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Learning from the Latest “ATMs”

The Safe Water Network has introduced an affordable “water ATM” in India. The U.S.’s first “pizza ATM” has opened at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Sprinkles has successfully opened “cupcake ATMs” in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, New York and Washington D.C. There is only one problem…these aren’t ATMs.

ATM is an acronym for Automated Teller Machine – indicating the association between the individual machine and a variety of financial institution accounts. A true ATM connects users with a financial account to perform balance inquiries and withdraw or deposit funds. While some ATMs allow for additional functionality such as charitable donations, dynamic currency conversions and other advanced options, their core purpose is this financial account interaction.

Vending machines, on the other hand, were first introduced in London, England in the early 1880s – taking coins in return for postcards. The first U.S. vending machines were introduced in 1888 to dispense gum on New York City train platforms. These coin-operated mechanisms were designed specifically to provide goods in return for payment. To this day, vending machines have been designed to dispense any number of items including soda, snacks, electronics….and now water, pizza and cupcakes.

So why, with so many news stories reporting the end of cash and rise of skimming activity, would these companies select to tout their vending machines as “ATMs”?

If the headline of the news story reads, “New Cupcake Vending Machine Opens in New York,” would you read it or question how it was news? After all, a variety of different pre-packaged cupcakes have been dispensed at snack machines for decades. Swap the term Vending Machine with ATM, however, and suddenly this is a new thing which garners consumer interest.

The goal isn’t to be 100% accurate. It is to get attention.

What Can ATM & Payment Companies Learn?

These companies have taken advantage of two main marketing points.

  1. Be first. Consumers love novelty so much that being the first company to offer a desirable product or service almost guarantees initial success. While they could not be first at vending, they were able to fudge the truth to create an identity as the first at something specific. In the case of the “cupcake ATM,” this novelty saw the business take off, and initiated expansion of the project to new locations throughout the U.S.

  1. It’s all in how it is said. While these companies could not be first in vending, they recognized that consumers understand the similarities in vending machines and ATMs. A change in language from vending to ATM conveys a similar message but still holds the novelty they were looking to acquire.

Your turn. Think about your business, products and/or services. It could be how you operate, your service, statistics, your products, your 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 be a headline to compete with these new ATMs.

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