This morning I gave a keynote speech at the 9th annual partner summit for Upromise in Boston. In case you haven’t heard of it by now, Upromise is a meaningful marketing platform that partners with brands to contribute a percentage of their sales to a college savings fund. I first came across Upromise back in 2001 when I worked on the Tide brand at Procter & Gamble and led a test of the service with a handful of other brands at the company. Nearly a decade later I was excited to see that Upromise is as strong as ever, and perfectly delivering on what I’ve been preaching in this blog and my book for two years this month. For this post I wanted to capture my catching up on some of the things that make Upromise a great partner for brands looking to connect with people in a meaningful way.
The Upromise Proposition
Overall, Upromise is a classic win-win-win and one of only a handful of businesses I consider “meaningful marketing platforms.” These platforms happen when you create a business that helps brands offer meaningful marketing to consumers, and you take a piece of revenue based on your ability to help both succeed. Probably the biggest meaningful marketing platform is Google, in which search advertising is clicked if it is helpful to consumers, and Google collects a fee from the advertiser based on whether the consumer chose to click on the ad.
Upromise similarly creates a win-win-win by enrolling a network of brands that will give a percentage of sales to a college savings plan. Consumers get anywhere from 1% to 5% back, businesses gladly hand over the fee to capture these sales, and Upromise collects a small percentage from the marketer based on each sale. To date, more than $44 billion has been spent through Upromise, resulting in more than $500 million in total earnings for consumers who are in the program. This success led Sallie Mae to acquire Upromise about two years ago.
In addition to the general plan, Upromise works hard to add features for both marketers and members. There is personalized offer platform, special promotions, and email, Facebook, and Twitter updates to help savers find out how to earn even more. And because Upromise has access to all of the data about purchase behavior, it offers an unprecedented ability to calculate ROI. No wonder its partners range from Exxon Mobil to McDonald’s to Bank of America.
Partner Example: Liberty Mutual
Liberty Mutual is one of a number of major financial services brands that are involved with Upromise. I have been a fan or Liberty Mutual for some time, and I wrote about their Responsibility Project both in this blog and in my book. In speaking with one of the brand’s representatives at this event, I learned that the Upromise partnership is a perfect fit with its brand purpose of encouraging responsibility.
Liberty Mutual has selected a smart path in embracing the idea of personal responsibility. First, the idea of “responsibility” differentiates the business in a crowded space and in a way that fits with what an insurance company is about (unlike sponsoring baseball games or showing a whale jumping in a commercial).
Second, people who are responsible tend to purchase more insurance AND they tend to be people who have fewer accidents. So by “owning” responsibility, Liberty Mutual increases its revenues and reduces its costs (i.e., paying out claims). Third, by embracing responsibility Liberty Mutual helps to build trust with its customers. After all, the responsibility goes both ways, and people need to trust that their insurance company will pay their claims if and when an accident happens.
The tie with Upromise makes a perfect fit with Liberty Mutual’s responsibility focus because the people who will take actions to save money years ahead of college are very likely to be more responsible than average. So Liberty Mutual further discovers and bonds with the high-revenue, high-profit customers that it desires. What I love is that this is a way of “targeting” people who have a desirable psychographic, and then delivering something that adds value to their lives.
Power of the Partner Summit
What I really love about the event that I attended is that it represents a way for Upromise to market itself in a meaningful way to its business customers. First, the company paid for me to attend in order to give these partners some added-value education about where the marketing world is going. Second, there was plenty of time for the partners to get together and trade tips and learnings amongst each other during meals, breaks, and at tonight’s Red Sox game. And there were additional speakers and breakout sessions in which companies such as Mastercard shared some keys to their success.
But the most original idea was a panel session in which actual Upromise users were flown in from around the country and put on the stage to share their likes and dislikes about the service. This “live focus group” offered some unscripted insights about what is working and what isn’t, but more importantly it reminded the partners of the real impact Upromise is making in terms of people’s purchase habits and success in saving for college. I have never seen a conference do something like this before, and I hope it is the beginning of a trend we see at other training events and corporate offsites.
So kudos to Upromise for continuing to build their customers’ businesses and give millions of parents a way to save for the biggest expense in their families’ futures.