American Express: A Great Story about the Power of a Brand

I have always believed that a well-conceived and executed brand is more than a marketing communications message. It is an internal unifying force throughout the ranks of a company. I emphasize this philosophy on my website,, and in my blog entitled, “Your Brand and the Mobius Strip.”

Recently I read a speech given by Ken Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express, which he delivered to the Economic Club of Washington several years ago. In this speech, Mr. Chenault made the point about the power of the brand on an organization more effectively than I ever could.

Mr. Chenault’s topic was the power of brands and initially he spoke about the American Express brand from a marketing communications perspective and how it evolved as competitive and economic factors changed. Then he turned his attention to the brand from an internal perspective, looking at the brand and its influence on American Express employees.

“Because there is a strong understanding of our brand across our employee base, we’re able to have a principles-based management process rather than a rules-based process.” Mr. Chenault goes on to describe Amex employees’ proactive response to the news about the Asian tsunami of 2004. AE customer service reps proactively reviewed card and travel related transactions and found 10,000 card members/clients likely still in the impacted area. Those reps placed calls to all of those card members to see if they were all right or needed any kind of special assistance. Most were not impacted by the tsunami, needed no assistance, and were amazed and gratified by the unexpected call.

To those few who were in need of help, the reps replaced cards, rebooked travel, and more to meet the card member’s needs. All without management direction or prior approval!
The notion of a principles-based culture rather than a rules-based culture spoke volumes to me about the power of a brand as an internal unifying force. I hope you can also see the potential of this powerful force and put it to work in your organization.