View from the C-Suite: TD follows its north star

Tyrrell Schmidt explains how five years of experience in Canada will be put to work in her new global remit.

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 3.22.31 PMThe last five-and-a-half years of Tyrrell Schmidt’s career at TD can be thought of as a part initiation, part reconnaissance mission.

The American-born marketer joined the bank’s Toronto headquarters in 2015, most recently serving as its VP, global brand and customer experience officer, where she learned everything there is to know about the financial landscape in Canada. Next week, she ships back to the States, rejoining her comrades in Philadelphia as she steps into the North America-wide role as the U.S. CMO and head of global brand.

Schmidt spent her time wisely in Canada, building local programs and collecting local insights to bring a more nuanced and deeper understanding of the market to her new role in the States, where she will continue to lead the bank’s purpose-driven brand efforts on a wider global level, from creative to sponsorship strategies.

Through Schmidt’s leadership, the bank was able to develop a distinctly Canadian marketing platform in 2017 that saw TD move away from its 17-year-old “Banking can be this comfortable” platform to one that is about building financial confidence by showing consumers that it’s “Ready for you.”

The marketer will now report to Greg Braca, president and CEO, TD Bank, while also reporting functionally to Theresa McLaughlin, global chief marketing, citizenship and customer experience officer at TD Bank Group.

Her experience instilling brand trust will certainly be relevant: TD, along with the other Big Five banks in Canada, posted its most recent financial results last week, where profit fell 30% compared with a year ago, as a result of having to save up in order to protect itself from bad debts in an unstable financial landscape. Canadian CEO Bharat Masrani told analysts that “the route to recovery won’t always be smooth” in a conference call addressing its earnings, which met expectations but still painted a murky road ahead for the economy.

Strategy spoke with Schmidt about the tasks she is taking on in her new role, the differences between the U.S. and Canadian markets and how the bank is preparing to guide its clients through some of the most uncertain financial waters they’ve ever seen.

What have you been tasked to do in this expanded role and how do your new responsibilities tie back to TD’s goals across Canada and the U.S.?

I will continue to oversee the brand, as well as our agencies on both sides of the border, and I’ll continue to do that at an enterprise level. My expanded mandate includes the U.S. brand and marketing strategy, so that is the entire breadth of marketing, such as product and customer marketing, customer analytics, our citizenship work, social impact and public affairs.

The whole brand and enterprise [purview] stays with me, so there are no implications [for our Canadian arm]. But, customer experience and insights is moving into another part of marketing… It will move under the mandate of Betsey Chung, our SVP and CMO of the Canadian business, so she will now have enterprise-wide oversight for the customer experience, whereas I will keep enterprise oversight for the global brand.

We believe there are synergies at the brand level [across both the U.S. and Canada]. For example, the “TD Thanks You” program is on both sides of the border. So we’re constantly seeking ways to leverage learnings but also create cross-market synergies where they make sense, and to find local executions where it doesn’t.

You previously helped transform TD’s brand positioning in Canada from being focused on “comfort” to giving consumers “confidence” when it comes to their finances. Now, with your North American mandate, you’ve been tasked to lead the bank’s new “Unexpectedly Human” platform in the U.S. What are the different brand strategies (and consumer perceptions) in the U.S. versus Canada?

When I think about what is common [between the two markets], firstly if we look at the enterprise level, there’s our purpose, which is to enrich the lives of our customers, colleagues and communities. That’s our north star. The other common thing is that we both look to enrich lives by offering legendary experiences, modern convenience and advice for our customers. Those things reflect TD’s overall strategy in both markets.

Back in 2017 we did an evolution exercise in Canada, and that’s where we landed on the “Confidence” brand platform. That was built and founded on the fact that 79% of Canadians said they didn’t feel confident about their financial future. While we still hold some equity in “comfort,” we know that consumers were looking for more.

In the U.S., “Unexpectedly Human” was launched in 2019 with the understanding that 74% of consumers in that market view their banking relationship as transactional. The platform helps us stand out from competitors because it’s driven by three things: a reliance on being customer-centric; a really deep and authentic commitment to community; and, finally, what we call “modern convenience,” where customers feel comfortable banking [through digital channels.]

In the current health and economic environment, “Unexpectedly Human” has never been more important in the U.S., while “Confidence” has never been more important in Canada.

How has your marketing strategy shifted during the crisis and how are your preparing your communications for a potential second wave? 

Everything we do is still grounded in our brand promise. But we are also looking at how consumer behaviours have changed, what messaging resonates and what’s relevant. As screen time increases and people spend more time online, it’s really important that we have messages that break through, simply because there are so many messages in the market right now. And then there’s the trend toward digital, where consumer and business adoption has jumped five years forward in eight weeks.

In markets where consumers want to feel confident in their financial future, we have seen that there is a huge increase in the expectation for banks to give them advice. That can be from relief efforts to everyday advice to much more complex information. We have seen, in Canada, that the financially vulnerable population has doubled in a year. That really tells you something about the importance of understanding a customer’s unique circumstance, providing the right advice for them to help them feel more confident and to progress. To that end, we launched “TD Ready Advice,” which is a content hub for them to get the advice that they need during this uncertain time.

I think that a lot of what we learned in the initial phase [of the pandemic] of our communications will hold true [if there's a second wave], and again, it’s really about tracking consumer sentiment and behaviour, and understanding what to do. One thing we’ve been able to do, thanks to our learnings, is to get ahead by enabling our branches have the materials they need if there is a second outbreak or a series of waves.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly email briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up for the newsletter here to receive the latest stories directly to your inbox every Tuesday.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.