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Cover Story: Rock On!

1 Jan, 2017 By: Thomas Haire Response

Niharika Shah says financial behemoth Prudential’s latest campaign — for PGIM, its rebranded investment management business — is an example of how the company is becoming a more nimble marketer.

“There are two things I look for in a campaign,” says Niharika Shah, vice president, head of brand marketing & advertising, for Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial Inc. (NYSE: PRU). “First, is there an insight that is guiding the work we’re doing — a true insight, one that’s actionable and that resonates? It’s not a data point. It must be more. The second, I learned the hard way during dot-com bubble: is the product we’re marketing solid and sustainable? There’s only so much marketing and advertising can do if the underlying product is not sustainable.”

Shah joined the 142-year old financial and brand advertising titan — if you were alive during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Prudential’s “Get a Piece of the Rock” tag line likely still sticks in a deep corner of your brain — in 2010 as vice president of brand strategy and planning before rising to her current title in early 2015. Her roles and responsibilities are vast within The Rock®, which today has more than $1.3 trillion in assets under management and $3.5 trillion of gross life insurance under force worldwide.

Shah says that about five years ago, Prudential chose to move to a more personable, storytelling style of marketing, while also ratcheting up its reliance on data and campaigns that drive clear return on investment (ROI). With an image as a “protector brand,” Shah says, there was a natural transition available to a marketing story of Prudential as a caring partner for consumers’ — and investors’ — financial needs.

Taking center stage in the company’s marketing game plan of late has been the rebrand of its trillion-dollar Prudential Investment Management business as PGIM, which the company says better reflects its position as one of the world’s largest asset managers and its deep expertise across a broad set of asset classes. The rebrand took place in January 2016, and the company’s first television, print, social, and digital advertising campaign for PGIM launched in October.

“The campaign is definitely an all-channel experience that amplifies a single message — helping investors achieve their long-term goals — around the PGIM story,” Shah says. “The strategy and planning behind the creative and messaging gives us opportunities to extend the campaign in each medium — especially digitally.”

Bringing a Tech Mindset to Marketing

When Shah joined the Prudential team in 2010, her role was to “set up a strategy practice” inside the company’s in-house marketing and advertising agency. “There was no strategy team when I arrived, but I’d run a lot of strategy teams — I’m a consultant by nature,” she adds.

In that role, Shah says the driver was to evolve Prudential’s strategic and planning capabilities. “We built out the company’s marketing analytics strength, and we also really attacked social media as an outlet,” she says. “By the time I was offered this role, we’d grown to a 14-member team.”

She credits her success in that original role to her prior experiences — going back to her college days at the University of Mumbai in India. “It’s important to start with my undergraduate work in computer science — I’m an engineer at heart, which means analytical thinking is my strength,” she says.

Shah was in the “right place at the right time when the dot-com world first took off.” She got her start in business at Cambridge Technology Partners, where, Shah adds, “We helped write the e-business economy.”

Working on such projects as and Kraft Foods’ Gevalia, she says, “I have to give a lot of credit to the early managers in my career. Thanks to them, I gained strength as a business and consumer marketer, rather than just a behind-the-scenes technology leader.”

From there, Shah moved into a role as director of product management for, and then on to a five-year stint at retail and marketing consultancy imc2. “Retailers and consumer packaged goods marketers were early adopters of marketing strategy and analysis technology,” Shah. “Working for and with these businesses, I gained an understanding of consumer insights, performance-based methods, the power of good creative and narrative — and how my strengths fit into that. Having a combined tech and marketing background, I am able to look at areas of opportunity from both perspectives and speak both languages.”

She says the “entrepreneurial nature” of Prudential has allowed her to tweak and improve on its marketing narrative, especially since taking the role as head of agency in 2015. “When my predecessor Colin McConnell moved to chief brand officer, this was an opportunity I could not pass up,” Shah says.

Today, she oversees an 80-person in-house agency, as well as the external agencies that Prudential partners with on media and creative efforts. It’s a massive role when you consider Prudential’s scope:

  • 142 years in business
  • $1.314 trillion of assets under management
  • Three main divisions: U.S. Retirement Solutions and Investment Management Division; U.S. Individual Life and Group Insurance Division; and the International Insurance Division
  • Serving customers in 47 countries and territories
  • 49,000 employees worldwide
  • Second-largest life insurer in the U.S. based on total admitted assets
  • Ninth-largest asset manager worldwide

Storytelling Drives Performance

“Prudential is a purposeful company, and it’s my opportunity — and my team’s responsibility — to talk about what our brand is, what our business is, and the vital role it plays in people’s lives, as well as the overall economy,” Shah says. ”Our brand strategy — as a caring, protector brand for our customers — is carried by new marketing capabilities, including performance-based objectives, that keep us relevant.”

