When Ally Financial CMO Andrea Brimmer spoke at a recent Association of National Advertisers conference, the large audience was completely riveted. There was magic in her absolute sincerity and positive energy.
“She had this power of humanity and connection, and the audience felt that realness,” says Bridget Sponsky, senior director of marketing for Ally, who has worked with Brimmer for 15 years, including during Brimmer’s previous position. “Everyone was now a part of that moment. I watched her like I was watching my favorite team work to win the championship. At that moment, she amazed me. I was proud of her and I was proud to be part of her story.”
Brimmer joined Ally in 2006 at the height of the financial crisis. The Detroit company faced intense challenges. It was transitioning from a captive auto finance company (General Motors Acceptance Corp.) and also launching the first-ever online-only deposits franchise. She was elevated to CMO in 2015.
“She was charged with standing up the Ally brand; developing everything from the brand pillars and cultural framework, to creating the value proposition and delivery in the marketplace,” according to Brimmer’s company bio. “Under her direction, Ally emerged with a strong reputation as a ‘different’ kind of financial services company, relentlessly focused on solving pain points that traditional institutions set forth.”
Ally has grown and diversified, with not only auto and banking products, but corporate finance, online brokerage and wealth management, home mortgage, credit card and insurance products. Despite its growth, the brand has remained centered around customers and contributing to their financial well-being, according to the company.
In September 2016, Brimmer launched the first-ever unified brand campaign in Ally’s history, “Do It Right,” highlighting the brand’s focus on doing things right for customers. The campaign not only aligned the full scope of Ally’s financial services offerings under one mantra, it also reflected the company’s culture and core values internally.
Prior to joining Ally, Brimmer spent 20 years on the agency side of the business at Campbell-Ewald, where she led the Chevrolet account.
During that stint as she does now, Brimmer believes in supporting career growth and development among women at all levels of the organization and outside of Ally. She personally mentors several junior colleagues at Ally and college students from her alma mater, Michigan State University, and Clemson University.
“Andrea is one of the best in the business because she has heart, empathy and a golden gut like no other,” says Jennifer Brockington, senior director of marketing for Ally, who has worked with Brimmer for four years. “Her leadership style prioritizes people above all. She pushes the team to our fullest potential while building genuine relationships because she knows when you have a team that is motivated and valued, performance excels.”
Bravery has played a role in Brimmer’s career. She believes in the importance of being brave enough to take risks in order to reap rewards both personally and professionally.
“My biggest challenge has been continually finding disruptive ways to compete in a category that spends ferociously and engaging consumers on a subject (money) where there is a lot of trepidation to engage,” Brimmer tells MediaPost. “Establishing a cadence of disruptive ideas that utilize new technologies and gamification to help make the subject of money more friendly and approachable takes an unrelenting focus on doing things differently. Being able to push through this challenge and raise our game consistently has certainly challenged the entire team and our agency partners.”
CMOs need to have very aggressive learning agendas, broad knowledge on many subjects beyond marketing: product, technology, customer service, financials and metrics, she says.
“I am most proud of the fact that we have built from the ground up a brand that has forever changed the category, has set a standard for customer-centricity, and has become undeniably one of the most purpose-driven brands in any category growing every year because we do things the right way,” Brimmer says.
The role of the CMO in companies across categories continues to change, she says.
“The ability to keep pace with accelerated change and ever evolving customer media consumption habits while connecting dots across the enterprise has been the biggest change in the CMO role,” Brimmer says. “Given the rapid pace of technology adaptation, continual disruption of categories, and never ending pressure to deliver more efficient, highly effective communications CMOs will need to continue to evolve their skill set far beyond marketing.”
Brimmer has a vision for the brand that is not limited to the financial services category, says Brockington.
“Andrea has a relentless passion for driving our brand to deliver for our customers,” she says. “She doesn’t compare us to the financial industry. Her sights are on some of the best customer service and tech brands in the business.”
Kathleen Patterson, chief human resource officer for Ally, has worked closely as a peer with Brimmer for over the last 10 years.
“I am most impressed with Andrea’s ability to lead with greatness through her positive influence on others and her willingness to go above and beyond for those around her,” says Patterson, who adds that she counts Brimmer among her closest friends. “She is the perfect mix of highly strategic and creative with an amazing empathic intuition. She is gifted at knowing how to connect and relate to others.”