Positioning a venerable finance brand for the future

More than a century ago, TIAA-CREF was established to help ensure that teachers could retire with dignity through a sustainable retirement system. Today, the renamed TIAA is one of America’s largest financial retirement services organizations, serving the financial needs of people in academic, government, medical, cultural and other nonprofit fields.

Since 2011, Tenet has partnered with TIAA on a wide range of brand strategy, employee engagement and design projects, utilizing the full breadth of our strategy, design, creative, production and analytics capabilities to help plan for and execute a new and evolving TIAA brand.

The work began with a carefully planned restructuring of the brand architecture that made it easier for customers to navigate the company’s offerings. By 2016, however, it was time for a refresh; the financial marketplace had grown and become much more competitive due to digital transformation and integrated communications. TIAA once again turned to Tenet to create a breakthrough customer experience that would differentiate the brand from other financial services companies.

Moving to a streamlined, consolidated brand architecture

As TIAA-CREF, the company had come to own many legacy brands and the complex architecture was inhibiting competitiveness. Management saw a clear need to rationalize its portfolio to make it easier for customers to engage. Tenet strategists evaluated various brand scenarios, analyzing the advantages and challenges of each in terms of cost, risk and flexibility. Ultimately, we recommended a masterbrand approach to build greater brand awareness and stronger alignment with TIAA's mission. Based on thorough research, Tenet also recommended dropping CREF from the name. Our design strategy also helped refresh the logo to mark this change and signal the new direction the company was taking to better serve its customers.

For a well-known and respected brand such as TIAA, any significant and visible change must be managed with great care. Accordingly, a key part of the realignment was a migration strategy that included an interim transition period during which the legacy brands would operate as sub-brands to strengthen their connection to the TIAA masterbrand, giving them time to fully transition. To help successfully execute the transition, Tenet developed visual brand architecture guidelines to ensure all legacy brands understood how to transition and comply with the masterbrand approach.

Putting customers at the center of a new experience

By the mid-2010s, financial services were becoming increasingly digital and the brand needed to adapt. To translate the TIAA brand into an integrated customer experience, the company asked Tenet to take the lead on design, doing work that would empower all of TIAA’s agency partners.

Tenet defined fresh design principles and applied a new content system by enlisting internal cross-functional teams at TIAA, working collaboratively to rapidly develop multiple customer-centric communications approaches. Simple design principles served as the foundation for creative development and the user experience. Each principle was also defined internally to help TIAA employees understand how to incorporate the concepts into their workplace actions and deliver an engaging and consistent brand experience.

Tenet also showed TIAA how it could make print communications engage more successfully with specific customer groups. We created a set of fictional customer personas in each of the B2B and B2C spaces; then, by melding the design principles with the personas, we were able to create a vibrant design system that included bold colors, iconography, infographics, and authentic photography for a brighter, simpler and more engaging user experience in print, digital, video and promotional executions.

Tenet’s editorial and design teams also partnered to reimagine how financial content could be made more lively, engaging and action-oriented without losing critical detail. The result was a new approach to content development that works hand-in-hand with design to align with the way people prefer to interact with information in today’s world, making key concepts easier to understand and more impactful.

Finding the right brand voice for the audience

How the TIAA brand voice is communicated in writing is just as important as how the brand looks visually. Whether on microsites, in collateral, during phone presentations, or in confirmation letters, the company needed a strong, consistent, cohesive brand voice to support the overall brand. With design guidelines completed, TIAA asked Tenet to engage with its 250 staff, contract and vendor writers responsible for accurately communicating the new TIAA brand voice.

After convening a key group of TIAA senior editors and writers within the company, Tenet developed preliminary guidelines that defined the new brand platform and its brand voice. We gathered clear examples that demonstrated how writers should “translate” the brand personality into specific writing styles and tone of voice.

To insure the brand voice guidelines would truly meet the needs of communicators, Tenet also conducted a workshop with TIAA writers as well as outside communication vendors to “road test” content. Ultimately, Tenet was able to create guidelines that gave writers and marketing managers a well-defined, specific understanding of the TIAA brand voice, and the tools to clearly communicate it to a variety of audiences. The guidelines reinforced the new brand positioning, streamlined communications development through a single, accessible reference and trained employees and external partners on the nuances of communicating as one TIAA.

A simpler, cleaner way to engage with retirement The results of the brand refresh are compelling and can be seen by exploring Information that traditionally has been dense and complex is now readily discoverable, quick to consume and easy to understand. Both visually and verbally, the TIAA experience is a breath of fresh air—something that anyone planning for retirement can appreciate.

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