Content marketing landmarks: American Express OPEN Forum

October 27, 2016 12:34 pm

As one of the leading payment card providers for US small businesses, American Express’ OPEN Forum team recognised it was in its interests to help its customers thrive. It realised its own success was linked inextricably to the success of the small business community in the US.

After all, most small businesses face problems along the way. Especially first time entrepreneurs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics: “About half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more… Survival rates have changed little over time.”

Supporting small businesses

And so in 2007 some American Express marketers switched their focus from talking about interest rates on their card products to figuring out how they could help their customer base, and in turn, a large section of the economy.

Some 10 years later OPEN Forum is a comprehensive SME advice site and thriving community of small businesses that’s regularly cited as one of the brightest stars in the content marketing firmament.

The site features easy-to-read articles with headlines that speak plainly to SMEs. OPEN Forum uses a clear tone of voice that shies away from corporate business-speak and talks to its readers as people and consumers. At the time of writing, the site features articles with headlines like ‘Losing a Client: 5 Signs an Important Customer May Be Bolting Soon’ and ‘7 Tips for Throwing an Amazing Business Event’.

Building trust through transparency

OPEN Forum worked hard to build trust in its content and voice. It brought in business writers and experts from outside the organisation to complement its in-house team. Transparency contributes to this. In-house content is labelled as such; the same is true of content created by third parties.

The familiar theme we return to again with OPEN Forum, as we have done with other landmarks in this series, is creating something that’s useful for users and helps customers who need help.

Yet the site is also successful in converting users into paying customers by deploying content at all stages of the marketing funnel. Most of the site’s content is aimed at the awareness and discovery phase at the top of the funnel with useful and shareable content.

The OPEN Forum site tries to generate leads by starting to align its products with the needs of small businesses using gated content such as detailed guides.

Storytelling that works

Finally, the site works on converting leads into paying customers with its Card Member Spotlight case studies. These are great examples of content that tell real stories with headlines like ‘One Woman’s Journey From Finance to Full-Time Social Entrepreneurship’ and ‘A Fitness Entrepreneur Is Put to the Test—And Finds Her Strength’.

At a time when key marketing axiom is to avoid the hard sell this seems to go against the grain. But OPEN Forum embodies one of our favourite content marketing phrases – that they’ve earned the right to sell.

That having provided enough useful content, sustained a community and built trust through transparency, they’ve earned the right to blow their own trumpet a little.