In 2010 American Express officially launched Small Business Saturday. It took place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and it's intention was to promote small businesses across the country and encourage people across the country to shop locally that Saturday. In 2011, the U.S. Senate officially recognized Small Business Saturday and by 2012, an estimated $5.5 billion was spent at small independent businesses on the one day. Last year, over 1,450 neighborhood champions signed up to rally their communities to get involved and support small businesses.
Small Business Saturday will fall on Saturday, November 29th this year. Coming up on its fifth year, American Express's creation and growth of Small Business Saturday can teach marketers of all sizes a lesson or two. Here are nine key marketing lessons from Small Business Saturday.
American Express has developed an entire brand around Shop Small and Small Business Saturday. They've built an entirely separate website at ShopSmall.com for Small Business Saturday. Everything from unique logos, color schemes, and Shop Small social media accounts have been created for this new brand. This has made it easy for participants to rally around a brand separate from American Express itself. I don't need to be a customer or have any affinity toward American Express to be a part of Small Business Saturday.
2. Personalize Experiences
American Express has done an amazing job at personalizing the experience both for the small businesses and individuals participating in Small Business Saturday. As a business owner, you can create personalized posters like the one to the right. You can also add your business to their map of local businesses. As a participant, they tailor your experience on the site to your zip code and show you local businesses you can support on Small Business Saturday. All the marketing materials are personalized and provide a unique experience for each individual. The future of marketing is in the personalized experiences our customers have with our brands. Personalized customer journeys create loyal customers.
3. Enlist Brand Advocates
One of American Express's best marketing tactics with Small Business Saturday has been their ability to recruit brand advocates. Not only have they focused on getting small businesses signed up to participate in the program, but they also implemented a "Neighborhood Champions" program to enlist people around different local communities. According to their website, "People across the country are organizing events to celebrate the small businesses in their communities." Small businesses and participants can become champions and organize events throughout the entire city. Word of mouth marketing has been a vital part to Small Business Saturday's success-enabled mainly by neighborhood champions.
4. Enable Your Brand Advocates
A key component to the success of building brand advocates is how you enable them. American Express has gone above and beyond to enable their brand advocates and businesses participating in Small Business Saturday. They have an entire section of their website dedicated to enabling businesses and providing an extensive toolkit to businesses. You can download personalized banners, images, posters, marketing emails, postcards, invitations, Facebook cover images, and social posts to share.
5. Crowdsource Content
American Express is urging participants to share pictures of them shopping at Small Businesses on social media using #ShopSmall. They are crowdsourcing content from participants and using it to help promote the event. By using social media, this ignites the fuse and propels it's traction.
6. Create a Community
The power of a community is exponential. American Express has been able to build an entire community around Small Business Saturday. It furthers their marketing and allows their community to do some of the work for them. Building communities is one of the best ways to foster loyalty and engagement with your audience.
7. Define Your Value Proposition and Promote it Actively
Small Business Saturday has defined their essential value proposition both for businesses and attendees in extremely simple terms. They are able to connect with their audience on a deeper, emotional level and promote this value throughout their site and in their communications clearly and effectively. Below is the main graphic on the Shop Small homepage describing the benefit of shopping small. This is also another piece to their marketing toolkit they provide businesses.
8. Think Big
In one of Jeff Rohrs breakout sessions at Connections 2014, he spoke on "Making Mobile Moments Matter," and one of his major takeaways was that "mobile moments don't have to be small. They can be big ideas." He told the story of American Express's Small Business Saturday and how it grew to have a $5.5B economic impact last year. A key lesson from Amex is to not limit yourself when coming up with new campaigns and ways to connect with your customers on their journey with your brand.
Also, don't be discouraged if your idea isn't a $5.5B idea. Good ideas come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing is to not limit yourself. Think outside the box. Dream big and don't discount big ideas.
9. Don't Make Everything About Yourself
One of the most fundamental concepts of content marketing is the fact that the sole purpose of your content is not to be a hard sell. It doesn't even need to have your product name in the content itself. It's purpose is to educate, inspire, and engage with the audience. It is meant to create long-term, lasting relationships with your brand. It's not meant to be propaganda for your company or a shady way to get contact information. American Express really understands this concept-both with Small Business Saturday and OPEN Forum.
Small Business Saturday is clearly sponsored and a program from American Express, but it remains very separate from American Express's core business. There aren't credit card applications everywhere on the Small Business Saturday website. American Express isn't forcing businesses to accept their credit cards to participate. They are creating meaningful relationships with these small businesses and individuals and letting that good will and loyalty toward the Amex brand cultivate into sales in the long-term.
Will you be participating in Small Business Saturday this year-whether as a business or individual? Make sure to get out there and support local, independent businesses.