TurboTax Bridges The Divide Between Brand And Digital

turbotaxIntuit’s TurboTax is one of the rare companies that blends its more traditional brand marketing investments in TV with digital and performance.

This strategy, which happens at both the organizational and budget level, is intentional.

“You’re consuming brand messages on television while surfing the internet on your phone or scrolling through Facebook,” said Cathleen Ryan, the director of marketing and advertising for TurboTax. “If you create an artificial divide between brand and digital, you create a disjointed consumer experience.”

TurboTax’s newest TV ad features actress Kathy Bates asking her trusty TurboTax adviser if she can claim the ghosts haunting her house as dependents.

This big branding ad – which comes right as tax season approaches – is being supported by digital video and social activations. A number of broadcast and digital spots starring DJ Khaled support the same branding push leading into TurboTax’s Super Bowl ad.

Ryan spoke with AdExchanger about TurboTax’s TV and digital approach.

AdExchanger: How does TurboTax think about brand vs. digital marketing? Typically the two are separate.

CATHLEEN RYAN: I lead a team of marketers and advertisers across all of our digital channels, including online video, display, mobile, paid search, social and email, as well as our brand advertising, which is inclusive of touch points like TV, radio and print wherever applicable. We took an approach over the last couple years here where we really centralized the advertising so digital and brand are interwoven and we create more opportunities to come together as a brand. 

Did centralizing your marketing org change the way you strategize?

One of the most direct benefits is the speed and clarity of decision-making. Running things up the flagpole or [lack of communication between] brand and digital teams happens a lot, unfortunately. We don’t have that issue. The ultimate benefit is significantly more integrated marketing, since we’re all sharing space and resources. There are no fiefdoms and budget disputes. When you can all align on the same objective, it creates huge change.

How about the way you budget? Do you separate TV or digital media, as some brands do?

We don’t really have sacred cows when it comes to budget categories. We’re a big brand with seasonal in-market activity, so there’s certain ways you just naturally want to go to market. I wouldn’t say we start from a blank sheet every budget season, but as media consumption changes, whether that is a shift in viewership or new opportunities or channels, we have a lot more flexibility because of our unified, centralized teams.

We like to say we’re a year-round brand, but there is a seasonal shopping window when it comes to the most direct act of tax preparation. Where we’re at right now, being mid-January, it’s really just the start of the tax season.

TurboTax goes big at the beginning of the year to kick off tax season with TV. You’ve also invested in programmatic TV trials. Has programmatic TV made any measurable progress?

There are a number of companies doing amazing things with automation, but what has yet to be unlocked is true scale. Once you unlock scale, that’s when it gets interesting. We have a number of investments in programmatic and OTT as part of our TV plan. We just think the space needs more time and maturity.

Intuit has doubled down on programmatic. Does the same apply to TurboTax and your use of data for targeting?

In any conversation we have about data, as marketers, we cannot and do not use any customer data that’s part of the tax prep process. That being said, when it comes to our digital marketing, we have pretty sophisticated methods. We try to be as cross-channel as possible when it comes to data. We look at it as three pillars: media, data and creative, and all three need to be enabled in as many ways, places and – I hate using this word – but as programmatically as possible.

What’s something you want your tech and agency partners to get better at?

This is an easy one. We all, whether you’re an agency or brand or tech platform, need to get significantly better at full mobile and cross-device measurement. It’s 3-D chess between a stationary or desktop device and a mobile web or app device right now. The odds of you connecting those dots, reliably and over time, is a huge challenge for us.

Where do you think most of the innovation will come from?

I’ve been seeing innovation happening in pockets within the walled gardens, but that has to get unlocked at some point and scale across platforms for it to become of value to a brand. Consumers don’t just use those platforms singularly; we need help putting impactful messages in front of people.

And it’s not just the media channel. It’s also creative. If you want to get a brand message out on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, you can’t just think about it in form, e.g., should it should be vertical versus your standard 16:9? You want to think about the function and what happens after someone interacts with your creative.

Interview edited and condensed.

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