Guest Post: Finding your brand’s voice

August 13, 2008, 11:03 PM UTC

Growing up, my father often used the age-old adage, “Why do you think God gave you two ears and one mouth? Because you’ve got to do a lot more listening than you do talking.”

In marketing, the trick is to make sure you are constantly listening outside of your own four walls to get a true customer perspective. I’m really conscious of this. Every two weeks I work with a few trusted individuals–both internal and external–to re-examine our voice in the marketplace. We talk (and more importantly, listen) to people from the arts and retail and all sorts of businesses. We meet with grassroots organizations. We do our own research, of course–and all this helps me leave behind the “corporate goggles.”

You know, brands aren’t really owned by companies. Brands are owned by their constituencies–their consumers, their employees and their shareholders. And brands are defined by their place, relevance and stance in contemporary culture. So if you think about consumers in the midst of ongoing conversations, you’re either a part of that conversation–listening and adjusting your voice–or you’re spending a great deal of money talking to no one but yourself.

You might not know it, but American Express started as a freight forwarding company. In fact, we were 108 years old before we created the first American Express Card. So we’ve had to find our voice in the marketplace many, many times. We’ll continue to modify, tweak and enhance many times in the future.

Any successful brand and any successful brand manager needs to do the same. If you’re not taking time to get a checkup on your voice as often as you get your paycheck, you run the risk of not having either.

John Hayes is Chief Marketing Officer at American Express . He’s been at the company for 13 years.