People’s Insights Volume 1, Issue 47: Small Business Saturday

What is Small Business Saturday?

In 2010, American Express launched Small Business Saturday, a purpose-inspired movement to encourage Americans to shop small at local independently owned businesses on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In 2012, $5.5 billion was spent at independent merchants during Small Business Saturday, a total of 3.2 million people have liked the Small Business Saturday page on Facebook, and 213,000 tweets mentioned the movement in the month of November.

Built around a powerful shared purpose

By highlighting the role of small businesses in creating jobs and contributing to local communities and the national economy in its advertisements (Video: Small Business Saturday 2011) and communications, American Express established a strong shared purpose around which people united.

View the full Small Business Impact infographic at

Scott Goodson, author of the movement marketing book Uprising summarized how movement marketing begins with a powerful idea:

“You start by identifying a powerful idea on the rise in culture. You then join, fuel and add real tangible value to the idea through innovative marketing and social media. People who share the passion for the idea join the cause. And rally others to get involved too. And so, a movement is born, which smart brands can profit from.”

Mobilizes small business owners

In 2011, 500,000 small business owners leveraged tools and materials provided by American Express to promote themselves. Tools included free advertising credits on Facebook and Twitter, free marketing materials (in association with supporters like FedEx), tips on getting customers and tips on setting up Facebook pages, YouTube ads and Foursquare deals.

As PRWeek reporter Lindsay Stein wrote:

“Business owners are ticking up their grassroots communications for American Express’ “Small Business Saturday” initiative.”


Jason Keith wrote:

“Localization is the reason that this has been not only powerful, but effective in getting the message out. Local businesses promote the event and encourage people in their area to shop small, local media then picks up on the event and writes about it, covering it with live TV the day of and also encouraging people to get out and shop small.”

Also mobilizes people

American Express provided supporters with a map to find participating stores and encouraged supporters to do four things: pledge to shop small, rally friends, spread the word on social media and share photos on Instagram with #SmallBusinessSaturday.

American Express used Facebook as the central platform of the movement, leveraging the social network to connect with people who shared the same purpose.

Small Business Saturday Facebook Case Study

The success of the movement shows that people have the desire to act around a purpose they are passionate about, in this case local businesses and communities.

Incentives for customers

American Express also incentivized participation for cardholders, rewarding them with a $25 credit for spending $25 at a participating merchant, and allowing them to redeem membership points for Shop Small gift cards.

Support from public figures

The movement was also promoted by 350+ advocacy groups, city and state governments, and 100+ public figures, including President Obama, who tweeted his support and participated by shopping at a local bookstore on Small Business Saturday. The movement was also supported by 155 corporations.

Movement becomes bigger than the brand

Quite a few people who participated in the movement did not realize it was an American Express initiative.

As Leslie Bowers, one of the small business owners who participated in the movement, said:

“People are actively participating, but they don’t know that American Express started it.”

Marketers point out that this is true – and necessary – for most successful branded movements. In our Now & Next: Future of Engagement report on Grassroots Change Movements, MSLGROUP’s Gaurav Mishra said:

“Brands can create a campaign around purpose and participation, but it becomes a movement only if people make it their own. For movement marketing to work, the brand needs to think of itself as a custodian of the movement, not its owner; it needs to nurture the movement over multiple years, but also create the space for it to become bigger than the brand itself. If a brand tries to control the movement, and keep it on message, the movement is likely to be stillborn, or die a slow death.”

American Express still benefits

American Express reported a 21% increase in card transactions on Small Business Saturday 2012. Thinkers point out the movement also helped American Express gain the goodwill of small business owners.

As John Tozzi, a reporter at Business Week, pointed out :

“Besides encouraging shoppers to use their American Express cards, the campaign aims to win over merchants, who pay higher fees for accepting AmEx than for Visa (V) or MasterCard (MA) swipes.”

Small Business Saturday sponsor FedEx too reported an increase in awareness and revenue.

Stories to spark participation

American Express encourages participating small businesses to share their stories to sustain momentum of the movement year on year, to encourage more small businesses to participate and to provide a feel-good to shoppers who supported the movement.

Sets precedent for more movement marketing

Small Business Saturday was awarded two Grand Prix awards at Cannes, drawing attention to this type of program and carving a role for grassroots change movements in the future of engagement.

In their analysis of the Cannes Festival, Ad Age bloggers Rupal Parekh and Kunur Patel wrote:

“By choosing a campaign that wasn’t just a one-off and has had some sustained momentum, the jury seemed to be making a statement about work that has the power to go beyond its initial conception and become something bigger, something embedded into popular culture. They want to see lasting effects, and a campaign that has impact broadly, not just on a small subset of consumers.”

* (MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

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As an example, 100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on corporate citizenship, crowdsourcing, storytelling and social data on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the iPad-friendly People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at