Saturday, February 23, 2013

How Icons Emerge

by Erol Senel

Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and Fidelity all have something in common. Sure, they are all colossuses in the financial services industry. They are all providers of financial solutions and retirement guidance. However prior to 2006, there was very little to differentiate them from one another.

This is somewhat surprising, especially when you take into account that these are some of the largest and most significant investment firms.. So what changed? Their marketing got smarter.

Going into the 2008 financial crisis, there was little desire on the part of investors as a collective to dig deeper and this proved to be indicative of a greater issue. However, once firms began disappearing, along with client’s savings, the public began to take notice. It was around this time that the three firms mentioned began to clearly identify themselves and their key competencies. This is evident in how they went about segmenting the market and more effectively placing their respective brands through advertising.

Charles Schwab was ahead of the curve. “Talk to Chuck” was one of the most effective marketing campaigns that the personal investing space has seen. It emerged in 2006 at a time when Schwab was touting their 1-on-1 interaction/relationship model. In this environment, clients were welcomed to talk to the many financial consultants at a local Schwab office, promoting connection and collaboration between clients and the firm’s trusted founder. It worked like magic. This focus on areas of strength allowed for them to make massive inroads into Fidelity and TD’s market share.

Yet, as mentioned earlier, 2008 took its toll on the markets and the public’s confidence in financial institutions. From this emerged two strains of marketing thought: empower the client or empower the relationship.

TD Ameritrade aligned itself with the desire to educate and empower its younger demographic of traders. This was evident in two ways:
 1.They aligned themselves with actor Matt Damon as the visual advocate of TD, replacing an aging Sam Waterston, thus changing the targeted generational, age, social class, etc., and
 2.Through their acquisition and subsequent marketing of thinkorswim, a chic online trading platform. “We believe this is a strong strategic fit which will ultimately benefit all clients through…access to valuable resources to help self-directed investors take greater control of their investments” (Timmins, 2009), the intention drawn from these words of CEO John Snee could not be any clearer as to the company’s approach.

Whereas TD Ameritrade has been about empowering the individual, Fidelity, similarly to Charles Schwab, went in search of creating a trusted bond.

Fidelity, being the behemoth of the investing world,  has been looking to create an iconic tagline much in the same style as Nike’s “Just Do It” and with the help of Arnold Worldwide, they did just that with their “Turn Here” campaign that is still going strong four years later. The campaign stresses how the mutual fund company can help Americans assess and manage their financial lives and includes a new “Life Stage” micro site that offers tools for various situations such as “changing jobs” or “getting ready for retirement” (Parpis, 2009).

Prior to the financial crisis, Fidelity, although one of the largest financial companies in the world was known primarily as a 401k/403b administrator and mutual fund company; however in pursuing this strategy, Fidelity was able to rebrand itself. By effectively tapping into not only numerous demographic segments through their different “life stages”, they were able to introduce and set their brand apart from the others in a more personal way, they humanized financial advice and investing. They did this through a series of ads showing common financial interactions that made things relatable.

For anyone who has seen the Fidelity “Turn Here” ads, they can take a step back and appreciate what the brains at Arnold were able to accomplish. They hit on the many different demographic variables that are available for measure including age, generational group, gender, family, race, income, occupation and education (Marshall, 2010). It serves as a case study in creating complex, multi-layered ad campaign that transcends demographics.

In each of the three cases, the firms mentioned were able to use segmentation to more effectively delver their message to the target audience and in turn have their value proposition better understood and embraced by the public. Where many firms go array is in being too general, too homogenous. These three, and the advertising firms they hired, have shown how taking the important steps of targeting worthwhile segments can allow companies to more productively differentiate their products from the scores of other firms that do and offer many of the same benefits and products. This is why they are the industry leaders.


Marshall, G., Johnston, M. (2010). Marketing Management. (1st Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Parpis, E. (2009, Mar 16). Fidelity Tells Customers: ‘Turn Here’. AdWeek. Retrieved from

Timmins, B. (2009, June 11), TD Waterhouse Canada Inc. acquires thinkorswim Canada Inc. Canada News Wire. Retrieved from


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erol Senel has been plying his trade in the world of finance and personal investing. Through this real world experience, he has found his true professional passion in economics and financial history.


Twitter: @senelslant


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