Card Networks Report Robust Purchase Volume Growth

With MasterCard and Visa reporting quarterly financials in recent days, we now have a fuller picture of purchase volume trends for the main U.S. card networks.  Each reported relatively strong year-on-year growth in U.S. card spending, led by MasterCard (+13%) and American Express (+12%).

It is notable that Visa and MasterCard are following different paths in growing purchase volume.  Visa, which has been the dominant debit card issuer, is reporting continued slower growth in debit card purchase volume.  This is due to some debit card portfolios switching to MasterCard, as well as the impact of the Durbin Amendment, and has resulted in Visa’s credit card growth outstripping its debit card growth for the past three quarters.

In contrast, MasterCard has reported accelerating U.S. debit card purchase volume growth.  Credit card volume growth has also accelerated, but continues to trail debit card volume.

American Express has consistently recorded double-digit volume growth as it follows its spend-centric approach.  Discover also reported strong growth in 2011, but this has trailed off in recent quarters.

During this period of strong purchase volume growth for both credit cards and debit cards, credit card outstandings have continued to decline, emphasizing the transition in the credit card sector from a lend-centric to spend-centric orientation.  Many leading U.S. credit card issuers are expecting outstandings to grow slightly in the coming quarters, but it is probable that purchase volume growth will continue to outstrip loan growth for the foreseeable future.

Card volume growth should continue to be significantly higher than overall U.S. consumer spending growth, as consumers switch from cash and checks, with particular growth opportunities for cards in categories where they have traditionally had small shares of payment volumes.

In the longer term, card networks and issuers need to plan for new opportunities and challenges created by a changed payments landscape, characterized by demographic shifts, new payments technologies and changing shopping behavior.

The Chicken or the Egg? Interpreting Social Media Data and Business Results

Two recent studies purport to prove that social media has a strong, positive impact on business results.

  • A recent study by Bain & Company uses the Net Promoter Score satisfaction/loyalty research methodology to assert that those customers who engage with companies through social media channels are more loyal (have a higher NPS) and spend more with that company as compared to those customers who don’t engage with the company through social media.
  • A second study by Constant Contact and Chadwick Martin Bailey cites data from a survey of Twitter users to argue that Twitter users who follow a company/brand on Twitter are more likely to purchase products from that company.

There is, as I see it, one big problem with this “proof” of the impact of social media channel usage: Did the chicken come first or the egg? Isn’t the most likely scenario the fact that social media engagement AND buying more/loyalty/recommendations are simply both symptomatic of a pre-existing strong connection between the user/customer and the brand? In other words, there’s no proof that social media engagement caused the increase in purchases/loyalty, only that the engagement and the increase coexist in the same population.

The good news, however, is that my note of caution regarding the interpretation of the data touted by these studies doesn’t make that data useless. In fact, a better way to interpret the data would be to conclude that those who engage with a company on social media are self-identifying themselves as that company’s high value customers. With this in mind, the social media channel can then be leveraged to ensure that these customers are rewarded for their engagement: offered special deals, encouraged to spread the word, given opportunities to provide input to product development, etc. Whereas the previous interpretation of the data suggests that it would be a good marketing strategy to try to attract more users to engage via social media, this revised interpretation would lead a company instead to invest in harvesting already engaged users to drive additional revenue.

The moral: Companies must exercise caution when using survey data to drive strategy—not because primary research shouldn’t drive strategy (it should), but because misinterpretation can have significant, often negative, consequences.

Spray & Pray: There’s A better Way

Most advisors express frustration with the volume and the frequency of promotional communications from investment product and insurance manufacturers. Research conducted by EMI and real client experience confirms this, with emails being especially high on the list. At a recent roundtable I attended, many advisors said: “we’re done with email”. Why? Because most of the communications they receive are difficult to process and deliver questionable value to their practice. So what’s a manufacturer to do?
Despite frustrations with the volume and quality of communications, advisors readily admit that they do read communications deployed by the brands they trust and value. These brands plan and manage communication streams with valuable content, use easy to process copy standards, and create a consistent narrative that demonstrate respect and thoughtfulness. These brands have earned the attention of the advisor and are therefore opened and read before the others (assuming the others are read, which is unlikely given the ease of deleting or navigating away in digital media).

So what’s a manufacturer to do? Build a systematic relationship marketing program that demonstrates respect and delivers real value. Perhaps we can call that SRM.