Amex Vs Visa – A battle of brand association

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All brands have meaning in the minds of their market.
Whether carefully and strategically considered or by default, all brands hold associated meanings in the minds of the market place. Well considered brands establish a competitive brand proposition (their brand strategy) with layers of meaning to both differentiate themselves from their competitors and to connect with their audience. These brands reinforce their meaning through all of their actions or brand touch points and their brand identity design. As a brand agency we help brands to define their meaning and create their unique branding for all their communications in order to create a consistent association with these layers of meaning in the hearts and minds of their customers.

Amex Vs Visa
Today we compare the brand associations of the dominant global credit card brands; American Express and Visa.

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A Snapshot of Brand Association
The clever people at Brand Tags have been busy collecting a comprehensive list of more than 1.7 million associations that people from around the globe have with brands. The result is a unique opportunity for those brands to compare the meaning and messages of their brand communication strategy with the brand associations of a cross section of the market. The larger the word is represented on the diagram above, the more popularly associated it was with the brand.

A Comparison of Brand Associations
The two brands (along with Mastercard) have made good use of their billion dollar marketing budgets over the years, building a clear and consistent association between the concept of money and credit on a card. The relatively recent proliferation of ‘tap-and-go’ has only increased the sense of using cards instead of cash. There is considerable consistency of associations between the two brands, which acts to bring the fewer different associations into sharper relief.

The Amex Brand
There are a few, but importantly distinct associations with the Amex brand that differentiate it from Visa. The first is a sense of ‘premium aspiration’. The associations of ‘expensive’, ‘rich’, ‘travel’ and ‘exclusive’ reflect a brand proposition that has been marketed for decades that Amex is an exclusive product for the more well heeled. Amex Black has only reinforced those perceptions. The question for the brand is whether this business strategy has changed over the years, and if-so there is a significant lag-factor to the brand association that is still at play in the market.

Another point of difference between the two brands is Amex’s clear association with ‘corporate’. Amex is associated more closely with being a business card (a legacy of their marketing approach over decades and their higher (often 3%) cost being passed-on to consumers.

Finally, the colour blue is also closely associated with the Amex brand. This presents an interesting talking point as whilst the brand mark is blue, the predominant colour association with the Amex cards is green or perhaps black, silver or gold. The blue brand mark doesn’t play-out at all. Whilst we encourage brands to own a colour in the minds of the market as a valuable brand asset, we generally look to associate that colour with their most important and popular products.

The Visa Brand
By contrast, Visa has built a brand association of being the card for everyone to use everywhere. So whilst we put great stead in brands who are able to own an aspirational positioning, arguably Visa has built a stronger brand position through the perception that it is a more accessible product.

The fact that Mastercard rates as such a strong brand association strongly suggests Vias and Mastercard have failed to clearly differentiate the products both from a functional and consumer benefit perspective  in the minds of the market.

And last but not least, I’d expect the marketing execs at Visa to be disappointed by the low level of brand association they’ve built throughout their long (and expensive) sponsorship of the Olympics. As the fifteenth strongest brand association, ‘Olympics’ is closely followed by ‘evil’ and rip-off – ouch that’s gotta hurt!

The Verdict
Both brands are prety much positioned where their marketing strategies have been aiming over the last few decades. However, as margins are squeezed, the aspirational proposition with a smaller market and smaller spend is likely to become a challenge for Amex. What was previously seen as the premium high ground may prove to become the barren lower ground. On the other hand as credit card use becomes ever more equitable to cash, Visa will find their ‘everywhere for everyone’ brand proposition becoming ever more effective.

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more at…
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