Road to Brandweek: Ally Financial’s Andrea Brimmer on Brands Being ‘Human’ in Times of Crisis

Why this moment requires both consistency and flexibility

Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer of Ally Financial. Ally
Headshot of Paul Hiebert

With the U.S. unemployment rate hitting 10.2%, a number not seen since the Great Recession of 2009, money is on the mind of many Americans.

Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer of Ally Financial, will take the virtual stage at Adweek’s upcoming Brandweek Masters Live summit, Sept. 14-17, to discuss how the company is navigating this moment that requires both principled consistency and seemingly unending flexibility.

Prior to the event, we spoke with Brimmer about being a bank without branches, participating in culture and keeping things human.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

This year has brought unprecedented challenges for marketers. What’s been the hardest lift for you, and how are you getting through it?
The hardest thing has been keeping up with the pace of change and dealing with dual crises.

The first few weeks were focused on helping our consumer and auto dealer customers. On the marketing side, my team started meeting multiple times a week to make sure we had the latest information and that all our communications took the current moment into account. We’ve been looking at the data to gauge consumer sentiment at the moment as it changed throughout these crises to make sure our communications were appropriate.

We also needed to respond to the call for racial justice and equity. First, we took care of our employees by opening the lines of communication. We reaffirmed our commitment to racial justice through multiple leadership communications and held several Let’s Talk About It sessions where employees could share their stories and learn from each other.

What lessons do you think the marketing and advertising industry will come away with from this time? What changes has the pandemic accelerated?
One of the most important lessons is that communications need to be incredibly clear, very empathetic and use a human, real voice in a time of crisis. Consumers need to hear from brands consistently with relevant updates on how to navigate the crisis as it relates to your brand or category.

Overall, we’ve all learned about the importance of flexibility. We were constantly looking at the data and adjusting our plans along the way. We had so many pivots early on but were able to share relevant information with our customers to help educate them on the financial impacts of what was happening in the world.

What about your sector in particular? What changes have come, and how has that impacted your marketing?
As a digital bank without branches, social distancing has opened an opportunity for Ally. We’re already seeing an increase of account openings across a number of our products.

For example, the volatility in the stock market has resulted in incredible volume for Ally Invest. In the second quarter of 2020, we also added 94,000 new deposit customers, driving us to over 2.1 million total depositors. We’ve seen consumers increasingly use our mobile banking app, with record mobile app downloads during March and April.

What have been the wins for the marketing industry this year? What excites you about the next 12 months?
There has been a lot of rethinking during the pandemic that is shaking things up and changing the way we reach customers. In many ways, it’s made it easier to help even more people get insider access, especially in our sports sponsorships.

We saw a lot of success with the way we integrated into Jimmie Johnson iRacing during Nascar’s Covid pause. We had to rethink just about everything we did with that sponsorship, and we’ve continued to do things like Zoom meet-and-greets as they got back on the track.

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@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.