Online Credit Card Branding Is Weak
Credit card companies are failing to represent their brands on their Web sites, according to a new study by Forrester Research. Of the four Web sites reviewed, only Discover Card passed the branding test, while American Express, MasterCard, and Visa all failed. Forrester conducted two reviews of the Web sites, the first capturing how well the site conveys image or the emotional and experiential attributes of each credit card company's brand, and the second rating support for the transactional, informational, and usability aspects of the brand (action). Brand image grades were based on the analysis of the brand frameworks of Web- design agencies and major consumer-facing companies. There were four possible scores in six categories, ranging from a low of minus 2 to a high of 2. Total scores ranged from a low of minus 12 to a high of 12.
Discover ranked the highest in brand image with a score of 7, earning strong marks in site content, imagery, layout, and typography. MasterCard finished last with a score of zero, receiving weak marks in site function, language, and layout. Discover benefited from a simple, clearly articulated brand of no annual fees and cash back on every purchase. Forrester also found that cross-channel consistency, or familiar layouts throughout all the pages, made Discover's site easy to navigate. American Express and Visa finished second and third, respectively, with low scores in site functionality and language. "Discover also excels at fundamentals like showing large images of its plastic," says Harley Manning, Forrester analyst and author of the report. "That's an important tactic in this industry because which card appearance is a decision factor for many customers."
As for brand action, Discover and American Express tied with scores of 7, with both companies showing strong marks in content availability, essential functions, and easily understood language, graphics, and icons. All four sites received poor grades for illegible text. MasterCard finished third with an overall score of 3 while Visa finished last with an overall score of 1.
Manning maintains there are notable flaws among all the sites. Some, like unreliable recommendation engines, hurt both brand image and brand action by undermining consumer trust and concealing content, respectively. Card companies must ensure that "their card recommender functions are reliable and trustworthy," Manning says. "Wild responses to requests for specific types of cards can leave card shoppers wondering whether the site recommendation engines are broken or trying to pull a fast one."
In addition, Manning says, famous tag lines like MasterCard's priceless commercials, should have prominent placement throughout the company's Web site, not just on TV or radio. "What company wouldn't like to have the brand equity of an enduring tag line like, 'It pays to Discover,'" Manning says.
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