Friday, February 02, 2007

Incoming!

Not a week goes by when the credit card companies aren't after my patronage, when my mailbox isn't chocked full of incoming matter when AmEx/Discover/MC/Visa. There is, apparently, no end to the credit card outfits that want me as a customer. Or that, once they nab me, want to up my credit limit. (Do I really need or want a $40,000 credit line from Visa? Seems to me, the higher the credit limit, the greater the damage a thief could do.)

As a result of all this incoming mail from credit card purveyors, I have calculated that, by conservative estimate, I spend at least an hour a year shredding invitations to sign up for new credit cards and/or those sucker-play "balance consolidation" checks with my name and address on them.

Maybe I have no complaint here.

It's not as if I never sign up for new cards. In fact, I probably do it more often than most normal people.

My husband's hobby is accumulating Frequent Flyer Miles without ever actually getting on a plane. Much of this finagling involves signing up for new credit cards and getting 10,000 or 15,000 "free miles". Jim is constantly darkening my office door to tell me about some new deal he's found.

The good news is, when we do fly anywhere, the tickets are free. (As long as you don't factor in all those hours spent figuring out Frequent Flyer programs and applying for credit cards.)

The bad news: every few years I have to spend an hour or so canceling out this dizzying array of credit cards, and cutting the pieces into teensie-weensie little pieces. (I don't trust the shredder with the actual cards.)

So I would concede that much of the onslaught of credit card "invitations" is brought on by my own willingness to sign up for new cards...except that everyone I know gets the same tonnage of credit card invites.

And so, because some/many of the missives we get from credit card companies contain personal information, we're forced to take special care to get rid of them. An unwanted catalog you can just toss into your recycle bin. An unwanted solicitation for a donation can be jettisoned (before or after you take the hokey address labels out).

An unwanted offer of a new credit card has to be taken care of somehow, or you run the risk of identity theft. (Or at least think you run the risk.) It's as if when you get a legitimate e-mail marketing piece you had to worry about whether it was introducing a virus.

From a marketing perspective, these "congratulations, you're pre-approved" programs must be working or everybody wouldn't be doin' it, doin' it.

But personally, most of them leave me cold.

Not that there aren't enticements that would work for me. Other than the Frequent Flyer lures that my husband manages to get me to fall for hook, line, and sinker, I also like the ones like the LL Bean card that give you freebies: free shipping, free monogramming. And I think I could fall for one that was connected to a charitable institutional that I support. (Note to prospective credit card enticers: I actually have enough cards, thank you, and in fact canceled three of them just last week, so just because I give to a charity, well....enough's enough.)

But, let's face it, many of these credit card mailings put the customer or prospect at financial risk. That sounds like plain bad marketing.

How about sending out letters that don't contain any personal information? That don't tie your name, address, and serial number together so conveniently. That don't make you feel that you have to be paranoid about opening every unsolicited piece that comes your way, scan it for signs of danger, and then go and shred it.  Maybe the letters could contain a code that you can use online to sign up for your pre-approved, million dollar credit limit. Maybe they could just tell you what the deal is and send you to a micro-site to sign up - offer only available to those whose name and address match up with a letter that's been sent your way.

Once you suck in all those naive college freshmen that haven't figured out that plastic eventually has to be translated into paper, I suspect that marketing credit cards is not all that easy in this day and age. The market for people with good credit is likely saturated: we all have enough cards, thank you. The market for people with bad credit may be infinite, but how good can you feel about yourself as a marketer trying to give offer more credit to folks than they should be due?

Credit card marketers could do themselves a big favor by not ticking off potential customers inundating them with solicitations that are not only unwanted, but are unsafe.

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Thanks to my friend Peter for suggesting a post on this.

1 comment:

Mary Schmidt said...

The other gotcha is that every inquiry subtracts about 5 points from your credit score. Which can be a killer for someone looking to buy a house or boostrap a business.

Hmmm...I need to go cut up some cards...