Credit Cards Offer Road Map to Defining and Successfully Marketing Debit Products

By Valenza, Janet; Butler, William | American Banker, December 12, 1994 | Go to article overview

Credit Cards Offer Road Map to Defining and Successfully Marketing Debit Products


Valenza, Janet, Butler, William, American Banker


Now that debit cards have "arrived," issuers are seeking a successful paradigm to help guide marketing strategies.

We've seen efforts ranging from "the uncredit card" to "plastic pocket money" to the "personal financial manager."

Unfortunately, most of these strategies are, by themselves, doomed to fail. They ignore an overriding reality of the marketplace: Customers still don't know what debit cards are. They don't quite know how they work. And they don't really understand the benefits debit cards offer.

Research is often no help. We've seen surveys indicating that consumers have heard of debit cards and know how they work.

Sadly, one-on-one interview follow-ups often reveal that consumers don't know how debit cards work at all.

Understandably, they are sometimes confused with secured credit cards, "for people who have a lot of debts and can't get a credit card."

Add to this the confusion over where automated teller machine cards fit in, plus whether a given card is an off-line or on-line instrument, and you've got a product whose marketing strategy requires an educational overlay - to teach consumers about the product and the category. In short, something that smacks of what marketers hate most: generic advertising.

Marketing wisdom holds that generic advertising - selling the category at the expense of the brand - is a waste of money. True enough, but only if consumers have sufficient category knowledge to make a brand distinction.

Remember, most marketing wisdom is derived from work with packaged goods - a far cry from financial services, where we can build real advantages into our products (if we can only explain them).

Today's debit card situation is very much like the one faced by the Interbank Card and BankAmericard in the early 1970s.

Americans already had charge cards issued by department stores, gas cards issued by the oil companies, airline cards issued by the airlines, plus American Express, Diners, and Carte Blanche for business travelers.

Who needed another card? And what for?

Obviously, sending out live cards helped sell the category in its infancy. But very early on, card marketers had to explain to a largely skeptical banking public just how a bank card worked, where it could be used, and what benefits it offered.

Only after the category was introduced would we hear slogans like "Not just Visa. Citibank Visa." Before that, it was strictly "Why a bank card? And by the way, why Visa?"

The same situation obtains for debit cards today. We believe that the credit card marketing model offers debit card marketers several important lessons on introducing the product, making the branding more effective sooner, and acquiring more bank customers through smarter debit card marketing, using techniques developed for credit cards.

More important, the credit card model identifies proven ways to maximize branding during the category sell.

Almost without exception, product introductions should begin with existing customers. If you can't sell something to a customer who has a relationship with you, chances are you won't fare too well with strangers.

This means marketing to your data base using direct mail to determine the identifiable attributes of promising debit card prospects.

A good place to begin is the credit card portfolio to determine what mix of attributes (ATM activity, checking account activity, revolver versus nonrevolver, home equity customer, auto loan customer, demographic skew) best predicts debit card acceptance.

Use your mail to educate your audience, not just brand your debit product.

If you're marketing an on-line card or if your debit card is subsumed under your ATM card, give your customers a detailed brochure that shows them exactly how the card works - not just at ATM machines but at the machines and PIN pads they'll find at gas stations, convenience stores, supermarkets, and other retailers. …

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Credit Cards Offer Road Map to Defining and Successfully Marketing Debit Products
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