Launched this past summer, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card was more than a success. It was a phenomenon—the credit card equivalent of the Broadway show “Hamilton” or Justin Bieber concert tickets.
In fact, demand for the luxury credit card was so strong that JP Morgan Chase ran out of the cards and its expensive high-end packaging just TEN DAYS after they became available. Incredibly, this initial supply of cards and packaging was intended to last for TWELVE MONTHS! Which left thousands of disappointed customers having to settle for temporary plastic cards until new ones could be produced. All told, within the first month, the company had mailed out more cards than they’d expected to send in TWO YEARS.
Clearly, of all the people amazed by the stunning success of the Sapphire Reserve credit card, nobody was more amazed than JP Morgan Chase itself.
So what happened? Why the big surprise? And what can we learn from a marketing perspective? Here are three key takeaways.
1. Start with a fantastic product
The first thing Chase did well was to create a great product—one that filled a huge need in the marketplace. Typically, high-end credit cards that carry hefty annual fees (the Chase Sapphire Reserve card costs $450 a year) aren’t for everybody. In the past, they were most desired by high-income customers who enjoyed a degree of status from a premier card.
These days, those elite cards appeal to everyone and anyone. Offering lots of benefits and perks, people are finding the hefty annual fee worth the money. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers travel rewards—lots of them. Even with its $450 fee, the card can be a great value for frequent travelers. Still, what really caused the cards to fly out of the warehouse was the demand among Millennials—a segment of the population notorious for avoiding credit card debt like last year’s iPhone model. Turns out, Millennials have ordered the card far more than any other group, surprising everyone.
Statistics show that Millennials travel more than any other group, accounting for an estimated 20 percent of all international travel. According to American Express Business Insights, Millennials are the fastest growing segment in terms of money spent on travel. But because of their well-known distaste for credit card debt, JP Morgan Chase was caught off guard by the ensuing demand among them.
So what made this card stand out from other cards in its category? Basically, it comes down to value (something Millennials take very seriously). The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is expensive, but for many, it’s more than worth it. Benefits include:
A huge sign up bonus of 100,000 points (worth about $1,500) after a $4,000 spend on the card within the initial three months
Triple points on travel and dining worldwide
An automatic $300 annual rebate for travel expenses
Access to over 900 travel lounges around the world.
While marketing can do a lot to establish credibility, build strong customer relationships, and grow sales, it does have its limitations. Marketing can only do so much. These days, with the vast competition out there, plus social media holding you accountable for everything you do, your product or service has to be stellar. Great marketing can’t save an inferior product. Which is why starting with a great product is your strongest marketing advantage—followed by a smart, strategic marketing program that communicates your product’s unique benefits to the right audience.
2. Design the heck out of it
Besides offering great rewards, the Sapphire Reserve Credit card provides something else today’s consumers gravitate toward—great design.
The card has a simple, clean design that screams upscale, plus a metal core that gives the card a noticeably heavy feel. It’s a stylish, substantial card that makes noise when it’s plunked down on the table, and that gets attention when it changes hands.
We all know design matters. There are countless examples of products (especially in the tech industry) that have raised product design to a high art form. These days, people want great design in the products they buy. The look and feel of a product contributes heavily to a customer’s overall experience and satisfaction. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a car, a tablet computer, or a credit card. Design is a big part of the brand experience. It says something about your product and about the people who use it.
Chase nailed the design of its Sapphire Reserve credit card to such a degree that customers (primarily Millennial-age customers, mind you) have taken to YouTube with their own unboxing videos—to publicly revel in the joy of opening the packaging and holding their treasured new card in their hands. These unboxing videos have received over 60,000 views. And the excitement doesn’t end there. The classy metal credit card is responsible for tons of social media buzz and word-of-mouth publicity, generating untold dollars in free marketing. While it’s every marketer’s dream to have their advertising go viral, the most effective viral marketing comes from having a product that people want—and are excited to tell everyone else about.
3. Get a little luck on your side
Okay, so we’re not promoting luck as a marketing strategy, but there’s no denying that even with all the research in the world, you still can’t ever really predict marketplace success or failure. Sometimes, it’s about having the right product at the right time.
Things worked out so well for Chase that they unintentionally managed to turn a negative situation—the overwhelmingly limited supply of cards—into a positive one. The limited supply of cards only fueled the demand for them even more. It was indeed, the perfect combination of product, timing, and the economics of supply and demand.
The fact that Chase ran out of Sapphire Reserve credit cards in less than two weeks is pretty clear evidence that the success of the card vastly exceeded expectations. It hit a homerun with an audience they didn’t expect—largely because the other elements (a great product, well designed) were firmly in place. It was the perfect combination of giving people what they want at just the right time. And while this kind of thing isn’t something you can necessarily plan for, it can be the result of getting the other two components just right. You can’t control where good luck will strike, but you can position yourself so that you’re an easier target.
So how can you apply these elements to create your own brand success story? The lesson here is in not relying too heavily on your marketing to do the heavy lifting for you. While a multi-channeled marketing mix of print, digital, social media, etc. is a proven effective way to build a brand and grow sales, it’s important to remember that success starts at the top—with great design, value, and customer benefits. When you start with a well-developed product, you give your marketing the raw material it needs to succeed.
As they say, nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing. So don’t cut corners. Make the effort to ensure that your product is the best it can be.
Born of curiosity and enthusiasm, we’re a scrappy group of smart, passionate marketers who work hard and play hard. We show up every day and fight for our clients who are making the world a better place. We listen with curiosity, explore deeply, ask hard questions, and sometimes put forth ideas that might make you squirm. Because we believe the status quo is good for growing mold but not much else.
The way we see it, change is the way forward and the magic happens when curiosity, math, science, instinct, and talent intersect.