Branding American Express: What’s Old is New Again
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Branding American Express: What’s Old is New Again

Since 1995, American Express has released a series of surveys known as the Retail Index that captures consumer preferences and trends during key shopping periods throughout the year. However, by the end of 1999, the company sought to capture an even great

Paul Holmes

Since 1995, American Express has released a series of surveys known as the Retail Index that captures consumer preferences and trends during key shopping periods throughout the year. However, by the end of 1999, the company sought to capture an even greater share of voice in the retail arena. It asked M Booth & Associates to breathe new life into the campaign.

The challenge was formidable in that the series already received a great deal of media exposure in an environment ripe with competing and established voices. On the face of it, it seemed to perform well. Upon closer evaluation, the agency concluded that the opportunity for brand enhancement was in the series’  “me too” presentation  

It recommended giving the series a “face lift,” both in content as well as in design, to help it break away from the pack. As a first step, we recommended linking the series to its original name “Retail Index” with a specially designed logo we executed to further branding efforts. Beyond differentiation, the newly-branded program sought to establish the Index as a “primary source” as well as to enhance its brand value in the areas of retail tracking, consumer spending and financial management. 

Objectives

The foremost objective of all Retail Index campaigns was to significantly increase national visibility for the American Express brand during key shopping periods among credit card users and other consumers. Specifically, the goals for each campaign were to increase media coverage in the top 35 markets by 20 percent, and 10 percent over 1999 and 2000, respectively, as well as to establish American Express as the retail leader in a competitive research arena.

Audience Analysis

Throughout each campaign, M Booth & Associates contacted journalists from national, regional (top 35 market) and trade publications in order to secure coverage that would reach American Express cardholders, other credit cardholders, as well as the broader spectrum of consumers. Broadcast and print media outreach targeted retail business, financial, travel, and/or lifestyle, etc. beat reporters in the following markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Seattle, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Miami, Phoenix, Denver, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, St. Louis, Orlando, Baltimore, Portland, Indianapolis, San Diego, Hartford, Charlotte, Raleigh/ Durham, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Nashville, Columbus and Greenville/Asheville.

Research

In order to learn more about the American Express surveys, the agency reviewed the American Express Website to understand the major concerns of merchants and customers; monitored editorial coverage from 1995; conducted research on retailing trends and issues online; tracked coverage of similar campaigns of the National Retail Federation, VISA, and the International Council of Shopping Centers; conducted spot interviews with selected retail reporters and American Express merchants on trends, usefulness of survey data and reporting needs; and interviewed retail analysts on industry trends.

Planning & Strategy: 
Four surveys were captured under the “American Express Retail Index” brand:  Holiday Shopping (November 2000 - January 2001), Everyday Spending (March - June 2001), Leisure Travel (May - August 2001) and Back-to-School Shopping (July - October 2001). The Index was then revitalized - graphically and editorially - to offer value-added information to merchant groups, consumers and reporters.

New materials focused on six-year trends rather than year-over-year comparisons and a new brand logo, press kit and “save the date” card design was created and used throughout the series. The result was an integrated, repackaged and reinvigorated "Retail Index" that reflected a revamped series of consumer surveys offering information that was more comprehensive than ever before, and that appealed to a wider variety of consumers and journalists. The survey instruments were revised to yield comprehensive, thematic results that would be useful to the media and to American Express merchants.

New research vehicles were added to the survey such as consumer “shopping styles” and “shopper types;” and thematic categories were fashioned into fact sheets that offered additional data on retailing. These categories included: online spending, differences between men and women, regional differences, budgets across age groups, as well as where and when people shop. These groupings proved useful, as they successfully introduced new groups of reporters and publications to cover the Retail Index.

Campaign Execution

To maintain a steady flow of data and information throughout the year, and to prime the appropriate media, each Retail Index was released prior to the height of the relevant shopping period.  Branded save-the-date cards were mailed in advance to approximately 1,700 journalists.  Subsequently, they provoked an anticipation of survey results and a significantly heightened interest from the media.

