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Next-Gen Co-Brand Cards are Tailored to You, by You

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In a world filled with loyalty offers, it’s all about offering the right rewards and experiences at the right moments. I’ll never forget my 40th birthday trip to Istanbul when the hotel staff not only wished me a happy birthday when I checked in, but the general manager surprised me with a cake, champagne and a handwritten note with 40 things to do in Istanbul. That’s expressing appreciation for loyalty: A customized experience and a personal touch that goes above and beyond, which has forever made me a brand advocate.

Historically, co-brand loyalty cards — cards that are issued by financial institutions in partnership with a retail brand or organization — have offered traditional, tangible “earn and burn” points like miles or cash back. But now consumers want intangible benefits, including tailored experiences. Up-and-coming Generation Z (born in the mid- to late-’90s through 2010) consumers are increasingly interested in personalized offers and non-monetary benefits. A recent survey found that one in three Gen Z shoppers would switch merchants if given more personalized offers.

The real magic is in how you tailor an experience to make people feel seen, but not encroached upon. That’s why I propose that every co-brand program consider two key, but distinct, aspects of tailoring the experience:

  • Personalization — how the co-brand card creates special experiences for customers based on what they know about them; and
  • Customization — how the co-brand card allows cardholders to tailor their own experience by making unique, personal choices themselves.  

Here’s how to get started and what every program needs to consider:

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Dive Deep into Who Your Customers Are

Before launching a program, it’s important to profile your customers in order to understand what motivates them and why they are loyal to your brand. Make sure you have a trustworthy partner that can help manage and analyze data in a safe way that guards customer privacy.

Some things to think through: What are the customers’ needs? What would motivate them to obtain a co-brand card versus a bank-branded card? Consumers will reward you with top-of-wallet spending if they know that you understand them, so do you have multiple segments of customers with different expectations? And can you personalize experiences targeting those different segments?

If you’re a retailer, that could mean launching a co-brand program to offer distinct value proposition designs. Consumers might choose from “digital,” “style” or other categories that reward spending depending on which is most relevant to their lifestyle.

Create Experiences or Let Them Build Their Own

Innovative loyalty offerings either provide differentiated personalized offerings, let customers do the customizing or both. Emotionally triggered value, for example, is emerging as one important personalization trend driving higher loyalty. An entertainment resort co-brand card might offer perks at its properties for brand enthusiasts and even let them choose their card design. This might sound simple, but for the right loyalist that emotional connection to the card and the brand could be enough to trigger top-of-wallet spending habits.

We’re also seeing co-brands take hold in fan-based economies like sports. Sports club co-branded cards can offer features such as discounts when using the card at select stores that sell the club’s merchandise or opportunities for early access to priority tickets. Gaming is another area that offers a new platform to “meet” consumers and deepen engagement, whether by enabling a seamless in-app or on-console payment or by creating unique digital assets exclusively for co-brand cardholders.

Find Alternative Currencies

Along with access and community, time is another highly prized benefit, and this new generation of co-branded cards is bringing non-points-based rewards to life.

I travel regularly for work, for example, and when I think about my own foundational needs both as a consumer and business professional, there are two — things that save me time and things that make my travel experience easier. I know a lot of people feel this way, especially as travel rebounds.

That makes travel loyalty programs and co-brand cards deeply appealing, with benefits such as fast track security, priority check-in and boarding, free checked bags and much more. I always appreciate it when on a flight the purser thanks me for my loyalty and ensures I get my preferred meal choice.

Be Smart About Data

Data will play an even bigger role in loyalty and co-brand going forward. Consider Gen Z’s demand for personalized products and experiences. Brands that can deliver a hyperpersonalized offering based on predictive analytics and aggregated data pools will meet this emerging segment’s needs more clearly.

It’s about matching customers with their preferences and leveraging real-time data, artificial intelligence and analytics to tailor products and experiences to meet their needs. At the same time, for card companies awash with data, there is a fine line that must be respected when it comes to making these experiences unique without violating customer trust and privacy. That’s where customization comes in, allowing cardholders to make tailored choices for themselves.

In a hyper-competitive world, creating the right rewards and experiences for the right people is essential. Personalization and customization are common themes, but there should be more conversation about the distinction between the two. We’re on a journey as reward constructs change. Consumers today are willing to share aspects of their data with brands, but they expect value to come from it — something that’s just for them.


Based in London, Luigi Marandola, VP of Cobrand and Merchant Business Development at Visa, is currently responsible for the business development of co-brand relationships globally, which includes partners across all verticals including travel, retail, grocery and ecommerce. He brings a diverse and unique background that encompasses depth in the payment card industry, marketing and product expertise, and customer relationship management.  Prior to assuming this role, Marandola led Visa’s merchant and acceptance business development teams across Europe. He was previously based in the U.S. where he was the Senior Director managing large travel relationships. Marandola joined Visa in 2011 as a product consultant leading a team that managed consumer credit initiatives across the U.S. issuing community. Prior to joining Visa, he held various marketing and loyalty management positions at Citi, driving credit growth with key retail partners such as Sears, Macy’s and Staples.

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