Despite negative economic winds and the effect of tough new regulations, credit card companies should realize there are ways to adapt and stay positive in the current environment, Peter Vaughn, senior vice president of global brand management for American Express Co. told audience members during Tuesday's keynote speech at SourceMedia Inc.'s Card Forum and Expo in Orlando.

It is essential for credit card companies to engage consumers in new ways, Vaughn said. Amex is basing its strategy on "growth, customer loyalty and innovation, with innovation being the most important," Vaughn said.

Superb marketing is crucial in the current environment, Vaughn explained, particularly the ability to convey a keen understanding of consumers' changing needs. Credit card companies can still find success by connecting with consumers and "focusing on exactly what consumers need, emphasizing brand values, creating positive conversations and driving real-time adaptation."

To that end, American Express has retooled and launched several new products within the last year. Amex's goal in devising new products is to "build optimism, regain trust and drive advocacy," Vaughn said. One such example is the Zync card Amex launched this month geared toward 20- and 30-somethings. Zync enables consumers to customize their cards by adding specific lifestyle benefits that are either free or fee-based, depending on their choice of packages.

Social media also is proving to be an effective credit card marketing tool, Vaughn said, noting that "social communities often help consumers make decisions." Amex data show that consumers' time spent on social sites tripled last year compared with the previous year. Intelligence Amex gathered through social networking helped to shape Zync card's features.

Bold consumer-advocacy messages are also playing a role in helping Amex navigate through uncertain times, Vaughn said. Amex in September launched a consumer education campaign themed, "Don't Take Chances, Take Charge." The campaign's aim is to teach consumers about credit cards and how to use them in a responsible way. Overall, "we saw a positive result from this campaign," Vaughn said.

Through a combination of market-responsive product design, marketing and consumer education, card issuers' top goal should be regaining consumer trust, Vaughn said, noting it's essential that issuers' approach to consumers "must evolve."

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