Kristin Thomas shares an inside look at Vanguard’s new brand campaign and how the company continues to experiment across their social channels

In our highly regulated industry, we have to be very thoughtful about what we do. Kristin Thomas
Vanguard has a unique ownership structure. Essentially, Vanguard’s investors are also Vanguard owners. According to Kristin Thomas, Vanguard’s Retail Social Media Manager, that’s very different than other financial services firms.

“It was a radical idea 40 years ago, and it’s still a radical idea today,” said Kristin. “When we’re looking at what differentiates us in the marketplace. It’s that we’re client-owned and therefore, truly client focused. What also differentiates us is the strong sense of community among our investors, who are truly the heroes of our brand.”

This year, they launched a comprehensive brand campaign around the motto “Invest like you own the place” to drive the point home.

As part of that campaign, the team is focusing on the visual aspects of Vanguard’s brand to better differentiate and identify Vanguard with their audiences.

“We’ve always had Vanguard red as our brand color,” said Kristin. “But our brand team wanted to elevate a refreshed, modern color palette. We started thinking about how we can use new reds in our designs, for everything from our social channel cover photos, to the images we’re posting, to swag giveaways.”

Kristin and her team had to look at how Vanguard’s new campaign fit with their overarching brand pillars.

“A few months ago, when we revised our entire social media strategy to roll up to our overarching brand pillars, we really looked at each channel distinctly, our voice on each channel, and how they aligned,” said Kristin. “We’re approaching each channel differently in our mission to help all investors, but aligning everything we do to the brand.”

She said the goal for the campaign’s social media launch was to have a consistent presence across all platforms on day one.

We're approaching each channel differently in our mission to help all investors, but aligning everything we do to the brand. Kristin Thomas
That meant all of their cover photos across Vanguard’s channels prominently featured the new imagery, along with the brand motto, “Invest like you own the place.”

“We refreshed all of our social media profiles,” said Kristin. “Since launch, we’ve adjusted our strategy, channel approach, engagement, voice, transparency, imagery, and style while staying true to our values, who we are as a brand, and as a company. It has been a big shift, but one that was well-planned and well-executed by our team.”

Kristin and her team also focused on activating their Instagram channel, which they had just launched in August of this year.

They put together a T-shirt giveaway, which included a nod to Ariana Grande’s song, “Seven Rings,” as part of the shirt design and promotional content.

“It was so popular, we were out of 500 shirts in under a week,” said Kristin. “We knew there was a demographic of younger investors that we weren’t quite engaging on our other channels. We really put a lot of effort into building excitement on Instagram pre-brand campaign.”

Before they officially launched the campaign, they were also starting to tease some of their bolder red and purple imagery so the brand campaign shift wouldn’t feel so abrupt on day one.

Across channels, Kristin and her team also pushed out their content strategy for the launch.

They posted a CEO perspective on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The team also utilized user-generated content from fans posting pictures of themselves wearing red using the new brand campaign hashtag, #Fanguard.

In mid-October, the social media team threw a client appreciation party, filmed the event, and interviewed their owners on camera. On Boss’s Day, the team released four short videos made from the event on Vanguard’s social media channels, along with a free mug giveaway on Facebook and Twitter. Their #Fanguard audience received an “Invest Like You Own The Place” mug if they tagged a friend and shared how they started investing.

According to Kristin, the primary goal of these changes is to better engage with Vanguard clients across their channels where they are.

“Pre-campaign, we also started to focus more on community management on our channels and not just social care,” she said. “We’re looking at how we’re responding and keeping the conversation going. In the last few months, we’ve started asking more questions on some of our channels, particularly Facebook and Instagram, to encourage a two-way conversation.”

In the last few months, we've started asking more questions on some of our channels, particularly Facebook and Instagram, to encourage a two-way conversation. Kristin Thomas
For example, they’ve asked their audience everything from what they didn’t anticipate going into retirement to how they started investing.

“People’s comments are sometimes very personal and real,” said Kristin. “Our fans counsel each other and give each other advice. We jump into those conversations to keep them going, which has helped with our engagement.”

The team plans to use the user-generated content captured in these conversations, with their fans’ permission, as additional content on their channels. They intend to highlight their clients as the heroes of the Vanguard brand.

So far, Kristin said they’ve been receiving positive comments and responses to the new campaign across their channels.

“It’s encouraging to see these positive conversations happening and that they view Vanguard as a resource that helps them have those great conversations with each other,” she said. “People tend to trust people more than they trust brands. We’re humanizing the brand and connecting our audience with other people on our channels.”

Moving forward, she said they plan to keep encouraging the use of their new hashtag, #Fanguard, and continue prioritizing the more human side of their content.

“Those things, like implementing a new hashtag, take some time to grow,” she said. “They’re usually not instant, so we plan to continue to nurture them. The team also plans to continue the sentiment behind the campaign of being a little bolder, more human, and more relatable.”

Throughout this process and moving forward, she said they’re also focused on testing and learning. “We know immediately when something doesn’t work and when something does,” she said. “We’re taking note of that as we put some of those new, bolder statements and imagery out into the universe and then making adjustments along the way.”

This campaign has also been a part of Vanguard’s expansion across social media.

Last year at this time, the Vanguard Retail social team was only on Facebook and Twitter. Now, they’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and are working with their HR team to refine their LinkedIn strategy. They’re also working on launching more Reddit AMAs — with their first AMA taking place earlier this month.

We know immediately when something doesn't work and when something does. Kristin Thomas
“In our highly regulated industry, we have to be very thoughtful about what we do,” said Kristin. “On Reddit, we were worried about silly or rude questions and prepared ourselves for those possibilities. But I think people respect us as a brand, and we only got smart, thoughtful questions. It was another test-and-learn, and users responded really well to it. There’s clearly a desire for individuals to receive personal finance information and advice in nontraditional ways.”

Throughout these changes, Kristin said it’s been critically important to stay in communication with all of their major stakeholders.

“As we grow our presence on social media we are constantly checking in with legal and compliance throughout the process,” she said. “Even though we’ve got the brand campaign assets planned out, we double-check when trying something new or different. It’s crucial to keep those lines of communication open to make sure everyone stays aligned and coordinated.”

Kristin Thomas has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2019 and our Talent Marketing Board since 2017. You can connect with Kristin on LinkedIn and follow Vanguard on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.