5 Lessons Learned from TIAA's Data Journey

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For some organizations, building a data-driven culture requires a leader who drives the changes throughout the organization. For others, becoming data centric takes a village.

For some organizations, building a data-driven culture requires a leader who drives the changes throughout the organization. For others, becoming data centric takes a village.

At TIAA, getting the organization focused on data required a lot of bottom-up support. Jaime Punishill, head of digital marketing and channel management at TIAA, discussed his organization's data journey at the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference last week.

Transforming the culture to become reliant on data to make decisions proved to be no easy feat because the culture was one that often made decisions based on gut feel or from "talking to a couple board members." "We didn't understand the impact [data] could have on the business because we never believed the data before. No one ever structured the process," Punishill said.

TIAA's CMO Connie Weaver led the cultural and business transformation to become data-driven, and Punishill credits her with having the wherewithal to successfully get movement on the data transformation. Punishill spoke about the five lessons learned from formalizing the process.

1. Find receptive air cover

Weaver started small with test campaigns to show actual business results. She showed how certain events impacted flows, brand awareness metrics, and "all the usual stuff."
"If you have no one with power at the table allowing you to make changes at the table you will have no movement," Punishill said."You have to find a way to take your marketing metrics and translate them to the business."

2. Search for insights that will motivate your company at its core belief system

You have to find the thing that moves your organization. Punishill explained that the data showed that TIAA was making even the smartest customers feel dumb about their money. "We serve rocket scientists, Noble prize winners.... We have people who can figure out how to put a rocket ship and human on Mars but can't figure out how they can retire comfortably. That was the moment the organization understood it. Then we needed to do something radically different. Finding the one thing that the organization could see themselves was critical."

3. Set up a customer research community

One of the last pieces was the strategic testing agenda. To do that Punishill said they needed customer feedback so they enlisted 1,000 customers and prospects to join a community. Now, they send all creative that goes out of the organization to this community weekly and test every single word. "Even if some people don't fully bake it, it's opened the door for Mark and his team to come in with insights. Now we are even seeing the business partners ask us about the data," Punishill said.

4. Hire new talent that can empower the trusted sources of power to shift the dialogue

Weaver smartly brought in a ton of new talent. She hired senior leaders who could do overall business-level thinking and then empowered them to infuse their teams with experts from the outside. Punishill was in this crop of new hires, joining two years ago along with the new head of customer insights who joined 15 months ago. "We were the second generation of talent after the first wave advanced [customer experience] as far as it could," he explained.

5. Build a collective consciousness through data

Punishill said they increased the cadence and routines on the inclusion of data on all processes and redid all marketing processes and templates across the organization. "Don't underestimate having to re-do everything on the process level to get people to embrace that. We took the data-driven culture to every step of our processes."

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