financial institution slugging itself The Friendly Bank, which to consumers is about as compelling and believable as a paving company offering lovable blocks of asphalt, except it’s not as charming or unique.

Today, a good brand isn’t just a claim. It’s an ongoing demonstration. To stick with the above example, any bank can claim to be friendly. Not every bank has the wherewithal, know-how, culture, or needed policies to demonstrate it. Especially since the larger you grow, the less control you have over the performance of a minimally compensated teller having a bad day.

I’ve written before about delivering a brand in digital banking by use of design, intuitive apps, more than mere functionality, and becoming versus claiming. But another area that banks must not overlook is copy. The last thing you need is to have your lovely app undone by copy that’s about as rewarding to read as dust is to gargle.

For financial institutions, making copy sparkle is no easy thing. For one thing, every word has to survive a review by Compliance, a department generally not known for its contributions to shining prose. For another, though marketing consultants badger you about selling benefits, just about every competitor’s products sport pretty much the same benefits as yours. There are only so many ways you can say “loan,” “checking account,” “lockbox,” “wealth management,” “investment advisor,” and, if you must, “we care.” Still, there are places you can make copy sparkle. To arrive in front of the right sets of eyes is only the first part of targeting. The second part is to connect with the brains occupying the space immediately behind those eyes. If you’re serious about delivering a brand experience, it is well worth the effort.

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Dodd, Frank,
and other delights
(More about the
future under Trump)


PRIOR TO April 21, there was unilateral agreement on how upcoming Trump administration policies would impact the financial services industry.

The only hitch? The universal agreement was that there was simply no telling. No wonder more and more prognosticators are retreating to the safety of, “It could be this, that, or the other.”

But, as I said, that was before April 21. On that day, Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for, as an AP story in Fortune summarized, a review of 

… any major tax regulations set last year by his predecessor, as well as two memos to potentially revamp or eliminate fundamental elements of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms passed in the wake of the Great Recession.

There. That should put an end to
uncertainty and wild speculation, no?

Er, no. 

As the folks at put it,

The good or bad news, depending on how you feel, is that, based on briefings provided in advance by the White House, it does not appear that today’s order actually does anything per se. … Trump’s order does not rescind any of these rules. It merely orders a ‘review’ of them.

Cynical or not, CNBC has a point in that the order changes nothing, requesting no more than taking a look at current regulations. But it’s not as if Mr. Trump and his administration haven’t dropped a hint or two. Returning to the more balanced Fortune piece,

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said a “significant” issue to be examined will be Obama’s crackdown on inversions, which are mergers that enable U.S. firms to relocate their headquarters overseas where tax rates are lower.

The review could also touch on overlapping rules designed to stop foreign-based companies from shifting their U.S. profits abroad, another Obama initiative from 2016.

The administration is also trying to pass tax reform that would reduce corporate and personal rates.

But it’s Dodd-Frank that’s of particular interest
to the financial services industry.

The Los Angeles Times offered this as to the potential fate of Dodd-Frank:

… Trump, who has vowed to dismantle the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law, took aim at two of its pillars Friday [April 21].

During an appearance at the Treasury Department, Trump signed two presidential memos ordering six-month reviews of the 2010 law’s authority for regulators to designate large firms as a risk to the financial system and to try to shut them down with minimal collateral damage if they’re on the verge of failing, the White House said.

The two memos focus on possible adjustments to the Dodd-Frank law, which was designed to stop banks from growing “too big to fail” and requiring public bailouts.

On one hand, that could be good news. It’s no secret that many requirements found in Dodd-Frank and elsewhere are unduly onerous and costly. As Continuity’s Pam Purdue blogged for CB Insight

In Q4 [2016], regulatory agencies unleashed 115 changes that added up to a staggering total of 6,057 pages. Many of those changes have yet to go into effect, and FIs are still working to ensure compliance with the changes that apply to them before they go into effect. … There are … over 14,000 requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations that financial institutions must manage. Maintaining compliance is an ongoing obligation.”

Whether Dodd-Frank requirements are needless, needful, or needful but over-the-top is a matter of hot debate. Some, including Mr. Trump himself, think doing away with Dodd-Frank in its entirety may not be such a bad idea. In an April 11 speech, Trump said,

You can take a look at Dodd-Frank. For the bankers in the room, they’ll be very happy because we’re really doing a major streamlining and, perhaps, elimination, and replacing it with something else.

