Interbrand Thinking

Q&A with Clayton Ruebensaal, EVP, B2B Marketing & Analytics, American Express

American Express

Q&A with Clayton Ruebensaal, EVP, B2B Marketing & Analytics, American Express

Everything that we’re seeing suggests that B2B brands are built fundamentally differently than B2C Brands. Do you agree with that, having worked on both sides of the aisle as it were? Do you agree that they’re built differently? And if so, what do you think are the sort of key tenants of success of building an iconic B2B Brand?

At its core, 90% of building a strong brand is universal and follows same the same principles—can you command a price premium? Is it going to engender more loyalty the stronger I make this brand? That is no different whether you’re talking about marketing a hybrid brand like American Express to a consumer for their personal life, or to a business owner to help run their business.

Where it is different between B2B and B2C, is the purpose the brand is serving to that part of the business. As an example, American Express offers a Consumer Platinum Card and a Small Business Platinum Card. They’re both great products but serve different functions. Choosing the consumer Platinum Card is purely personal. However, when one chooses the Business Platinum Card to run their business, it’s interwoven with their financial success as a business owner, their reputation in the marketplace, their team at work, and more.

How do you manage a brand that is spanning [B2B and B2C sectors]? How do you keep consistency whilst flexing the relevance to what are two similar but different customer types?

This is where I’m most proud of the work that we’re doing, which is focused on the human connection whether that’s with an individual or a business owner. What motivates them is the same, however within B2B there are different needs and categories to support and fulfil.

For small business owners, the language we use is closer to what we’d use in consumer marketing. Whereas when we talk to a Fortune 500 company, we are looking to reach the decision maker who is likely a CFO, treasurer, or controller. They’re going to require a different level of deep financial language. That’s not to say that the CFO or the Treasurer is more sophisticated than the small business, they are just more specialized, while both are looking to solve business needs. Treating all of B2B marketing too similarly is where people can get it wrong, as you must truly understand your customer and use the right language. Within B2B, it’s not all the same.

Business content must be as entertaining as lifestyle content.”

You think about the sort of stack of brand tools a company has to maintain a degree of consistency. Which do you find the most helpful allowing the right type of flex, and which ones ensure that whatever side of the fence you’re on, the AmEx brand is largely showing up as the AmEx brand?

A strong brand is much more than just a collection of products. The American Express brand stands for trust, security, and service— and that crosses borders and segments, creating an emotional connection with customers, colleagues, and communities.

At the end of the day, we need to ladder up to the same in the bigger picture of values. We have to be consistent. The customer or prospect needs to feel like things coming from our brand are all written by one pen.

Where I see flexibility being critical is: what is a job that the brand needs to do in that context? American Express has spent decades making a name for itself in the consumer market, and not just the brand, but also the products are quite clear in that context. In the B2B context, the brand is incredibly clear, but the products have room to grow to be clearer in the minds of business owners. That’s where we require more flexibility, as there are at times different jobs to be done, but the brand has to be identical.

How are you thinking about the balance between brand-building investment versus more sales-driven investment? Do you think of those as two separate things or can they be one, and is there more pressure to be focusing further down the funnel?

There’s always pressure to be focused further down the funnel because it’s much easier to measure, see and touch. I can only speak from my experience, we’ve had amazing success in the last three years providing a case for the data and ROIs comparatively for above the line and brand- building efforts, in relation to the performance marketing and more hard-hitting sales channels. That work has shown how these investments are interconnected and interrelated. The success of each needs to be looked at together.

It goes back to what are the jobs that need to be done? In my case, running B2B marketing at American Express, one of the jobs to be done is making sure people understand that American Express offers products and services for their business, in addition to their personal life, then being clear about what those products and services are.

In terms of bigger, macro-cultural shifts that you’re seeing affect the business, is that impacting how you’re building the brand of marketing? What are the big, systemic shifts that are perhaps altering how you’re going about building the brand?

Business content must be as entertaining as lifestyle content. I’m convinced that the context of B2B brands has radically changed. It’s often hard to imagine what life was like before some of the greatest brands became what we now know them to be. When you look way back, athletics was functional and calisthenic—now brands have made it into a lifestyle. When we look at culinary content, it’s similar as it’s a whole category of entertainment. I believe that business content is in the same place and the entertainment value will not only be necessary, but also be a big opportunity for B2B brands to take advantage of. When I look at the content work that we’ve developed, I can point to our Business Class platform for small business owners. The idea came out of the pandemic, to provide businesses with answers to their most pressing questions in a time of tremendous uncertainty. So, we created this platform that was not just educational, useful, and digital, but also entertaining, leveraging the lifestyle cache of American Express. That entertainment value was key to building an audience and repeat visits. We invested in the quality of our production level, worked with celebrity entrepreneurs like Issa Rae and David Chang, leaned into modern content trends from long-form video to podcasts, and much more.