Adweek's 2012 Brand Genius Awards
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Banking and Finance: Leslie Berland, Amex
Leslie Berland was betting the farm that American Express’ just-launched Twitter feed—which had precisely zero followers—was going to pay off.
It was November 2009 and the company was running a promo to offer card members dibs on access to a special Bon Jovi concert. Not long before, AmEx would have used email or newsletters to publicize an event this big, but Berland, svp of digital partnerships and development, insisted Twitter carry the whole thing.
“We were trying to identify an unmet need and do something with technology that was truly unique and differentiated,” she says. “We realized quickly that this platform would be meaningful to us.”
That it was. The concert sold out in less than a day. The promotional effort—a kind of trial balloon—was more than just proof that an old-guard financial services brand could gain a toehold with a young, affluent and media-savvy crowd, but also a validation of Berland’s digital vision, one that she has been tirelessly expanding ever since.
Cut to this past spring and another AmEx-Twitter program Berland hoped would redefine the term “social currency.” A few months earlier, Berland had taken the wraps off Sync, a program launched with Foursquare and Facebook in which shoppers earned deals by checking in at partner retailers and by “liking” certain brands.
But Sync’s big moment would arrive when it partnered with Twitter at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, where AmEx staged a Jay-Z concert.
The integration, wherein cardholders got discounts at major retailers in exchange for tweets with brand-specific hashtags, triggered 155,216 tweets in the first nine days and generated some $7 million in sales.
The result is that AmEx has become a fully integrated social media brand, linking with YouTube, Zynga and Google+ to name a few. In the process, @AmericanExpress has achieved nearly 582,000 followers, while the brand has attracted some 2.7 million Facebook fans.
And it’s all because of Berland’s vision.
Adam Bain, president of revenue at Twitter, calls Berland an executive with “boundless imagination and the ability to get stuff done. It’s not just that she’s got this incredible power to create ideas—she creates outcomes. It’s a rare quality.” —T.L. Stanley