American Express – promotion that leaves the brand behind

[Guest blogger: David Nichols, Managing Partner and Head of Invention]

In my pile of mail today, amongst the mix of bills and useless junk (miniatures of Cotswold cottages anyone?), one bit of direct mail caught my eye. It was a joint promotion from American Express and Morrisons, the supermarket chain based in the North of England. They have been trying to move their brand image from being cheap and cheerful to standing for quality, freshness and value.

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Beatifully shot (to look like Waitrose, the upscale supermarket) and emphasising fresh food, the mailing enticed me to shop at Morrisons using my Amex card. The brand alliance makes sense strategically. It helps Amex widen their reach. And it could help Morrisons sell more stuff. As Giles Hurst, American Express' Head of Merchant Acquisition, said: "Research reveals that American Express card members spend an average of 41% more in supermarkets than holders of other cards."

However, in targetting people like me with this in-you-face promotion, Amex seem to have left their brand at the door and missed a few tricks

1. Targeting isn't just for ads

The media agency and marketing director agonise over the targeting and media choices for their precious TV ads. However, when it comes to promotions they often seem to shove all that aside, going into 'throw enough mud and some will stick' mode. Amex should know from their deep data how much people spend (or don't) at supermarkets in order to target their users adequately. I don't do the regular supermarket shop. So why send me this offer? As an Amex customer this makes me feel that the 'relationship' they have carefully nurtured has been undermined with such an irrelevant promotion.

2. Amplify your brand

Amex is an intelligent brand. I'm sure somewhere in their brand personality definition there is something about being smart or savvy. That's why they appeal to business people. And it means they should act smart and usually do. I expect Amex to send me exclusive offers on holidays, restaurants and hotels. Travel is their core business so they might actually have good connections in exotic places and be able to offer me things I can't get anywhere else.  But a supermarket?  Where is their hint of exclusivity? Gone. And with it a little bit of their brand magic, that uniqueness that has kept them afloat through recessions and anti-credit campaigns.  

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3. Everything communicates

Everything your brand does and says, however prosaic or simple, communicates. A myriad of little connections add up to make the view that people have of you. That's why we love the wording on the Innocent bottles – it says so much with so little.  American Express spend a lot of time getting their bills and online services correct, so they should use the same scrutiny with their promotions, or they risk undermining their brand.

In conclusion, treat promotions with the same targeting, creativity and brand scrutiny as the rest of your mix. I hope Amex do this, so I can look forward to some more intelligent ways to get me to use my card more frequently.