5 Questions for... Bonnie Taffer
Bonnie Taffer, Vice President Alliance and Content Development, American Express
Bonnie Taffer has spent 17 years at American Express, with a five-year interregnum in which she pursued several entrepreneurial opportunities, including founding and serving as CMO of a venture-funded media start-up based in New York. In her first stint at American Express, she established the Platinum Card Fine Hotel and Resorts Program and managed the company’s business with the restaurant industry in the United States.
Among the various initiatives in her portfolio, Taffer manages the company’s Artists in Residence program, in which notable personalities such as Robert DeNiro, Ellen DeGeneres and M. Night Shyamalan have been associated with the American Express brand.
She earned a B.A. from Rutgers University and lives in Tribeca, New York City.
What is your role at American Express and what part does online play in the company's marketing activities?
> My job is to create nontraditional forms of engagement with both prospects and existing customers, so I deal with the ways in which we send our message as content or through other kinds of tools. The Internet has become essential to our business model as a powerful channel to interact with our affluent customers and one that simultaneously reduces costs, drives cardmember spending and builds our brand. So we do a lot of work online, but the focus is on using it as an engagement channel as opposed to a push channel.
What are some recent online initiatives?
> One program we’re working on is the Members Project. Cardmembers are asked to log on to a microsite where they can register, discuss and submit project ideas on how to make a positive impact in the world. We’ve received more than 7,000 project ideas and now our advisory board is sorting through them to select the top 50 submissions. [Editor’s note: The top 25 finalists were announced July 17.] The winning idea will receive up to $5 million from American Express. It’s a breakthrough initiative for us and the first in a series of projects we’re planning that build on the power of our cardmember community.
So it’s a way to tap into the whole social media movement online?
> We’re very interested in social media. We’re learning a lot from the Members Project about how customers interact — and they have a desire to interact with each other online. It demonstrates the collective power of the membership joining together, with American Express contributing $1 for each registrant on the Members Project site. More engagement with the brand means the more time people are visiting with us and talking with us. People are spending on average, 13 minutes on the Members Project site.
Can you talk about the online components of some of the events American Express sponsors annually such as the Tribeca Film Festival and the U.S. Open?
> Sponsorships always start with what you can do on-site for an event and then extend to what you can do for those who can’t actually be there. For the Tribeca Film Festival last year, we ran a 15-second “My Life. My Card” clip competition where aspiring filmmakers posted their video submissions online for viewing and rating. We received more than 1,700 clips, and the amount of time spent on the [competition] site was double that in 2005.
For the U.S. Open last year, we created an online game that coincided with a national “Roddick v. Pong” campaign. The game [at stoppong.com] had more than 1.4 million visitors during its first two weeks. We don’t often do the same thing twice, so we’re working on something different for this year’s Open.
You left American Express for a time during the dot-com boom to work at new media start-ups. How does that entrepreneurial experience influence what you do at the company today?
> It was a great experience. I can look at other companies from both a big and small company lens and I can toggle back and forth between those worlds. I meet with a lot of smaller cutting-edge companies so that experience has really served me well in this job. We worked with a company like Oddcast, for instance, in creating an avatar for Ellen DeGeneres for a promotional site that allowed users to create their own comedy sketches.