In the past half-decade, Shah says Prudential’s marketing and advertising has taken on more of a “storytelling” style. “We looked at some of Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert’s work on how people relate to storytelling,” she says. “We believe that Prudential is best served as a human, personable, relatable brand that is helping customers face America’s toughest financial challenges — including retirement planning.”

Shah says the company’s campaigns have minimized “facts and stats,” adding, “The execution of our creative is human — it’s something that the viewer will find interesting and will reach them emotionally.”

She points to the company’s recent “Race for Retirement” campaign, which urged consumers to save just 1-percent more of their annual income today in an effort to maximize their retirement funds later.

“We made it simple for customers to understand the financial challenges ahead and what a small investment today could help them achieve,” Shah says. “We talked about the human side of addressing those challenges, and how it’s easier to break big, hard things into smaller, more achievable tasks. The campaign also allowed us to do something that’s rare for us — meet with consumers in real time.”

She says the company measured ROI from all facets of the campaign — a sign of Prudential’s increasing reliance on performance-based methodologies across all media. And why wouldn’t a company whose success is predicated on financial performance for its customers rely on performance-based metrics for its customer outreach?

PGIM Campaign Drives Early Raves

One of the most recent challenges taken on by Shah’s team was the rebrand of Prudential Investment Management, the company’s $1.1 trillion investment management business, as PGIM. The businesses under the PGIM banner (the name change took hold one year ago) operate in 16 countries on five continents and offer a range of products across asset classes, including public and private fixed income, real estate debt and equity, and fundamental and quantitative public equities. The business operates through a unique multi-manager model, with each asset class managed by a dedicated leadership team.

At the time of the rebrand, David Hunt, CEO of PGIM, said, “Our clients expect investment managers to simultaneously find the best investment opportunities around the world, while upholding the most rigorous standards of risk management. The PGIM name represents our scale and our conviction to deliver time-tested, long-term solutions and outcomes for institutional and retail investors.”

“General consumers are not an asset manager audience,” Shah says of the challenge of finding a balance in the marketing campaign designed to support the rebrand. “The brand strategy follows the business strategy: the message must show PGIM’s role as a brand in driving Prudential’s overall capability as an asset management player. It’s checking off dual objectives: establish PGIM as the brand name, but connect it back to the company as strongly as possible.”

Shah says the initial marketing efforts for PGIM were directed narrowly: “in business class lounges at airports, in the Wall Street Journal, in magazines that reached institutional investors.” As this launch was happening, her team saw the opportunity for a more powerful campaign.

“As responsible brand stewards, we believed in — and made the case for — a high-visibility, high-impact campaign centered on TV,” Shah says. “We believed there would be a payoff for both PGIM and the overall Prudential brand.”

In October, Shah’s team launched a television, print, social, and digital campaign for PGIM. The campaign highlights the company’s focus on delivering alpha and consistent investment performance through robust risk management and deep asset class expertise based on unique perspectives on long-term structural trends shaping the global economy.

“When you look at measuring the performance of any campaign, you must first know what your top key performance indicator (KPI) is,” Shah says. “For us, with the PGIM campaign, our KPI is favorability. When we tell the PGIM story in the campaign, we want consumers to feel good about the brand and financial advisors to become advocates for it.”

With a pair of TV ads, expanded print outreach, and a full digital and social media component, being able to clearly attribute and measure ROI is crucial to the campaign’s success. “The TV spots are a one-two punch built around PGIM’s value proposition and its thought leadership,” Shah says. “They’re running on CNBC and Bloomberg through the first quarter. There is support in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and other print and digital outlets.”

Shah credits marketing measurement and optimization agency Marketing Evolution with helping build the “econometrics” for the PGIM media plan.

“As the company evolves to more direct-oriented marketing solutions — more lead-gen and response-oriented models — we’re working hard to scale our capabilities with the business,” Shah says. “We are working harder than ever to drive consideration-based creative and media against which we can attribute ROI.”

One of the bigger challenges for the PGIM campaign, though, was the target market. “PGIM’s core audience is institutional investors, financial advisors, and some savvy investors. So another KPI on the campaign was awareness among affluent consumers,” Shah says.

She adds that, though the company is still giving the campaign time to “build and amplify” before assessing its overall success, the Prudential marketing team is happy with one early test.

“We did an assessment of affluent consumers who were exposed to all of the campaign messaging across various media,” Shah says. “The campaign scored higher than average in the category, especially in visual appeal and driving attention to message. More importantly, according to the results, these consumers took away three clear messages from the 30-second spots: 1) investment; 2) PGIM; and 3) Prudential. That’s the marketer’s dream.”

Shah says that “payoff from pull-through to PGIM’s social outlets and website” has been solid. “Our research is showing that the audiences like the PGIM story, though they’re hearing it for the first time,” Shah says. “We can help ease the burden of the consumer’s natural ‘first-time’ skepticism with other media — content marketing through social media and even a social media influencer program when the time and market are right.” ■

About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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