3 Key Lessons from Morgan Stanley’s Chief Marketing Officer

Few financial brands have greater recognition that Morgan Stanley. That said, the challenge of the megabank's marketing team — led by bank marketing veteran Alice Milligan — is to simultaneously protect the brand while enhancing its appeal and relevance to millions of new customers.
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Morgan Stanley is the eighth most valuable banking brand — and for good reason. A Wall Street fixture for more than three quarters of a century, the New York City investment bank’s name is legendary.

Yet just because Morgan Stanley has a well-established brand that has thrived for decades, does not mean it’s easy to maintain. There is the inherent value, but the investment bank must grow the brand in the face of a changing company and changing financial markets.

That’s where Alice Milligan — the investment bank’s Chief Marketing Officer — comes in. She’s relatively new to Morgan Stanley’s top marketing post, having come from E-Trade when it was acquired by Morgan Stanley in 2020. But she’s not new to marketing leadership, nor to hands-on marketing jobs.

Milligan spoke with Jim Marous on the Banking Transformed podcast, diving into the parameters of her job, the obstacles the investment bank has faced and how she navigates the customer experience challenges as the company grows by acquisition. Milligan’s insights provide an inside look into how the big New York institution is mastering the customer journey.

Read More: The Top 10 Most Valuable U.S. Banking Brands in 2022

Marketing: a Balance Between Art & Science

As Marous astutely notes, “there’s not much more legacy in the banking world than Morgan Stanley.” The investment bank was first founded in 1935 following the breakup of the original J.P. Morgan & Co. under the Glass-Steagall Act. The company currently has total balance sheet assets of $1.2 trillion.

Milligan’s task is to preserve the legacy brand value while helping to propel Morgan Stanley’s value proposition going forward.

Her resume speaks for itself, spanning a career that began at AT&T and includes 15 years at American Express, a stint at retailer Coach and five-plus years at Citi.

At Citi, she established the bank’s client experience discipline, she explains to Marous. This included “everything from the data and analytics to how we measured success of the firm.”

Alice Milligan warming strategy marketing communications every month E Trade Morgan Stanley quote

Marketing has changed significantly since Milligan first started in the industry, she says. Before, it used to be more of an art that one could master. Now, however, it is a stronger balance between art and science.

“There’s more pressure to talk about the return on investment,” Milligan explains, adding the quantification of the data analysis is critical, even if it is through qualitative measurements (such as brand trackers and awareness and net promoter scores).

At Morgan Stanley, Milligan has multiple roles as CMO. Her jurisdiction is companywide, but she’s primarily entrusted with protecting and evolving the brand (discussed further below) and all the governance that entails. She also works to integrate the companies that Morgan Stanley acquires — like E-Trade —into the larger brand.

“I’ve got all of sponsorships and events and our brand ambassador strategy, all of our digital properties. Then, data and analytics at the marketing level for the firm are also key areas of responsibility,” she says.

The podcast discussion drilled deeply into three key areas of Milligan’s responsibility. Here is summary of the most significant points.

Listen To The Full Podcast: An Inside Look into Morgan Stanley’s Evolving Brand Strategy

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1. Executing a Successful Acquisition

The big investment bank is major league in the M&A game, not only as an advisor, but a participant. Morgan Stanley overall has acquired 40 companies worth $33.67 billion, according to Tracxn.

Milligan worked at E-Trade when Morgan Stanley bought it in 2020, a transition she says was fairly smooth. James Gorman, Morgan Stanley’s CEO, had a clear vision that made for an easy conversion — a project encompassing 5.2 million new customer accounts.

“As we became part of the firm, we spent a good amount of time just doing research,” Milligan explains. “We looked at brand tracker metrics for Morgan Stanley and brand tracker metrics for E-Trade,” she says. They also studied how E-Trade customers felt about Morgan Stanley.

