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How brands can ensure their credit cards program always aligns with their brand experience

There’s a sea of card programs out there. That’s only natural considering how building a reward-linked credit cards program presents an attractive opportunity for brands to engage with their customers beyond direct transactions and embed themselves into the very fabric of their daily life.

However, in an increasingly competitive and crowded playing field, to win customer loyalty, companies need to do more than just jostle for attention. A well-designed credit card program is a unique opportunity for brands to break through the noise and stand out in a crowd.

Card programs have long been a staple for hotels and airlines. Now, even retailers such as Apple, Amazon, Uber, etc. have their own card products. Card programs have the potential to supercharge loyalty programs and extend branding opportunities beyond the physical store. However, the challenge for brands is to become the top-of-wallet card. Every other brand aspires to get a greater share of the customer’s mind and wallet space making the task harder, especially as customer needs and demands become increasingly dynamic.

One way of ensuring that the card program sticks is by aligning it to the overall brand experience and ethos. But how can brand managers ensure that?

Align features to customers’ needs

Card programs have immense potential to generate customer engagement. They are a tool to enhance marketing and loyalty efforts and hence have to be in line with customer needs.

Understanding customer behavior and usage patterns and creating a program that positions the rewards and points systems in alignment with customer needs can drive brand value and recognition much more effectively.

Program managers have to look at their customers to identify features that will deepen the frequency of engagement and increase customer stickiness. They also need to ensure that the cardholders receive significant value for their card by providing strong and meaningful reward opportunities. It’s worth noting that the millennial and Gen Z customer base is more dynamic with ever-changing preferences, making it imperative for the cards program to be fluid and flexible too.

Design elements

According to a report by Neilson, 67% of consumers buy more frequently and spend more in stores that offer loyalty schemes. Launching a co-branded credit card gives brands the opportunity to position themselves seamlessly and organically into this paradigm of the customer’s life.

The design elements of the card, including the look and feel of the physical card, and the design of the loyalty program around the card play a big role in achieving this. It also helps in driving brand experience by reaffirming it every time the customer uses the card.

As such using the right design elements and ensuring that all of these align with driving up brand value become essential. Baking agility into the program is also essential to accommodate the need to accommodate new campaigns and seasonal themes from time to time.

Align with core brand values

Customers today are spoilt for choice when it comes to card programs. Irrespective of where and what you buy, there is a cards program waiting at the end of the check-out line. Creating a winning proposition thus becomes harder than ever.

Getting insights into customer needs to design relevant programs is one part of the puzzle. The other part is aligning these programs and ensuring that they are aligned with core brand values to drive greater brand association. After all, isn’t the real objective of the cards program to build a relationship and promote brand loyalty?

So, for example, if sustainability is a core brand value, then designing the loyalty program that rewards sustainable choices places the card program closer to the brand value. Program managers need to ensure that their loyalty programs are designed such that they become a major factor in the daily lives of customers by offering services and benefits that integrate customer needs with brand value. This is why program managers must leave room for innovation in the features and offerings to ensure the association with the brand’s values is always front and center.

Ease of alignment

Along with creating a strong program design, Program Managers must also ensure that the technology backend of their card programs can support dynamic needs. With rising competition, a shrinking market, and rapidly evolving customer demands, program managers need the flexibility to rapidly develop and add custom features to base programs.

Analyzing business and software needs to ensure that the program is fully featured and of high quality are important. Looking at payment processing and technology partners with a depth of experience in implementing a full suite of services becomes crucial. These specialized partnerships must address everything from payments processing and operations to customer service. Their solutions must allow program managers to quickly configure programs and get them up and running quickly and painlessly.

The technology partners should also be able to help license your own system and integrate with 3rd parties or enable you to issue cards from their processing environment. Technology partners with full package implementation experience can ensure that brands cover all the important checkpoints that go into making a project successful.

In fact, having a strong technology back end is now essential to drive brand experience. A robust transaction processing system, the flexibility to create and manage all aspects of card programs (including prepaid, fleet, credit card (private label and branded networks), and accounts receivable), and flexibility to add custom features according to the user and market needs are essential to establish brand value and drive customer confidence.

Providing a contextual and comprehensive card program can drive significant competitive differentiation, increase customer lifetime value, drive customer satisfaction, and build stronger customer relationships. These card programs contribute greatly to brand equity and solidify customer experiences. As such, paying close attention to program design and the technology stack may become pivotal in aligning the card program with the brand experience.

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