Alison Bain

Alison Bain
VP Head of International Advertising
American Express

Alisaon Bain

How do you see the marketing of brands changing in the next five to 10 years?

Digital technology will enable brands and consumers to get closer than before. The relationship is already becoming more of a conversation than a monologue, and this will only increase over time.

Consumers are also becoming more vocal, active, and participatory. Brands will need to figure out ways to accommodate, enable, and harness this.

With increased consumer expectation for transparency from brands, there will need to be complete alignment between brand promise and delivery.

How do you expect the changing role of digital to influence your brand strategy?

"Today, we are spending roughly a third of our above-the-line investment in the digital channel, which is a significant change from a couple of 
years ago."

It already is. Our target audience is online and is making extensive use of this channel to make their lives easier. As a service brand, we are exploring ways to provide even better service to our customers in the digital space.

In addition, our marketing activity is becoming increasingly digital and targeted. Today, we are spending roughly a third of our above-the-line investment in the digital channel, which is a significant change from a couple of years ago. I expect this will only increase further in the future.

Finally, consumers are expecting more experiences online. With the use of real-time and streaming audio and video, digital communications are becoming less like the print medium and much more dynamic.

What unpredictable factor most impacted how you managed your brand in the past decade?

Although the economic downturn was forecast, I don’t think anyone predicted just how deep and wide it would it be. It has led to some fundamental changes in the consumer mindset and attitudes that will be with us for many years to come.

For example, our own trend research shows that consumers are re-evaluating what’s important to them. It’s no longer simply about the next career move or step up on the property ladder. Consumers are still spending their hard-earned money, but they are also adopting a more rounded approach to life. They are investing in new skills and hobbies, they are looking for experiences rather than just accumulating “things,” they are considering working part-time for the first time in their career, and they are spending more quality time with their family and friends.

As American Express, we must be mindful of these changes and ensure that we continue to add value and remain relevant to their lifestyle, satisfying their particular needs and wants.

Is there a single touchpoint of your brand that you think will be more influential to your consumers in the next five years?

The “service” moment of truth has always been the cornerstone of the American Express brand, and we believe this will become even more important over the next few years as consumers become more dependent on service brands for support in a number of areas of their lives.

Providing superior customer service that goes above and beyond the norm is something we place considerable emphasis on within our organization.

Our aim is to ensure that we give our customers the confidence they are increasingly asking for in this climate. We reassure them that we’ve got them covered—wherever they are in the world.

"The 'service' moment of truth has always been the cornerstone of the American Express brand, and we believe this will become even more important over the next few years..."

What points can you share from your experiences that contribute in building a successful brand?

Building a successful brand is all about establishing a clear point of view based on an authentic brand truth. This truth needs to be real at the point of delivery and needs to be evident at every touchpoint along the customer journey, regardless of whether you are speaking to prospects or consumers.

This point of view needs to be simple and something consumers care about—relatable and relevant to their lives.

Brand communications must be 360. Consumers don’t operate in silos, and with the increasing reliance on digital, consumers go from one stage of the decision-making process to another in a few clicks.

Consistency: Stick with it. With consumers bombarded with so much information these days, it is difficult for them to keep up with brands that change their point of view regularly.

How does your brand influence the decisions made at your organization?

We invest significant amounts of money in our brand, and it is at the heart of the decisions we make at Amex. It touches everyone within our organization. Whenever we are making decisions, be they financial, technological, personnel related, or communications based, we always ask ourselves, “What will be the impact on our brand?”

"Whenever we are making decisions, be they financial, technological, personnel related, or communication based, we always ask ourselves, 'What will be the impact on
our brand?'"

What advice do you have for marketers at other companies who are facing similar challenges that you face?

Ensure the brand promise is paid off in the delivery, otherwise consumers will find you out!

Can you provide us with insight on how you have managed to successfully balance a diverse portfolio of brands?

The key is to have a very clear brand architecture and hierarchy that all brand managers follow. At Amex we have strong and differentiated products, each with their own unique benefits and personalities. However, all are underpinned with the unifying brand truth that Amex offers superior, unrivaled service. This enduring brand truth needs to shine through, whatever the product.

Biography
Alison Bain is VP Head of International Advertising at American Express. Previously, she was Director in Charge at Publicis London, President and CEO at Publicis Technology San Francisco, and Group Account Director of Ogilvy.