How CMO Jennifer Breithaupt Built Brand Love at Citi ‘From The Inside Out’

The Brand Genius honoree developed internal ‘rallying cry’ for employees and focused on experiential marketing

Jennifer Breithaupt at Brandweek
Breithaupt shared her approach at Adweek's annual Brandweek conference in Palm Springs.
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.— When Jennifer Breithaupt took over as global consumer CEO of Citi in 2017, she was tasked with injecting more emotion into the financial services brand to differentiate the brand. As Breithaupt quickly found out, that required a near-complete overhaul after asking how the organization was showing up.

“We weren’t that proud of it, so what we did was we tore apart everything that we were doing,” Breithaupt told Adweek after appearing onstage at Adweek’s annual Brandweek conference.

Breithaupt didn’t just rip Citi’s past marketing initiatives into pieces and cook up a recipe for future marketing initiatives. She had to get everybody inside the company on board. So Breithaupt and her team crafted an internal rallying cry and a “curriculum” that the company could use to keep employees engaged and invested in the brand, she recalled.

“That brand love starts at home,” said Breithaupt, who was named one of Adweek’s 2019 Brand Genius Honorees. “You build it from the inside out. If we don’t believe it no one will believe it.”

Breithaupt won’t reveal what the rallying cry is—it’s a trade secret—but shared that, combined with Citi’s external music-centric marketing, it helped steer Citi into a more culturally relevant position. The company put on more than 12,000 events annually, and in March unveiled the #SeeHerHearHer movement, intended to help close the gender gap for women in the music industry.

"That brand love starts at home. ... You build it from the inside out. If we don't believe it no one will believe it."
Jennifer Breithaupt, global consumer CMO, Citi

During a fireside chat with Adweek senior editor Doug Zanger, Breithaupt said brands were doubling down on experiences. For Citi, experiential marketing has proved crucial for cutting through the noise using the universal language of music that Breithaupt said helped the brand connect with people globally.

“It used to almost be a nice-to-have, to do experiential marketing, and now it’s a must-have,” Breithaupt said onstage. “As it gets harder and harder to reach consumers and capture their attention, experiential becomes that place in one-on-one marketing where you can really make a unique impression.”

With that said, Breithaupt cautioned against focusing on marketing “hobbies” that don’t make sense for the brand or audiences. “More than anything, consumers are craving authenticity, they’re craving value and transparency, and if you’re not showing up with those three things, you’re in a lot of trouble these days,” she continued. “If people see it, they will call you out on it.”

The same goes for experiences, which Breithaupt said can fall flat unless brands approach it head-on.

“If you’re not committed for the long haul, don’t do it,” Breithaupt cautioned. “If you don’t feel like you can keep it going, don’t do it. It’s not worth it.”

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