When the stock market recently dropped precipitously after Congress failed to pass its first attempt at a financial rescue package, Marcy Shinder and her team at American Express OPEN, the unit that caters to small businesses, sprang into action. They huddled with bloggers such as tech guru John Battelle, who helped provide content for OPEN Forum, American Express' online resource for small businesses. Nine hours later, at 3 a.m., the site's overhauled home page went live, with the financial crisis—and what it meant for smaller businesses in the U.S.—front and center.
“We responded very quickly. There was nothing there like this,” said Shinder, VP-brand marketing and strategy at American Express OPEN. The timely content featured everything from how Main Street businesses such as yoga studios and daycare centers were coping to advice on how to protect your investments.
Shinder said it's just another way OPEN can connect with its customers, by giving them the in-depth information and resources they need to compete. OPEN Forum launched last year and now attracts 600,000 unique monthly visitors, a number, Shinder said, “that has been almost entirely organic.”
The site, which features content on innovation, management, leadership, marketing and finance, recently won a Gold MIXX Award for excellence in brand awareness and positioning from the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The IAB award recognizes both creativity and effectiveness.
Shinder said customer feedback, garnered through various communication channels such as OPEN Forum blogs, helps set the tone for its marketing campaigns and product development. For instance, the Plum Card, which American Express introduced late last year, has features that customers indicated they needed, such as flexible trade terms. The color was selected to connote that the card represented a “plum deal,” Shinder said of the branding effort created by its agency of record, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky.
In another marketing effort from Crispin that broke in August, OPEN pitched its Gold Card through a series of humorous print, TV and online ads that tout funny scenarios in which small-business owners use their personal credit cards when a Gold Card would have made a much better professional impression. For instance, one print ad shows a video game-branded credit card under the tagline: “I own the high score,” while the American Express Gold Card is decked with the line: “I own my own business.” “If you own your own business, own the card that says so,” the copy begins.
The campaign was meant to appeal to small businesses both emotionally and rationally, Shinder said. It's really having a way to signal to the other person at the counter that you're a business owner,” she said. “The American Express Gold Card is a way to do that.” —P.R.