Are you signed up for any credit card "bonus points" or "rewards" programs? I’m signed up for both American Express Rewards, and Visa Extras. The difference in "experience" is amazing, and it’s all thanks to email marketing.
I have no friggin clue how many points I have with American Express, or what I can do with them. Every month, AMEX sends me my points balance, but it’s attached to their paper BILL ("Here are your points, now pay up!"). And it still doesn’t tell me what my points are worth. Once a year, AMEX sends me a shiny catalog in the mail, but it’s full of plasma screen TVs, yachts, and Faberge eggs. Maybe someday I’ll accumulate 3 googillian points for that set of golf clubs. Thanks for nuthin, AMEX.
On the other hand, there’s Visa Extras…
Every month or so (I can’t remember how frequently they send, but it’s pleasantly non-annoying), I get an email newsletter from Visa. Actually, it’s co-branded to appear as if it’s from my local bank, which is a nice little touch (you can swap out partner logos in your HTML email with MailChimp’s *|MERGETAGS|*, by the way).
Anyway, Visa’s email newsletter (click here to see a screenshot) always includes a brief statement of how many points I’ve accumulated, and they sprinkle the email with nice little logos for online stores where I can redeem my points. They also feature logos from shops that provide "40 points for every dollar you spend." All those little logos tell me in the blink of an eye what my points are worth: movie tickets, a book from Barnes & Noble, maybe a little medicine from my local CVS Pharmacy.
The result is that unlike those mysterious AMEX Rewards, I have this feeling that I can actually use my Visa Extras.
So when I’m at the grocery store, I always use my Visa bank card instead of my AMEX card, because I want that little number in my Visa Extras email to grow the next time I see it. And whenever the Visa email arrives in my inbox, I immediately open it to see where my points balance is. Yeah, I’m a sucker for points now.
Gut Feelings Add Up
Maybe it’s the fact that I can actually see a "cause and effect" relationship better with Visa. Maybe it’s the fact that "AMEX rewards equals evil black and white paper bill," while "Visa Extras equals bright, colorful email, with happy people." I dunno what it is, but my gut tells me that Visa just feels better.
American Express may have a nice email design for their Rewards program, but I’ll never know. That’s because 5 years ago, I signed up for an online account with AMEX. All I remember is that I spent lots of time on the phone with their customer service people to make it work (if you’ve got an online account with AMEX, you probably know what I mean). Plus, after they finally got my account working, they spammed the heck outta my inbox. I had to unsubscribe from each department’s list as they sent them. Took another call to just get off all their lists for good. That was 5 years ago, so I hope they’ve changed by now. These days, AMEX sends me email account statements for my merchant and business accounts—but I never open them, because I can never remember my logins and passwords (AMEX requires crazy usernames and insanely restrictive passwords, for EACH account).
AMEX bad, Visa Good. AMEX old, Visa young. AMEX black and white, Visa color. AMEX Faberge eggs, Visa Apple Store.
Below is a sample of a Visa Extras email. I edited it a little, so if it looks like an MTV censored gangsta video, that’s just me trying to hide some personal info…