Brands are increasingly publishing their own editorial content online, instead of or alongside that provided by specialist partners such as SEO agencies. That original content is an important facet of marketing efforts, and proven to generate solid leads, is tough to dispute.

But some brands are now taking this approach in unexpected and innovative directions, marking them out as unlikely game-changers in the world of inbound marketing. Case in point, credit card company American Express (AMEX), and their Open Forum which was launched back in 2007.

Genesis

The idea behind Open Forum stemmed from AMEXs own research – through feedback from their customers the company realised that many entrepreneurs and small businesses either didn’t understand or were feeling left behind by developments in social media and other forms of marketing. If that was the case in marketing, then it was likely that the same problems were also being experienced in other aspects of running a business. So AMEX created Open Forum as a place people could visit to get the information they needed, and a lot more besides.

Diverse Content

A rich and diverse range of tools, advice and support is available on Open Forum on topics such as technology, marketing and leadership. True to good inbound marketing principles, there is a healthy mix of content from the company’s own inhouse team, and from specialist contributors. Business people can comment on articles and threads, connect with their peers and people from many other industries to learn and share information about best practises, as well as developing leads and watch filmed discussions from relevant trade shows.

Brand Loyalty

As a measure of its immediate success, back in 2010 the site was attracting over a million unique visits a month, and since then has only continued to expand, for example by opening the forum to Linkedin members, which introduced even more expertise and increased awareness. Critically, there is next to no self-promotion going on here – the purpose of the site is to use provide unbiased, expert advice to those that need it, adding immense value to the brand by doing so. A simple equation is at play: insights + support = leads + loyalty. As these small businesses, many of which are already AMEX’s customers, grow, so AMEX will do also.

There are other benefits too – by creating a community around a topic that they know will interest many people, AMEX are able to cut down their marketing budget. And whenever they release a new product or service, feedback from the businesses it will benefit can be instantaneous.

Takeaways

Now clearly this is a long-term, expensive project by one of the world’s largest brands that few companies could expect or hope to emulate. But there are obvious lessons here that smaller businesses interested in developing their online marketing abilities can take from it.

  1. It’s more effective to draw visitors to your own site by providing them with content that interests and is of help to them than by hoping to attract leads by strength of brand name only.
  2. Coming up with creative solutions should be seen as a long-term endeavour, but needn’t be incredibly costly, and can actually save money in the long-run.
  3. Inviting contributions from guest-bloggers can enhance your own reputation.

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