Amex: Holding a Mirror Up To Customer Action

Steve: What’s the key challenge in the email channel? You may have opposite problem that other companies have, we‘re so used to see you in our inboxes that we’re not sure to even bother.

Email is our largest scale outbound marketing channel, it is very popular to use for a variety of purposes. We’re finding ways to have that asset serve a broader variety of purposes, but always with the customer being in the center. We always need to know what our customer needs and when they need it. And then be disciplined about what content we serve them through email marketing.

Steve: What was the research process you went through to identify what would pop with your users?

Brian: The small business customer is a hybrid customer. An individual who operates a business, doesn’t see a line between who they are as a business person and who they are as an individual. The preferences are similar to consumer but the expectation is higher. They have an even more precise understanding of value of their time. They need to quickly see what value you bring to them. 

Money is the lifeblood of any business. Managing is hard for small business owner. Here in this data insights module, we’re giving them a view on their cost profile. This [newsletter] content is performing extraordinarily well.

Steve: Content is truly personalized. Showing their own behaviors back to them. I get a monthly portrait of myself through the lens of my credit card company. How did you collect all of that data? Internally, how did Amex gather all this data.

Brian: We have access to an enormous data set. My team, in partnership with Ergo, conducted some research. Customers wanted more easily consumable insights about their customer profile. Then we go and look for the data that can bring that to life for them. We do A/B testing. We made good progress in centralizing the right data sets. This is really important. Sometimes marketers skip the first step in understanding why data and systems are the way they are currently. 

From a marketing perspective, our ambition is to have a totally unified experience on the front end from a customer standpoint. We want to treat you the same, anticipate your need and to treat you consistently across channels.

Steve: How many data points are you using per customer?

Brian: We’re regularly using a few hundred data points. Not a static number. In terms of content that we’re sharing with our customers, in terms of what performs better, is using that 300 data. Because it’s account-based information, no two P&L look the same. We tested some new marketing around our employee card program. That is a valuable for many of our customers. We ran some experiments where we assessed interest by serving up some general content about employee cards and bringing the customer down the purchase funnel with more specifics.

Steve: You’re taking the customer and making them the hero of their own email. Taking data and instead of simply leveraging it, you are showing it back to them, making them the star of the mail itself. Others doing something like that. Checks off a whole bunch of boxes about privacy, value of the data, showing them the value that you can give them by the data you are collecting, so rare now. What do hear from your customers?

Brian: We hear about the value the email newsletter brought to them. One datapoint I find interesting is how often people go back to the email. If they go back to the email, then they have to be happy with it. We looked at 3 or more visits to a particular email, 51% come back to their email 3 or more times. The content is in real time.

Steve: Your data suggests that people know that when they are opening this email, it’s almost like opening their personal account not he web. They’re getting refreshed and live data.

Brian: We do time stamp the content. It says the data is fresh. 

Steve: How do you present data?

Brian: Business owners have a very high standard for the value of their time. For them to open up any piece of content, they’re going to decide in a second or two, am I going to spend my time with this or not. The purpose of design is to quickly demonstrate the value of email content. Very visual, info graphic, bar chart do very well. Complemented with a select usage of imagery, trackers, etc. That performs very well.

Steve: Personalization fatigue. Do you see your emails over time become rote, boring? How do you deal with it? 

Brian: The measure of success is that a customer experiences our marketing, the email newsletter, and they’re able to make a better strategic decision for their business because of that content. That’s what informs all of our decisions. We like to personalize with the purpose of achieving that end. 

Steve: How are you measuring success?

Brian: With a credit product, you are making decision to use it or not every single day. We all have a variety of options when it comes to paying for things. What we do is we hold out a small population that we don’t engage with the email vs. a population that we do engage with the email. Compare their behaviors. You could be reducing your overall spend if that’s your business objective. But put more of that spend on Amex.

Steve: What were the missteps?

Brian: We’re happy with performance of program. Open rates, click to open rates extremently high. On discipline: we do a variety of email. A misstep? But we do want to bring more of the discipline of our email to other email marketing programs. 

Steve: A monthly review makes sense. How does this affect other aspects of your marketing?

Brian: I look across program and channels. The great thing about the e-newsletter is we have the scale to test quickly and then bring learning to other channels. We’re talking about bringing some of the spend profile presentation data into our call center environment to offer insights to customers when they call us for servicing. 

Steve: What are some of the biggest lessons from all of this?

Brian: Not just in terms of how we email and when we email but how we test. Sometimes our eyes bigger than stomach. We need to continue to be very disciplined about having a question about what customer needs, coming up with structured tests to answer the question, prioritize that over thousands and thousands of tests that you could run. 

Steve: What are your policies about the rest of the month and the other kinds of email?

Brian: We do send a lot of emails that are event based. If there’s fraud detected on your account, there is real-time communication about that. Marketing emails, we will send email and other communcations about other products, services we offer with the intent of creating awareness and, ultimately, purchase of the products and services. We are testing ways to bring that type of marketing into our e-newsletter program. 

Steve: As your newsletter gains confidence, do you start seeing that wash over the other emails. Are they receptive, in general, to overall communications?

Brian: That’s true. The next step for us is to find new ways to bring two sets of content into one experience. 

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