How AmEx Flipped the Customer Journey to “See Business Differently”



First, they redefined their brand. Next, American Express redefined their relationship with their business customers – and learned to see themselves differently in the process.


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Early on in his session, “See Business Differently: How AmEx Raised the Conversation to Sell Value, Not Just Products,” director of digital media acquisition, Chris Marino, showed a sampling of ads from other credit card companies jockeying for share of the market.

The visual show to the audience provided context for why American Express was looking to approach the space in a different way, not only visually but in the value, they offer businesses as well. Their technique – flipping the customer journey on its head – created a wholly different approach…and gave Marino “the best and most exciting campaign [he’d] ever worked on.”

“Different Ways to Demonstrate Value”

How could American Express carve out its own path in order to stand out to small and midsized business? By demonstrating the “See Business Differently” campaign focused less on the value of the card – and focused more on challenges business owners were facing. Things like paying on time, shipping efficiency, and multitasking traveling are far more present on the standard business owner’s mind than the points their credit card offers. So the campaign zeroed in there.

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For example, traveling as a small business owner means finding crafty ways to get work done on the go. American Express highlighted their network of Centurion lounges as a perk for premium cardholders. Shipping can be a challenge, so the ads highlighted ease of reaching someone when these problems come up. And if points really are a concern? AMEX’s Business Gold Card can automatically direct points rewards to your most purchased categories. This campaign, and the core messaging that ran just beneath the surface, was designed to answer a key question for the company: “How do we show up where our audience is spending their time and offer you value and opportunity through relatable situations?”

Meet Customers Where They Are, In the Right Ways

When it came to placing these spots, Marino spoke about new ways his team analyzed business owners’ preferences for media channels that may have not seemed relevant in the past. For Marino, he found there was value in wading into the waters of connected TVs and podcasts to reach this crucial market. In doing so, he and his team made some important discoveries.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners interested in growing their enterprise gravitate toward podcasts that demystify this process, so sponsoring NPR’s How I Built This was an elegant fit. Similarly, OTT (or “over the top” services, frequently offered through connected TVs) presented an opportunity to tell longer, more in-depth stories in their spots. It wasn’t a matter of creating content that could be dragged and dropped across platforms; rather, it was about determining “not only what are the right channels to tell a story, but what are the right stories to align with measurement objectives.”

Getting Powerful Backing, to Provide Powerful Backing

American Express has always prided itself on its ability to provide “powerful backing” to its customers. But in a few ways, the process of devising and deploying this campaign presented questions about that process.

First, Marino and his team had to determine what “powerful backing” meant to businesses. Concerns like time, shipping, and finding quiet places to work were all concerns identified by business owners, 41% of which named stress as one of the biggest things they contended with each day. Further, 1 in 4 business owners reported that worries about their business were keeping them up at night. In learning this information, AMEX decided to define “powerful backing” as the type of support that could lessen this stress.

At the outset, Marino sought the backing of cross-functional internal partners to help his team along the journey. And by committing to rigorous and detailed measurement, he was able to show how the “See Business Differently” campaign contributed to goals around retargeting, website traffic, and product consideration. That last metric is a difficult one to move, Marino conceded. “Changing people’s perception of a product does take time, so you need to ensure that your campaign gives you enough time to capture those learnings.”

Uncomfortable, But Unforgettable

It can be intimidating to embark on a project like this without a historical frame of reference. Luckily, the team was committed to trying to “enjoy doing something that makes us a little uncomfortable. In a truly novel way, American Express’s “See Business Differently” leaned into a new objective for the company: “we want to show you what membership really means for business owners, and be there for you when it matters most.” And that goes beyond points and offering real business value.

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