Why AARP Is Adding Data Strategy to Marketing Efforts

A Q&A with Lynn Mento, Senior VP-Membership at AARP

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Lynn Mento
Lynn Mento

With an audience that is exclusively 50 and older, AARP's core membership might seem more traditional than consumers of other brands. But the advocacy group is just as interested as other marketers in collecting and employing data to improve communications with members and other marketing efforts.

Its latest innovation: making data a key part of its strategy. The nonprofit has added "data strategy" to its corporate dashboard. However, like most other firms trying to navigate the data flood, challenges remain for AARP.

Lynn Mento, senior VP-membership at AARP, discusses the nonprofit's decision to focus more seriously on data, and explains the difficulties of balancing privacy concerns with data access.

Ad Age: AARP will add "data strategy" to the corporate dashboard in 2014 for the first time. What led to the decision to put data strategy on the map at AARP?

Ms. Mento: AARP has always relied heavily on data to ensure we're creating, offering, and communicating the right information and services. But this conversation around big data has elevated the importance of data to the executive team. AARP wants to seize the opportunity to leverage data in order to increase relevance and personalization, now more than ever, for the broad spectrum of options that the 50-plus have for engaging with AARP. As such, our executive team has, for the first time, identified AARP's data strategy as a core enabler to our long-term health. It's now among a small list of critically important enablers to our social mission and to our business.

Ad Age: Who led the push to getting data strategy on the dash?

Ms. Mento: It was led by our Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins, in conjunction with Steve Cone, our exec VP of membership and integrated value, and the rest of the executive team.

Ad Age: AARP's "member-value statements" put together a lot of different data points from a variety of partners. Can you talk about those partners, and discuss the challenges in attaining the necessary data to make the program work?

Ms. Mento: The member-value statement was created to allow each member to see the individual value they've received to date from AARP. Often that value is what we call "social impact value" -- things like using our Social Security Calculator on aarp.org, attending a member event, or reading an article on aarp.org on brain health, for example. Sometimes that value is "commercial value," like saving money at our providers or taking advantage of their AARP-branded service offerings, like insurance.

AARP licenses its name, logo and other intellectual property to a select group of companies who are either offering products or services, or are helping our members save money on their everyday expenses or their family travel. These providers are typically in the health space -- for example United Healthcare, Delta Dental and EyeMed; the financial space -- Chase and Allstate; the travel space -- Expedia, Hampton Inns, Norwegian Cruise Lines; or retail, such as Denny's, Walgreen's and Outback.

Ad Age: How do privacy issues come into play?

Ms. Mento: In some cases, we can easily see the value that our members have received if they swipe their membership card at a retailer or they're registered on aarp.org. But we actually can't see the majority of their engagements with AARP -- sometimes because of important privacy rules, like HIPAA for healthcare product participation, and sometimes because the participating retailer has a "show and save" program with AARP instead of swiping our membership card. But we're working on a solution to allow us to see more of our members' engagements, while protecting their privacy, so they can have a better sense of the value they're receiving from AARP.

Plus AARP has a strict privacy policy that we will only give our member data to companies that require it, and now to some select nonprofits where we may find a beneficial partnership for Americans 50-plus and their families. We respect our members' privacy wishes, and there are ongoing opportunities for our members to opt-out of information sharing at any time.

Ad Age: AARP's oldest members aren't online in any mass way, so unlike many other corporations and nonprofits, digital media is not always a big source of data for AARP. What are your key sources?

Ms. Mento: While abiding by best practices in data privacy, we mine a large volume of data to meet our mission and guide AARP's interactions with the 50-plus population. Some sources are organic, and collected through member touchpoints (like engagement with the AARP benefit offerings noted above and behaviors on aarp.org)...but other sources focus on traditional attributes, ranging from demographic data, to ideologies to purchase behaviors, available in the data marketplace as appends.

Ad Age: What types of digital data does AARP gather -- or use?

Ms. Mento: We gather digital data through our website, aarp.org, and through our online programs, like email. Like many associations, we're working to enable the best possible link across all our interactions with an individual regardless of the channel or media. We have integrated tracking mechanisms to collect engagement data across digital channels -- for example email to web, web to apps, email to mobile web -- to allow us to be more relevant through a better understanding of user behavior and their engagement channel of choice. Additionally, we collect data to evaluate the performance of our different efforts to ensure we are optimizing results and fulfilling our social mission.

Ad Age: Has AARP made any data related hires recently? If so, please elaborate.

Ms. Mento: AARP's data and analytics is always growing and evolving, and we've recently appointed the head of our website as our new chief digital officer to better reflect the widening world of digital beyond websites and the growing critical importance of digital data.