How To Convince People They Already Know How To Pay By Cellphone–Or Use Any Other New Tech

Industry shifts come in two forms: mind-blowing and subtly revolutionary. Here’s how to convince consumers they should change, and more importantly, that they already know how.

How To Convince People They Already Know How To Pay By Cellphone–Or Use Any Other New Tech

What happens when the industry shift you’re trying to affect is both huge and marginal at once? At LevelUp, we’ve been hard at work trying to crack the code on the shift to mobile payments–one that the mass consumer market has not adopted yet. At issue: paying with a credit card is a perfectly acceptable way to pay. Plus, old habits die about as easily as a Marvel villain (or something like that).


In fact, I’d argue that getting consumers to switch to a completely different thing is much easier than a marginal shift. Moving from bartering to currency was probably a much less painful shift than credit card to mobile, because people realized that giving up three goats was much less appealing than parting with a couple of coins or pieces of paper. Plus it lets you get away from that really cloying, “How healthy are your goats?” question everyone just wants to avoid.

In all seriousness, massive shifts are all about seeing and feeling a clear, obvious benefit, such as moving from a horse-drawn buggy to an automobile. But subtle shifts require an equally subtle mix of branding and education. Sometimes the two can go hand in hand without causing the consumer to feel that they’re being preached to. The key is to instill confidence and drive home this point: “You already know how to do this.”

Apple did it in its first advertisements for the iPhone–never quite explaining how to use it because, well, you already know how to a) use a phone and b) touch things. The Wii, and now the Kinect, were successful at telling people they already know how to move, so they can easily play a game.

So how are we going about mastering the subtle shift? By making our engineering roots abundantly clear and showing people that we’ve built a secure product that has something in it for them, without ever telling them how to use it or giving an instruction manual. (Can anyone say TL;DR?)

Our recent rebrand focuses on the concept of engineering revolution, one step at a time. The primary way we’re communicating the shift visually on our website, app, and signage is through a series of engineering schematics. Step-by-step animations of how to pay with a phone scroll from schematic to real life, showing consumers that it’s dead simple to do. That, in fact, they already know exactly how to pay with their phones. Nothing new to learn here, just start doing it.

Two other big concerns consumers have with trying something new (besides, “Am I doing this right?”) are almost always, “Is this safe?” and “What’s in it for me?” Before we started banking online, or auctioning off our vintage dental floss collections online, or posting all the intimate details of how many sandwiches we’ve eaten online–first there was nervousness. Second, there was confusion about the benefits. Overcoming these two factors is a matter of education and critical mass (read: a bunch of other people have tried it and came out alive).


For the younger generation that has grown up with technology, the barrier to clear for a new technology is much lower. If you were used to sharing your away messages on AIM, then you were equally okay with sharing your status on Facebook. This generation’s older siblings, parents, and grandparents have a higher barrier to adoption, because it just takes a little more to instill confidence. That’s where branding can help in a big way.

Fighting the initial trepidation for us meant combining our very visual schematic approach with pithy copy that answers these two concerns in the fewest words possible. “Engineered for Rewards” and “Engineered for Security” are the two taglines, not to mention shortest paths to the final answer (obviously with backup information available for people who want more nuanced information about us). Engineering remains a core theme in the copy, since, again the whole core of our company is built on very meticulous engineering (or quality construction, in the eyes of the consumer).

The goal is to explain that what you’re about to experience is revolutionary–not revolutionary in an accidental and chaotic way, but engineered to be revolutionary. Carefully sculpted to be different, new, and better.

And finally, we resisted the urge to love the sound of our own voice (we usually just drown it out with dubstep). But, seriously, we did a lot of editing when we spoke to consumers about our message–moving from 273 to 82 characters of conciseness on our homepage. Then we supplemented our instructional schematic drawings with “accents” of only a few words, aimed at showing rather than telling how to do something in a list format.

Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t asking our fellow humans to colonize Mars by 2034 (although that would be really epic). When your change is revolutionary, but also marginal, you don’t have the luxury of people being willing to read or learn how to use your product.

Lots of startups are built to facilitate subtle changes that will make life better. Change is never easy–even if it’s for the better–so it’s worth carefully considering the steps necessary to get the consumer to come along with you for the ride.


Often your brand, your initial imagery, is the first and only impression you’ll get. If you can use that brand to teach consumers that they already know how to use your product, you win an extra powerful tool to facilitate important, yet marginal, shifts in behavior.

–Author Seth Priebatsch is the founder and chief ninja of LevelUp and SCVNGR.
[Image: Flickr user Lars Kristian Flem]

About the author

Seth Priebatsch was born in Boston, MA at the age of 7. At the age of 12, he founded his first web start-up.