Can American Express Be All Brands To All People? You Decide

Over the years, I have encountered a surprising number of companies that struggle with the idea of being focused with their sales and marketing efforts. Although they know who their most profitable customer segment is, they go after a much broader base. And even when they are clear about their brand promise, they dilute the storyline. Why does this happen?

Typically, it’s a “more the merrier” mentality leading the charge. If you can appeal to more people, you’ll reap more rewards. Unfortunately, the result of this approach splinters marketing investments, strains manpower, weakens the brand and bears less fruit.

But, when a premium brand decides to partner with a low-cost leader, you have to wonder what the dialogue was like in those meetings. How can two diametrically opposed brand promises peacefully coexist? They might be able to generate a profit together, but I believe someone is going to suffer in the long run. Or should I say some brand. The Amex brand.

American Express and Walmart will now be offering Bluebird in 4,000+ Walmart stores and at Bluebird is a prepaid card that consumers can use to buy goods and pay bills. A consumer can load money onto the card and use it like a conventional credit or debit card, except without incurring monthly maintenance fees, annual fees or activation fees. And, it promises award-winning American Express customer service 24/7, no credit reviews when opening the account, immediate and convenient availability, remote deposit capture, convenient face-to-face service and even paper checks. The tagline for the card is “Loaded with features. Not fees.”

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

Amex claims the joint effort is aimed at bringing down the rising fees associated with debit and checking services.  They also claim that they are working aggressively to expand capabilities to serve new customer segments outside of its traditional base. That new segment is a lower-income consumer that is typically an unprofitable depositor for traditional banks.

So, how will Amex continue to attract high-spend individuals and corporations when it is playing in the same sandbox as Walmart, a low-cost brand?

Amex claims to have the best customer base of any payments company. On average, cardmembers spend about four times more than MasterCard and three-and-a-half times more than Visa. These customers are attracted to premium brands. They would much rather be seen with an AMEX Platinum Card than a VISA? And, this is as true for high-net worth individuals as businesses. In their employee recruiting materials, they tout that the brand has long stood for quality, trust and integrity and consistently appears on Interbrand’s ranking of the top 100 global brands.

Bluebird is simply inconsistent with the company’s roots of pitching high-end charge cards and credit cards to affluent consumers. When I saw the television spot promoting Bluebird a few days ago, I thought: Amex and Walmart? Has someone gone mad? That blue box just won’t be the same anymore. I really don’t believe the Bluebird brand will fly for Amex. What about you?