Which brings us to the other hand. Monkeying with Dodd-Frank could be bad or at least partially bad news. That’s where former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke lands. His position is hardly a surprise, since Dodd-Frank came about during his time as Federal Reserve chairman. Bernanke expressed particular concern over proposals to eliminate the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA), created under Dodd-Frank’s Title II. In February, in his piece entitled “Why Dodd-Frank’s orderly liquidation authority should be preserved,” Bernanke wrote:

… Under the OLA, the FDIC and Fed are provided tools to help resolve failing firms safely, in a way analogous to the approach that the FDIC has long used to resolve failing banks … In my view, repealing Title II to eliminate the OLA would be a major mistake, imprudently putting the economy and financial system at risk … under crisis conditions, the OLA (Title II) framework … would be much more likely … to safely unwind a failing, systemically important firm.

While the financial services industry would certainly enjoy jumping through fewer and lower hoops, Tamar Frankel writing for Boston University warns …

… the proposed changes in the act would limit reporting regulation and reduce the costs of the financial servicers, as well as reduce the encouragement and payment to “whistle-blowers.” That means less information about fraud by financial servicers and less caution to hide the fraud …

… Weakening or eliminating Dodd-Frank, and allowing complete free trading and churning of securities markets, will cement what is already too much of a casino culture on Wall Street.

 The Dodd-Frank Act fills over 14,000 pages

That’s more than ten times the length of an average edition of a King James Bible. It’s also more than ten times the length of the 50th anniversary, single-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings. And I need hardly point out that Dodd-Frank has won no literary awards nor garnered praise for great pacing and flowing prose.

I bet not many legislators who voted on Dodd-Frank one way or the other—or who now argue for or against it—have read all of the law’s 14,000 pages. And while my hat is off to any of the few, social-life-bereft souls who may have managed to slog through it, reading it is one thing; making sense of it is quite another.

Few would disagree that a certain amount of regulation is needful. The crucial questions swirl around how and how much. Don’t get me wrong. I’m on the banking industry’s side. I’m on my kids’ side, too, but I don’t give them free rein.

What does the immediate regulatory future hold? What will be the long-term consequences? It is—still—all one big Unknown. I’ll close by re-quoting my friend Philip Ryan: “The election of Donald Trump has brought uncertainty and relief to bankers in seemingly equal measure.”

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Mirror mirror on the wall
Who’s the most cashless
of them all?

Maple Leaf DigitalEach year, the country that U.S. citizens visit most is Canada, our neighbor to the north. Yanks venturing there after 2009 would have noted that Canada had already adopted chip cards, a move the United States would not make until 2105, even then not without hiccups.

Now a new survey from Payments Canada suggests that more than half of Canadians say they’re all for making the big jump to a cashless society. According to Huffpost Canana Business:

A new survey from Payments Canada finds 50 per cent of Canadians are ready to get rid of banknotes and coins. Two-thirds of respondents said they are ready to say goodbye to personal cheques.

Yet From Press Canada points out that Canadians aren’t yet putting their money where their mouth is:

… it’s still a minority segment of the population that has adopted paperless forms of payment, according to the 1,507 Canadians surveyed by Payments Canada and Leger Marketing.

Canadians do only 19 per cent of their shopping online, and only 13 per cent say they have uploaded an e-wallet app, according to the online survey conducted in late March and early April.

“This data demonstrates a natural ambivalence around emerging technological advancements in payments but endorsement from early adopters, which often signifies a tipping point,” said Gerry Gaetz, chief executive of Payments Canada, the organization which owns and operates Canada’s payment clearing and settlement infrastructure, in a statement.

It’s important to bear in mind with surveys that what people say they’ll do doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do it. And it would be prudent not to rule out inadvertent bias on the part of Payments Canada. Notwithstanding, Canada does seem to be moving steadily away from cash, as are a number of other nations.

As I reported last month, the Republic of India has made becoming a cashless society an official goal. Yet according even to India Today, Scandinavia may be least abashed about going cashless. Cash transactions in Sweden are reportedly down to just 3 percent. In Norway, one bank has proposed eliminating cash, and several no longer distribute cash to customers. And in Denmark, a growing number of retailers refuse to accept cash.

Not that everyone agrees on who the leaders are. World Atlas ranks Belgium as leading the cashless charge (yes, pun intended), followed by France, Canada, and the United Kingdom, with cashless transactions at, respectively, 93, 92, 90, and 89 percent. Big Decisions reports that the top five cashless countries are, in order of cashlessness, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, Canada, and Belgium.

The astute reader will note that while reports vary as to who leads, they are mostly in agreement as to which countries are at the top. Canada is one of them. If the Payments Canada survey reflects reality, we can expect Canada to keep up the trend.

The name Canada derives from an aboriginal American word meaning “village.” Clearly, its humble beginnings as reflected in the name belie the powerful economic force that is Canada today.

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