Q&A with Walter Frye

July 15, 2019

By Marni Gordon, SVP of committees and conferences, ANA

In advance of his presentation at this year's ANA Digital and Social Media Conference, we caught up with Walter Frye, VP of global brand engagement at American Express, to talk influencer marketing.


Q. You've had some different roles with American Express. What skills do you think have served you well across departments?

I learned in my first role at American Express how important empathy is in marketing. I was responsible for early tenure marketing and customer experience for our Starwood Card portfolio (now Marriott Bonvoy), but didn't have the mindset of our customers on that Card portfolio. Learning to develop empathy for our customers has benefited me and my work over my last 12 years at American Express, as I've served varying customer segments (from B2C to B2B). No matter what, our customers should feel that we understand them and have their backs, so they can thrive in life and in business. It's critical that our products and services deliver on our vision to provide the world's best customer experience every day, and that our marketing and communications meet our customers where they are.


Q. How do you stay current on trends and news in such a rapidly changing field like digital marketing?

I consume as much content as I can around evolving trends, whether it's through the stacks of magazines I get every month to my morning email digests from various marketing publications. My favorites are Fast Company, Wired, and Buzzfeed Daily, but nothing beats getting out in the world. I spend almost every evening maintaining and building relationships with people from every field and walk of life. I also travel as often as I can. Understanding how people live around the world and what's meaningful to them is just as important as knowing what apps they're using and the latest digital marketing trends.


Q. You'll be covering how marketers can use data to inform influencer marketing at the conference. What type of data do you think is most helpful to decision-making from a marketer's perspective? Do you think new privacy laws will have an impact on that?

Audience data is critical. Our influencer program has become more sophisticated over time because we're able to ensure that we work with influencers whose audiences align with our design target, from a demographic and psychographic perspective.

We recognize the importance of maintaining our customers' trust and have a strong, long-standing commitment to privacy and data security. We use the information we do collect about our customers to effectively provide them with differentiated and customized experiences and content. When it comes to influencer marketing, we'll continue to innovate and evolve with the capabilities of our marketing partners, while ensuring we protect our customers' data.


Q. Some marketers say influencer marketing has been around since the dawn of advertising, and others think influencer marketing has peaked and is now on the downturn. What's your take on the trajectory of influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is nothing new. Marketers, including American Express, have a long history of working with influential members of the community to drive brand awareness and communicate specific messages to both new and existing customers. We have a cult following of fans who love our product and services: they're advocates. Many of those advocates have social followings (both large and small) that includes existing customers and prospective ones we want to reach.

Today's influencers also represent a new celebrity. We work with them the same way we've worked with many celebrities over the past few decades, to help us reach their audiences and drive interest in our brand. While the channels may be different and more sophisticated today, influencer marketing will continue to evolve, but will not go away.


Q. How can a brand make sure that an influencer has the right "brand fit" for them?

It's critical that influencers promote brands in a way that is authentic to the influencer's voice and audience, and it's essential that they only work with brands that align with their interests and values. We do our due diligence with in-depth research on all the influencers we work with before partnering, to ensure they're a fit as it relates to shared audiences, shared values, and a passion for our brand, products, and services.


Q. Who are some influencers that you personally follow, and what keeps you interested in what they have to say?

I've become a big fan of Stephanie Shepard, who is an #AmexAmbassador. I love how seamlessly her content spans philanthropic efforts, such as making sandwiches for homeless shelters around L.A., to celebrating her birthday and hanging out with friends (including the Kardashian clan!) to showcasing her latest beauty finds and tips. She is able to authentically engage her audience in so many ways.

I've also been a longtime follower of @bhdmdesign, my favorite interior designer who provides constant design inspiration (a personal passion of mine).

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