American Express Co.

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With its myriad marketing efforts this year, American Express Co. not only added to its customer base, it became a poster child for efforts to successfully bridge the gap between serving b-to-b and b-to-c markets simultaneously.

American Express continued to tout OPEN: The Small Business Network, through ads and a Web site link that featured small-business owners and stories of how they were helped by the company and its small-business portal. Meanwhile, new co-branded cards and member benefits were added. And in September, OPEN sponsored a one-day small business summit in New York with The New York Times.

Clearly, the brand also got a shot of adrenaline from "My Life. My Card," a global campaign launched late last year. The series of well-executed TV spots and print ads features American Express card-carrying celebrities talking about their lives. Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres talks about dancing; golfer Tiger Woods speaks of rainy days. Actor Robert DeNiro focuses on New York, and Mike Lazaridis, inventor of the Blackberry, discusses coming up with ideas.

Along with the OPEN campaign, "My Life" has bumped up the brand's awareness among all its constituencies.

"It's remarkable what's happened," said Lynn Upshaw, principal of Upshaw Brand Consulting. "American Express has had a reputation that far exceeded its share of market for many years. I think what they're doing is increasing their presence from an awareness standpoint, and they're getting more customers."

In the second quarter, for example, American Express reported a 19% increase in spending among small-business cardholders, while corporate services spending increased by 11%. Also during the quarter, the company added 1.2 million new cardmembers.

Mark Coopersmith, president of strategy at Addis Group, said the multipronged marketing plan is making American Express' overall offering more relevant on many levels. "What they've done is bridge the gap effectively between consumer and business, especially with some of their higher card offerings."

American Express, which sponsored two reality shows, "The Restaurant" and "Blow Out," isn't done with reality TV either. Those shows performed well from a marketing standpoint, but American Express is tinkering with the format.

Following the launch of a co-branded card with JetBlue Airways, the two companies announced a casting call in September for two families who will compete by flying to a JetBlue destination and trying to accumulate American Express Award Dollars by making purchases for other people. Footage shot during the competition will be used to create a reality program that will air next spring on JetBlue flights, which are popular with upscale business travelers.

-Mary Ellen Podmolik

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