Possibly one of the most impactful steps she took was simply listening. It didn’t take long for Milligan and the rest of her team to notice E-Trade customers just didn’t know much about Morgan Stanley, despite its storied Wall Street name.

To address this lack of brand knowledge, Milligan helped coordinate a year-long “warming strategy.” Instead of offering onboarded customers a welcome packet to read in their spare time, the warming strategy entailed 12 months of teaching E-Trade customers all they needed to know about the Morgan Stanley brand.

A Strategy to Consider:

Take a page from Morgan Stanley's book when onboarding new customers. Communicate often until they know your brand.

“We did a series of marketing communications every month,” she says. “We started slowly integrating E-Trade customers into our targeting in social media and some of our external work, our overall digital media, etc.”

The idea was to show former E-Trade clients they could get the same technology and resources they did before, along with “intellectual capital, research, all of these other things.” By the end of the campaign, brand awareness and positive sentiment had increased.

2. Setting Up Diversity in the Banking Office

Building a strong team is at the forefront of Milligan’s leadership. She knows what to look for — and address — because she herself has fought her way to get where she is.

“What I’ve learned the hard way — because I spent a lot of time doing this early in my career — is to focus less on being the same and assimilating, and focus more on what makes you different,” Milligan explains.

The CMO looks to find true diversity in employee culture across the board at Morgan Stanley. She says everyone should bring something new to the table — from the creative types to the scientists and data analysts to the marketers she works with directly.

“For me as a leader, it’s really important to think about the diversity of the team, not just from how that team looks and feels, but also what people’s expertise is,” she says.

Retaining the current workforce is just as critical as building a new one, she notes. Therefore coaching and mentoring, in particular, are a strong part of her focus.

Keep in Mind:

It is great to add new blood to a workforce. But, executives must also ensure they take care of their existing team, through coaching and mentoring.

From there, it becomes easier to develop a team that is centered on core values. She prompts other senior leaders to consider “How do we start to really embrace that [diversity] and how can a broader set of leaders really start mentoring, coaching, guiding and helping people throughout their career?”

Milligan says incorporating diversity up and down the chain of command is essential. Diversity has long been an issue in banking, she points out, and she encourages company leaders to find the missing voices. “But as individuals, recognizing that it’s also on us to speak up a little bit on our own behalf, and there are ways to do that and navigate the organization in the right way.”

When it comes down to it, the people around Milligan are positioned because she thinks they can provide a different and unique perspective “and raise an issue or concern or thought that is different.”

Learn More: Bank Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: From Empty Words to a Real Priority

3. Staying Authentic to the Brand While Getting Creative

Milligan is deeply aware of her role in protecting the brand equity Morgan Stanley has built over decades. But it is far from being a static organization.

“The first thing is: your marketing and brand strategy needs to align with your corporate strategy and your business strategy,” Milligan says. “One of the things we feel as a firm is really important is talking to our employees and our clients.”

It’s a fine balance of staying true to the existing voice of the brand, while incorporating new ideas that will build on the qualities of the company.

When Morgan Stanley acquired E-Trade, it meant absorbing a company with a very different style and clientele.

“Morgan Stanley has been historically a one brand company,” she says. Now it is acquiring firms that enable it to grow faster, whether through the retail brokerage of E-Trade or the wealth and asset management business of Eaton Vance. Both have different audiences, technology, capabilities and strategies.

But, evolving in the modern banking world means more than just acquiring companies and growing at rapid scale. For Morgan Stanley, it also entails projects like its PGA campaign — called “Everyone Deserves a Shot” — geared to attracting younger audiences to the investment firm. Part of the campaign included features on pro golfers Cheyenne Woods and Justin Rose — who Milligan refers to as brand ambassadors.

“The things that are important to groom the next generation of golfers are very similar to what we think about in terms of financial services — giving everyone access to the right tools, the right education, the right products and services at the right time in their life,” says Milligan. “It’s a very synergistic type of path.”

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