Commentary

Myth Busting With Small Business Saturday

November 24 marks the third annual Small Business Saturday, a day in which the nation is encouraged to "shop small" -- and in fact, does just that. Nestled between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, SBS is a powerful example of “Marketing as Service” from American Express, a company that has been taking this approach successfully for the past 25 years. But look carefully at Small Business Saturday, and you will also see a work week full of marketing myths busted, one day at a time, before you can tweet “#MarketerMonday.”

Monday's Child: Big Ideas Take Time

Most marketers are nothing if not deliberate -- taking months to conceive, strategize and ultimately execute their ideas, big or small. And given the audacity and complexity of establishing SBS as a new holiday, it is reasonable to assume a lengthy planning cycle, right? Wrong. According to Scott Krugman, director of communications at American Express, SBS went from idea to execution “in a matter of a few weeks."

Tuesday's Child: It’s About My Brand

Naturally, marketers want to put their brand at the center of their communications, expecting it will be the shortest route to an effective program.  With SBS, American Express asserted the counterintuitive brand position: “It’s more than just about us.” By putting their customers at the center of an entire program, AmEx “created a solution to help spur more business for small businesses, and small business owners really took to it,” Krugman reported. 

Wednesday's Child: Social Media Just Happens

In some naïve marketing circles, there is a wishful notion that social media success (like its cousin “viral success”) just happens organically. A careful look at SBS, which became huge on social media by any measure, including reach and engagement, reveals that AmEx kickstarted every social channel with paid media, along with a carefully orchestrated PR effort that generated a surge of earned media. Facebook even threw in free ads for small businesses on their network to encourage even more social promotion.

Thursday's Child: Partnerships Must Be Controlled

Some marketers spend as much time trying to control partnerships as they do setting them up. AmEx took the opposite approach, allowing anyone and everyone to participate in SBS. Explained Krugman, “For small businesses to participate, they don’t have to accept the American Express card. Seventy-five other companies -- including FedEx, Facebook and Delta -- ended up joining the “shop small” movement in its second year and many more will be doing so in 2012.

Friday's Child: Doing Good Doesn’t Pay Out

Mention a “do good” program and most marketers will discourage discussing its ROI, as if ROI is a bad thing that could somehow diminish their altruistic intentions. Even AmEx’s Krugman tried to convince me that as long as small businesses felt good about SBS, that was good enough for AmEx. He let slip, however, that “card transactions were up 23 percent for merchants that accepted the [American Express] card”  on SBS 2011. Sounds like ROI to me. It isn't news that the U.S. Congress is more divided politically now than at any other time since the Civil War, which makes their unanimous resolution to support Small Business Saturday all the more remarkable. In fact, officials in all 50 states embraced SBS, and President Obama's personal effort to "shop small" on SBS in 2011 also made the evening news.

Final Note

In addition to talking to American Express’ Krugman, I also caught up with Denise Yunkun, FedEx’s director of alliance marketing, who helped me get a sense of the program’s scale. Yunkun reported that in 2011, “More than 500,000 small business owners leveraged an online tool or promotional materials for SBS.” For my enlightening interviews with Krugman and Yunkun, please visit The Drew Blog.

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