Interviews/ General Management

The Interview: Vinoo Vijay, CMO, TD Bank

by Giselle Abramovich
Senior & Strategic Editor

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Article Highlights:

  • CMOs must develop the skills, routines, and tools to truly leverage the potential of our new digital and social landscape.
  • Marketing leaders must create and champion the brand proposition to customers and employees.
  • The marketing chief must deeply understand their customers–qualitatively and quantitatively.

Operating within a highly regulated industry such as financial services might have its challenges, but real-time marketing should not be one of them. Brands that are grappling have an organizational problem, not a regulation problem, according to TD Bank CMO Vinoo Vijay.

“In my experience, lengthy approval processes for communications are more self-imposed than regulation-driven due to organization structure and/or general discomfort,” Vijay explained.

In this exclusive interview with, Vijay also discusses how his marketing team is leveraging mobile to deliver on the bank's brand promise on convenience. Additionally, he takes us inside TD Bank’s “Human Truths” campaign, with analytics to back how it's faring, and offers some sound advice to his fellow marketers about customer expectations. Can you talk about the challenges associated with digital and being in a regulated industry like financial services?
Digital clearly provides an opportunity for the financial services industry to get closer to customers, improve acquisition costs, raise cross-sell rates, provide better service, and align to how customers live their lives. As with anything else, there are right and wrong ways to approach it. If regulation is holding a business back, I suspect they’re not thinking about the opportunity in the best way. Consumer expectation is what I think about. If we stay true to how [and how much] our customers want to engage, we will add value and, through it, create a virtuous cycle of increased consumer expectations and engagement interest.

Vijay joined TD Bank in April 2012. So there isn’t a long approval processes for brand communication to consumers as a result of regulation?
No. ...To give a personal example, several years ago–when social media channels were nascent and financial services rarely, if ever, engaged–there was a negative post written about the bank I worked for at the time. The post had factual inaccuracies about the bank. So the question we dealt with was, should we respond and, if so, what tone should we take? It took a few days for us to decide to respond, and we agonized over every word of the response.

When finally we posted the response, we found the blog and comments had moved on. Our response by then had become irrelevant. My lesson from that time was that to engage in digital, and particularly social, you need to be nimble. And nimbleness is entirely within our control. What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges that CMOs face today?
I think CMOs have to address three foundational challenges. First is developing the skills, routines, and tools to truly leverage the potential of our new digital and social landscape. It is just not enough to play. The winners are going to be those who deeply understand and can tap the potential that comes from this exponential explosion of data, media, and engagement.

Second is to create and champion the brand proposition to customers and employees. Particularly in financial services, brands must be grounded in tangible differences. For example, at TD Bank we are always looking to build on our unique differences that set us apart from other banks, from the big–like being open longer than any other bank–to the small–like having pens that are not chained to a counter. These are hard investment decisions that come from a deep understanding of customer pain points and a commitment to be better.

And, finally, CMOs have to deeply understand their customers–qualitatively and quantitatively–and help create insights that allow brands to naturally engage with consumers’ needs. Knowing the customer has never been more important, as consumers expect the benefits that come from it.

TD Bank says its extended hours sets it apart from other banks. In 2013 you launched a campaign called “Human Truths,” which was pretty big for TD Bank. Now you have launched the next iteration of that campaign. Can you tell us about the strategy of the campaign? How do you measure its success?
Our “Human Truths” campaign has a simple purpose: to visually show the all-too-common banking pain points consumers face, and the little and big things we are doing to help mitigate them. At the end of the day, consumers need their banks to make things as convenient as possible. We aim for that constantly, and the ads express that commitment.

In early 2013, TD Bank introduced a fresh, creative marketing platform called “Bank Human, Again.” Through a fully integrated multimedia campaign, the platform casts customers and employees in the spotlight, and brings to life America’s Most Convenient Bank’s legendary service and unparalleled convenience. TD continues to build on the success of “Bank Human.”

The campaign delivered more than 1 billion TV impressions in 2013, raised brand awareness even in the competitive New York DMA, up 9 points at campaign peak, and drove about 17 percent of the growth in new accounts in New York. Across our top five markets, it represented about 14 percent of our growth in new checking accounts.

“Bank Human” spots have held the No. 1 position since launch based on a syndicated study among the top 30 key competitors. All spots have consistently ranked among the top 10 for in-market performance, scoring significantly above norms for both recall and persuasion. The digital campaign delivered a .22 percent click through rate (CTR), which delivered clicks more than double our original forecast. The video units were responsible for some of the highest CTRs of the campaign: .39 percent for the TV spots and .37 percent for the customer testimonials. The new campaign will be measured in a similar way.

This video series is part of the "Human Truths" campaign. What are your digital priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?
Vijay: We are focused on making it ridiculously easy for consumers to find, assess, buy, and use our banking products. Specified robust online content strategies, mobile tools [particularly those leveraging location info], and omnichannel integration are key immediate areas. We are always looking to build on our history of introducing things that are surprisingly available in banking and, when you use it, better than you expect. For example, our mobile check deposit feature has a built-in image stabilizer–a surprise and delight, which makes it easier to take the image of the check. Other banking apps don’t offer that. What digital channels/platforms/tactics should marketers keep their eyes on over the course of the next couple of months? What’s the potential of the ones you’ve discussed?
I’m very interested in digital video right now. I think video content, through a number of platforms, is nascent but emerging. We cannot rely on the same creative, strategy, or targeting rules of traditional TV. I don’t know where it will all lead, but believe it is a powerful and not a well-tapped way to engage consumers and extend our brand. How has mobile changed the banking business?
It has clearly had a major effect on how and how much consumers engage with their money. For example, consumers check their balance far more when they use mobile banking than not. It’s pretty straightforward–the more things are made convenient, the more added value it creates. That’s better for both consumers and banks. What’s your advice to other CMOs?
The biggest risk is losing or lacking a strong point of view and longer-term vision. In our always-on world, it is easy to get distracted with the day-to-day challenges of campaigns and trying to achieve sales targets. A strong point of view, connected to a forward vision, helps shine a consistent light to help remember the way and the why.

The incredible opportunities to engage with consumers that digital, mobile, social, and data create are game-changing. But, as a marketer, the most important thing we can do is ensure our brands continue to build on and follow through on their promises. Only then will every touch point with the consumer that digital creates turn into a real positive.

About Giselle Abramovich

Giselle Abramovich is senior & strategic editor at Previously she wrote for outlets including Direct Marketing News, Mobile Marketer, Mobile Commerce Daily, Luxury Daily, and Digiday. Reach her at, or follow her on Twitter @GAbramovich.