Access just a Signature away

Visa boosts program to target, keep affluent cardholders

When Elvis Costello played the House of Blues in 10 U.S. cities this month, Visa Signature cardholders who used their credit cards to purchase tickets had the opportunity to meet the rocker personally, get his autograph and take photos with him in the clubs' VIP rooms.

During Grammy Week in Los Angeles this year, Signature cardholders also were able to attend special concerts organized by Visa at the House of Blues with Tony Bennett, the Fray, ZZ Top and John Fogerty and to meet the talent in the VIP room.

And at this year's Tonys, two dozen Signature cardholders will be able to attend the ceremony with a guest and take a walk down the red carpet and attend a rehearsal, special awards reception and awards gala after the show.

Visa has been offering its Signature cardholders — generally affluent consumers whose households earn more than $125,000 a year — exclusive access to such sporting events as the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft and the Olympics during the past few years. Recently, the company has expanded its program to offer special behind-the-scenes access to music and entertainment events and talent.

"Our Signature Access program was built and developed over the last three to four years, but it's continuing to evolve and get more robust," said Susanne Lyons, executive vp and chief marketing officer at Visa USA. "We started with sports. Some of the first things we did were activities related to the Olympics and the Kentucky Derby, but we've begun to expand the program to different areas, including food and wine and music and entertainment."

For the most part, Visa uses the sporting and entertainment events it already spends millions to sponsor — such as the NFL, the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby and the Tonys — to offer cardholders behind-the-scenes access. It usually doesn't have to pay additional fees for the exclusive access.

Lyons said the Signature Access program is an effective way to reach affluent consumers. "Our target consumer tends to be very time-constrained and does not usually respond to traditional advertising offers. One way to break through to them is to give them these more exclusive experiences they couldn't get anywhere else, even if they have a lot of money."

She said the program has been effective in achieving Visa's dual goals of raising consumers' awareness of the Visa Signature card and building consumer loyalty. "For people who experience an event, their satisfaction level is very high; they talk to people about it and become more loyal to the card. If they're carrying five different cards, it makes them more attached to that particular card and more likely to use it."

But Visa is not alone in providing exclusive access to its cardholders. American Express said it offers similar programs to its regular card members as well as to its Gold and Platinum customers. In the summer, American Express cardholders were able to purchase tickets to a private Amex-sponsored Kanye West concert at the Nokia Theater in New York, where they were able to meet West and get his autograph.

Recently, through its MyWishList program, Amex card members were able to bid for a trip to Hollywood, where they spent a day on the set of HBO's "Entourage," met the cast and crew and had a walk-on role on the show. Three couples won the chance to take part in the event.

Currently, Amex card members have the chance to bid for a walk-on role and a trip to the set of NBC's "30 Rock."