The world of credit is expensive and overwhelming for many consumers. So how can a credit card company make itself relatable? American Express is one of the highest revenue-generating companies in the country, yet it has established a strong relationship with small and local businesses. How? In part, through strategic event marketing: creating “Small Business Saturday.” This annual holiday – taking place the Saturday following Thanksgiving – plays off the holiday bargain-shopping craze and encourages shoppers to find deals at stores in their own neighborhood.

Small Business Saturday was launched in 2010. Since then, it’s driven an annual average spending of over $5.5 billion, received endless marketing awards and has even prompted President Obama to actively participate in the holiday.

Small Business Saturday is event marketing done right, and it’s ever growing. Here are 3 event-marketing lessons we can learn from American Express:

  1. Connect People with Each Other

A Stanford Study shows that people perceive time to be of greater value than money. We view “how we spend our time [to say] so much more about who we are than how we spend our money.”

Part of Small Business Saturday’s success comes from creating an event that does more than give shoppers a holiday deal — it creates an experience participants want to share with others. Shoppers on Small Business Saturday say they leave feeling more connected with members of their community. The event gives shoppers an opportunity to invest in people and businesses they care about.

“It’s not just a shopping experience; it’s really more of a social experience.”

Detroit has become a flagship city for Small Business Saturday

Having lived in Detroit, I love how powerfully this video captures the city’s unique grit and perseverance. Detroit residents are immensely proud of their city. Small Business Saturday helps the city’s residents accomplish one their most pressing goals – to build up the economy of Detroit. Seth Godin has said that “messages that spread, win.” What easier message to spread in Detroit than telling residents there’s an event being held to meet one of their most pressing need?

  1. Give Ownership to Participants

TED talks are globally recognized, and now so are its spinoff lectures TEDx. Great events are repurposed and spun off into new events. In an interview about the Macintosh, Steve Jobs explained that “Picasso had a saying, ‘good artists copy; great artists steal.’ And we [at Apple] have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” When spinoffs occur from your event, it’s a signal that people value your idea and want to make a personal mark in your movement.

“Shop small, every day, by the Bay.”

San Francisco has made Small Business Saturday its own by giving it a local flavor:

Great events grow and evolve over time. So in order to make your event great, you need to enable your members to become a part of your event’s legacy. Personalized contributions from participants are a pivotal investment in the success of your event. Tantrum words, “Small Business Saturday needs to keep growing. We have absolute confidence it will,” are music to a marketer’s ears. With shared investment, participants become promoters. They add long-term mobility and growth to events that may otherwise die.

  1. Give Your Event Life Past Midnight

I love the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It would have been quicker for American Express to have hosted a direct marketing campaign. It could have avoided the time demand of coordinating with businesses owners nationwide and still could have achieved a boost in holiday sales. But American Express chose to move slower and go further. By creating a day centered on other businesses’ involvement, American Express gave year-round legs to its one-day event.

“It’s important to shop small.”

Small Business Saturday helps this local business owner make an impact on her customers throughout the year, not just on Small Business Saturday.

Small business owners are using the materials and strategies from Small Business Saturday to bring in more local shoppers year-round. Because of how greatly this event benefits business owners, American Express has genuine year-round ambassadors for Shop Small Saturday.

Movement in the Making

American Express has created a national movement. It piggybacked off the national shopping holidays, invested in its customers, and gave local businesses the opportunity to make the day their own. What is your movement?


Writer, marketer and brander.