This is an extract from a blog entry from my internal Capital One blog published in September

One of the things I get asked about alot is “how do brands work?” I know some of our associates remain somewhat sceptical about the role that brands play in the credit card market.

We developed a useful model in the customer experience project that has helped me frame the discussions that I have on brand and the role it plays in our business. I’d like to share this and give a greater feel for why creating a brand-aligned business and organisation is an important part of us winning in the market.

My first request is to banish the word “brand” from your mind for the purpose of the rest of this blog. Forget everything you know of brands and branding. Done that? Good now I’ll carry on.

Let’s look at the business and what we do in Capital One. We only “do” three things in the company: invent products, service customers, and market our products and services (obviously we also do a lot of other activities that “manage” our business, such as Enterprise Risk Management or Finance, but all these activities are consequences of either products, servicing or marketing). (I also include Risk Operations in the servicing category).

The result of all this “doing” is that we create perceptions in peoples’ mind. From a flicker of recognition (we call this “awareness”) because they have seen an ad; to a positive feeling of commitment to our company’s products (we call this “loyalty”) because we have serviced their account well. Of course there huge variation in these perceptions and about 10% of people hold no perception of Capital One (i.e. they haven’t even heard of us). We measure these perceptions every month with around 1000 people and we ask them what they think of us and other credit card companies. These perceptions are important to our business and marketing efforts. And with huge amounts of marketing bombarding our every sense and our complex business its difficult to create these perceptions and even harder to make them positive.

But why are these perceptions important? They are important because they allow all of us to make easier decisions. Consumers can’t rationally analyse the myriad features, benefits, costs that we are presented with. We are all desperately looking for ways to simplify our lives. That’s why websites like are so popular – they simplify. But even when you get to these sites you still have too many choices.

So for example, when a potential customer goes to (as many of them do) and looks at a rate table they are processing the choices that they are presented with through the perceptions they hold in their minds. Let’s imagine for a minute a rate table with offers like a 0% 12 month balance transfer offer from Poundstretcher or the same offer from John Lewis. Which would you choose? Your answer will indicate your perceptions of Poundstretcher and John Lewis, and what you think is important in a credit card.

Was it a hard choice?
What experience do you have of Poundstretcher or John Lewis as a credit card provider?

What are you basing your judgement on?

We all base decisions on the perceptions that we hold in our heads even though we often have no direct experience of the company in that category (in this case credit cards). Where do these perceptions upon which we have just made a purchase decision come from? These perceptions come from the experience that John Lewis and Poundstretcher have delivered to us through what they do: their products, their service and their marketing.

I often get questioned on whether all this perception stuff is nonsense – its all about product/price. There are two aspects to my answer here. Firstly perceptions still rule because what a company is doing by offering great prices is building a price perception that they believe will motivate consumers to turn into customers (and since prices are always assessed in a competitive category context perception is crucial). Secondly, and this is really important given our current business strategy, if we attract customers just on price then they are rarely profitable (because all they do is wait for a better price) and almost never loyal. We don’t want to continue to have to “buy” our way to the top of rate tables – we want to create a set of perceptions where customers choose our great offers not just because of the price but also because of their perception of our service and marketing.

So how should we build a positive set of perceptions for Capital One? By focusing consistently on the things that we “do”: continue to offer great products, give good, reliable service and to market these products and services in a way that engages and pleases the potential customer. If we do this then we will create a positive set of perceptions that will drive marketing efficiency and ultimately the loyalty of our customer base.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on brands, Capital One and our journey by leaving a comment.

Comments welcome as always!


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Justin Basini

Entrepreneur, author of Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU?, blogger (, business, brand and marketing thinker and do-er, husband and dad

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