CMO Insights: Committing to Your Customers

an interview with
Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly SVP of Customer Marketing & Engagement , American Express

When it comes to marketing programs, the word “commitment” doesn’t typically mean decades.   That’s why American Express’ steadfast commitment to small business owners is so notable. I won’t go into the entire history of their small business program – I’ve written about much of it before here, here, and here. What’s important is that American Express is not content to rest on the much-lauded success of Open Forum and their Small Business Saturday program. Instead, they are continuously developing new programs, products and solutions specifically for small business owners, like the recently launched Women’s Business Initiative.

To learn more about this, I interviewed Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, SVP of Customer Marketing & Engagement at American Express after her CMO Club CMO Award win and she explained that supporting small business owners is part of the DNA of the company. It’s simple really: when small businesses succeed American Express does too.

Drew: Could you provide some background on AmEx’s Women in Business program?

Our Women’s Business Initiative focuses on delivering American Express OPEN’s mission – to help small businesses do more business – to women entrepreneurs across the United States through resources, programs and a community to enable growth.

Drew: What’s the strategy behind this? Where there any specific card-related business objectives attached to the program? 

According to research, between 2007 and 2013, U.S. women started businesses more than one-and-a-half times the national average, but 88% of women-owned businesses generate less than $100,000 annually, and only about 2% of women-owned businesses have revenues over $1 million dollars, indicating a disconnect between a female starting a business and growing that business to its full potential. Our Women’s Business programming is all about clearing the obstacles that stand in the way between women starting a business and growing it.

OPEN is invested in the growth of small and emerging businesses. Why? Small businesses’ success drives the economy. It makes sense for us to help small businesses succeed. We believe that if we help to increase the size of the pie, everyone will get a share of it. We feel it’s our mission to help small businesses grow. It’s in the DNA of American Express OPEN.

Our Women’s Business initiative converges online and offline experiences to engage a broad audience of female business owners. We know that online is a very effective way to connect with an audience at scale. Live events such as OPEN for Women: CEO Bootcamp help us to authentically connect and generate excitement.

Through OPEN Forum, we have a distribution hub that links our offline and online activations from Small Business Saturday to CEO BootCamp. Having this platform in place gives us rich content for all channels: paid, earned and owned.

Drew: How are you executing it?  

Last year we had the first CEO Bootcamp in New York City. Since, we’ve expanded to other cities. Regional event attendees experience inspiration and best practices from industry experts, connections to hundreds of women entrepreneurs, hands-on learning and development to help scale their businesses and topics curated specifically for women business owners.

Live regional events are bolstered by online CEO BootCamp community where women are creating and joining communities to connect with others and share their interests and passions. Community members have access to exclusive content as well as networking and mentoring opportunities.

Drew: How has it evolved since it launched a few years ago?

For over a decade, American Express OPEN’s Women’s Business Initiative has helped transform the growth trajectory for women entrepreneurs. But over those years we have evolved our programming to ensure that our platform, and the community it serves, continues to thrive.

For example, we’ve conducted industry-leading research on the State of Women-Owned Businesses and have partnered with leading women’s advocacy organizations to offer women business owners growth resources (money, marketing and mentoring). CEO Bootcamp and our online community represents the next generation of our Women’s Business Initiatives.

Drew: Separately, what were the biggest lessons you learned as a marketer in 2014?

2014 was a year that we tried a lot of new things at American Express, and certainly learned a lot as a result. One of the most impactful things, for me, was the tangible business benefits that can result when you have a very clear understanding of your target customer. We introduced a new card product, the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, and the research that we undertook to understand the consumer that this card was serving is like nothing we have ever done before. Our detailed understanding of the wants and needs of this audience not only created a product that truly meets her needs, but we spoke to her in the right tone, through the right channels and with the right message. We have been pleased with the results of this product to date, and our marketing strategy, rooted in customer insights, has been a big part of that.

Drew: Looking ahead, what’s the one marketing “nut” you’d like to crack in 2015?  

We know that customers interact with the company across many products and touch points. They don’t see different departments and they don’t know our silos. They simply want a consistent and compelling experience. The challenge is working across a large matrixed organization to create this consistent end to end experience that conveys what we stand for as a brand and our value proposition, and taking a holistic approach to measurement in order to know the most impactful touch points and messages and use this to drive future marketing investment. Driving more integrated end-to-end marketing is the very large nut I want to crack in 2015.

Drew: A lot of companies are just getting started with content programs whereas AmEx has been creating content for 25+ years! What advice would you give newbies to the content marketing world?

Your best inspiration will come from listening to your customers – create content that will be engaging or meaningful to them, and go where they are and develop a consistent presence in those channels. For example, on OPEN Forum, we create content that not only covers the issues on the mind of small business owners, but that is also synched with where OPEN’s products and programs can add value. This ensures that we are not just another voice, but we are a credible one bringing distinct tangible value to the issues that are important to them.

Drew: AmEx has been a real innovator on the social front.  Did you try anything new this year that you were surprised about one way or the other?

Over the past 12-monts, we have posted images on our social channels from the American Express archives: A travel brochure from the turn of the century, an original 1958 American Express Card and photos from our days as a freight-forwarding company, among others. I have been really amazed with how our fans have responded to this content. Being 164-year old brand, we have a rich heritage and I think that these images have reminded our customers of the trust, service and security at the heart of our relationship with them.

Drew: Storytelling is a big buzzword right now.  Is your brand a good storyteller and if so, can you provide an example of how you are telling that story?  

For American Express, storytelling is about the person. It is about telling the stories of our customers through their voice. It’s what has enabled our storytelling to be so authentic. One great example from this past year was a documentary we sponsored by Davis Guggenheim, called “Spent: Looking for Change.” We wanted to tell the stories of the 70 million Americans that are dissatisfied with the traditional banking system. In a world where we hear that only short-form content, this 40-minute, long form content has really struck a chord with consumers.

Drew: Customer experience does not always come under the control of the marketing department yet can have a dramatic impact on the brand and ultimately the believability of your marketing initiatives. How have you been able to impact the customer experience in your current role?

Customer engagement means listening to our customers first and foremost to provide value. I encourage my team to get out and regularly talk to our customers in order to have the most current insight on what keeps them up at night and to help identify gaps and offer resources to tackle those gaps. We have a variety of touch points to keep our fingers on the pulse of our customers so we can anticipate their needs and fill voids that customers never knew existed.

Small Business Saturday is a prime example that was created out of our customers’ needs but also the needs of the broader marketplace. Small Businesses’ biggest need coming out of the recession: more customers. 93% of consumers said they wanted to support small businesses. SBS gave consumers the outlet to shop and turn that support into sales.

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