Case Studies for Innovative Web Branding: Credit Cards

Ask anyone who works on a major brand at an interactive agency about their goals for the web, and they’ll tell you: “Banners and click-through alone will not suffice.”

Today, interactive marketers are looking for innovative ways to completely partner their product’s brand with the site brand, by integrating their brand message and content into the content of a site. There are two clear reasons for this.

  1. Branding needs a powerful creative. As long as bandwidth limits the capabilities for sound and motion on the Internet, it will be extremely difficult to execute the kind of powerful creative a 30-second TV spot or four-color magazine spread allows.

    This, in turn, means it’s very difficult in this medium to create the strong emotional associations that are the hallmark of top brands. (How many times have we all been stumped by the question: “Name one truly memorable web ad campaign”?)

  2. Branding needs interruption power. Another obstacle is the relatively limited “interruption power” of a 468 x 60 banner and subsequent lack of break-through creative that banners have engendered so far (although recent studies would appear to reinforce the fact that banners do have an impact on brand recall).

This means that if marketers are going to get consumers to spend more time with their product or service on the web, they are going to have to develop new creative strategies that work harder. The goal today must be to develop and implement innovative, out-of-the-box solutions that involve the consumer with a brand in the content environment the consumer has self-selected.

In this series of articles, we’ll explore what various top brands are doing outside of the basic banner to use the web medium and its unique characteristics to drive their business. First up a look at credit card companies, and how they integrate a credit card brand within a web site.

Beneficiaries Of The Boom

By now, we’ve all seen the exploding forecasts for ecommerce on the web (forecasts which seem to be revised upwards almost every day). But the biggest beneficiaries of this boom, which have received less of the ecommerce attention, are the people that enable those transactions: the credit card companies.

The potential market is huge — each month a typical ecommerce site can expect to hand over about 2.5 percent of its revenue to credit card companies to cover transaction fees. One of the most aggressive players in this space – Visa — estimates that in ’98 it rang up close to $13 billion in credit card charges on the web, or close to 1 percent of its total charge volume. And by 2003, the company’s numbers are projected to jump to $100 billion in charges, representing 11 percent of all charge activity.

Almost every major ecommerce site already has (or should be in the process of securing) a “preferred” credit card partner. And within each of these sites, there are clever ways to get you to use that preferred partner’s credit card.

Preferred Partner Strategies

The most basic is the credit card selection window at the point of purchase. Most often this is a pull-down menu that offers the basic card choices (American Express, Visa, MasterCard, etc.). But did you ever notice that even though you have several choices, one card is usually already “pre-selected” in this window?

What credit card marketers discovered early on is that paying for pre-selection influences an incredible amount of card usage, since the consumer simply sees a card in the window and will absent-mindedly use whatever card they see. Which means on the web today, this tiny piece of real estate is worth a great deal of money to a site, and more importantly, to a credit card purveyor.

A second strategy is to own, as much as possible, the environment surrounding and leading up to the point of purchase. This creates the buttons that you see throughout the checkout and booking areas of various sites saying, for example, “The Trip prefers Visa.” Again, the power of suggestion at the instant the consumer is making a payment choice can heavily influence which card they pull out of their wallet.

The third strategy is to work with the site to implement a variety of guerilla tactics that incentivize a user to switch their cards… this is especially effective at points of ecommerce registration. Tactics and incentives can include discounts and “point/mileage programs” or added values, such as upgrades, to persuade the user to use the site’s “preferred card.”

Preferred card campaigns are also valuable to both site and card issuer because the impact is easily measurable by tracking the total charged dollars of a card, as well as card market share from the inception of the program.

Additionally, certain credit cards used to be identified with various sectors of the charge business — witness American Express and the travel industry. Ecommerce partnerships present an effective way of reviving such associations among large constituents of spenders, both by effective positioning at the point of purchase, and by narrow-casting special offerings to this user base.

What credit card companies have clearly demonstrated is an effective means of utilizing the interactive medium to facilitate simultaneous efforts for branding, commerce, and a tactical guerilla effort against their competition. Current efforts and the resulting increases in market share are testament to the effectiveness of the Net, and its importance as a future battleground.

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