Testing Unbranded vs. Branded Ideas: Lessons From Plato, Uber and Steve Jobs

What do an ancient Greek philosopher, a transportation technology company and Apple’s founder all have in common? All three have lessons to teach us about the importance of how we test ideas for new offers.

In a recent MoneyScreen study of payment options we found that when we test unbranded ideas for payments offers we see greater interest than when they are branded.

Testing unbranded ideas is like testing the Platonic ideal form of the potential product. It is a pure idea.

When we tie an idea to a traditional financial services brand, it comes with all sorts of connotations and connections—often negative. The baggage associated with the brand, the hassle of switching, the tug of loyalty all suddenly weigh in on the decision about whether or not to say “yes” to the new offer. The degree of decrease varies by brand and speaks to the overall positioning and strength of the brand. But regardless, across all bank brands, there is always a decrease in sign up intent and acquisition.

Co-branding can help moderate the “bank” effect. For example, in the graph below we see the typical decrease when the Quicksilver© reward card is branded Capital One©. But when the same Capital One Quicksilver card is co-branded with Uber in a promotional offer, the negative impact is muted and spend intent is higher. Part of this is due to the nature of the co-brand, however Capital One and Uber are appealing to similar demographics and the combination is appealing and highly relevant to the target audience.

Relevant co-branded partnerships between banks and retailers improve the perception of the product. Fintech brands also improve the perception of the product.


Similarly, when we tested fintech offers from exceptionally well known brands like Apple and Google, we see an increase in interest when we test them branded vs. unbranded. Steve Jobs understood the power of branding and ensured Apple always used a consistent and undeniably iconic tone and manner. The lift from these particular brands is perhaps not surprising as they are the #1 and #2 most valuable brands in the world. We have seen these two brands significantly increase interest in product offers in other markets as well.

So Plato tells us that unbranded ideas are, well, ideal. Uber shows us how relevant co-branding can provide a lift and Steve Jobs reveals much about the ability for an iconic brand to transcend product categories. All of these lessons combine to support one underlying truth: branding matters a great deal when it comes to testing ideas.

Testing unbranded ideas reveals where there is whitespace in a market. Testing them branded or co-branded sheds light on how much permission those brands have to be able to claim that whitespace. Both are essential to understand.

That’s why in our MoneyScreen research we often test ideas branded and unbranded. To learn more about MoneyScreen and hundreds of financial services ideas we have tested with tens of thousands of Americans, contact sales@marumatchbox.com or download MoneyScreen publications:

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