- After outsourcing marketing functions, companies are now taking that work in-house again, said Elizabeth Rutledge, CMO at American Express.
- In an interview with Business Insider’s Tanya Dua, Rutledge discussed how AmEx works with agencies, competes with other financial services companies, and delivers personalization.
- Rutledge also explained why brand and performance marketing are both essential to AmEx.
- She also said marketers need to promote not just their brands and products but the business and profession of marketing itself. That’s why American Express recently teamed up with Verizon on a talent program called AdFellows.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video, edited for clarity.
Tanya Dua: Hello, I’m Tanya Dua, and I’m a senior advertising reporter at Business Insider. Today we have with us Elizabeth Rutledge from American Express. Thank you for being here, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Rutledge: Oh, so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dua: Of course. So Cannes is just right around the corner. What are your top three priorities?
Rutledge: So probably two priorities for me. One, it’s all about creativity. I’m really going there to learn. Really taking it all in in terms of what’s standing out, how are people thinking about experiential, new formats of content. Really excited about learning. And my second objective is actually to bring my team along with me. I really want them to learn, to see the best of the best, to meet a lot of new people, network, create great relationships.
Dua: It’s also quite a time of change in the industry, right? There’s a sort of disruption going on in the financial-services space, but also marketing in general, with consulting firms encroaching on agency territory. What is the future going to look like for advertising?
Rutledge: There’s a lot of disruption going on, both in the payments industry and the advertising and marketing industry. And I see a lot of that disruption being created given data and technology and the marrying of both of those. Consultancies are out there buying media, creative, digital expertise. If you think about what a lot of the ad agencies are doing, they’re buying a lot of the data and platforms as well. You think about what brands are doing, they’re bringing a lot of the capabilities kind of in-house. You also see the proliferation of specialty agencies as well, given that consumers have so many ways to ingest content.
I started in this business about 30 years ago, long time ago. I was at NYNEX, which is now Verizon, learning the advertising craft. Fast forward to sort of 30 years later, and I think the story’s come full circle and then some. And I think what’s happening is this just need — and I liken it to how I think of my own teams — the need for a technologist, the need for a strategist, the need for a designer, the need for a copywriter, and the need for a lawyer. And that’s your powerful, integrated team that’s going to make great creative, great advertising.
Dua: So when you say it’s come full circle, can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Rutledge: A lot of the functions and capabilities are being in-housed and coming back together again. And then you have the proliferation and access to data, as well as the platforms that just make it easier. At the end of the day though, I think it’s truly has been, and always will be, about the customer as the North Star and those insights that you need to draw in terms of understanding customer needs to get great marketing and advertising out there.
Dua: I was reading one of your interviews, and you said that the role of the CMO is not just to be the leader of the marketing but also someone that does a lot of collaboration. I think you said CMOs should be collaborators. What do you mean?
Rutledge: I mean collaboration in a bunch of ways. In terms of sort of conducting the orchestra and thinking about all these new technologies, but also pulling, in our case, a lot of the different customer segments together, understanding kind of their needs, and working with my business partners to create that great marketing. That’s what a collaborator’s all about. You’ve got to listen, listen, listen. And making sure that that collaboration delivers on those customer needs.
Dua: So you talked about in-housing as a trend, it’s really taking off. AmEx tried to dabble in it a little bit, and then last year you shifted agencies after a really long time. You have newer partners than before. Talk to me about what your thoughts are on in-housing, whether you see yourself doing more of it or less of it. Where do your outside partners fit in?
Rutledge: We’ve definitely brought some capabilities in-house, in particular, from a media-buying perspective. But I’m all about the balance of both managing great partners outside of American Express and the creative capabilities that they bring to the table, as well as growing that experience and that expertise in our own home. The power of that integrated team is really what’s made a difference for us. We have some longstanding partners and we have some newer partners, and the power of all of those players around the table is just the integration of those capabilities. And that’s how we leverage those partners to deliver on our new global brand platform that we launched last year: "Powerful Backing: Don’t Do Business/Don’t Live Life Without It."
