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On Innovating for Service: Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, SVP Marketing, American Express

In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Drew Neisser’s complete interview with CMO Award Winner Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, click here.

With a history as lengthy and rich as American Express’s — coming up on 170 years as this article is published — you might think the company has it all figured out. Banking? Done. Credit? Easy. Service? In its' DNA. That last quip comes courtesy of CMO Award winner Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly of American Express, whose mind is a gold mine (no pun intended) of customer marketing wisdom.

With the title of SVP of Customer Marketing & Engagement, it should be no surprise that Fitzmaurice Reilly “gets” service, and more importantly, how to keep delivering it year after year. It takes many forms at American Express, from literally customer service, to unexpected card member perks like getting an early shot at concert tickets. But the point here is that the company is far from content to rest on its well-to-do laurels. As she explained to me, serving customers means innovating for their success, something that can only start from within. Pads and pencils out: below are five ways Fitzmaurice Reilly and her team are accomplishing this.

1) By Playing Matchmaker

Ever heard of Small Business Saturday? It’s the local counterpart to big-box Black Friday, and I’ve talked about it in connection with American Express so many times that it could take a day to read it all. But for good reason: Small Business Saturday was a seminal campaign for the company, “created out of our customers’ needs but also the needs of the broader marketplace,” says Fitzmaurice Reilly. Following the recession of 2008, she and her team recognized an intersection between what their small business customers needed (more customers) and what the public wanted. “93% of consumers said they wanted to support small businesses,” she says. “SBS gave consumers the outlet to shop and turn that support into sales.”

Why would American Express champion small businesses in the first place, you might ask? “Small businesses’ success drives the economy,” says Fitzmaurice Reilly. “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.” The lesson here: If you can fill an economic pothole or make vital connections for your customers, it’s probably a wise move. As the saying goes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander — the perfect segue to our next bullet point.

2) By Fostering Growth

You might be surprised to learn that even before SBS, American Express was helping female business owners to thrive. While doing target research, the company found a significant gap between women-owned businesses that made over $1 million annually and those that grossed less than $100,000 annually, the gap being that only 2% were the former and 88% were in the latter category. To Fitzmaurice Reilly, this indicates “a disconnect between a female starting a business and growing that business to its full potential.” As a result, American Express spearheaded the Women’s Business Initiative, which runs CEO BootCamp events and hosts an online community to help women entrepreneurs connect, share and further their business. Not only this, says Fitzmaurice Reilly: “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.”

3) By Being a Good Listener

We've mentioned market research twice already, so let's cut to it. American Express really knows its target, and in a precise, data-driven way. "2014 was a year that we tried a lot of new things at American Express, and certainly learned a lot as a result," Fitzmaurice Reilly says. But it was the tangible benefits of truly understanding the targets that she says were the most impactful for both customer and company. Fitzmaurice Reilly cites the research and campaign for the Amex EveryDay Credit Card as an example. "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," she says. "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."

4) By Adding Value

On the content front, Fitzmaurice Reilly says that service is again at the center. You won’t find any click-bait or cat videos in American Express’s materials, especially not on OPEN Forum, an online space where small businesses owners can feel right at home. It’s here that Fitzmaurice Reilly and co. 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.” A subtle way of displaying the American Express tools at the owners’ disposal, but also of adding to their lives. Creating relevant and helpful content, Fitzmaurice Reilly says, “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.”

5) Under Construction: By Being Consistent

It’s here that Fitzmaurice Reilly leaves us with a taste of the future. She and her department haven’t quite solved it yet, but she’s looking forward to establishing a more holistic, seamless brand experience for the American Express customer in the near future. “We know that customers interact with the company across many products and touch points,” she says. “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. Driving more integrated end-to-end marketing is the very large nut I want to crack in 2015.” The curse of marketing at a large, successful organization, but I have a feeling Fitzmaurice Reilly will find the tools she needs before long.

CMO of the Week is an exclusive Social Media Today column appearing every Thursday. 

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