Why American Express is investing in TikTok ahead of Small Business Saturday

American Express joined the wave of brands flocking to TikTok to reach its Gen Z user base and niche communities.

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the financial brand launched its official brand account and partnered with TikTok for an accelerator program to get people to shop small.

With TikTok becoming an increasingly important marketing channel for small business owners, it made sense for Amex to partner with the platform and “really help small business owners reach a new generation of customers,” said Marianne Rausch, vice president of Small Business Saturday and Shop Small and global advertising and brand management at American Express.

On TikTok, #ShopSmall has nearly 5 billion views. As small businesses invest in the platform, Amex is also rolling out its partnership with TikTok, as well as a paid and organic strategy. It’s a step to promote Amex’s #ShopSmall campaign with Gen Z TikTok users and connect them with small businesses. (The details of Amex’s TikTok issues are unclear as the company failed to respond to a request for disclosure in a timely manner.)

The effort aims to encourage people to make small purchases and stimulate Saturday sales for small businesses. Businesses that sign up for the partnership gain access to resources such as best practices, insights from top TikTok creators, and are eligible to receive $100 in TikTok advertising credit after they earn $50 in credit have spent.

“We’re seeing more and more companies really relying on TikTok because they feel it’s a fun and easy experience,” said Sofia Hernandez, global head of business marketing at TikTok. “All they really need is a phone and an idea.”

According to Pathmatics, Amex has spent more than $142 million on digital advertising so far this year, down significantly from last year’s $222 million. From January through June of this year, Kantar reports that Amex spent $135 million on advertising, down from the $248 million spent in 2021. (Kantar numbers don’t include social spending like Pathmatics numbers do. Pathmatics doesn’t track linear TV spending.)

It’s Amex’s latest move to get people to shop small and dates back to the 2008 financial crisis and, more recently, the post-pandemic recovery. Earlier this year, the company used QR codes and billboards to promote small businesses.

Amex is the latest brand in a line of companies looking to capitalize on TikTok’s fast-growing communities. Earlier this year, Penguin Random House struck a deal with the platform that would allow users to link to books in videos using #BookTok. The online literature platform Wattpad now uses the hashtag for organic growth. (Read more about how small businesses are using TikTok here.)

It’s a trend that Mack McKelvey, founder and CEO of marketing agency Salient MG, expects to continue, especially as TikTok works to expand its ad offerings.

“When you see things like this becoming much more integrated into TikTok’s offerings, you’re going to see an explosion of DTC, and consumer-facing private labels are also really going to show off on TikTok in a really big way,” she said.

By leveraging a paid and organic presence on the platform combined with a community-building accelerator program, Amex is on the right track and creating a presence that fits the nature of TikTok, McKelvey added.

“They’re really coming in a three-pronged approach, which I think is absolutely the right way to test because they’re going to gain a wealth of insights from all three approaches that will feed their ultimate strategy,” she said.

It’s too early to say what the results of Amex’s TikTok efforts are. But the financial brand says its activations around Small Business Saturday are “highly intentional.”

“We’ve been really, really conscious of trying to listen to our small business owners and build a program based on what we’re hearing from them and what they think they need or are interested in,” Rausch said.

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