Connie Weaver of TIAA: Building an experience-based customer engagement brand

A Series of Profiles of CMO Leaders Who Are Redefining the Marketing Discipline

tiaa-new-logoOur team of experts from the Forbes CMO Practice conducts regular in-depth interviews with leading CMOs to provide insights about the evolution of the marketing function. Connie Weaver, the Chief Marketing Officer of the financial services business TIAA, has pioneered the notion of an “engagement brand” – by redefining the TIAA brand as a customer experience. Below, I followed up with her to get more insight into what it takes to execute an experience-based brand promise from a process, systems, accountability and mindset perspective.

Stephen Diorio:  You recently rebranded TIAA as a “customer engagement brand”.  Our research shows that over two thirds of marketing executives view a differentiated customer experience as vital to driving growth strategy and marketing effectiveness.  What does an engagement brand mean to your company? And how do you go about defining your brand as a customer experience?

Connie Weaver: For our rebranding to be effective it had to be comprehensive.  Our mission is to transform TIAA into a simpler, more customer centric organization that supports customers at every step of the journey.  What do we mean by an “engagement brand”?  Our brand strategy is focused on delivering on three core principles.  Putting the customer first by truly understanding them and how they feel.  Being radically simple to do business with in any interaction.  And engaging customers as an ally to achieve their goals and build their trust.CMO Priorities 2

Diorio:  Delivering simplicity, authenticity, and engagement to thousands of institutions and millions of customers is not trivial. There are thousands of people and dozens of organizations in your company that all contribute to the client experience in some way. How were you able to build processes across the many organizations needed to “walk the talk” and really support your brand strategy?

Weaver:  We didn’t enter into this lightly.  We’ve been preparing for this for several years by putting in place the processes, systems, accountability, and mindset necessary to allow us to reimagine our brand and focus on the customer first.   We couldn’t have accomplished this a year ago.

To connect the dots across the organization, we have five cross functional workstreams supporting the rebranding effort. These initiatives are looking at the end-to-end capabilities we need to execute the brand strategy in the eyes of the customer.  For example, we have a workstream focused on building a content supply chain that can support personalized client experiences in digital channels.  We have another workstream exploring cross-channel distribution of content to ensure we deliver our stories and insights consistently across a variety of customer touch points with a bias towards digital engagement.

For this to work, it’s essential to have everybody in the organization understand their role in these processes, as well as how they contribute to the collective outcomes of the process.   We’ve taken a lot of steps to get all of the people in our organization energized as “brand ambassadors”.  This took a lot of communication, education, and engagement. From an education standpoint over 9,000 employees voluntarily took online training on the brand strategy. To make the brand “tangible”, each employee also received “a brand in a box” with tools and resources to help them participate more directly in the rebranding. To create accountability, we are putting measures in place that define the experience outcomes we are shooting for.

Diorio:  Can you give an example of how you were able to “connect the dots” across organizations to deliver a superior client experience?

Weaver:  There are plenty of tangible ways we have done this.  For example, we’ve been able work in close partnership with our legal and compliance talent as partners in the rebranding by getting them much more involved earlier in the content creation process. Our goal: make this more meaningful for our customers!  We expose them to client feedback. We get them involved in idea development.  So now instead of acting in a governance capacity only enforcing strict “safe” boundaries, they actively help us color within those lines with the client experience in mind.  By working more closely we are able to proactively identify plenty of ways to streamline the compliance process and save time while remaining compliant. But the biggest benefit of this collaboration is it leads to a better client experience.

Another example is getting our communications, marketers, and digital marketing teams – and the agencies that support them – on the same page.  All of these organizations bring distinct and unique storytelling, messaging and content creation skills to the party. But too often they are working on different channels, messages or campaigns. The key to being authentic and consistent in our storytelling is to deliver a simple message – real stories from real customers – in one voice. This involves getting these creative, content, and communications teams collaborating more. Sometimes building a team is a physical thing – putting all these organizations in a room or on conference calls for planning meetings. But teamwork is really more of a mindset.  Working together in an honest and constructive way.  There cannot be too much structure. And we need to be agile and adaptive to be flexible.

The results of this sort of collaboration have been material.  We are able to leverage insights from our deep research in more customer conversations.  We create authentic stories not press releases. And we are able to deliver those stories consistently across touch points – whether it’s traditional or social media, TIAA.org, or our client reporting statements.

Diorio: Many of these people don’t work for marketing.  How are you able to hold all these different stakeholders accountable for delivering on the customer experience you seek to deliver your clients?

Weaver: Without concrete measures of the business outcomes the organization is supposed to create it is difficult to establish common goals and foster the teamwork and collaboration we need to succeed.  It’s essential to have different stakeholders, agencies and managers in the organization understand their role in the process, as well as how they contribute to the collective outcomes of the process.

This means creating measures to hold people accountable for results internally and externally. External measures need to focus on how well we are building trust, authenticity, differentiation, and deep engagement. Internal measures look at how consistent we are, our speed to market, where we can reduce the amount of management time involved, and reusing our content in many places.

And we don’t have all the answers and measures yet. You need to be agile. We need to continually test and learn. Share what we are learning so we can get better.   And scale what works to maximize our impact.  It also means that it is OK to fail, as long as you learn and improve from it.

Diorio:  Delivering personalized experiences to customers is clearly a top priority of marketers. In fact, 94% of senior-level executives believe delivering personalization is critical or important to reaching and engaging customers.  What role do personalization play in the brand experience?

Weaver:  Personalized engagement content is a big part of the equation.  Making prescriptive recommendations of content relevant to a client’s situation.  Updating transactions and reporting in a timely and relevant fashion.  Integrating that information across channels – including the field.  We are empowering advisors and our contact center with custom content and information to help them bring the clients along their journey, and address the day-to-day challenges they face.

For example, we view statements as a meaningful customer touch point. So we are personalizing the language, context, infographics and messages on our statements.  We are able to put customized “onserts” that flag clients to important messages and content on their statements.Role of content in growth

Diorio:  What are some of the things you are doing to get ready for personalization at scale in digital, mobile and social channels?  What types of systems are necessary for you to execute consistently, at scale, across so many channels and touch points?

Weaver:  A great example of systems we have put in place to deliver personalized content experiences is the work we have done to enable personalization and publishing.  Over the past several years, we’ve built a capability to dynamically publish personalized content at a customer and client level across channels.   On the web we can leverage customizable content templates to create more meaningful digital interactions. On account statements we can leverage custom graphics, messages, and “onserts” as I mentioned.  In support of client meetings, we can dynamically assemble presentations, reports, and pitchbooks that are more personalized to the client need in a cost-effective manner.

A lot went into building out this capability and we continue to benefit from the platform. We identified this as a core capability we needed to build to get to where we wanted to go from a customer experience perspective. We’ve coupled our personalization capabilities with an insights team that defines what to personalize based on customer profiles.  We have a studio to help us manage content in a modular fashion so it can be assembled, reused, and personalized in many levels.  And finally, we use templates to give us scale in our ongoing efforts to create personalized, meaningful experiences across our digital, web, and print channels.

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Stephen Diorio is a Director of the Brand Publishing Institute

Connie Weaver is EVP, Chief Marketing Officer of TIAA, a leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical, cultural and government fields.  She has more than three decades of marketing, communications and investor relations experience across multiple sectors, including financial services, telecom, technology and publishing