Giving Goliaths: How Big Firms Connect with Consumers

In the words of Susan Sobbett, president of American Express OPEN: “You don’t think of large companies as being real innovators.”

In a world of startup starlets and feisty kickstarter projects, big businesses are thought of as dragging their bloated empires into consumers’ view by sheer force of cash flow. Bureaucracy and company mass contribute to the slowness—goliath companies simply have more hoops to jump through and more to lose. A single botched tweet can outrage millions.

However, two big brands represented digital evolution at this year’s Conversational Marketing Summit, held last week in New York. Sobbett spoke about American Express OPEN’s efforts with small businesses and Alison Lewis shared Coca Cola’s first digitally-led Super Bowl campaign.

Both companies have been tremendously successful in connecting to consumers online.

American Express OPEN

“We used to think about brand positioning and advertising, and that was a company saying, ‘Look at me and here’s why you should care about me,’” Sobbett reflected. “That no longer exists with social channels. Now you actually have a dialogue with your customers. They want to talk about you and talk with you all the time.”

This desire for constant communication means American Express responds to all cries for help, whether they come through a phone call or on a Facebook page. But more than that, American Express OPEN, an AmEx sub-brand, reaches out to the small business owner community in particular.

In November 2011, they founded “Small Business Saturday,” a Facebook and Twitter driven campaign to support local brick and mortar shops.

“Because it was developed to benefit small businesses and did not have a direct bottom line ROI for American Express, it was questioned why we would be developing this,” Sobbett said.

She calls it a piece of altruistic or advocacy marketing. It’s a move that, while not contributing directly to American Express’ revenue stream, does build loyalty and brand affinity. “We get something in return authentically,” she says.

Digital is the space where to cultivate authentic consumer connections for both big companies like American Express and the small businesses they support. But when American Express surveyed small business owners, the majority said they’d rather do their taxes than put together a social media campaign.

“They know they have to do it, but they don’t want to,” Sobbett reported.

So, American Express guides small businesses in their digital efforts while simultaneously strengthening its own online presence. Sobbett cites the cost-effective nature of digital marketing in both cases.

“Dollars need to go to where they have the greatest impact,” she says. “You’re going to see digital engagement with small businesses just as much as you see it with large businesses.”

Coca Cola

Coca Cola has also realized the value of digital, the latest evidence being its social campaign for the Super Bowl XLVI.

Alison Lewis, SVP of marketing in North America, said her team’s thought process was, “Let’s turn the model on its head and let’s start with digital first.” Then they’d consider the traditional 30-second TV spot.

They decided to capitalize on the “second screen” trend. Whether on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, many Super Bowl viewers would inevitably look for action beyond their TV during the four-hour broadcast. With this in mind, Coca Cola came up with a social “web cam from the arctic,” which filmed their iconic polar bears sitting on their “Snow-fa,” reacting to the game in real time.

Lewis reported this effort was the largest social TV event of all time, with 12.2 million comments within the broadcast window and 1 billion impressions for Coca Cola.

By playing to digital trends and presenting an in-the-moment interactive viewing experience, the beverage giant charmed their consumers. While the old big business model centered on placement of messages, Lewis said they have transitioned to movement of stories.

Whether it is bringing polar bears to second screens or teaching small businesses about social media, these giant old-time companies have leveraged digital to captivate their consumers and create positive brand experiences.

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