We had longstanding agencies like Ogilvy, new agencies like Pentagram and McGarryBowen, as well as we’ve just had UM join the family as well. Just the power of all of those together was really to capitalize on this insight of consumers living a hybrid life and that AmEx has their back in work and life. And that’s really been the foundation of our platform, and I think really both from an online and offline experience perspective with all those partners, we’re doing a really great job in terms of living up to that promise of powerful backing.
Dua: And where do consulting firms fit in the mix?
Rutledge: The trend that you’re seeing now is they’re adding capabilities to their roster.
Dua: So do you see yourself working with them more if you aren’t already? Are you already?
Rutledge: Never say never, in terms of what makes the best partners sort of sitting around the table. Right now, we’re currently not working with them in any detailed way in terms of creating advertising. I have great partners already around the table. They are generating just some amazing creative, and great ideas. And I love the power of that team and the integration of that team.
Dua: So talk to me a little bit about also how you’re adopting this direct-to-consumer mindset. You have access to so much data being in financial services. What are some of the lessons you’re applying in terms of using data to personalize marketing?
Rutledge: We live and breathe this at American Express every day. This has been our model since the beginning of time, in terms of being direct to the consumer. And it’s important that we treat that data with respect, because customers care about how their data is treated. But with that, what is extremely important, is personalization. The time is right to really deliver on that right message at the right time with the right customer in the right place. As marketers, we’ve always been saying that, but I think now the time is really right, given a lot of the capabilities, particularly the advent of just AI and what one can do with that. Automation just in general. But at the end and at the core of it, for me, is delivering that personalization but with a human connection. I don’t want to ever forget about that. It’s important to me that we are creating those long-term relationships in what I would characterize as a very short-term transactional world.
Dua: Can you talk about some of the efforts you’re making in terms of what you just mentioned, personalizing stuff more or keeping the consumer at the center?
Rutledge: It’s about making sure that we’re delivering the right product or service to you kind of at the right time. Many of our first-time joiners of American Express are joining with a commercial card or a business card or a corporate card. And that’s their first experience with American Express. The great news there is as we’re on that journey with the customer, recognizing when and where they would need a personal card, as a great example.
Or the power of our membership-rewards program in terms of sort of delivering great experiences for you at the right time. We also have a product called "Pay It, Plan It," which is allowing customers to make decisions at the point of purchase, whether they want to pay it in full or they want to pay it over time. Giving customers the control and the flexibility is going to be extremely important.
Dua: Let’s talk about privacy, because that’s the other face of the coin in terms of the data question. With GDPR last year and the California Law coming in next year, it’s been top of mind for marketers. How do you keep privacy core to everything that you’re doing?
Rutledge: American Express is a 169-year-old brand. We are all about service, security, and trust, and every day each of us wakes up making sure that we can maintain that trust. That’s paramount to what our brand’s about, the types of relationships that we are trying to create. So we are living and breathing this every day. I’ve seen recent survey data that say nine out of 10 Americans are concerned about online security and privacy. And almost 50% of them are worried about identity theft, and then about 20% of them are worried about credit-card fraud. So we have to wake up everyday and think about that. And, for us, it’s just about making sure that our customers know that we’re there for them, that we’re putting the right data controls in place, both with our partners and allowing our customers to put controls in place as well. In the payments industry, fraud protection is what our customers are really caring about with their relationship with American Express. And we are one of the industry leaders in fraud protection — that’s when we’re having someone’s back. That’s what the powerful-backing promise is really all about.
Dua: How do you navigate your relationships with the platforms? There’s a number of very outspoken CMOs out there that question transparency, viewability, all of these concerns. How do you navigate your relationships with the Facebooks and Googles of the world?
