American Express zeroes in on storytelling

The brand deepened its approach after a summer small business campaign showed it creates more relevance for everyone.

By Alice Chen

A survey conducted by American Express ahead of the launch of its latest campaign found 64% of small businesses are facing cash flow problems due to the pandemic, with half facing an immediate threat to their business.

That’s why Paul Roman, VP and general manager of global commercial services at American Express Canada, believes that amplifying marketing messaging around small or medium enterprises is more important than ever.

The organization’s new video series aims to do just that by profiling three Canadian business owners and showing how they’ve navigated the pandemic.

Each business – Farafena, Monos and Pai – was featured in a documentary-style video, which also lived alongside written articles on a dedicated content hub on The Globe and Mail website.

The goal was to showcase the resilience and adaptability of these companies and how they adjusted their business in light of COVID-19, capturing a diverse array of experiences that match up with the varied needs of business owners across the country. For example, baking supply brand Farafena shifted its business online, while luggage company Monos launched a new product to deal with the fact that most customers were not considering travel any time soon.

The new “Passion & Persistence” effort builds on the momentum of American Express’ “Shop Small” campaign in July, which encouraged shopping at small businesses and included a credit for customers who spent there. It’s also part of a long history of spending on small businesses – according to Roman, over 240 people at American Express are responsible for managing relationships with SMEs, as they’ve “provided the lion’s share of growth” in the Canadian economy over the last seven years.

American Express’ summer campaign also shaped the company’s approach for the new profiles. While “Shop Small” was focused on driving awareness for the ways AmEx cardholders could support small businesses and encouraging them to do so, “Passion and Persistence” takes the storytelling element a level deeper.

This was an approach that resonated, giving a fresh look to big picture issues while also offering more depth and specificity, something that business owners themselves can easily relate to but still has relevance for cardholders.

“People like the fact the small business owners are at the centre of the story…everyone can associate with it because everyone’s had to adapt in their own way in the past nine months,” Roman says.

Roman adds that this campaign cost considerably less than the original $200 million spent on the global “Shop Small” campaign in the summer. To put everything together, the organization worked with The Globe Content Studio, North Strategic and production arm Notch Video. Roman says reception to the profiles has been positive thus far, with lots of impressions and satisfied feedback, though American Express wasn’t able to offer more concrete stats until the completion of the campaign in the new year.

For the future, Roman says the company doesn’t plan on scaling back support for small businesses, but may move to a more holistic marketing approach that captures all sides of the merchant-buyer relationship.

Image by Darryl Dyck, The Globe and Mail