Q&A: TIAA leads with values and gets results

December 20, 2018

By Marinn Jackson, Head of Premium Sales Strategy, Verizon Media.

Authentic brands believe in something and take action based on their mission. Consumers want to see the causes they support and issues they care about reflected in the products and services they use, challenging brands to communicate their principles to earn trust. People want to be seen using brands that share their values.

According to Verizon Media research, when it comes to topics like equality and diversity (64 percent), closing the gender pay gap (64 percent) and women in leadership (57 percent), the majority of consumers expect brands to take action. These numbers are highest among consumers age 18-34, which is why brands want to align themselves around their audience's expectations.

Verizon Media recently sat down with Mark Elliot, CMO of TIAA, winner of a 2018 Brandblazer award for its campaign on difference makers in the nonprofit sector, to discuss what it means to lead with values.

What does it mean to be a values-led brand?

We are the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, cultural, medical, government and nonprofit fields, yet the financial services category overall is crowded and struggles from low consumer engagement and trust. To break through, we need to establish more emotional connections with our customers and reinforce how our unique structure delivers trust in a differentiated way.

TIAA was created in 1918 by industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to guarantee retirement for educators, and we remain steadfast in our mission to serve and to help those who do good well in their communities. Strong company values and a clear purpose drive our marketing efforts to build more personal and relevant connections to the institutions and consumers we want to reach.

Tell us more about your campaign. Why mobile-first?

Our target nonprofit consumers value their ability to help make a difference in the world. Among millennials in particular, doing so can be even more important than professional recognition or short-term financial rewards.

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So, to mark our centennial, we launched the TIAA Difference Maker 100, which recognizes 100 people working in the nonprofit sector who are making a positive impact in the world. Each of the honorees was recognized with a $10,000 grant in their name to the nonprofits they support, for a total of $1 million from TIAA, a nod to Carnegie's original $1 million pledge.

We took a mobile-first approach with every aspect of the campaign from the program microsite, to the branded content, our social posts, even an online, interactive quiz to allow anyone to uncover their inner Difference Maker. We wanted to enable our audiences to enjoy and share the content from anywhere and in fact, our data shows that some of our best engagement came via mobile devices.

What did consumers think of the campaign?

The response we've received has been amazing.

More than 4,000 people submitted stories to be considered and many people also shared the program to encourage others to submit stories. We've seen great engagement from the content we've produced, including with both long- and short-form video and written stories of extraordinary, nonprofit Difference Makers that are built for social sharing.

Now our 100 honorees are becoming ambassadors of the program as well, sharing the news on their own social channels and collaborating with us on marketing and local earned media efforts. We're so honored to get to know them and amplify their stories to inspire others to make a difference in their local communities as well. It's truly been an inspirational program to be a part of and to get to know the people we serve on a much deeper and personal level.

How important was it for you to scale this message on trusted content?

As traditional advertising evolves, we need to tell powerful stories, and creating great content helped us inspire and engage people.

We launched the program through a branded content partnership with Verizon Media, the parent company of RYOT Studio, Yahoo, AOL and HuffPost, which helped draw new audiences to interact with us and get to know our brand. It's critical that we continue to enhance our brand content capabilities and leverage the expertise of our media partners, as well as the authenticity of influencers, to create more meaningful brand connections.

What were some of the cool creative executions you did?

We explored new forms of content across social and we established new partnerships with influencers, including athlete and nonprofit advocate Laila Ali, who helped us champion our message through video and social content.

"Creating great content helped us inspire and engage people." - Mark Elliot, CMO, TIAA

The Difference Maker Quiz was another first for us, enabling us to experiment with new and interactive ways for bringing our brand to life.

The campaign took on an even deeper meaning with our employees, as it became a rallying cry for the largest, coordinated volunteering and give-back program in our company's history, "100 Days of Difference." It was exciting to see the campaign messaging and creative assets become deeply rooted in so many aspects of our brand marketing efforts this year.

What was your data strategy?

We took a data-driven approach to our marketing and content strategy throughout every step of the program, from early days in development through to the final phases of execution. We have constantly evaluated the performance of our efforts to make necessary optimizations to drive better results. Data analytics played an integral role in our strategic decision-making and is helping to inform new branded content efforts outside of this campaign.

How do you plan to continue to lead with values and reinvent storytelling, communications and experiences?

TIAA may be 100 years old, but our business continues to evolve to meet the needs of our customers and as a result, our marketing efforts need to transform with it. We have a unique story, but we need to continue to explore how we're telling it and find the emotional and personal connections that can help our messages resonate with current and future customers. Our values and mission focus solely on our customers and we know we want to do more to continue to shine a spotlight on them through the next 100 years.