Just as consumers seek out familiar products in a supermarket, so do they look for their banks' network logos when making transactions, according to a recent survey.
The study, commissioned by Magic Line Inc., found 61% of cardholders want to see a recognizable mark before using an automated teller machine or paying at the point of sale. Of the 1,204 people contacted, 69% had ATM cards.
"Brand recognition is still important when consumers use ATM cards," said Richard R. Batsell, a professor at Rice University's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management who did the study for Magic Line. "Customers want to see that match and are comfortable when they see it."
The significance of network logos had waned. In the early days of ATMs, customers needed to look for their local brand to make sure their cards would be accepted. Then the networks set up "gateways," which let financial institutions from one regional network link up with other regional and national networks. Today, most ATMs are capable of accepting virtually any card.
But along with universal acceptance has arrived nationwide surcharging and the trend toward higher "foreign" transaction fees. Once again, consumers are seeking out machines with their network brands-not to make sure their cards will work but to avoid surcharges.
"Consumers are feeling gouged at ATM machines," said Alan Bergstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Brand Consultancy, Atlanta. "That is what is largely driving that change in behavior."
Customers also fear their cards will be swallowed by a machine without their logos, said Darlene Crumbaugh, marketing director at Magic Line, the electronic funds transfer network based in Dearborn, Mich.
At the point of sale, Ms. Crumbaugh said, customers seek out logos to avoid the potential embarrassment of being rejected in front of a line of customers.
In the Magic Line study, 39% of respondents said they used their ATM cards at the point of sale.
Networks are spending significant amounts on marketing their brands at merchant locations. In the last three years, Magic Line reserved all its advertising for promoting point of sale, and it is seeing results. During the first eight months of its fiscal year, which began last September, its POS transaction volume was 21.7 million, or 47% more than in the same period a year earlier.
Magic Line is now shifting some of its advertising dollars into other brand promotions. It absorbed EFT Illinois in November 1996 and is trying to emphasize the Magic Line name.
Not all observers say the value of network brands is on the rise. If anything, networks are facing an erosion of their names, said David Campbell, executive vice president of strategic planning at KeyCorp of Cleveland. Since surcharging took hold nationwide in 1996, scores of off- site ATM deployers-including banks-have installed new machines, both branded and unbranded.
By electing to tout regional marks, banks lose an opportunity to market themselves, warned Joseph Wallace, a Chicago banking consultant who advocates individual bank branding.
"People do look for these logos," Mr. Wallace said. "In their minds they think 'Magic Line' in Michigan. In Chicago they think 'Cash Station.' But if you're a bank and you're trying to say, 'We're different than the other guys,' you want to brand your own bank as much as possible."
Still, Ms. Crumbaugh said, the report will help Magic Line's financial institutions. The network's bank members are more informed about what U.S. consumers are thinking, she said.
Magic Line also found more room for card growth for its members. In the Detroit area, the network reported 80% of bank customers owned ATM cards, 11 percentage points more than the survey average. Forty-nine percent of survey respondents said they used ATMs during banking hours.
The survey also found 60% of customers had done telephone banking, and a further 30% would use it if their financial institution offered it. Although 45% had used an on-line service, only 12% had made an Internet purchase.
Mr. Bergstrom, the Atlanta consultant, said the regional networks have not done enough to promote their brands on the Internet.
There is "a lot of upside potential of taking those brands into other channels," he said. "Those brands have tremendous equity, and I don't think they're being fully leveraged."