CMO of the Week: TD’s Tyrrell Schmidt

Tyrrell Schmidt has been with financial firm TD Bank Group in Toronto for nearly six years, but she’s only been the CMO of TD Bank, the U.S. operation, since September. Taking the top marketing role at a financial institution at a time when millions of Americans are in financial ruin is no small undertaking.

Tyrrell Schmidt has been with financial firm TD Bank Group in Toronto for nearly six years, but she’s only been the CMO of TD Bank, the  U.S. operation, since September. Taking the top marketing role at a financial institution at a time when millions of Americans are in financial ruin is no small undertaking.   

Thanks to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn, millions of people have been out of work in 2020 and businesses have struggled to stay afloat. Many have turned to their banks for loans and advice. “One of the things we’ve always prided ourselves on is listening to customers, but it's never been more important than it is now,” says Scmhidt. “We know people’s situations have changed, we know they've become more vulnerable, and so they are looking more than ever for TD to understand their needs and give guidance and advice as they try to recover or progress financially.” 

Like many other banks, TD lent small businesses money to stay afloat through the Payment Protection Program, which helped them keep their workers employed during the beginning months of the pandemic crisis. Schmidt says that TD gave out more than 85,000 PPP loans that spanned businesses local to its 1,300 locations across 15 East Coast states. “Small businesses are critical to our economies, but TD has a very strong customer proposition for them, so being there for them was critically important.” TD also launched TD Cares, a customer-assistance program that allowed for fee waivers and financial deferrals.

Early on in the pandemic, much of TD’s marketing messaging revolved around communicating how it can help customers and communities. The bank then tweaked its annual fall campaign, “TD Thanks You,” which traditionally focused on rewarding people who help their communities, to shine a spotlight on those who have helped their communities amid the pandemic crisis. 

Schmidt will soon relocate to Philadelphia as part of her CMO transition, but previously spent her tenure with TD from the company’s Toronto headquarters. She joined TD in 2015 as global head of brand (which remains part of her dual role), advertising and sponsorships, and worked her way up to the global brand and experience officer role before taking the U.S. CMO post. Prior to that, she worked at health insurer Cigna in 2008 as CMO of the business line and interim CEO in Hong Kong. From there, Schmidt held roles in Singapore and Philadelphia. Earlier in her career, she held roles in Hong Kong and London for Discover Financial Services and Standard Chartered Bank. 

Schmidt caught up with Brand Innovators from her stopover in Chicago to talk about how TD’s marketing has changed over time, the importance of keeping small businesses afloat during the pandemic, and how the bank’s media mix has adjusted to a volatile year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How has the brand's marketing strategy changed since you joined nearly six years ago? 

First, we constantly are making sure that our brand is relevant. We ladder to a common purpose, which is to enrich the lives of our customers and colleagues in our communities. It's the North Star for the organization. In Canada, we've had a long standing brand positioning around comfort. And back in 2017, we evolved that brand to continue obviously to recognize that that comfort is important in banking, and we have a very personal perspective on both sides of the border.

But we also recognize that in a changing environment, comfort wasn't enough. And so we listened to people and found that 79% of Canadians weren't confident about their financial future. And so our brand really, in Canada, is much more around helping customers be more confident about their financial future. And we operate in two different markets: Canada and the U.S. The U.S. competitive landscape is quite different. While there are a lot of things that are very common, the brand in the U.S.,which is also about service advice and convenience. The U.S.  brand positioning had been really around convenience. 

A few years ago we evolved that brand to be much more about what does modern convenience and customer-first look like. And so the positioning in the U.S. now is around “unexpectedly human.” And that really plays on just about every aspect of our business in terms of how we bring the brand to life. It’s through a human lens, whether that's through a digital interaction, but also through all of our personal experiences. I think what is very common about our strategy collectively is the ability to look at trends, to listen to consumers and to look at the competitive environment and make sure that our brand is evolving to meet the needs of our customers, colleagues and communities. 

How has the pandemic accelerated any digital initiatives that TD may have been looking at, whether that's in product innovation, mobile/ digital commerce, or marketing?

We’ve seen trends accelerating in areas like purpose. We know people work for companies and use business because of shared values. But purpose is more at the forefront more now  of how consumers and colleagues are making decisions. It’s been interesting during the pandemic to see the number of our customers and colleagues who put the needs of each other first. They were in the branches being mindful of safety and health, which was most important, but it speaks to that whole purpose- driven approach and how it has been critically important for us. So we’ve really doubled down in terms of you know how we've supported our communities. 

The other thing, obviously, is that digital is accelerating. We vaulted five years forward in eight weeks. It’s really important you have the capability to have customers interact where and when and how they want. We're focused on driving an omni-channel experience when it's safe to do so. 

For innovation, COVID has presented some opportunities. We launched a virtual check-in when store lobbies started to reopen and were shifting from drive-thru only. We did a virtual check-in, and we've checked in nearly 1 million customers. We also launched curbside debit card pickup, which is faster than waiting to get it in the mail.  

Given the uncertainty of the next few months, where are you in your 2021 planning, and how are you remaining flexible?

Our planning process really hasn’t changed, but we do have to recognize there’s a new reality, so being agile and being able to adapt is going to be more important. We do a number of local community events, so we’re looking at those and thinking about what’s the likelihood of doing those in the first quarter and longer? Not very likely, so we had to adapt and went virtual. Being able to apply that adaptation and agility in terms of what we need to do will continue. 

Have you changed your media mix in 2020? 

What changed more than anything early on was listening to customer needs and thinking about that messaging: what products they needed at that time, where they needed help, and how they preferred to receive advice and communications.

Our media strategy didn’t change dramatically, especially as a purpose-driven brand. We leveraged certain channels to get the right messages out. TD overall, like many companies, will continue to accelerate our messaging through digital channels. 

What products or trends do you see that are driving that growth for TD right now?

Our retail banks and small businesses are the heart and soul of what we deliver. Product-wise, it hasn't really changed, but we continue to serve our customers broadly and really also at the same time, we're making sure we’re there for them from an advice perspective –-- longer store hours, and, with digital, it’s about modern convenience. Even though the market has changed, our strategy won’t change because our vision is to deliver personalized experience, and we’re hyper-focused on small business. 

Are there any COVID-19 relief efforts TD has spearheaded since the global spread of the pandemic this spring?

Aside from TD Cares and the  PPP loans, we launched the Community Resilience Initiative, which allocated $25 million to organizations involved in Covid response and community recovery. We also have a TD charitable foundation, we redirected $1 million toward innovative healthcare solutions.  We also put $2 million towards financial literacy for small businesses and people who might be more vulnerable than they were in the past. And that ability to get into the community and help communities thrive and succeed in the future has been just so important for us. And we’re also increasing funding to United Way and other organizations that support communities, housing, rent, healthcare constraints and other issues.

Maureen Morrison is a marketing and editorial consultant for Brand Innovators and is the founder of the consultancy Irving Park LLC, based in San Francisco.


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