American Express gets credit for diversity marketing

AmEx crafts an aggressive marketing plan to connect merchants with hard-to-identify customer segments, such as the LGBT community

Marketers at American Express say they realize the importance of having a diverse customer base. After all, a diverse customer base means revenue flowing in from a variety of clients — not just two or three demographics. Ultimately, the more customers contributing to your revenue, the more valuable your business can be.

"We've seen out in the marketplace a lot of brands are looking at their customer base and determining what motivates them and what's important to them," says Dante Mastri, acting director of global merchant services at AmEx. Mastri says those interests change from person to person. "[W]ith the evolution of digital technology, we're able to reach specific audiences with more specificity than we've been able to in the past." He says that marketers at Amex want to be responsive to the varying needs, wants and interests of a diverse set of current and potential card members.

Some subsets, however, are simply harder to identify and reach than others.

That's especially true for a financial services brand such as American Express, where credit applications and screenings do not include many personal aspects of life — such as race, gender or sexual orientation. But Mastri insists that marketers for American Express recognize the importance of tapping into those personal aspects, despite the difficulty. That's the tricky situation marketers were facing at AmEx as they tried to identify and reach out to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community (LGBT).

"Overall, when people in general think about their needs for payment products, some of the needs can be consistent across segments," Mastri explains. "But I think that what we found [at American Express] is that if we can tap into the perspective that makes a community unique, those [marketing efforts] turn more into a conversation about what sort of messages are relevant and resonate. For the LGBT community, it's a mix of being more relevant; it's how we talk to the community; and it's how we [convey] American Express' commitment to the community and make them aware of that message."

In fact, the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles reports that about 3.8% of adults in the United States — about 9 million people — identify as a member of the LGBT community. So, in 2012, marketers at American Express revved up efforts to get a pulse on that community's diverse needs, interests, motivations and voices.

AmEx's PRIDE network — an internal community of LGBT employees — launched "Shop Small. Shop Proud." The idea's simple: Rather than merely wooing potential customers to apply for American Express products, marketers went to businesses and towns that have thriving LGBT communities. The goal, Mastri says, was to show genuine support for the LGBT community and the entire city with organized PRIDE events, such as parades and music performances, across the U.S. on the evening of Small Business Saturday.

The AmEx team produced the first event in just one market: Provincetown, RI. Today, American Express holds events in eight markets, including: Austin, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, New York, Palm Springs, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and, of course, Provincetown. Those events were coupled with the hashtag campaign #ExpressYourSelfie, which encourages people to share their personal photos with AmEx.

Mastri says that marketers at American Express are seeing great results.

"We're still pulling numbers for the impact on spend for [2014], but as we continue to track the year-over-year spend changes [since 2010], we see some double-digit growth in the amount that consumers spending during the offer period," Mastri explains. "We looked at whether there was a change in spend at those merchants [in the towns of the AmEx events] before and after our campaign, and we saw there certainly was."

Mastri says that impact on the bottom line of businesses has galvanized decision-makers at American Express, sparked more merchant partnerships, and fueled the company's efforts to continue multicultural marketing to LGBTs and other segments of the community.

"Merchants want to partner with us so that they can reach our valuable card members," Matri says. "With LGBT, we had no formal way to do that. So this program puts us on a journey of solving a specific merchant pain point to reach a specific card member segment in a way that we haven't been able to do before."

For brands who want to consider implementing a similar multicultural marketing campaign, Mastri gave this advice: "More than anything it's about having a really good idea and starting small. I think one of the reasons that we were successful [in selling this idea to higher-ups] is that we looked at the levers that we could pull, the business metrics that are tied to an initiative like this. So my advice is for marketers to always marry a creative idea with the metrics that can support it."

This article first appeared on

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