Taking a cue from its former parent company — American Express — Ameriprise Financial is devoting a large chunk of its resources to marketing. In fact, it’s spending some $330 million on a national branding and ad campaign over a two-and-a-half year period — with ad firm Saatchi & Saatchi’s contract alone worth a reported $55 million.
“This is not rebranding,” says Mark Bradley, head of J. R. Scott, a unit of Esquire Staffing in Chicago. “They are creating a new brand driven by their focus on financial planning, not brokerage services.”
Front, right and center in this branding campaign is the Dream Book, a slick 30-page financial-planning tool designed to be “front and center” as advisors help clients achieve financial freedom, says Chief Marketing Officer Kim Sharan. “It has an overarching position in our financial-planning process.”
It’s also resonating well in the marketplace. This, say Amerprise executives and advisors, has come as a surprise and also drawn praise from industry observers. “The response to our [Dream Book] direct-mail and direct-response TV offer is the greatest response ever, compared with past American Express Financial Advisor campaigns,” Sharan says. “The volume is 10 times greater and has been much larger than anticipated.
Some 35 percent of Ameriprise clients queried by direct mail requested a copy of the Dream Book, according to a senior Ameriprise advisor.
This marketing success comes as Amerprise’s recruiting efforts are also gaining traction, says Brian Heath, president of the U.S. Advisor Group, which now includes some 10,500 FAs (12,000 if those with Securities America are included). These efforts came to a bit of a standstill when the spin off from American Express was announced last year, Heath says.
“But now the pipeline has accelerated. The first quarter of 2006 was one of our best recruiting quarters. We are identifying segments that find our value proposition compelling.”
The Dream Book, he adds, is making a big contribution. “We are all surprised at the incredible response rates. It’s exceeding all we’ve seen before.”
The concept has impressed some industry experts, such as Chip Roame of Tiburon Strategic Advisors in Tiburon, Calif. “It’s a great idea,” Roame says. “It plays better in Middle America than with the ultra high-net-worth crowd,” he notes. “If a client has $5 million in assets, they’ve already got their dreams.”
And while firms with a HNW focus, like Merrill Lynch, may not move to copy the Dream Book, other industry players might, according to Roame. He mentions H&R Block, Allstate, State Farm, Fidelity and Charles Schwab as among the firms that could use a Dream Book-like tool as they push to grow their Middle America business.
“Amerprise is targeting Middle America, the largest investor class in the county and the least appreciated — to the point of disdain at the top-tier brokerage firms,” explains Bradley. Plus, the Dream Book isn’t expensive to produce, giving it another advantage in the marketplace, he shares.
The Dream Book builds on recent research supported by Ameriprise and conducted by Age Wave of San Francisco and Harris Interactive of Rochester, N.Y. The study was based on interviews with 2,000 people age 40 to 75 and identifies five “emotional stages of retirement:” imagination, anticipation, liberation, reorientation and reconciliation.
The Dream Book, Sharan says, “encapsulates how to engage with clients.” And it gets into the specifics of not just saving a set amount per year, but saving an exact amount to pursue a highly defined goal. “This is a different conversation from those of the past.”
This emotional engagement is a big plus, according to Heath, who’s been with the company for 22 years. The industry, he points out, has tended to over-emphasize analytics in the financial-planning process. The Dream Book puts some balance back into the equation by focusing on the client’s goals and balance sheet.
Advisor Renee A. Hanson, CFP, of Hanson, Ayala, Schuler & Associates in Phoenix, agrees. “Financial planning is more than a science of numbers,” explains Hanson, who’s been with Ameriprise since 1997. “It involves completing a plan that is emotionally and financially balanced.”