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How Vanguard is Giving Traditional Marketing a Jolt

Posted by Jim Garrity on Fri, Mar 30, 2012

Vanguard at cost cafe CMBImagine a company whose principle mission is to treat clients fairly, one that operates, not at low-cost but “at-cost,” and is beholden only to its clients—not Wall Street or wealthy shareholders. At a time when a social movement, based largely on deep displeasure with the financial industry, has exploded across the country, these are very attractive attributes.

Vanguard, doesn’t need to imagine that company, it’s been operating as a client-owned investment management company since 1975. But, to spread the word about their offerings and what differentiates them from other firms, they needed to get creative. TV, print, and social media all have their place, but explaining the “at-cost” concept isn’t easy to do in a static ad or 140 character tweet.  Moreover, when you are owned by your clients, spending tens of millions of dollars on an expensive TV campaign runs counter to your mission.  And so the Vanguard At-Cost Café was born, a traveling coffee truck, serving investment information, and coffee at-cost…for 28 cents!

Today, I grabbed 84 cents and two of my colleagues to check out the Café for myself. Aside from the almost irresistible allure of 28 cent coffee, the At-Cost Café is an excellent example of how a company can make an impression when so many of us have become expert at tuning out ads. Vanguard did this by connecting one of the most appealing, but least understood, aspects of their company to a concrete, easily grasped concept like really, really cheap coffee.  In addition to the coffee, Vanguard had baristas, video monitors, QR codes, and printed materials readily available to further enlighten the many thankful coffee drinkers about the company, its values, and its financial offerings in more detail.

The At-Cost Café is a success because it feels like much more than a marketing gimmick.  As the company described the effort, the Café is: "...a part of Vanguard’s ongoing effort to educate investors on the impact of investment costs, the At-Cost Café will be touring select cities to demonstrate how investors can save thousands of dollars simply by paying attention to the price tag on their investments." From my perspective Vanguard accomplished this mission and raised the bar  for connecting with customers and prospects by being innovative, straightforward, and informative—that and 28 cents will get you way more than a cup of coffee!

Posted by Jim Garrity. Jim Garrity is VP of CMB's Financial Services practice, never wears blue jeans to work, enjoys a reasonably priced cup of coffee, and always makes a point to ask "What Would the Dowager Countess Do?"

Topics: marketing strategy