It’s Bank Credit Card Junk Mail Season Again!


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The Paper Avalanche Landscape

It’s January, and along with the cold, snow, and wind (I live in South Jersey, so that’s a Winter fact of life), plus post-holiday bills, staying indoors by the TV, computer and fireplace, and planning for a needed Spring vacation, comes the inevitable volume of bank credit card offers brought to my door by the postman. Hooray!

Yesterday’s mail represented the normal daily bank credit card promotional mini-avalanche – five offers, two from national banks, and three from major regionals. In reviewing the promotions, they are pretty typical, pretty similar in positioning and messaging, and all pretty much hit several of the following, non-personalized, push offer components:

– Cash back on a quarterly/annual basis
– Cash advances
– Tie-ins with bank branches
– Periodic purchase summaries
– Online payment apps
– Rewards and gift certificates
– Free or discounted merchandise
– Low introductory APR interest
– Free/low cost balance transfer
– No foreign transaction fees
– Instant approval
– Worldwide coverage/acceptance
– Frequent flyer miles and travel rewards
– Low annual fee/no annual fee
– Associated banking, brokerage, and payment services

Look familiar? Today, three more mail credit card offer promotions were received, looking much the same as yesterday’s batch.

The Hopeful Trend Toward Offer Personalization

In an effort to both differentiate their programs, make better and more productive use of available customer data, and bring their credit card marketing costs under control, some banks have begun to build personalization and/or customization into their promotions.

Let’s begin with credit card design itself. Instead of just illustrations with bank logos, there’s almost a do-it-yourself feel about the array of card designs. In other words, banks are offering cardholders the opportunity to create designs that match their personalities. For example, Capital One offers designs with images which range from the patriotic to the artistic, such as beach landscapes; and even cartoon characters such as Dilbert and Daffy Duck. Other Capital One design choices include insignias of various charities; and these are paired up with points which can be converted into cash donations after credit transactions.

BMW Financial Services offers Mini Cooper owners a Visa with a photo of their model and color of car, through a digital imaging application The card comes with a motoring reward program, with multiple points awarded for driving-related purchases, such as tolls and gas, and even earns cash back if a Mini is purchased.

And, although the program has been cancelled, Bank of America had a Visa for pet lovers. The ‘PetRewards’ program offered points for pet food (in affiliation with Hills’s Pet Nutrition), discounts for visits to participating veterinarians and clinics, and also enabled cardholders to donate to animal shelters. The most appealing feature, though, was the ability for the cardholder to put his or her pet’s picture on the card via a digital uploading system.

The available digital imaging has facilitated greater personalization. Customers have a desire to individually ‘badge’ themselves according to lifestyle choices, or personally display their interests and hobbies. Credit cards give them the opportunity to put their distinctive passions front-and-center through use of their bank cards for daily financial transactions.

Personalization, though, is more than just about images. For teens, there is the PAYjr Visa Buxx Custom Card site. It has features such as an online household chore and allowance tracking system. Digital imaging is also available for these cards; and teen cardholders are encouraged to be creative in their imaging designs through peer-judged contests, with Apple MacBooks and iPods as major prizes. Banks seem to be getting the message: Acquire customers early in life, and then endeavor to retain them through differentiated value.

It’s not only card designs which offer personalization, more importantly it’s special offers, customized to lifestyle and purchasing habits. In many ways, the card offers resemble deals such as they can get through sites like LivingSocial and Groupon. For example, there’s Truaxis, a company which provides discount gift-card purchases for cardholders, and, the Truaxis online forum where Citibank cardholders receive promotions such as $10 Amazon gift cards for $5, or Barnes & Noble $25 gift cards for $15. Other participating retailers include Sears, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Old Navy.

The Truaxis deals platform, called StatementRewards, enables customized offers to credit card customers on their online account statements, matching the promotions and discounts where these consumers spend most frequently. And, of course, the Cit credit card must be used for these special offers – a benefit to both the cardholder and Citi.

Other major banks have also begun offering personalized deals in their promotions. Some banks, such as Bank of America, require cardholders to ‘load’ the full value of a deal onto the card when the offer is made, and then the discount shows up in the form of a statement credit. Ally, on the other hand, creates interest through surprising cardholders with deal opportunities.

However the bank wishes to extend these personalized offers to their cardholders, the customization represents a transactional win-win-win. Consumers receive savings in areas of individual transaction activity, merchants have a managed-cost opportunity to build transactional loyalty, and banks earn more in card transaction fees.

Maybe all of this will have an impact on promotional volume, saving some trees and forests in the bargain – but maybe not.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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