Rutledge: Brand safety is incredibly important. Transparency is incredibly important. Consistent measurement is incredibly important as well. And we’re working with those ad platforms and those partners everyday to ensure those topics. In particular, brand safety, is sort of top of mind. And we’re working hard on identifying where there’s offensive or violent content, and we have to make tough decisions and tough calls in terms of where our advertising should be and where it shouldn’t be. We are all learning, and there’s a whole lot more to do everyday on this topic, but it’s top of mind and working very closely with those partners, particularly from a brand-safety, privacy, and measurement perspective.
Dua: I’m glad you brought that up. So what does your media mix right now look like? Are you focusing equally on TV and paid advertising? Are you doing one over the other, why?
Rutledge: It’s a great mix in terms of what we have, and very importantly, given our objectives, both in terms of acquiring new customers into the franchise and keeping our existing customers loyal. It’s a real nice mix of things like TV, that’s going to have that mass appeal and reach. Particularly in addressable TV, the sort of the advent and growth of those types of channels can make then the relationship that I can have with our customers much more personalized. In addition, we spend a lot of time thinking about our experiences, and where to place our emphasis in terms of creating those great offline and online experiences. Digital and video are going to be extremely important as well. It’s a really strong mix of both brand and performance marketing, you can’t have one without the other.
Dua: You mentioned addressable TV. Is there sort of a figure maybe you can share that you’re spending on it? And why is addressable TV something so exciting for you?
Rutledge: We don’t share figures publicly, but addressable is important for a couple of reasons. That’s where consumers are, so we need to be where consumers are. For me, it’s also the ability to really craft a personal message, in a medium where that wasn’t as much capability before. I get really excited about the ability to make sure that I’m delivering the right product or service message in those types of channels.
Dua: Let’s talk a little bit about competition. A lot of players in the financial-services space are thinking ahead and going after things like sonic branding, for example. Do you have any plans we don’t know of yet?
Rutledge: Well, I’m not going to share here now a lot of our plans, but here’s what I can tell you in terms of both what we have been thinking about and what we’re going to think about. It’s really about creating great products and services for our customers. So new news for us, is actually the launch of a digital assistant. And think about that as just a concierge in your pocket with the ability to have a chat, to be able to get personalized hotel, or dining, or travel reservation when and where you want it. So that’s really exciting in terms of where we’re going.
Another trend that we’ve been capitalizing on is the growth of freelancers. And this was actually what our powerful-backing platform was all about: this hybrid life, you and I, and lots of others are sort of living every day, one step in business, one step in sort of personal. If you think about the growth of freelancers out there in the gig economy, we’ve created a product called AmexGo that allows for some of our small and medium customers to be offered this T&E solution, so that expenses can be taken care of really easily as you add on freelancers into your business. I give you those two examples in terms of sort of where we’re pushing hard to create great, seamless, frictionless experiences that are adding value, and hopefully, creating that emotional connection that’s going to make those customers stay with us over the long term.
Dua: I want to end our discussion by focusing on talent. You mentioned you’ve had a 30-year-long career, 25-plus years at AmEx itself, and you feel very strongly about talent. You recently partnered with Verizon for their AdFellows effort. Why do you feel so strongly about talent, and why do you think that joining AdFellows is a step in the right direction?
Rutledge: First, I think it’s really important for us to market the marketing. We really need to talk about this industry and how exciting it is. We’ve just spent some time talking about the changes and what’s going on in terms of the marriage of data and technology. But I’ve been out there starting to talk about this in terms of how important our industry is, in terms of driving growth for business, and why I want recent college graduates to get excited about joining the marketing or advertising industry.
Much more specifically, in terms of joining AdFellows and also in terms of the importance of a diverse workforce — it makes great business sense. We need to reflect who our customers are. It’s going to drive great growth. It’s going to drive innovation. It’s going to spark creativity. It’s going to make us more sensitive to local and cultural nuances. It’s just the right thing to do. That’s why it’s important to focus on creating this sort of diverse and integrated workforce.
Dua: All right, thank you so much for being here, Elizabeth.
Rutledge: Oh, thanks for having me, really appreciate it.
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