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AmEx, TripAdvisor form curious partnership

by Peter Andrew

American Express has always been an innovative marketer that cultivates the benefits of being a "member." It's not surprising that the company recently, and for the seventh year in a row, topped J.D. Power's Credit Card Satisfaction Study.

AmEx on TripAdvisor

Now American Express has teamed up with TripAdvisor to offer special benefits to their members. Among the new benefits you can enjoy if you register your eligible AmEx charge and credit cards on TripAdvisor are:

  1. An "AmEx Traveler" badge will appear on your profile.
  2. When you write a review, a card icon will be displayed, along with the legend, "AmEx Card Member Review."
  3. You get a one-time $5 statement credit once your first AmEx Traveler review is published on TripAdvisor. (Whether this is the sort of inducement that is going to set racing the pulses of the sorts of people who make up American Express's customer base is questionable.)
  4. You can, as noted in an Oct. 8 press release, "get exclusive access [on the TripAdvisor site] to lists of hotspots in popular travel destinations powered by American Express Spend Graph data." In other words, the company's IT systems identify the locations (presumably, restaurants, hotels, venues, stores and so on) that have attracted the most spending by other holders of the company's plastic, allowing you to choose to visit places where there's a good chance of your hanging out with fellow card members. That's a prospect that may or may not appeal to you sufficiently to spend time clicking through to a hotspot list.

Savings save the offer

Not sold on the concept so far? There is, thank heavens, a fifth potential benefit that might actually make it worthwhile for you to register your card. For some time, AmEx customers who are also users of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Xbox have been able to access money-saving discounts and offers from merchants around the world. Now, TripAdvisor users with eligible American Express cards can do the same. Although the list of participating merchants at launch was short, there are plans, no doubt, for it to grow.

The way these offers and discounts are delivered is an example of American Express at its cleverest and most innovative. Once your eligible plastic is registered, you simply click on a deal you like on the website where you see it. This begins a brief and simple process that links your card to the offer. You then pay full price for what you want, and a statement credit automatically appears -- no vouchers to print out and lose, no arguments with poorly trained clerks or waiting staff to endure, no fuss at all.

Nobody's perfect

This writer was dismayed by the news in this latest press release, which to him seemed to contain only one potentially worthwhile benefit -- and that was the one the company's marketeers inexplicably chose to list last. Or maybe he's just useless at identifying great ideas.

He wouldn't be alone, if that were the case. Many Americans thought cell phones would never take off among consumers when they were first introduced, an opinion shared by a significant proportion of Motorola's employees at the time when one of their own made the first call ever 40 years ago. And the list of quotes from distinguished experts who wrongly predicted the future of their own technologies is long and cringe-worthy, including as it does:

  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Thomas Watson, IBM chairman, 1943

  • "Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." - Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, 1946

  • "But what…is it [the microchip] good for?" - Engineer in IBM's advanced computing systems division, 1968

  • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, founder of DEC, 1977

Credit card companies need to innovate

So maybe this writer shouldn't judge AmEx's marketeers over what seems a foolish idea when so many of those have gone on to be hugely popular and profitable. Daniel Isenberg, an adjunct professor at Columbia University Business School, wrote a whole book on the subject: "Worthless, Impossible and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value" (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013).

Certainly, credit card companies have an urgent need to innovate, a topic recently explored on this site. Without change, there's a real possibility of this form of plastic dying out, at least in its current form. And a few seemingly dumb ideas would be a small price to pay for avoiding that.

Published 11/04/13

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