(Source – 2019 Bloomberg Finance LP)
We all have that one friend, whom you can always rely on when stuck in a financial crisis. Whether it be facing an issue in a transaction, or falling short on cash, just summon the savior. I once too had this friend, always ready with his cape on, to grab my hand when drowning in the puddle of failed transactions. Sooner, the college was over drifting everyone apart, and along with them, I lost that one friend too. Later on, when enslaved in the corporate world I found that helping hand again but without a cape and crooked face this time.
Rather, it was someone in a fancy tie and shining boots, who was convincing me to get a credit card. As appalling as his offer was, I had to turn him down as this concept was new to me. After painstaking research and understanding the concept of credit cards, something stuck with me. That something was a diversified global financial services company – American Express. This article is your guide to take you on the journey of American Express and the story behind it.
The Beginning of a New Era
During the mid-19th century, there was a significant demand for the transportation of parcels, documents, and valuable items across the United States. With the westward expansion, businesses needed a trustworthy and efficient means of sending and receiving these items. This was the time when security and reliability were major concerns for businesses and individuals. The risk of theft or loss of valuable items during transit was a genuine problem and people were looking for a dependable solution.
In this chaos, on the bustling streets of Buffalo, New York, a daring idea was conceived by three visionary entrepreneurs. Henry Wells, William Fargo, and John Warren Butterfield founded American Express in 1850, which would soon become a global icon in the financial services industry.
After its formation, American Express (also known as Amex) skyrocketed because of its speed and reliability. Started as an express mail business, its iconic stagecoaches, driven by fearless drivers became a symbol of trust and efficiency. Embracing its services to send parcels, currency, and valuable items across the country, Amex flourished to a greater extent. With the uncertainty of the financial market, Amex evolved too, transforming the way people conducted financial transactions. This evolution later became the foundation for several innovations in the financial sector that set the course for a new future.
(Source – archello)
American Express has been a pioneer in the financial services industry. By introducing several innovations and changes that have had a significant impact on the market. Some of these key innovations and changes are listed below:
- Introduction of Traveler’s Cheques (1891): Innovation of traveler’s cheques, which were widely accepted as the means of carrying funds while traveling. This innovation greatly reduced the risk of carrying cash and contributed to the growth of international tourism.
- First Charge Card (1958): The company introduced the first charge card — the American Express Card. This card required cardholders to pay their balance in full each month, paving the way for future credit and charge card products.
- Membership Rewards Program (1991): Amex launched the Membership Rewards program, which became one of the first comprehensive credit card rewards programs. Cardholders could earn points for their spending and redeem them for a wide range of rewards, including travel, merchandise, and more.
- Airport Lounge Access (1994): American Express began offering cardholders access to airport lounges as a card benefit. This was one of the early examples of premium travel perks associated with credit cards.
- Expansion into Banking Services and Digital Services: Amex expanded its offerings beyond cards to include various banking services. This includes personal and business loans, savings accounts, and certificates of deposit (CDs). Amex also embraced digital innovation like developing mobile apps and online services to provide easy access to account management, payment options, and exclusive offers.
- Partnerships and Co-Branded Cards: Amex formed partnerships with various retailers, airlines, and hotels, offering co-branded credit cards. This allowed the cardholders to enjoy exclusive benefits, discounts, and rewards.
All these innovations helped American Express remain a symbol of financial prowess and customer service excellence.
Out-of-the-box marketing campaigns:
(Source – bloomberg)
American Express has been known for its successful marketing campaigns and strategies over the years. Here are some smart marketing campaigns employed by Amex:
- “Don’t Leave Home Without It” (1975): One of the most iconic marketing campaigns in the credit card industry. This slogan emphasized the idea that Amex cardholders should never leave home without their card. It became synonymous with the brand’s exclusivity and the peace of mind it offered when traveling.
- Centurion Card (Black Card): American Express created a sense of mystique around this Centurion Card. By limiting its issuance to high-net-worth individuals by invitation only, Amex built an intrigue about the card.
- “Membership Has Its Privileges”: This marketing slogan emphasizes the exclusive benefits available to the cardholders creating a sense of belonging and prestige. This included access to airport lounges, concierge services, and unique experiences.
- Small Business Saturday: American Express introduced Small Business Saturday. A marketing campaign aimed at encouraging consumers to support small businesses. This initiative not only promoted Amex but also supported local businesses.
These are just a few examples of smart and trend-setting marketing strategies acquired by the company. These strategies also include partnerships with influencers and celebrities to reach a broader audience, co-branded cards, a customer-centric approach, and many more.
Famous Personalities using American Express (or vice versa):
By forming partnerships with various famous personalities which contributed to the brand’s image, and customer engagement. Some notable personalities who have had associations with Amex include:
- Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld was featured in American Express’s advertising campaigns, particularly in the “Unstaged” series. These campaigns featured live concert performances and allowed fans to engage with artists.
- Tina Fey: Tina Fey, an actress and comedian has been a spokesperson for Amex, endorsing various its cards and campaigns.
- Shaquille O’Neal: Retired NBA basketball star Shaquille O’Neal was a part of Amex, during a “Shop Small” campaign which encourages people to support small businesses.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda: The creator of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, was a part of the “Membership Experiences” program, which offered cardholders access to exclusive events.
- Ken Chenault: While not a celebrity in the traditional sense, Ken Chenault was the CEO and Chairman of Amex from 2001 to 2018. His leadership and strategic vision played a significant role in shaping the company’s direction during his tenure.
These personalities have contributed to Amex in various ways, from endorsing its products and services to participating in marketing campaigns. Their involvement has helped the brand connect with diverse audiences and reinforce its image as a premium and exclusive financial services provider.
List of American Express cards:
- How do American Express credit cards differ from traditional credit cards?
Its credit cards are often charge cards, which require cardholders to pay the full balance at the end of each billing cycle. This distinguishes them from traditional credit cards that allow carrying a balance with interest.
- Where can I use my American Express card?
Amex is widely accepted in the United States and around the world. You can use it at a variety of businesses, including retailers, restaurants, and for online purchases. However, acceptance may vary by location, so it’s a good idea to check with the merchant.
- How do I apply for a card?
You can apply for the card on their official website or by visiting a local bank branch. The application process typically includes providing personal and financial information for a credit check.
- What benefits do American Express cards offer?
Amex cards often come with various benefits, including rewards programs, travel perks, purchase protection, and exclusive access to events. The specific benefits can vary between different card offerings.
- How does the American Express rewards program work?
The Amex rewards program, known as Membership Rewards, allows cardholders to earn points for every dollar spent on their card. These points can be redeemed for travel, merchandise, or used to pay off card balances.
- Do these cards have annual fees?
Many of its cards have annual fees, but the amount varies depending on the card type and its associated benefits. Some cards may offer no annual fee for the first year.
Today, American Express remains a symbol of financial prowess and customer service excellence. More than a company it’s an institution trusted by millions and known for its commitment to innovation and corporate responsibility. As the company enters its third century of existence, it carries a legacy of trust, service, and progress. Always ready to meet the changing needs of its card members and shape the future of finance or to be that one friend to someone.