The concept of a card to be used for purchases was first described in 1887 by Edward Bellamy in his novel Looking Backward. It portrayed Bellamy’s dream of how an Ideal 21st century would operate.

It turns out Bellamy’s was ahead of his time. It was only 1984 that Brand Keys proved that consumers don’t just shop, but dream too. When it comes to brands, they dream about an Ideal.

The Ideal is a consumer-centric view of a category. It absolutely informs how consumers view, compare, and choose among category options. If you identify the Ideal, you not only possess a measure of consumer expectations, but also know what truly matters to them. Brands that best meet – even exceed – expectations for the Ideal always possesses the highest brand equity, engender high levels of loyalty, and, as this is business we’re talking about, posts profits. Very regularly and usually exceeding estimates.

When it comes to 21st century credit cards ubiquitous acceptance, competitive rates, and air miles don’t cut it any more. Those have become category ‘table stakes.’ What influences brand loyalty most is the reputation the brand has for service. According to our most recent loyalty assessments, here’s how the major card brands rank when it comes to what consumers dream about customer service:

1. Discover
2. American Express
3. Visa
4. Capital One
5. MasterCard

Discover recently aired a new campaign focusing on (ideal) customer service. Oh, and having the category’s most-loyal cardholders and this year’s Brand Keys Loyalty Award, a circumstance that most CFOs and CMOs also dream about.

All dreams may be answers to questions consumers haven’t figured out how to ask yet. But for marketers those dreams can be codified in a very practical, very predictive category Ideal.