WASHINGTON -- When the CFP Board embarked on an ambitious four-year, $40 million marketing campaign to boost public awareness of its certification, the group knew that measuring effectiveness would be an integral part of the effort. 

After all, the board was asking an additional $145 in fees from its certificants, on top of the $180 that they already pay each year.

The campaign, which the CFP Board's board of directors unanimously approved in November 2010, came in response to what officials at the organization describe as a widespread demand among planners for a greater awareness throughout the investing community of the certification and what it represents.

The CFP Board wants to convey not only that certified financial planners are held to a high standard of ethics and competence, but that they are equipped to handle the whole of a client's financial situation, running the gamut from tax strategy to real estate, budgeting and debt to estate planning. 

"Financial planning is not just about investments. It really is focused on [an investor's] financial life and what's included in it," said Dan Drummond, director of public relations at the CFP Board. "The CFP professional is uniquely qualified to help and pull those things together." 

But a campaign with the stated goal of driving awareness presents an obvious challenge: How does one quantify "awareness" and measure the success of efforts to build the brand of CFP certification?

The marketing shop at the CFP Board had a plan. The campaign, which includes a media mix of online, television, print and National Public Radio spots, launched last April. That same month, the CFP Board enlisted a firm called Marketing Evolution to conduct a 16-week survey gauging the effectiveness of the campaign. 

Over a period from April through August, Marketing Evolution conducted more than 6,000 interviews with investors in the target audience, a demographic the board has defined as "mass affluent initiators," individuals generally in the age range of 35 to 65 and with assets of $100,000 or more to invest.

"We're not going after 360 million people. It's a very tight group," Drummond said.

A chief aim of the study was to determine whether the media planners orchestrating the campaign had selected the right mix of publications -- all consumer-oriented titles -- for the CFP Board's messaging.

In interviews of 20 minutes to 30 minutes, survey respondents were asked a series of questions about how likely they were to see a financial planner and their attitudes and beliefs, such as whether they prefer to work alone or in groups, and whether they are generally inclined to trust experts.

"Their agreement with those attitude statements is what determines whether they're in that target or not," said Tom Crowder, managing director of business development and marketing at the CFP Board.

The next phase of the analysis cross-referenced investors' responses with data compiled by the Simmons Market Research Bureau, a group that each year interviews thousands of consumers about a wide range of lifestyle issues, covering what they eat, whether they have a pet, and, of greatest interest to Crowder's team, what their media habits are.

That information helped inform the media buys, while the marketing effectiveness survey tracked the shifts in awareness about the CFP credential over the four-month period. The CFP Board had designed the campaign to boost total awareness generally, but set a particular focus on what it calls unaided awareness -- whether an investor, when asked about the types of designations for financial planners that they know, could name the CFP certification without any prompting.

Over the course of the study, the CFP Board saw an increase in total awareness of eight percentage points, and two percentage points in unaided awareness, well ahead of the group's expectations for such a short period of time.

Likewise, the survey found sharp upticks in a variety of categories measuring the perception of the CFP brand (familiarity, trustworthiness, etc.), and double-digit spikes in several so-called personality metrics, such as whether the respondents viewed CFP planners as ethical, hard-working and worth the money.

"That's huge in 16 weeks," said Crowder, who previously served as vice president of marketing with Verizon. "We had huge budgets. We didn't move numbers like this."

A second study, conducted by the research group Ipsos in April 2011 and again in April of the following year, pegged total unaided awareness up 7% among mass affluent initiators one year out, blowing past the goal of a 4% increase that the CFP Board had set for the entire campaign.

The campaign, and particularly its funding mechanism, has rankled some planners who question the value of the $145 fee increase. As it set about shaping the initiative, the CFP Board canvassed its certificants to determine how much they would be willing to pay to shoulder a campaign designed to raise awareness and burnish their professional profile. That polling revealed $12 a month to be the "sweet spot" of how much a sizable majority of planners would be comfortable paying, according to Crowder.

The board was prepared for some dissent, but since the campaign launched, renewal rates have held at between 96% and 97%, the highest mark in three years.

"In terms of how are CFP professionals are reacting to that, it's generally positive. We knew in the initial research there was 3 to 5% that definitely did not want a public-awareness campaign, did not want to pay for it. But the overwhelming majority of comments we get are positive," Crowder said. "There is a small group of detractors," he added, "but the renewal rates are remaining stable above 95%."

At the outset, the CFP Board said that it would undertake a review of the campaign two years in, at the midpoint. Crowder suggested that the board would revisit the media mix, but predicted that any changes the group makes in consultation with the agencies it's working with, each firms within the Havas/Arnold network, would be relatively minor. 

"Like any campaign, it's a constant learning experience," Crowder said. "There's still room for improvement. We will continue to look at our media mix and how we're reaching people and what's driving the results and refining that. And we'll continue to work on the creative as we roll out new creative to just make it resonate as much as possible with consumers. I don't think we're going to make any drastic changes from where we are, but we will be working to improve our results over time."

He added: "Everything's kind of moving in the general right direction, which leads us to believe ... the campaign's working."

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