The Road to Brandweek: Citi’s Jennifer Breithaupt on Leading Movements, Not Moments

The global bank has a responsibility to 'stay off the sidelines'

Headshot of Jennifer Breithaupt
The company's global consumer CMO isn't afraid of a challenge. Citi

For a brand with a timeline that spans more than a century, Citi has an image that’s anything but stale. The financial giant’s most recent push is shattering the glass ceiling, with full-page magazine and billboard ads calling out the lack of women in leadership across institutions across the globe—including within Citi itself.

Ahead of our annual Brandweek summit, taking place Nov. 3-6 in Palm Springs, Calif., we spoke with Jennifer Breithaupt, Citi’s global consumer CMO about being a “purpose-driven brand” and how the company keeps up with the ever-evolving, always-online consumer.

How do you navigate your overall brand message to keep up with the speed of consumer feedback in the modern era?
Breithaupt: Certainly, the pace at which the industry moves today poses a challenge—but it also presents an incredible opportunity to test and learn to ensure we’re meeting the evolving needs of our consumer base. And for us, that’s been a really interesting journey, and one where we’ve employed a number of new technologies to help us stay relevant.

For example, in order to reach our digitally savvy customers and prospects, we’ve been experimenting with a new technology called Director’s Mix, which allows us to come up with thousands of iterations of each digital unit, changing words depending on where you are, where you’re consuming our media and making the content more relative. This allows our ads to appear customized and us to be more relevant as a brand.

What’s the biggest buzzword in the industry today? How is Citi leaning into this trend?
I see a number of brands grappling with what it means to be a “purpose-driven” brand, and, in order to really do so in a meaningful way, authenticity is key.

At Citi, we really believe that we have a role to play in solving the societal challenges we all face and can’t be on the sidelines. For example, earlier this year, we teamed up with the Association of National Advertisers to launch #SeeHerHearHer, a groundbreaking movement to address the gender bias in music. In support, we launched a mentor series to support up-and-coming artists and paired them with the likes of Maren Morris and Sheryl Crow and have committed to featuring female artists in our brand’s campaigns and surrounding content.

But being a purpose-driven brand requires leading a movement, and not a moment, and needs to be an ongoing responsibility that we assume as marketers.

What’s the biggest change that your company or your industry has had to contend with in the last two years?
From a marketing perspective, one of the most significant changes—not only at Citi, but across the industry—has been that as consumers’ attention spans continue to decrease within our always-on, digitized landscape, it’s become increasingly difficult for brands to break through.

As the environment in which we play continues to get more competitive, it’s a tremendous challenge—and opportunity—for marketers.

If there’s one word to describe what Citi stands for, what would it be—and why?
Progress. As a global bank, our mission is to responsibly provide financial services that enable growth and progress, and we’re committed to delivering on that every day.

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@swodinsky Shoshana Wodinsky is Adweek's platforms reporter, where she covers the financial and societal impacts of major social networks. She was previously a tech reporter for The Verge and NBC News.