MarTech Interview with Clayton Ruebensaal, EVP of Global B2B Marketing at American Express

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“Terms like “business isn’t personal” went out the window. We all got to know each other a lot better and worried about each other more. One of the lessons we learned about customers was that business owners were stuck with more questions than answers during this crisis.”

Hi Clayton, please tell us about your journey into marketing technology and how you started at American Express.

Throughout my career, I’ve held leadership roles at some of the world’s most creatively awarded advertising agencies, BBDO, Deutsch, I ran the New York office of British agency BMB, and Cliff Freeman & Partners. Before joining American Express, I led global marketing at Ritz-Carlton where I launched the “Let Us Stay With You” brand platform, which put the luxury brand in the business of selling memories, not hotel rooms.

Before my current role at American Express, I served as the head of Global Brand Management where I implemented our first global brand strategy, focused on increasing loyalty across our consumer, commercial and merchant customers and increasing price premiums. The brand strategy my team authored aligned human resources, operations and marketing to deliver an authentic brand experience end-to-end.

Currently, as the Executive Vice President of Global B2B Marketing, I am responsible for bringing American Express’ vision to life of being essential to our customers’ businesses every day and helping them do more business. My team and I set the strategy, and marketing plans by leveraging data and creativity to market across channels and geographies.

What unique lessons in marketing and sales did you evaluate during the COVID-19 crisis? How did your experience in working with marketing technologies help ease the pressure off your team and company?

The first lesson was to take care of your people. Terms like “business isn’t personal” went out the window. We all got to know each other a lot better and worried about each other more. One of the lessons we learned about customers was that business owners were stuck with more questions than answers during this crisis. We saw an opportunity to fill that void by digitizing and democratizing business education. We saw a lot of our business customers looking for answers to new questions, seeking new ideas, trying to figure out new business models and pivots, looking for ways to clear up new complexities and more.

In addition to adding new value to our products to meet our customers’ changing needs and giving financial relief to those in need, we felt providing business know-how to navigate through this crisis was and is crucial.

So we launched Business Class, an engaging content platform that provides modern business education for today’s business owners. Business Class comes to life through world-class business know-how, essential insights, and inspirational stories to help business owners navigate the current environment.

Tell us more about Business Class: Summit for Success event and the audience groups participating in the summit?

“Business Class LIVE: Summit for Success” is an annual event hosted by American Express for small business owners to help them do more business – it’s a day of learning, networking and actually doing business– all at no cost to attendees.

Rendering of the Amex Virtual Campus – Conservatory
Rendering of the Amex Virtual Campus – Conservatory

Rendering of the Amex Virtual Campus – Auditorium
Rendering of the Amex Virtual Campus – Auditorium

This year, for the ninth annual event, we pivoted the event to virtual experience – but one that is truly unique and very much not your typical video conference. We wanted to make this as engaging and as first-class of an experience that you’d see from American Express at the US Open or Coachella. So, we built the Amex Virtual Campus – it has different rooms for different purposes, like a big auditorium for the keynote with Shaquille O’Neal and Venus Williams, and a rooftop garden for wellness and self-care throughout the day.

Rendering of the Amex Virtual Campus – Rooftop
Rendering of the Amex Virtual Campus – Rooftop

On October 20, Summit attendees will see an exciting lineup of panelists including leaders from innovative brands and organizations who will share helpful insights. Sessions will cover a range of relevant and timely topics, from financing, networking, the importance of staying healthy while working from home, marketing and technology to dedicated sessions to support the specific needs of Black and minority-owned business owners. Attending businesses will also gain access to American Express’ “Contract Connections” program, where we will facilitate one-on-one meetings between suppliers and buyers from government agencies and large corporations so the small businesses can leave the day with real business opportunities.

COVID-19 Insights

How easy or difficult is it to actually create a marketing campaign for a financial services and AI-driven company to stay relevant even during the crisis?

As customers navigate this new normal, it’s crucial for marketers to remember how important it is to stay connected to consumers, making sure they’re still giving them a personalized, human touch, while also instilling shared brand experiences to foster a sense of community. Activating a brand’s total customer base through shared experiences helps build a shared understanding of what the brand means for everyone.

During these unprecedented times, exceptional marketers are the ones that can understand trends in culture, technology and innovations coming out of this crisis better than their competitors. This valuable perspective leads to competitive advantage in products, services, channel strategies, and innovation.

Tell us more about your recent digital marketing efforts and how you measured its ROI and effectiveness.

One of our recent digital marketing efforts is Business Class, a platform that provides essential business insights, tips, and inspiration to help business owners grow their business.

While we know business education of course first and foremost should be educational, it also needs to be social and truly entertaining – this is where most B2B education misses the mark.

When COVID-19 first hit and we saw small businesses facing all these new and unexpected challenges, we started creating content under the banner of Business Class” to provide this education in an easily digestible, relatable and entertaining format. Since mid-March we’ve created almost 300 new resources for the small business community.

  • We’ve published 150 articles on our Business Trends & Insights site
  • We’ve sent 125 e-newsletters to small business owners
  • We’ve hosted 19 episodes of “Office Hours” on Instagram live where we hear from well-known entrepreneurs like David Chang, Alli Webb of Dry Bar and Coco &Breezy, about what they’ve learned over the past few months and how they’ve navigated it all.

When it comes to measuring ROI and effectiveness, we make sure we have a strong criteria matrix that’s used consistently to help us get better at explaining the value of marketing as opposed to throwing our hands in the air and saying “trust us” or worse “it’s art” about things that are harder to explain like content, experiential, and design. We see the logic in all of it. The role of this content is to help businesses first and foremost, but second,it’s job is to lower our cost per acquisition by engaging prospects and customers in an opt-in ecosystem that ultimately drives conversion and revenue. If marketing departments continue to struggle with how to articulate and prove the value of our investments their future will be rocky.

Professional Advice

Hear it from the pro: How to better leverage BI / BA teams to market my business online? How do these synergize in the current context of business continuity?

One challenge we keep top-of-mind is how to recognize triggers that help us know when to personalize versus when to create shared brand experiences. So much focus, rightfully so, has been put on how we master our ability to deliver the best experience based on an individual customer’s needs, at the moment that makes the most sense for them by leveraging data and AI. In a world of personalization, we need to strike a balance between connecting with the individual, while at the same time activating a brand’s total customer base through shared experiences to build a shared understanding of what the brand means for everyone.

What are your predictions for the future of online marketing and sales for 2021:

More pull, less push.

More owning data, less buying data. 

More personal, less homogeneous.

A piece of advice for all young Marketing professionals in the industry:

I’d put collaboration at the top of the list of skills marketers need to thrive. It’s also important that a brand and its values are integrated throughout all aspects of a company – from advertising and marketing to operations, to deliver an authentic brand experience supported by actions, not just words.

One podcast or webinar you would recommend to all data science professionals –

How I Built This, with Guy Raz

Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell

Masters of Scale, by Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn and investor at Greylock.)

Thank you, Clayton! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Clayton Ruebensaal, EVP of Global B2B Marketing at American Express.

American Express - Wikipedia

American Express is a globally integrated payments company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success.

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