Consumers Choose The Cause

American Express is at it again!  As the company that coined the term “cause marketing” decades ago, American Express continues to innovate and respond to this ever-changing marketplace by letting consumers nominate social programs and organizations as the recipient of up-to $2 million in grants.

On July 22, American Express launched its Members Projec®, encouraging card members to submit their ideas to make a positive impact on the world.  The program’s slogan –  “Your ideas. Your Decision. Our Money.” – is pretty hard to resist. 

Here's how it works:

  • Card members access American Express Project Starters tool kit to apply and nominate a social program.
  • Card members and others will join the discussion and spread the word to garner support.
  • Vote: Only card members vote, so if you don’t have a card, they let you sign up to receive one.

There are several reasons why this program is brilliant and endures despite tough economic times for American Express:

  1. You have to be a card member to vote. If it is a cause you are passionate about, if your friend or boss hits you up to vote or if you want to help without digging deeply into your own wallet, you just might sign up for an American Express card.
  2. This campaign creates a grassroots movement of members reaching out to get other people to vote. Last year, I received at least 10 emails from charities and friends asking for me to vote for their cause. Each request reinforced the American Express brand with a halo of being a good corporate citizen. As any company can attest, word-of-mouth referrals from trusted friends and families are the most successful type of marketing. 
  3. It empowers consumers to be in control and make a difference. Our research has shown that Millennials, in particular, feel personally responsible for making a difference in solving societal ills.  They want to get engaged, and American Express gave them and others the opportunity to do just that!

This approach mirrors what we have seen online as new nonprofits and websites give individuals the opportunity to tailor their donations and volunteer experiences, such as KivaGlobalGivingDonorsChoose or ThinkMTV, among others. The success of American Express’ Members Project may add energy to this new trend and may alter how companies define “what they stand for.”

I just want to caution companies who may want to jump on the bandwagon by putting consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing the corporate cause to support. American Express is donating a substantial sum to the nominated charities, and it has spent a lot of money to build a credible infrastructure to support and market the program.  Most importantly, it is making sure that the company has a significant positive social impact on the issues it supports. The Members Project is not about diffuse and ambivalent giving, which will be tempting for companies to fall back upon. That said, I look forward to seeing how the pioneer of cause marketing continues to innovate and impact the way companies support causes while benefiting their bottom lines.


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