Editor's note: Mike Berinato is vice president, research and consulting at Market Strategies International, a Cambridge, Ma., research firm

Consider your wallet. There are probably a few credit cards in there – about three or four, if you’re like the average American.1 Why did you choose those particular cards? Was there a benefit or feature that swayed your decision? Are you interested in getting more benefits from your credit cards? Do you even know all the features your cards have? 

For card issuers, understanding the answers to these questions is a key step to getting their card into more wallets. The competition among card issuers is tougher than ever. Issuers face pressure to constantly add new customers, either by convincing them to add a new card to their wallet or to replace a card. But a credit card is essentially a commodity and card issuers have to continually differentiate their offerings. 

It’s no surprise then that credit card advertising often focuses on card features – miles, cash back, club access, concierge service, gift products. The payments team at Market Strategies identified 18 commonly offered features. While consumers can find a card that focuses on the availability of one of these features, most cards actually include many of them. 

We started thinking about this market from our own perspective as credit card users – how focused are we on the benefits in our wallets? When issuers add more benefits to a card, does that strategy actually win customers? Or could it be that the credit card market is suffering from “feature creep” – a state where issuers one-up each other by offering cards with more and more benefits, regardless of their actual value to cardholders? If adding more features doesn’t work, how can companies most effectively use benefits, perks and rewards to attract customers?

To investigate these issues, we included a series of questions specifically ...