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Finding a New Voice For Great-West


Great-West Life & Annuityis in search of a new identity that it has charged its new chief marketing officer, Joe Greene, to map out. Greene accepted the newly created position at the company in March after having worked as senior vice president and director of marketing and strategic planning at Bernstein-Rein Advertising for three years.

A veteran of financial services marketing for more than 25 years, Greene has held senior management positions at American Century Investments, American Express, Chase Manhattan Bank, Dreyfus and OppenheimerFunds.

Money Management Executive Editor Lee Barney recently spoke with Greene about his new responsibilities and how he plans to find a new voice and brand for one of the industry's leading providers of retirement savings products and services.

MME: Why did you decide to join Great-West as chief marketing officer?

Greene: I have admired Great-West for a number of years. It's always been a very strong, very stable company in the financial services marketplace.

As I was considering new opportunities for myself and for my family, this position presented itself. I thought it was a great chance for me to leverage the brand strategy and development work that I have done during my more recent agency days-where my clients included USAA, Met Life, Capital One, T. Rowe Price and Commerce Bank of St. Louis-as well as my knowledge and experience in product development and sales.

When I saw the opportunity at Great-West, it seemed like a tremendous opportunity to combine all of those competencies, experiences and skills, while at the same time lead a marketing department, as I had at American Century, to grow a capability at Great-West that the CEO, Mitchell Graye, had communicated to me.

We are currently working to build a world-class marketing group at Great-West to reposition the firm.

MME: What is Great-West's current marketing strategy?

Greene: Currently, Great-West has prided itself on and has been leveraging a combination of attributes as it relates to our brand, and those include our incredibly strong balance sheet and very strong overall financial position. We have gotten the highest ratings from many of the ratings agencies. Our history of growth even during the recession has been remarkable. And that also includes our longevity. Great-West has been around since the early 1890s.

Plus, we have significant market leadership in many of the markets in which we participate. We are the number one provider of government retirement plans. We are the number one seller of insurance through the bank channel. I believe we are the fourth-largest provider of retirement services in terms of the number of participants.

And so, those leadership positions, combined with our financial strength, the superlative ratings we have gotten from independent ratings agencies, the overall strength of our balance sheet and the fact that we have not only survived but thrived during one of the worst economic periods in history-has really been what Great-West has concentrated on in its sales and marketing efforts.

In terms of our recent marketing campaigns, we are currently running a series of full-page print ads that highlight our retirement services division in a variety of financial intermediary publications like Pensions & Investments and Plan Sponsor. Those ads have highlighted various equities of the Great-West Retirement Services group, ranging from products to services to a new website we launched a couple of months ago. We have also developed advertorials.

Many of the marketing activities have been in response to the needs of our clients. The marketing group here supports our clients in terms of providing websites, developing educational collateral and other types of marketing support.

In addition, while this is not a true marketing campaign, we have been very active in a variety of community support programs, like the national Multiple Sclerosis Society's Great-West bike event and the Great-West Great Teachers program, which just recently held a dinner at which awards and funds were granted to 25 schoolteachers in the state of Colorado. We are also very active in promoting financial literacy and recently held a contest where teachers wrote essays to vie for these various grants, which will be used for supplies and program development in their classrooms.

MME: What has the CEO asked you to build upon as you put your imprint on Great-West's marketing efforts?

Greene: Great-West, as I mentioned, has very strong name recognition among some of its target groups, such as the government marketplace and the bank channel. But having strong name recognition is not the same as having strong brand recognition. Clients might say, yes, I know Great-West. You have been in the marketplace for a long time. But if you were to ask those clients what attributes and benefits separate Great-West from competitors and what is its value proposition relative to its competitors, people might be hard pressed to respond.