Why create a campaign when you can create a movement?


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Let’s say you run the credit card division at American Express. To build revenue (and profits) for your division, you need to do three things: 1) get more people to apply for and use your card, 2) get more merchants to accept your card, and most importantly 3) make your card the preferred method of payment by both consumers and retailers.

Now let’s talk about the barriers to entry. For consumers, it is the fact that the annual fees for your card far exceed those of the MasterCard and Visa cards they can get at their banks, and the fact that fewer merchants accept the card. And for merchants, the barriers are that the merchant fees are significantly higher than with MasterCard or Visa, and that fewer customers carry the card.

So how do you grow your business? With cards dealt the way they are, clearly it’s going to take more than a clever ad campaign to overcome those significant barriers.

In this case, American Express didn’t create a campaign; they created a movement.

The movement was to champion the small Main Street businesses of America by creating “Small Business Saturday”–the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving and the notorious “Black Friday.”

A huge part of this movement was to rally small business owners to “own” this event and to not only participate, but to also become the medium that promoted it. To harness that, American Express created an entire Small Business Tool Kit free for small business owners which included a host of Small Business Saturday tools they could use to promote their businesses, from store badges and signage to social media templates to expert advice on how to increase sales, whether they were American Express merchants or not.

And to the consumer, rather than run a campaign that said “sign up for our card,” American Express created a quasi-patriotic campaign extolling the economic impact of small businesses and rallying folks to support their local economies for that one day. No mentions of how-our-card-is-better-than-their-card or any of that business. Simply a request that we all join together to support small local businesses. Here is one of the commercials:

The results of the Small Business Saturday campaign? In just two years, 100 million Americans participated. Reported small business sales were up between 20 – 30%. Congress passed a unanimous resolution fin support of Small Business Saturday.

Since 2010, Small Business Saturday has gone from something that didn’t exist to a fixture on the shopping calendar.

Oh, and American Express’s credit card division enjoyed its largest market share ever in 2011. Here’s an engaging video case study on the overall campaign:

Great campaigns come and great campaigns go. But a movement that actually incites people can live forever. And isn’t that a smarter use of your marketing bucks?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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