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American Express

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It may give new meaning to the term "plum deal." American Express OPEN, which specifically caters to small-business owners, introduced the Plum Card at the Inc. 500 Conference in September. The card, which will be available in early November, will provide small and midsize businesses with flexible trade terms, such as the option to defer payment or receive early pay discounts for most everything they purchase using the card.

"We thought the SMB deserved its own color, which connotes positive attributes, as in, `That's a plum deal,' " said Marcy Shinder, VP-brand strategy for American Express OPEN. "We have to look at our brand much more than what we advertise and [need to also look at] what our customers are experiencing."

In addition to favorable trade terms, the Plum Card will also give cardholders a choice of when they want to receive their billing statement; provide for automatic savings at select travel and service outlets, such as FedEx Kinko's and Hyatt Hotels; and offer retail and travel protections.

The Plum Card follows the introduction this summer of OPENForum.com, an online community for the SMB sector, and the hard copy "OPEN Book: A Practical Guide for Business Growth."

"We need deep content across all areas," Shinder said. "We hear from business owners that there is so much online about how to run a business that we thought it made sense to create a reference guide that could have some shelf life. Customers can pick it off the shelf and read about branding, how to sell better, how to advertise on a shoestring."

"OPEN Book" also includes profiles of small-business owners, who share their war stories about how they were able to overcome certain business obstacles.

"With the OPEN campaign, AmEx is the master SMB marketer in America," said Rick Segal, CEO of ad agency HSR Business to Business. "It's not afraid to put up the kind of marcom dollars required to play a provocative anthem to a market segment this large and monolithic."

He added that through its OPEN efforts, American Express provides a model for other b-to-b marketers grappling with how to reach the SMB. "In the SMB space you have to be close to the ground, exceptional in relationship marketing tools and likewise best at what I call `alliance marketing,' which is finding ways to extend the reach from one SMB to another."

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