Is American Express a credit card company? Yes. But if you speak to CMO John Hayes, he'll tell you that American Express is first and foremost a service company. Not only is it a provider of financial services, but also a purveyor of entertainment, networking and business growth tools for cardholders and potential customers alike. How do Hayes and his marketing team push the boundaries of marketing as service? By fostering workplace curiosity, taking up their customers' interests and extending benefits to non-members.
"It starts with understanding what business you are in and understanding that this is a company that believes it's noble to serve," Hayes says. "From that comes the way we go to market."
Fostering Service Through Creativity
It's important to "generate a level of curiosity about what's happening in the world," Hayes says, "both in terms of the talent you bring into the company as well as the culture that you build and maintain over time." He continues, "We have been able to build a culture of curiosity where people are curious about how to make things work better."
Curiosity, Hayes says, leads to bigger and bolder marketing initiatives. At American Express, settling for the tried-and-true is simply not an option, and the team is encouraged to move beyond what worked in previous cycles. "If you're going to do something," he says, "We believe it should live up to very high standard of innovation and newness."
At the same time, Hayes and his team are careful not to abandon past successes. "We are taking the things that worked...and applying [them] all over the place."
Taking Up the Customers' Interests
Moving on to exactly how American Express markets differently, Hayes stresses the importance of taking interest in his customers' lives outside of the their AmEx card use.
Much like a new relationship, talking about yourself too much or serving your own interests often leads to dead ends and disappointment. But actively understanding your customers' lives outside of your product or service, and finding the footholds where you can be useful, is a mark of true marketing-as-service, says Hayes, and will lead to customer loyalty.
"You're going to serve businesses and people. You need to talk to them about their life," Hayes says. "Not what they're going to use to pay for something."
This notion not only informs the content that customers see, but also the additional perks that American Express cardholders enjoy, such as live-streamed concerts and pre-sale tickets to events. Hayes says, "If you look at what we do on stage - bringing music to so many people on a live-stream basis - the philosophy is the same. That is our way of serving customers who we know have a passion for music because of the things they do, because of the way they spend their money."
The Value of Inclusiveness
Many of the company's lifestyle perks are offered not just to existing customers, but also to potential cardholders - a risky move that may not always pay off for most service companies.
Take, for example, American Express's Open Forum, an online space where business owners and executives can freely exchange ideas. "We don't require people to be a cardholder to use Open Forum," Hayes says. Or Small Business Saturday, a widely successful initiative that encourages consumers across the country to do their holiday shopping with small businesses.
Why extend these initiatives to those who aren't even cardholders? "Many of these experiences are open architecture," says Hayes, "because we want prospects to know that's what it feels like to be a member."
"When you've contributed in a meaningful way to a small business' success and then say, 'Hey, I've got some other services for you. I've got a card that could help you manage inventory better,' they are quite open to it because they'll say, 'Well, you guys have already been enabling my business, enabling my success,'" he says. "And that's the philosophy."
Some might say that these practices are a gamble, but Hayes says that American Express reaps the benefits over time. "We've seen the impact that service has on the American Express brand, our customers and their behavior following a positive experience," he says, adding, "We're careful not to overvalue the things we can measure or undervalue the things we can't."
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 Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner John Hayes, click here.