Taking a Look at TIAA

Editor’s Note: For this month’s newsletter, we’re taking a look at TIAA’s latest campaign, “Let’s #RetireInequality”. It’s important to note that TIAA’s campaign is about a really important subject that should be focused on more in general by financial companies. However, for the purposes of this piece, we’re looking at the campaign objectively through a marketing lens – what’s good? What could be better? And what are some takeaways for financial marketers?

Let’s get into it.

TIAA is a pretty interesting financial services company. They’ve been around since the early 1900s, have accrued nearly $1.3 trillion in assets, and have a unique history and background (more about that in a bit). However, in our experience, they’re not always at the tips of many financial marketers’ tongues when discussing the asset management and retirement category – the likes of BlackRock, Vanguard and Capital Group take most of the limelight for obvious reasons.

TIAA’s most recent campaign, “Let’s #RetireInequality”, seeks to change that. They’re taking a big stance with a big message and (presumably) big media dollars. The question is – how successful are they in accomplishing that objective?

First: Unpacking the TIAA Campaign

Let’s #RetireInequality is a bold stance on a tremendously important issue – too many minorities and individual demographics such as the Black community, women and mothers  throughout our country do not have long-term financial security. The campaign centers on highlighting bold statistics that underscore these “retirement gaps”, showcasing TIAA’s unique role in driving change, and then executing some pretty interesting activations along the way. Some things to spotlight:

The campaign likely costs a billion trillion dollars (not a typo but also a complete exaggeration) – but hey, if you’ve got the dollars, it’s a good use of them.

Is it believable?

The most important thing about a campaign like this one – especially for such a meaningful and emotional topic – is the believability of the campaign. If you’re going to talk about these things, what have you been doing to actually resolve the issues? (We all remember State Street’s much-lauded Fearless Girl campaign. It did have an impact and sparked tons of important conversation, but there was also some blowback, to put it lightly).

Well, if there’s any financial company who should put out this campaign, it’s TIAA – they have full permission to tell this story. Some reasons why:

  • TIAA stands for the “Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America” – it was founded over 100 years ago to provide retirement security for teachers. (Side note, we really hope they spotlight the lack of financial support for teachers in a future chapter. That would be right on, for many reasons).
  • As the campaign states, to this day, TIAA is the “#1 not-for-profit retirement provider for people in the academic, government, medical, cultural and nonprofit fields.”
  • They have real programs they’ve built, like their HBCU Early Career Insights Program and their sponsorship of the National Cybersecurity Alliance’s HBCU Career Program.
  • They are led by the exact demographic the campaign speaks to – a Black, female CEO, Thasundra Duckett. This is far from the norm in the financial sector.

One minor caveat here – just to provide a balanced perspective. TIAA did have some criticism in 2017 for not fully living up to their promises. Perhaps this campaign is intended in part to help them push back against some of the “hangover” from that period. We’re not under the hood, so we can’t say for sure.

Some Takeaways for (The Average) Financial Marketer

Okay, so if you’re reading this: You probably don’t have the budget of TIAA. Nor do you likely have the non-profit, socially-conscious roots of the organization. So we’re not advocating that you launch a campaign like this (although devoting some dollars to driving change is always a good thing). However, we can all learn a few things from this campaign:

  • Taking a stance is a good thing: Is your brand taking a stance? What do you believe in? It doesn’t necessarily need to be about a social cause – Vanguard did this by emphasizing low-cost investing back in the day. No matter what, it does need to be bold and put a line in the sand. If you don’t feel like you know what your financial brand can confidently proclaim, take the time to figure it out.
  • Make sure your message is believable: Whoever you are, your organization has roots. You have a history, you have a culture and unique things that make you, you. Whatever campaign you put into market, make sure you can back it up with real proof and track record. Especially in financial services where the stakes are high, this is critical.
  • Go narrow: TIAA’s campaign doesn’t speak to everyone. That’s a good thing. They have a narrow campaign message that speaks to unique demographics. It drives better creative, better activations, and a more targeted use of media dollars.
  • Go integrated: It’s not just about big budget TV. It’s not just about a digital hub. It’s also about activations and research that drive public relations, social media buzz, and articles like this one. Thinking outside the box with some smart strategic work can go a long way.

Hopefully we all learned a thing (or four) from TIAA. Cheers!

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