American Express’s Elizabeth Rutledge: Customer advocacy is the best marketing

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At a time when brands everywhere are turning to digital marketing to connect with customers, American Express is taking a much more human approach.

“We’re really excited about this notion of human-to-human marketing, or people-based marketing,” said Elizabeth Rutledge, CMO of American Express. “There’s just a tremendous opportunity to use that data to get much more sophisticated in terms of anticipating needs and delivering personalized content to each customer. We’re going to work really hard on bringing that personalization to life, and I’m really excited about that.”

For Rutledge, her motto has always been, ‘Customer first,’ so it felt natural to try and find a way to incorporate them into their marketing strategy. From customer referral programs to taxi top ads that change based on your neighborhood, she believes that showing your customer that you really understand and want to take care of them is the best way to turn them into authentic brand ambassadors.

On this week’s episode of Making Marketing, Rutledge joins Digiday’s Shareen Pathak to discuss turning your customers into your best marketers, why complicated messaging doesn’t work and how fighting fraud strengthens C2B relationships. Edited highlights below.

When you put your customer first, they become your best advocate
“It’s, for me, just so important to think of the customer first. American Express is 100 years old, and we are a brand that’s about service, trust and the customer. At the end of the day, it’s all about those relationships and connections that we’re creating. I think it’s really about listening, listening, listening. You really have to understand what the customer wants and needs. They’ll raise their hand and tell you, believe me, they will tell you. The customer is incredibly sophisticated — they always have been, and always will be. The reason why I know that, is from our program called Member Get Member. It is what it says in terms of a customer referral program, but our members are our best brand ambassadors. They’re talking about our products and services every day. For example, I was recently on a flight from London to New York, and a customer rang her attendant bell and asked the flight attendant to come over, and she wanted all of the details about the wifi on the plane. The next thing I hear her say, both to the flight attendant and everyone around her is, ‘Does everyone have an American Express Business Platinum Card? Because you know you get that free wifi.’ I couldn’t have asked for a better confirmation of our brand. I could have sent out thousands and thousands of impressions, but all I needed in that moment was her voice.”

Simple messaging is key
“When it comes to building a relationship with our customers, I truly believe that our biggest enemy is clutter. At the end of the day, it’s all going to be about that simple, clear and focused language to connect with the customer. You have to speak in their terms. You have to know them, understand them, make it simple, make it clear, make it frictionless, deliver them value and then I think you’re going to get that emotional connection.”

Protecting your customers to build the C2B relationship
“I know we’re talking about fraud from an advertising perspective, but I want to explain just how core this is to the DNA of our brand. Every single day, we want to work hard to make sure that the transactions that are happening for our customers are authentic and real. So when I hear the word ‘fraud’, the first thing that comes to mind is very different in terms of ensuring that I’ve got your back, I’m protecting you and I’m alerting you when something doesn’t seem or feel right. That is a different, but a great example of how we’ve also tried to do it in a very mobile-first, digital and immediate way. That is the truth moment. We get a lot of feedback every day. A lot of times we get it right, sometimes we don’t get it right, but even when we don’t get it right customers appreciate that we’re looking out for them. This is about that flip from B2C to C2B.”

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