The Green Sheet Online Edition
April 27, 2009 • Issue 09:04:02
Gift card network at your service
The gift card network run by stored-value provider SparkBase is an online platform served on a platter - a moldable tool for ISOs marketing loyalty programs.
"That's really the secret sauce of SparkBase ... everything we do, none of it is branded as SparkBase," said Doug Hardman, Chief Executive Officer at SparkBase.
"We basically give the tool to the ISO and let the ISO deal with their customers however they want to do it."
At the center of the SparkBase network is http://www.getyourbalance.com, where customers check balances on gift cards much like one would check an account balance through an online banking Web site.
Hardman said GetYourBalance.com was founded in 2005, but SparkBase's network has more recently been updated to integrate its other features through the same application programming interface (API).
New features include the ability for an ISO to brand a slice of SparkBase's stored-value network - and the gift cards that are made on it - with its own logo, and to incorporate text messaging into its gift card programs.
"We've redesigned our API so it's even easier for ISOs and financial institutions to integrate directly into our gift and loyalty network," Hardman said.
"We give them a tool kit and they can plug directly into it so that they're looking at real-time information without having to go into our network ... this plugs into whatever it is they're using."
SparkBase's text messaging service can be used as both a means of payment and a marketing vehicle, according to Hardman.
He said merchants who operate through the network can provide balances, and even conduct loyalty card transactions through customers' cell phones when they don't have their cards, by texting a code to the customer's phone.
"We're using a virtual gift card as our new SMS [simple message service] functionality where, if you don't have your card with you, you would text a certain short code and it'll text you back something," Hardman noted.
On the marketing end, Hardman said merchants can use the Web portals run by the ISOs under which they operate to obtain customer data for advertising.
"[A merchant] can send text messages if he wants, he can send e-mail blasts to [customers] if he wants, he can market to them in whatever fashion that the ISO is letting them see their data," Hardman said, adding that customers who register for loyalty card services have the option of shielding themselves from advertisements.
Meanwhile, ISOs themselves have a marketing edge in attracting merchants.
They have the ability to brand their online gift card networks within a "Web interface that's a whole lot slicker than anyone else's in the industry right now," Hardman said. "We have one of the most established stored-value networks in the industry, and we continue to push the technology forward," he added.
"Our whole business model is let the ISO do what they do best, and we'll do what we do best.
"What makes SparkBase [dramatically] different from everybody else is we don't retain any ownership over any of the clients or any of the data.
"It's all free for them to access at any time so we're not restricting anything ever for them. This is just their branding when an ISO plugs into the SparkBase network."
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