On this Marketing Matters, WFoA Executive Director Catharine Hays and Jenny Rooney, CMO Network Editor at Forbes, talked with three guests who have recently led efforts to reinvigorate long-standing brands: Connie Weaver, Executive Vice President and CMO of TIAA; Don Branch, VP and CMO of 3M; and Beth Brady, CMO of Principal Financial Group. As each speaker noted, the days of superficial rebranding—with a focus on just a new logo —are gone: today, brand evolution must be deeply thought out to reflect the core values of the brand, be relevant to customers’ desires, engender enthusiasm from employees, and embrace the multiplicity of platforms available to companies and consumers alike. By exploring the rationale and methodology behind the brand evolution at TIAA, 3M, and Principal, this week’s radio show revealed the challenges such historic brands face—and the success that comes with being bold.
- Customer research and feedback is an essential step in guiding brand evolution: they are the truth vectors.
- Including employees in the brand evolution at an early stage helps build engagement, and ensure that the foundation of the brand—its culture—are being well represented.
- Rebranding should not be a flick-of-the-switch change, it should be a journey that customers and employees feel part of, and one that retains the core values and heritage of the brand.
- Changing a brand must be more than just a visual makeover: it can be an opportunity to bring cultural and society relevance and difference-making to the fore.
- Branding should be simple, clear, and coherent: with the plethora of messaging today, no company can afford to be the author of confusion.
- Messaging and values must align: if you’re talking about real lives, it may be time to retire your cartoon character.
* * *
Jenny and Catharine’s first guest was Connie Weaver, Executive Vice President and CMO of TIAA, formerly TIAA-CREF. When it was founded almost 100 years ago, TIAA provided insurance and retirement support for teachers; now it does a lot more. “Today the company is a full service financial services company, with a bank, with insurance, with investments, assets manager,” explains Weaver. “Those two products didn’t really represent where we’ve come.” Rebranding therefore started with that fact, then relied heavily on customers’ opinions: “after doing a tremendous amount of customer research, you start to focus on how customers perceive you, how to remain relevant, and most importantly, simple and memorable” she says.
What Weaver found was that consumers, particularly when dealing with a financial service provider, want simplicity—something the name TIAA-CREF lacked. “Consumers who currently didn’t do businesses with us thought that the simpler name meant we were simpler to do business with,” she says. But the goal of the brand evolution wasn’t just to convey simplicity—it was to deliver it. “Five years ago we were out there advertising, driving people to our website, and we realized the experience was more complex than we wanted it to be,” explains Weaver. “So we pulled ourselves off the airwaves, and worked to understand segment by segment the needs preferences and behavioral characteristics of the customers we serve and wish to serve.”
Doing this involved a thorough test and learn agenda: TIAA ran every page of the website through a customer test environment, aiming to produce a website that, like its new name, was simple, direct, and user friendly. “We wanted to be radially simple, and meet people emotionally,” explains Weaver, “we want to be engaged allies—our customers need to know we’ve got their back.” As Weaver explains, “trusting in and listening to customers—making them the ‘vector of truth’—means we’re going to have a much better ability to understand how customers engage with us. We’ve built that into the program.”
The brand evolution was customer-centric, but TIAA employees played an equally crucial role. “My belief is that the brand starts at home,” says Weaver. “We included our internal employees just as we did customers—they were part of focus groups, they engaged with new design ideas, and message testing,” she explains. “My employees are my best brand ambassadors.”
Reinventing a brand thus clearly does not mean starting from scratch—it means finding out what is most important to those who give the brand value. “It was very important to us that changing the name did not mean we were losing anything in terms of our values,” says Weaver. “What we stood for, the heritage that we have—all the things that are so unique, and we won’t ever lose that.”
Catharine and Jenny’s next guest was Don Branch, VP and CMO of 3M, a company which, like TIAA, has been around for a century: 3M masking tape was invented to mark off two-tone cars in Detroit, and the creation of 3M audio tape enabled Bing Crosby to be the first person ever to sing on the radio when he wasn’t in the studio.
Today, 3M is a diverse and global company, one that spans industrial spaces and consumer goods both. This multiplicity of audiences is a challenge, one that Branch took into account when 3M launched its first global campaign in 25 years in 2015. “We did research over 15 countries, and engaged 15,000 people to figure out what they thought of us,” explains Branch. “We learned that people who relate to 3M in one of our market spaces, for example dentistry, consider us to be experts there. But people who know us in more than one of our places tend to be more loyal.” By creating a global brand campaign—‘3M Science: Applied to Life’—the coherence of the brand was emphasized: “The idea is to have people understand 3M across more than one area of expertise and thus create more customers and more loyalty,” Branch says.
