SHELTON, Conn. - American Skandia late last month unveiled a new marketing and advertising campaign targeting investment professionals to reflect a new company-wide focus on helping them meet customer needs rather than promoting individual product lines. The tagline for the new campaign is "Get ahead. We're behind you."

The firm celebrated its new approach and the relaunch of its Web site at its headquarters here on July 24 by treating employees, dressed in denim and company T-shirts, to a live band and free ice cream. Skandia declined to reveal the budget for its new campaign, although industry insiders believe it is in the seven figures.

The fanfare marked the culmination of several months of work to reposition American Skandia. Last year, the company created a new mission statement focusing on the success of investment professionals. In April, the firm announced it would stop selling defined contribution and flexible premium life products to focus on variable annuity, mutual fund and wrap products, which constitute 93% of the company's sales [see MFMN, April 1 2002]. Skandia said the realignment would result in the dismissal of 40 employees, but since then, however, many have been repositioned within the company.

Skandia also said it would hire 15 additional wholesalers to call on banks, key accounts and, most importantly, broker/dealers. Wade Dokken, chief executive officer of American Skandia, announced he wanted to build the industry's largest sales force in the broker/dealer channel. Since then, however, the company has delayed these hiring plans due to market conditions, said Patti Abram, SVP and chief marketing officer.

The company, known for its fast rise in the variable annuity market, had expanded into a variety of products but remains primarily known for its variable annuities. American Skandia is now aligning itself to provide solutions rather than products, Abram said.

Abram started the rebranding process when she assumed the head marketing post 15 months ago, weathering staff and budget cuts in the interim. "We've done this with half the staff," Abram said. The leaner in-house staff has been backed by the advertising campaign, orchestrated by Hunt Adkins of Minneapolis.

In a two-pronged approach, the ads promote either product innovations or brand. "The brand ads are designed to reposition American Skandia not as a variable annuity company but as a financial services company with a unique investment platform [offering] choice, flexibility, 100% objectivity and innovation," Abram said.

One of Skandia's new print advertisements is headlined, "What's Your Measure of Financial Freedom?" The firm's redesigned Web site features the prominent tagline "Get to Your Goal. We'll Help."

As American Skandia has shifted its focus from products to solutions, it has also changed its image to reflect a more encompassing approach. American Skandia has disposed of the "dancing boxes" that symbolized the company's various product lines and once adorned its marketing materials and Web site, Abram said. Although Skandia has retained its blue umbrella logo and "Where to Invest" tagline, the company has done away with the primary colors it used to use in its marketing materials, and now is using warmer color schemes instead. Skandia's Web home page, for instance, prominently features a soft photograph of two people walking on a boardwalk along the grassy knolls of a beach.

Also, the company has simplified its marketing materials, making them easier for producers and investors to use and understand. The variable annuity packet used to include a bi-fold folder stuffed with prospectuses and other materials. Now the folder features several built-in pages of general information and a single pocket of loose material, including one-sheet descriptions of various product features.

To keep with the new look, different groups within the company will no longer be able to create their own materials, Abram said.

Some industry observers, however, wonder if the changes at Skandia are simply cosmetic. "If they just change the brand and it's business as usual, it's not going to mean much," said Alan Whitney, VP of marketing consulting at New York-based PrimeLook, which provides branding and marketing services to the financial industry.

Because Skandia is "so clearly defined as a variable annuity shop," the company will have to truly become "a full-service provider" to make a difference to financial intermediaries, Whitney said.

Skandia is making the necessary changes to become a more rounded financial service firm, Abram said, which is why the rebranding campaign has taken a year to put together. Over the past several months, Skandia has held numerous meetings with employees asking them to embrace this new customer-focused mindset, she said.

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