Ally Financial CMO Andrea Brimmer: Bringing programmatic in-house has saved us a lot of money

On Thursday, Ally Financial’s chief marketing and PR officer Andrea Brimmer pitched the 3,000 attendees of the Association of National Advertiser’s Annual Masters of Marketing in Orlando, Florida on cultivating a deeper relationship with consumers rather than constantly pitching products at them. “If you believe in your brand as a weapon it’s easy to take half a million dollars and say do what you want with it,” Brimmer told ANA attendees.

Ahead of her presentation to marketers, Digiday spoke with Brimmer about attribution, in-housing, programmatic and privacy regulations. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

This year, the ANA is focused on growth. One part of this is attribution. How much of that is a concern for you?
Everybody’s struggling with proper attribution. For us at Ally, we’re really aggressively putting in multi-touch attribution right now, particularly as we’re growing as a brand and our media mix is becoming more and more diverse. Attribution is always something that we as marketers struggle with. There’s no clear-cut answer. It’s so different for every brand.

You’re working with Neustar to implement multi-touch attribution. What will that do for the marketing budget?
Our challenge has always been, particularly with last-click methodology, that we really don’t know all the other things that impacted that customer clicking from digital ads. It made it really hard to understand where you should prioritize your level of investment. So, for instance, if I knew that TV was working to drive a much higher propensity of people to social media, I might heavy up on TV or if it’s something else, if it’s social that’s really driving the digital interaction, I might heavy up social. Today, we just kind of guess. We do a lot of media mixed modeling. We do a lot of looking at what we want to achieve in terms of frequency. We do a lot of prioritizing based on brand objectives. If you have an objective like [ours that you want to] be a famous brand, then it’s, you’re going to want heavy up in video content including TV. A lot of it was a bit of science with a little bit of art and now this allows us to get to a lot more science.

What are the focus areas for Ally right now?
We’re very focused on this idea that the best modern digital brands are really more of what we refer to as usage brands where you’re surrounded by an ecosystem of content. Think about Apple. Apple is just a device, but on the device you have your music, you have your pictures, you have your news curated. They’ve done an amazing job of creating this entire ecosystem around you. So how can we do something similar with all the financial data that we have that could be useful to consumers? Of course, it’s always around efficiency and effectiveness. How can we get the most out of the budget that we have? How can we optimize in ways that we’re becoming efficient in placing the right emphasis on the right customers and consumers, altering our KPIs to not just go for quantity but go for quality?

Are you bringing more marketing and in-house, like programmatic or creative?
Yes, we’re pretty advanced relative to what we’ve done from a programmatic standpoint. We’ve built a lot of our in-house capabilities around programmatic a couple of years ago where we’re really focused in terms of looking at things that we can do, taking better control of our data, really building out consumer data platforms so that we understand how our customers interact with us at every single touch point and then really understanding what’s the next best product that we should be talking to them about. That’s a huge emphasis for us.

How do you take control of the data? What do you actually do?
There’s a couple of things. One, it’s that our data was a little bit fragmented. It’s all over the place within the organization. So, it was centralizing it and putting it in one customer data platform where not only can we have all the data in one place, but we also have all the places that the customer interacted with us. Whether they called into the call center, whether they were on the storefront, whether they were in social, so that we know what their journey was and what they were talking about. Second, it’s really creating content that’s allowing us to aggregate more first-party data. With privacy laws coming, GDPR, privacy laws in California, being more facile in terms of creating larger-scale content programs that are going to have that reciprocity where we can get consumer information in exchange for the content that we deliver. So that’s taking more control of our data that way.

Is that creating loyalty programs or something like that? What’s that content look like?
It’s less about creating loyalty programs per se. It’s more about providing value through all of the financial literacy that we can provide and attracting people to the brand through the content that we put out there. Then, once we have people really interacting with the brand, think about it almost like a freemium model where they’re coming in and they’re consuming things that we have to talk about then you have the opportunity to start to sell them product. [Part of doing that has to do with] building out internal capabilities around content creation [which] is a huge push, no doubt, what’s the right kind of a creative organization that we would need internally? We’ve implemented dynamic creative. Now that the agencies have kind of set up the playbooks for us, how can we become more efficient by creating a lot of the assets that go against that playbook? How do we continue to evolve our thinking around, internal newsrooms, those types of things? We’ve evolved as a business and now we need to evolve as a marketing organization.

Has programmatic in-housing saved you money?
Absolutely. We saved a lot of money. I think a telltale sign of that is that our overall marketing budget for a number of years — now, this isn’t true in the last two years — but for a number of years was relatively flat, but we every year increased the number of product acquisitions that we made and we decreased the cost against that. A lot of that was because of what we were able to do through our DSP and our programmatic approach. Driving greater efficiency into digital, getting smarter about who we talked to, when we talked to them and how we talk to them. Now the big pivot is really against this dynamic creative. Building out such a huge asset of a library of assets that I can change the message and get definitely more personalized and more tailored depending on who I’m talking to, when I’m talking to them and what I’m talking to them about.

When did you bring the programmatic in-house and how much has it saved?
I want to say three years ago. A lot of the data since it Mediacom today. But we have a lot of internal capability relative to the programmatic. I think percentage-wise, we’ve been able certainly to get anywhere in excess of 25% more efficient every year, which is great because it’s this money that we can reinvest into doing other things.

Will you eventually take everything in-house?
I believe in bringing in-house the things that make sense to get you the most efficient. But I certainly don’t see in my tenure as the CMO ever saying we’re going to build out full creative capabilities in-house and we won’t use agencies. For us, like I said, if our objective is to become a tip of tongue brand and a punch above our weight and become a famous brand. There’s great creative minds that we want to tap into that are going to help us do that. There will always be a role for really good creative agencies that are rooted in smart business savvy. There’s pluses and minuses to it and for some brands it works, but for a lot of brands that hasn’t, and you’ve seen them reverse that model.

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