An American Express Retail Index media kit was sent to 800 national and regional (top 35 market) journalists, and the release was posted on the wire the day of release.  Each press kit contained a lead press release and an assortment of fact sheets along with two four-color charts/illustrations.  Subsequently, a team of agency media specialists contacted journalists online and offline to encourage coverage and secure interviews for American Express spokespeople. To help generate additional coverage throughout a given campaign, supplementary materials such as press advisories were crafted and distributed.

In an effort to secure comprehensive, national coverage, while building upon the current Retail Index research model, the campaign leveraged American Express spokespeople to communicate key messages; and segmented survey findings into themes and categories that would appeal to an enhanced variety of retail reporters and trade publications. 

Evaluation

Overall, the 2001 American Express Retail Index campaigns generated 971 million media impressions and 1,566 print and broadcast hits. In addition, coverage secured in the top 35 markets increased by an average of 68% over 2000.

Campaign highlights include:

American Express Retail Index on Holiday Shopping  (November 2000 – January 2001)
More than 100 million impressions were generated - 48.4 million in broadcast and 51.6 million in print. 
85 million impressions were secured in the top 35 markets - 45.9 million in broadcast and 39.4 million in print, greatly improving on the goal set at 54 million for 2000. This represented a 73% increase over 1999. 
146 radio and TV stations and 403 print publications covered the American Express Retail Index on Holiday Shopping.
Coverage in the national media included: U.S. News & World Report, USA Today (x5), New York Times (x3), Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNNFn, CBS Marketwatch, Bloomberg News, All News Channel Cable (x2), Fox News, Associated Press, Reuters and Dow Jones.
Coverage was generated in all top 35 markets, and more than 120 million “hits” were secured over the Internet.

American Express Retail Index on Everyday Spending (March 2001 – June 2001)
More than 20.3 million impressions were generated – 7.1 million in broadcast and 13.2 million in print. 
18.7 million impressions were secured in the top 35 markets - seven million in broadcast and 11.7 million in print, greatly improving on the goal set at 11.5 million for 2001. This represented a 78% increase over 2000 in which 10.5 million impressions were generated. 
18 radio and TV stations and 52 print publications covered the American Express Retail Index on Everyday Spending.
National media highlights included: U.S. News & World Report, BusinessWeek, USA Today (x2), CNN Headline News, Bloomberg News (cable & radio), CNBC Cable, Associated Press, Reuters, Dow Jones and Gannett News.
Coverage was generated in 20 of the top 35 markets, and more than 114 million “hits” were secured over the Internet.

American Express Retail Index on Leisure Travel (May 2001 – August 2001)
More than 38.6 million impressions were generated - 11.3 million in broadcast and 27.3 million in print.
33 million impressions were secured in the top 35 markets - 9.8 million in broadcast and 23.2 million in print, exceeding the goal set at 18 million for 2001.
46 radio and TV stations and 103 print publications covered the American Express Retail Index on Leisure Travel.
National media highlights included:  Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today (x3), CNN Newsroom, CNN Travel Now, Associated Press, Reuters, Dow Jones and Gannett News.
Coverage was generated in 25 of the top 35 markets, and more than 227 million “hits” were secured over the Internet.

American Express Retail Index on Back-to-School Shopping (July 2001 – October 2001) 
More than 130 million impressions were generated - 52.4 million in broadcast and 78.4 million in print, greatly improving on the goal set at 73 million for 2001.
105.7 million impressions were secured in the top 35 markets - 48.2 million in broadcast and 57.5 million in print. This represents a 59% increase over last year in which 66.5 million impressions were generated in the top 35 markets - 47 million in broadcast and 19.5 million in print.
174 broadcast hits were generated and 624 articles were written.
Coverage in the national media included: BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal (x4), New York Times, USA Today (x3), CNN Headline News (x6), CNN-Moneyline, CNNFn-Market Call, Wall Street Journal Reports, CNBC-Street Signs (x2), CNBC-Market Wrap, CNBC-Today’s Business, CNBC-Power Lunch, All News Channel Cable, Associated Press, Reuters and Dow Jones.
Coverage was generated in all top 35 markets, and more than 220 million “hits” were secured over the Internet.

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