Marcy Shinder, VP-brand strategy and marketing at American Express OPEN, is dedicated to helping the business unit's small-business customers survive and thrive during the recession.
To this end, she recently launched her own blog on OPEN Forum, an online community for small businesses, and is spearheading efforts to provide resources to small businesses to help them succeed.
In the following interview, Shinder talks about the challenges facing small businesses, how AmEx is marketing to them and which media are working best to reach this audience.
BtoB: What are the top concerns of small businesses during the recession?
Shinder: In many ways, it's back-to- basics time for entrepreneurs. Our research has shown they are concerned about the economy, and entrepreneurs will place a heightened focus on better servicing customers to set their business apart from competitors.
On the other hand, it's a time of transformation. Business owners are finding ways to revolutionize their businesses and industries by innovating—whether it is through extending to new revenue sources, finding new customers through partners or leveraging social media as an efficient marketing channel. Reinvention is all around us. The pace of change is so fast, and small-business owners—out of necessity and sheer force of will—are turning their businesses around and thus our economy.
BtoB: What is American Express doing to market to small businesses in the down economy?
Shinder: In this climate, relevance is the keyword for marketers. Business owners are more skeptical than ever about marketing that is irrelevant, inauthentic or “salesy.” Being relevant means delivering tangible value—whether that is insight, inspiration or advice—in every customer interaction.
Our key product focus in 2009 is on the OPEN charge card, precisely because the charge card [which is pay-in-full, not revolving with APRs] is the right tool for business owners during these economic times. We aim to deliver on this commitment through things big and small—from designing relevant products and services for business, to curating outstanding content to provide business owners with practical advice and insights available through OPEN Forum, to featuring only real customers in our advertising and promotional materials.
BtoB: Where are you investing your marketing dollars?
Shinder: We're flexible enough to dial up and dial down marketing efforts based on cardmember needs and our budgets.
We've continued to invest in OPENForum.com. We're hearing now more than ever that our customers are seeking advice about what they can do differently to survive and thrive in a challenging economy. So American Express OPEN launched OPEN Forum's economy section, a platform for small-business owners to connect virtually to discuss the current state of the economy, which features blogs and news commentary, expert tips and advice for surviving the downturn and polls about what the state of the economy means for small business. We are also moving rapidly to evolve our offerings and marketing so they are precisely what business owners need in this economic climate, whether it's understanding the products they currently have and how to get the most out of them or what other products we offer might be better for them in this environment, like our charge card.
BtoB: How are you using online communities to connect with small businesses?
Shinder: Social networking was invented by small-business owners before there was a word for it. And we've been where they've been, so we've been involved with online communities for a long time. We pioneered a small-business relationship with Meetup.com in 2007, along with SCORE [a small-business counseling organization]. Our Women's Business Initiative partners network in person and online (for example, at make-mineamillion.org, wpo.com and wipp.-com). And, of course, we are extremely proud of the community that has emerged on OPEN Forum, with virtually no marketing at all—just great content and word-of-mouth. This is why we are continuing to invest in this site, as it is the right solution for business owners right now.
BtoB: What types of traditional media are you using and what is effective?
Shinder: There is no one way to reach business owners where they are. We spend a lot of time at trade shows as we know that is a place they like to engage with us and learn about us. Certainly traditional online communications, television and radio are convenient for many business owners to learn about us, as is mail; for some, it is the most convenient way to learn about new benefits and products, and make sure they are getting the most from their relationship with us. M