ANA Annual Meeting 2013

Rookie Advertiser USAA: We Won Big with Marketing

Company Snags Analytics Award at ANA

By Published on .

When Roger Adams interviewed for the CMO job at the financial services company USAA about three years ago, his first thought was that it would be a "marketer's dream," he said.

"Here is a company that is almost 90-years-old, they have a great customer service reputation, and they've never advertised," he recalled Saturday during a presentation at the Association of National Advertisers meeting in Phoenix. A few hours later he woke up in the middle of the night with second thoughts. "This could be a marketer's nightmare," he recalled. "They have nowhere to go but down."

Mr. Adams, former CMO at Lord & Taylor and The Home Depot, ended up taking the job. And under his leadership, USAA -- which provides insurance, retirement and investment services to military personnel and their families -- has used marketing and analytics to reach new heights.

The company this week earned one of the organization's top honors, the "marketing analytics leadership award." The ANA cited the company's efficiency: while property and casualty insurers spend an average of 2.5% of revenue on advertising, USAA spends just 0.85% of revenue, yet gets "virtually the same exposure" as its competitors, according to the ANA. That is saying something considering USAA knocks heads with massive advertisers such as Geico and State Farm.

USAA began embracing advertising after broadening its membership base in 2009 to include military veterans and their families, opening up potential new members such as Vietnam vets. To understand its consumers, the company dives deep into ethnographic research that involves spending days with military families, Mr. Adams said. Among the findings was the importance of helping families resolve the "financial strains" that occur when military personnel return home from service, he said.

USAA also learned that military families place a premium on authenticity, he said. "Many folks in the military say, 'We can spot a poser a mile away,' " Mr. Adams said. So USAA is careful to make its advertising sincere. That is the motivation behind the company's decision to pick as a spokesman NFL star Robert Griffin III, whose parents both served in the U.S. Army.

In the ads, the Washington Redskins is described as a "military brat" and "USAA member." The campaign also leverages USAA's status as the NFL's "military appreciation sponsor." The marketer's lead agency is Lowe Campbell Ewald.

USAA has also puts a lot of effort behind innovation, echoing what has been a major theme of this year's ANA meeting. For instance, the marketer pioneered the development of "remote deposit capture," or RDC, which allows for the direct deposit of funds or account transfers with the use of a smartphone. The technology was designed for service members in forward-operating bases who don't have access to banks, but has been widely adopted by big banks, Mr. Adams said.

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