Bringing AMEX to Life: Q&A With Deb Curtis, VP Global Brand Experiences

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American Express - Coachella 2018 app

As VP and Head of Global Brand Experiences and Partnerships at American Express, Deborah Curtis has a unique perspective on the experiential landscape—what it means today and how to create meaningful and memorable branded experiences to connect with customers and explore the future with new technologies such as augmented and mixed reality.

Deborah Curtis - VP experiential marketing and partnerships / American ExpressHer role helps bring the company’s new “Powerful Backing” #AmexLife global brand platform to life because as Curtis (right) says, “It’s much more than an ad campaign. It’s a guiding principle for how we behave as a company, how we treat our customers and colleagues, and how we relentlessly focus on every aspect of the customer experience, every day. The platform reminds us that we constantly need to push ourselves to be essential in our customers’ lives. Today, they are living more globally, and their work and personal lives are deeply intertwined. For us, this means we need to show up differently to meet our customers wherever they are—in life and in business—and enhance their experience all along the way.”

She shares more insights for brandchannel readers in a Q&A:

Could you give us some examples about how you’re evolving and elevating AMEX brand experiences?

American Express is a brand that has always been about building long-term, enduring relationships with our customers. They are at the heart of everything we do, so how we activate the brand is wholly focused on fostering and deepening those relationships, as well as driving value to both the Card Member’s life and the partner’s business. We always look for the “win-win-win.”

Recently, we were thrilled to partner with one of today’s most celebrated artists—Justin Timberlake—and provide Card Members both early ticket access to his tour as well as multiple access moments that deepened the relationship between Justin and his fans. We brought two Man of the Woods listening experiences to our Platinum Card Members in NYC before the release of the album. These events culminated in the ultimate listening party at the home of one of the most revered artists in music history—Prince’s Paisley Park in Minnesota.

Another great example is what we are doing with the NBA (American Express is official card of the NBA) and Fanatics, with the launch of the American Express Jersey Assurance program. We knew that NBA fans love to wear their hearts on their sleeves (literally) with player jerseys, but what happens when their favorite player gets traded? Often disappointment, sometimes frustration.

Now, with Amex Jersey Assurance, when a fan buys a jersey at the NBA store (run by Fanatics), if that player is traded within 90 days of purchase, the fan can trade it in for a new jersey. For those buying the jersey with an American Express Card, that offer extends for a year. It’s another way we can show Card Members—and all fans—that American Express has their back.

How did this come to life at Coachella this year — in-app, in-person and digitally?

At American Express, we know what the most culturally relevant and meaningful moments for our Card Members are, and Coachella is undoubtedly one of them. We also know that the expectations of our customers are high, and their experiential needs continue to evolve. For them, these moments are deeply personal, and they want them to feel connected and elevated like never before. At Coachella, we needed to exist squarely where Card Members experience the festival—at the intersection of their “mobile life” and “real life”—and do so in a seamless way to enrich, add value, and delight.

We looked at how we could continue to up our game through the next generation of our in-app Coachella integration. We provided a secure way for our customers to identify themselves as Card Members as they registered their wristband, and in doing so, their relationship with American Express (their Card) lived within the wristband and became an easy way to unlock a suite of benefits with a simple tap of their wrist.

AMEX VIP Platinum secret garden at Coachella 2018

These benefits were based on what we know are needs and desires of fans, including a new onsite Card Member Lounge—a lush and modern refuge to escape the desert heat and enjoy the festival in a fashion only American Express can provide. Other benefits included an Uber Priority Lane for your trip home, free embroidery, and—my personal favorite—a free ride on Coachella’s iconic Ferris wheel.

We have been using RFID technology across all of our festival partnerships up to this year’s Coachella, to connect the fan experience and provide a convenient and native way to unlock benefits and experiences. At Austin City Limits, we even connected this to payments so that it was if your Card was on your wrist, even at the point of sale. Like the experience at Coachella, it was one seamless journey for our Card Members—from an onsite offer, to the Card Member club and, in this case, to tap-and-pay at the register. American Express became the ultimate “wingman.”

Justin Timberlake American Express 2018 augmented reality

When it comes to AR, we have been tapping into the power of the technology to connect storytelling with commerce. As part of our partnership with Justin Timberlake, we created an interactive, mixed-reality experience in the American Express Music app that brought users into the journey of the song, “Breeze off the Pond,” and provided Card Members with the opportunity to access exclusive merchandise through a virtual pop-up shop.

AMEX Coachella Camera app 2018

At Coachella, as part of our partnership, American Express also introduced an AR shopping experience through the app’s AR camera (Coachella Camera), where Card Members could buy two specially-designed T-shirts and then have them shipped to their homes, exclusively when using their Amex Card.

What partners and partnerships were you highlighting at Coachella?

Our biggest partnership is, frankly, the one with our Card Members. We put them at the center of everything we do. Then we focused on working hand-in-hand with authentic partners who enhance their experience, such as Uber. We lean quite heavily on the expertise of our partners at Goldenvoice and AEG, who know the needs of fans best and collaborate with us on how to meet those needs in ways that are additive, not disruptive.

How does the Amex Music app open new opportunities to engage customers?

We look at the Amex Music app not as a transactional experience, but rather as a dynamic portal to bring fresh stories and experiences by artists to fans, like the one we created with Justin Timberlake. We have used the app to do everything from live streaming to 360 interactive music video launches (the American Express Taylor Swift Blank Space Experience) to AR to shopping experiences, and a discovery tool for our presale program. We do not have a fixed definition of the opportunities it offers; it’s whatever we can dream up with artists.

Does adding more digital touchpoints give you valuable feedback to help make these experiences more personal, impactful and meaningful?

Absolutely. Let’s face it, we are all living our lives to a large extent through our devices. The richness of the data allows my team to make better choices for where we invest, what we offer, and rich insights into our customers’ needs so that we can back them in more meaningful ways. We use digital touchpoints to not only inform the experiences we create but also to connect these experiences for our customers to make them more personal, more meaningful, more joyful. Ironically, we look at what we do through our digital touchpoints in service of enhancing their “real life” experiences—because those are the moments that we crave and that we remember the most.

US Open 2017 / American Express

Beyond entertainment, how are you transforming your tentpole sports partnerships and experiences?

We think the same way about our sports experiences as we do entertainment. Our goal is to always get smarter and better—to take the best of what we learned from the last event or season forward to the next while being hyper-relevant for that fan base. We are excited for what is ahead this summer at this year’s U.S. Open Golf Championship in the Hamptons, as well as later with the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, where we will be celebrating our 25-year partnership. Talk about long, enduring relationships.


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