@AmericanExpress – Innovate or Die…not Quite!

Many companies feel overwhelmed by the need to constantly innovate, in an age where the next new and improved, ground breaking or revolutionary product seems to have become the norm. True innovation requires thinking out-of-the-box, taking risks and not being afraid to fail, often.

However, there are two things I tell clients; first, that the word innovation has taken on numerous dimensions that maybe did not fully exist prior to this digital age. A company can be considered innovative if it manages to find a new revenue stream or new use for an existing product; it does not have to come up with a “new” product or service each time.

Secondly, truly innovative companies are one’s who constantly watch cultural trends and adapt and evolve their existing strategies, products and services to take advantage of them. A great example is America Express. Rather than fall into the trap of launching new or improved products all the time, they re-shape their existing ones to keep pace with changing behavior.

Amex recently re-branded their long running Membership Rewards Program as the New Social Currency; tapping directly into the growing global social commerce trend. While it is a masterstroke, companies too often fail to follow-thru on brilliant ideas like this – which means that in the end many such initiatives resemble hollow, smoke filled efforts that simply re-brand with no real substance behind it.

Not Amex; which is what makes them such a formidable and admired brand. On the heels of this re-branding (of their rewards program) they made three announcements that provide the substance and follow through needed to make it real to their customers:

  1. Use your Amex Rewards to pay for purchases on Amazon
  2. Foursquare check-in’s now provide access to special discounts and Amex rewards, at certain retail locations
  3. Yesterday, they announced that their OPEN small business card members can use rewards points to buy and pay for ads on Facebook

Innovation – absolutely! In one fell swoop not only did they re-energize their rewards program by making it more valuable for existing card members, but also tapped into the heart of a younger generation, filled with future card members.