The First 'Connected' Card

It was summer 2013 and a few of us at BASIC had just landed in Las Vegas for the SXSW event where Matt (our CEO) was speaking. After getting settled in, we ended up at a meet & greet for the event and met with Henry Balanon, Co-Founder and CTO of what is now Stratos for the first time in the reception room over a few beers.

During the introductions, Matt gave us a brief rundown of what the team at Stratos had been working on for the past few years and the story behind their vision to help consolidate people’s wallets. The idea was simple in concept and extremely difficult in execution—a single “smart card” that acted as all of your your gift, loyalty and credit cards.

Shortly after the introduction, Henry handed us a small white plastic card with a couple markings and some muddy L.E.D's. It was a functioning prototype that proved the concept could become a reality and showed us the potential of their technology and business objectives.

Over the next few days, we discussed potential approaches for the brand and discussed a potential relationship with us helping them with strategy for launch. Shortly after the conference, the team at Stratos reached out to have us help them establish their brand strategy, messaging platform and visual system for launch.

Challenges & Goals

After our initial brief-in it was clear to us that Stratos was building a premium product. Our objective was to help them build a premium brand around it. This objective was not without its challenges. For one, at the time a competitor was enjoying the buzz of a successful Kickstarter campaign. One that had already made their brand a bit of a household name. We needed to avoid falling into the "me-too" product category despite the fact that Stratos was the first company to introduce this concept.

Another challenge loomed around product adoption, especially around a new product that dealt with personal financial data. This meant we needed to establish an essence of familiarity and comfort for consumers. Not to mention the product was addressing a problem that many consumers had yet to identify. Aside from the Costanza wallet episode of Seinfeld, very few people walk around complaining about how many cards they've collected. We we're solving a non-existent problem at a relatively high price point.

Despite the challenges, the important thing to remember was that the market had already proven a desire for Stratos’ offerings through their competitors successful kickstarter campaign. With the idea  that Stratos was a better engineered product, we needed to define a brand message and visual strategy that could introduce it as such to consumers.

Our Process & Strategy

"Basic has stood by us as a great branding agency partner through their collaborative strategy and design processes. Basic helped us develop our brand messaging in a manner that captures the essence that our members enjoy. They have a creative eye, an understanding for consumers, and at the same time are timely and thoughtful."

Henry Balanon

CEO Stratos Card

As usual, time was against us. Competitors were making big delivery promises with dates in the near future, so we had to work quickly.Early on, we identified opportunities for success in key timing windows. We decided the best way to get aligned for how we would bring this product to market was through a week long brainstorm and working session in our office in San Diego. Executives from Stratos worked side by side with our strategy and creative team. We locked ourselves in a room together in an effort to kick-off the project properly. This process proved to have great success and we ended our week aligned and a bit ahead on our project timeline.

Identifying our Demographic

To define who we felt would use a “connected card,” we started with who we felt would benefit most from it. Ultimately we felt a more affluent, slightly older Gen-X'er would find the most use out of our product. They typically carried more cards, had more disposable income and were adept with technology. Despite all the “pros” of targeting this demographic, we felt that they would be more difficult to buy-in as early adopters.

We needed a segue market that was less resistant to using technology and payments. This is the when the millennials come in. They made the perfect early adopter for Stratos. They’re tech savvy, tech hungry and much more trusting with financial transactions. They could be our ticket to presenting a proven product to Gen-X'ers. The issues with millennials however, is that they typically have less disposable income, less credit cards, and very different social motivations. We would use these insights to inform a brand strategy that would speak to both demographics, while simultaneously differentiating our brand.

From User Motivations to Brand Strategy

While they might deny it, millennials care about their social status immensely. It was this piece of information that helped define the Stratos brand position, Premium. While others in the space were trying to be the everyman's smart card, we'd be the sophisticated man's smart card. We were motivated by how people use their cards in restaurants or bars and even the psychology behind silver and black cards. Your credit card is a major status symbol, so we'd give some status to our card.

Additionally, we knew there would be some resistance to the high price point. Our early adopters certainly would have less disposable income. We needed to give them a reason to use some of that income on a card that merely slimmed down your wallet. This really informed two major brand elements: a pricing strategy and key features for a viable product.

On pricing structure, we felt setting a high price point for a card you might lose was a risky decision. After some deep discussion we suggested a subscription model. This helped our cause by providing both replacement utility and updates to the users. Additionally, it added to the premium model we were establishing by putting consumers in the 'member' mindset, a-la American Express.

Simple & Straightforward Messaging

After developing the pricing structure, we needed to provide a strong feature set that was simple to understand. We felt to make this product worthwhile we needed to define the downsides to your traditionally issued bank cards. The answer to that problem was security and the annoyance around losing conventional plastic cards. Convenience would touch on condensing multiple cards into one smart app and its ease of use. Lastly, Simplicity would aim to speak to familiarity and acceptance. Users wouldn't have to change any of their behaviors with this card, just enjoy the benefits.

With a high level strategy, we were able to build a premium brand for a secure, convenient and secure smart card.  Packaged and offered to consumers under an affordable subscription model. We used this thinking to help develop a design strategy for a visual system that embodied this essence.

A Complementary Visual System

The second part of our task was to wrap this brand strategy with a simple yet sophisticated brand identity. Our design team explored the key brand cues that would established differentiation from other brands. We explored typefaces, iconography design and dozens of brand logos that could visually speak to what we were looking to establish. Along with this, we explored various touch-points to define design language. These touch-points would establish an art direction for the Stratos team to take and utilize as they prepared to launch.

A Highly Anticipated & Successful Launch

In the end, our hard work and collaboration resulted in a strategy and visual system that established an elevated brand experience that will continue to evolve with the landscape of financial transactions.

Since Stratos has launched, they’ve been well received in the press and are shipping their first production run to early adopters. They’re enjoying some great product reviews as well in publications such as TechCrunch, Fast Company, The Verge, Mashable and USA Today. Adweek even named it on their “Must Haves” list in a recent post. We’ll be staying on top of any developments with Stratos so check back on our blog for updates and news.

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