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VISA Chases The Myth Of Exclusivity And Fails

IMB_VisaCards Most of us have several different kinds of credit cards in our wallets. I have one of each of the most popular three (Visa, Mastercard & American Express*)and tend to use them for different things. Consumers who use multiple brands is a common situation replicated across many other industries, from fashion to automotive. While people may prefer certain brands, in many cases they don't typically remain exclusive. How many of your customers are also customers of your competitors? Likely more than you think.

When you think about this, it also means that if a good portion of your customers are also customers of competitors – then your challenge is NOT to get them to choose you instead of the other, but rather to get them to choose you more often than they choose your competitors. If you run an Indian restaurant, for example, you want your customers to eat Indian food more times in a month than they eat Chinese food … but you are never going to stop them from eating Chinese altogether so why try?

IMB_cirquedusoleil-ovo This weekend I had the chance to attend a brilliant new show from Cirque Du Soleil in DC called OVO. It was a colorful flash of light and movement performed to a packed house. As many others did after the show, I browsed the obligatory gift shop after the show and picked up a few colorful hats and toys for the kids. At checkout there was a sign sharing that if you had an AMEX card, you could get $5 off your purchase – a nice benefit. It reminded me of a time a month ago when I was travelling by train from Paris to London and was able to access the lounge in the train station thanks to my ownership of an Amex Platinum card. Their tagline of "membership has its rewards" actually came to life for me twice in the last few weeks.

Contrast this with an experience I had ten years ago at the Summer Olympics in Sydney where I had been in line at the Beach Volleyball venue at Bondi Beach to buy some drinks for a few friends. When I got the front of the line, I realized that the venue only accepted VISA cards – and I had not brought mine with me. I had a similar experience at the Olympics in Beijing where I was travelling for work, but could not use the credit card I had for work because it was an Amex and they only accepted VISA. This exclusivity has angered many others as well. The irony in both cases is that I am a VISA customer – but in those cases I had the choice of which credit card to use removed.

Ten years later, this experience has made me a much happier customer with my Amex cards than my VISA cards – because Amex has focused on providing value for me while VISA created a series of negative experiences through their draconian exclusivity arrangements with events like the Olympics that they sponsor. Are your policies unintentionally turning your customers off in the same way? What Amex knows is that if you provide more value than your competitors, they will choose you. Forcing people to choose your product, on the other hand, will alienate your customers.

*Disclaimer – Amex is a client of Ogilvy and I write for Amex's Open Forum website, however this post was not solicited in any way or compensated by Amex and reflects my personal view based on personal experiences I have had with both cards.

Note – I was provided with a press pass to attend the Cirque Du Soleil show DC. All other expenses for food or merchandise that I purchased at the show were paid for by me personally.

  • Nikila Srinivasan

    This is a great point. I wonder if VISA’s exclusivity has yielded positive results though. For instance, a customer who faces VISA’s exclusivity wrath one too many times, could consider opting for a VISA card (if he already hasn’t). By hook or crook, VISA lands new customers then. However, customer satisfaction and negative association of the brand among customers is a pitfall, like you rightly point out.

  • http://easydesignerwebsites.com Michelle Minch, Easy Designer Websites

    As a consumer, I’m a big fan of American Express because of their membership rewards/mileage program and their great customer service. As a small business owner, I prefer not to accept Amex because their merchant fees are much higher than the other major credit cards.

    Reflecting on your sentence “if a good portion of your customers are also customers of competitors – then your challenge is NOT to get them to choose you instead of the other, but rather to get them to choose you more often than they choose your competitors”, I have a Visa and a Mastercard and will use them when I have to, but I choose to use my Amex more often (as a consumer) because of the great benefits. I don’t have negative feelings about Visa and MC, I just have more positive feelings about Amex.

  • http://experiencerethink.com Brian Regienczuk

    Great post. The way in which Visa/MC and AmEx compete for the share of your wallet is interesting. I absolutely believe if both focused more on the customer and merchant experience that they could transform their brands even further.

    One point of clarification on Visa: You state that they have draconian exclusivity agreements, but I have also seen many cases where merchants simply do not want to carry AmEx because their fees (%) are much higher and cut into the merchant’s margins.

    You might find my two recent posts on The Future of Shopping interesting at http://experiencerethink.com

  • http://www.abundatrade.com Tracy

    I really think that your entire article is sums up competitive business very well by stating that the “challenge is NOT to get [your customers] to choose you instead of [your competitors], but rather to get them to choose you more often than they choose your competitors.â€￾ This article stated well what many companies are trying to do and why so many are failing to succeed.

  • http://42monkeys.com Danny Thompson

    I agree wholeheartedly. Many businesses get the whole concept of “exclusivity” marketing wrong, just as Visa does. It’s not the marketer’s exclusivity (i.e. dominating the market), but the customer’s exclusivity (being on the inside). It’s summed up perfectly in the difference between “everywhere you want to be” and “membership has its rewards.”