Brian Kelly really wants you to stop hoarding your credit card points.

Over the past decade, Kelly, the founder and namesake of The Points Guy, has built a successful business teaching readers how to travel the world by maximizing the value of their points. Born as a one-man side hustle, the site is now a 60-person company, with writers and freelancers all around the world.

Now, two years after The Points Guy parent company Bankrate was acquired by Red Ventures, the site wants to go behind teaching people to earn points to helping them do so. That means going beyond content to venture into tools and the travel booking process itself. "We want to become a monster global tool for the smart traveler," Kelly said at Button's TAP Summit in September.

Kelly shared some of the lessons from The Points Guy's first decade. Here's what we learned.

Personality is a powerful differentiator

At 6'7", Kelly is used to standing out in a crowd— and not being entirely comfortable in airline seats. His height, as it turns out, has helped him stand out online as well. One of the most instrumental decisions he made when starting The Points Guy, Kelly said, was putting his personality— and photos of himself— into everything the site published. This strategy continues today: Kelly hosts The Points Guy's weekly podcast and a travel vlog, which the site publishes on YouTube.

While the value of this approach may seem obvious now, that wasn't the case in in 2011, when "all the other bloggers, frankly, were super nerds," he said. "I joke about being the Kim Kardashian of travel, but that motto works."

The most valuable content isn't always the most popular

In the early days of the web, decision-makers across industries shared a big challenge: Finding and collecting the data they needed to make important strategic decisions. Things couldn't be more different today, as advances in technology have given companies more data than ever before. The impact here isn't universally positive, however. Sometimes, having too much data can be paralyzing. More often, though, it can encourage companies to focus on numbers that, while sexy, don't matter much to their bottom line.

For a long time, The Points Guy, like most digital media companies, was laser-focused on traffic. The success of posts was measured exclusively how many readers those posts attracted. Today, a better understanding of how people use the site, and what they're looking for at different points in their consideration process, has given The Points Guy a more nuanced understanding of the value of its content. The site is now paying attention to, for example, content that has the greatest impact on readers returning multiple times in a given month. This understanding is critical when it comes to picking credit cards, which is a very personal and, in many cases, painstaking decision.

"You can't club someone over the head into getting a credit card," Kelly said. "You have to look at the whole picture these days because consumers will touch your brand in a lot of different ways."

Consumers today expect more payment options and personalization

For Kelly, the mobile shopping experience still needs a lot of work. One the biggest limitations today is the lack of payment choices. While consumers want to be able to use a combination of cash, points, and coupons to make purchases, that functionality just isn't there today. Kelly wants companies to offer more options, along with more personalized offers.

"I would love to see more automated and location-based offers," he said. "I still think we have a long way to go there, but I think consumers want that integrated, seamless experience. They want to have all their options in front of them when it's time to pay."


Click here for more insights from TAP Summit 2019.