AmEx: Social Engagement That Closes The Loop

Amex-World-service-BLeslie Berland, SVP digital partnerships and development at American Express, has a five-second rule: don't tweet something that takes a consumer longer than five seconds to figure out. That, in a way, applies to a lot of what the financial services firm does on social. If it isn't quick and easy, you end up with a sieve -- not a channel. 

Speaking at the Association of National Advertisers’ Creativity Conference in New York on Tuesday, Berland said the company's efforts on digital platforms like Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and Apple -- and most recently, Xbox -- follow a nearly year-long rethink of its digital strategy. That involved a fresh look at how it used social media to link merchant partners, cardmembers, sponsorships and awards, and technology. "We talked about social and how to monetize it, but the way to do it is to look at core assets, re-imagine and execute in a seamless way. What's the unmet need? Is there a problem we are solving? Are we adding value?"

The big changes in strategy, she said, came from the realization that AmEx's opportunity lay in actually making it easy for cardmembers to get it and use it. "We see data on cardmembers, merchants, and transactions," said Berland. "When it comes to live on digital, we need a slick user experience." 

Berland said AmEx recently did a program with Xbox (millions of cardmembers play) around Halo, that linked to merchant partners by rewarding players for their scores. "We knew cardmembers were playing Halo, and we found that if we could reward players seamlessly on that platform the game meant more to them, they spent more with our merchant partners, and got cardmembers more engaged with us."  

Another program had a side virtue that deals with the elephant in most consumers' rooms: fraud. The company did a program with Apple that offers real-time statements, so every time a consumer made a purchase with a partner, they'd get a thanks for AmEx card. "Cardmembers love it because it works like a de facto fraud-tracking system.” 

So where do traditional ads fit into the social strategy? Berland said the key learning is that if you run a program on social platforms, the best way to drive engagement is to advertise on those platforms, because there are too many steps the consumer has to take elsewhere. The exception is campaigns requiring broad awareness. "Our Small Business Saturday campaign was focused on social, yes -- but we had to do traditional because awareness is so important." 

Berland's advice to other marketers: "A lot of times companies want to do fun things that are not core to their business. Where are your customers actively engaged and where? And how do you engage them in an authentic, focused way. Someone has to prioritize and choose."

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