Gathering the opinions of customers was invaluable. “We thought about ourselves one way, and learning how customers viewed us, what they considered our areas of expertise, helped us change to an outside-in view: understanding your customer base is essential for any brand redevelopment,” explains Branch.
The campaign launched at South by Southwest in 2015, where 3M built a ‘Life Lab’: a tent space that was brought to life using 3M technology, including a DJ who used a 3M Bluetooth stethoscope to set her music to her heartbeat. Employees were highly engaged in the event, which also included an app. “We had our millennials on bikes, so if someone had a blister, they could tap the app, and we would zip right over and give them a Nexcare bandage,” explains Branch. Employee engagement is, for Branch, integral to a brand evolution. “If your employees are on board with you, they give you tremendous leverage,” he says.
The all-encompassing brand message reminds customers that 3M is integral to so many facets of the modern world. “We say that in the US, you’re never more than ‘3Meters’ away from a 3M product: we’re embedded in cell phones, roads, cars,” explains Branch. “Getting people to understand how we are relevant to their lives is all part of ‘3M Science: Applied to Life.’” At this year’s SXSW, the company pushed this idea even further by emphasizing the relationship between 3M and sustainability. “We’re pulling products out of the display this year,” says Branch, “and we are talking about ideas. We want people to think about things in a different way.” Through an interactive experience, visitors will explore fact that there will be 9 billion people will be on the earth by 2050, and consider what that means for society. “3M has been philanthropic for years,” explains Branch. “And companies can be altruistic, but as profits come and go, it may not be sustainable. If we can build sustainability into the business model, so it actually makes money, corporations can keep it up: sustainability should be part of what we do.”
The final guest on Marketing Matters this week was Beth Brady, CMO of Principal Financial Group. Brady, who has a background in packaged goods marketing, had also worked at Nielsen, where she gained experience in data and analytics: the combination of a marketing and data career made her an ideal candidate to rejuvenate the Principal brand. “Package goods teaches you about putting the customer first, how to develop marketing strategies that can move the business forward. That skill set, for financial services, has been invaluable, because financial services companies are still developing their muscle in branding,” explains Brady.
Brady talked to Marketing Matters the day of the brand evolution launch: the culmination of an 18-month process. “One of the reasons I came to Principal was because the CEO at the time recognized that we needed to develop a more consistent and disciplined approach to branding,” explains Brady. “We had a lot of different businesses and they were expressing themselves in different ways that weren’t always in line. These days, you cannot afford to create confusion: you can’t be the author of confusion.”
To articulate her approach, Brady uses the metaphor of a ‘brand house.’ “A strong foundation is key, and the foundation of a brand is company culture,” she explains. “To develop a strong foundation, tap into what you’re really good at, and amplify it. On top of that sits tone, personality, and all those differentiating factors. And then at the very top of the house is the brand essence, that simple and internal expression of who you are.” Employees—the people who sustain a culture—are thus crucial to a brand evolution. “We had to start with a strategy that is true to the company, and get alignment from a range of stakeholders,” explains Brady. “By focusing on strategy and coming up with something that felt right for us, we created a lot of alignment, and a lot of collaboration. Then we let people be bold in their jobs: if it’s on strategy, allow people to be bold.”
One bold decision was to move away from Eddie, the cartoon character that had represented Principal for a decade. “We realized that we wanted to be about real people, real lives, and real stories,” explains Brady. Having a cartoon character represent such a concept did not make sense, so Brady decided to ‘retire’ Eddie. “We’re a company that is trying very hard to help people focus on what they need to do to be prepared for retirement, so why not use Eddie as a platform to bring attention to the whole retirement world?,” she says. To do this, Principal encouraged people to share their retirement dreams via Twitter. “People would tweet at us, we’d have them illustrated, and then send them back out,” Brady explains. “It really took off. Often financial companies hit you with facts on Twitter, and no one is very interested in that. But people can get excited about something interesting like imagining what they want to do in the future, and it means we are helping them begin that thought process.”
The decision to retire Eddie—to incorporate him into an ongoing story—reflects Brady’s perspective on marketing today. “Marketers aren’t seeing it as rebranding anymore, because in this age of transparency you can’t just flick a switch and change things,” she explains. “You have to bring consumers on the journey with you; that’s what they want.”