Close-Up with Donna MacFarland, senior VP-CMO, retirement plan services, Lincoln Financial Group

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Donna MacFarland was named senior VP-CMO of Lincoln Financial Group's retirement plan services in January, having served as marketing director since 2010. While Lincoln offers a variety of financial services, including life insurance, annuities and financial planning, the company is seeing promise in the retirement plans it offers to companies and created this new position for MacFarland. CMO Close-Up: Tell us a little about Lincoln's retirement services business and its marketing efforts? MacFarland: When I joined Lincoln 18 months ago marketing was centralized to serve our four business lines, including retirement services. About a year ago the decision was made to decentralize marketing to bring it closer to each business unit and create an impact in larger ways. Our group targets companies that want retirement plans for their employees, small businesses up to large corporations, as well as nonprofits. Historically we have gone to market through intermediaries, such as broker dealers or financial advisers. We look to establish close relationships here and provide solutions to help them through the advising process. Once the decision is made to select Lincoln as the provider, we then have direct contact with the employer. So there is a lot of work that goes on with educating participants about their plans and the value they get by investing wisely. We don''t call it marketing at that point, but rather communications and education. We also help our clients provide customized communications to their employees to help them achieve maximum retirement outcomes. CMO Close-Up: How has the marketing process for retirement services changed since you joined the company? MacFarland: Lincoln has traditionally been viewed as a sales-support company, focusing on print collateral and the other things that sales needs. Obviously, there are many more levers we could be using. One of our first initiatives was to look at the sales process experience. We made significant improvements in the touch points and increased the number of them. Another thing we changed was event marketing. Third-party industry events are an important way to reach out to a niche market; but, while we were present in many of them, our outreach wasn't organized holistically. Now, we have a more centralized view around events, managing them from end to end—pre-, during and post—with a small event-marketing team. We're also building out our thought-leadership platform to bring insight to the marketplace as a way to raise our profile. We conduct a number of research initiatives and publish white papers. And that content also serves as the basis of presentations at events and webinars, and in providing sales with added tools. We call our thought-leadership initiative our Retirement Power Series. CMO Close-Up: What is Lincoln doing with marketing technology and new media? MacFarland: Email is a huge component when dealing with intermediaries. Also, we have a lot of Web development going on. We're just starting to do more with social media, with a focus on conferences and events. A lot of these have Twitter conversations going on, and we're looking to participate in those and establish a community conversation as a networking opportunity. Last year Lincoln launched a live Facebook forum where participants could learn about retirement planning and savings, and ask questions. We plan to repeat it this year. We also try to make sure to “like” our clients on Facebook and post on their Facebook pages, so their employees can connect back to us. CMO Close-Up: Your field is a crowded one. How do you differentiate Lincoln from the competition? MacFarland: We focus on optimism. Others may use scare tactics (about the failure to plan for retirement), but our optimistic message is about helping people get to retirement readiness, to empower them to get on track for a secure retirement. Also, our approach is high-touch. We partner with all those we serve. We have retirement consultants who work with companies like account managers. Some of our consultants have worked on these plans for 10 or 20 years.
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