Few American brands have endured as long as the American Automobile Association (AAA). What began in Chicago in 1902 with 1,500 members now has over 60,000,000 members in all 50 states and Canada with services that include roadside protection, car care, travel, insurance, and financial services.
After 118 years, the AAA brand has come to mean reliability and responsiveness. It continues to increase its membership and other powerful brands seek to align with AAA to gain from the glow of this trusted American institution.
But the changing culture, habits, and behaviors of younger Americans prompted AAA to rethink how it enrolls audiences under 45 years old. In 2019, AAA began to shift more of its membership marketing investment from ads into content.
The Brand As Publisher
For AAA, “content” does not mean “branded content.” A renowned publisher of stories on travel, car culture, destinations, and road trips, AAA views content as a publisher does—as real stories with real value to the viewer. Not ads disguised as content, as do many marketers.
AAA leaders recognized that its publishing capabilities were extremely effective at informing, educating, and inspiring its existing 60M members while building loyalty at every step. However, a shift was required to reach non-members and spur them to join.
“Content isn’t new at AAA. For more than 100 years, we’ve been the producer of compelling stories to inspire our members, fuel their loyalty, and cross-sell. But we needed to shift our thinking to use content as a channel for new member acquisition—to reach new audiences without impeding our existing, successful efforts to connect with our current members” says Scott Lugar who joined AAA Club Alliance in 2019 as its CMO.
Lugar was then introduced to my company, Props, a content marketing platform launched in the same year he joined AAA.
The Props platform attracts new audiences with real stories and converts these audiences into customers through a content-based remarketing platform.
Real Stories, Unreal Results
Props met several of Lugar’s requirements, including trustworthiness, authenticity, and efficacy:
All stories created by Props are real, and not branded content. The stories never mention AAA or its products.
Props creators are accomplished and independent storytellers, not influencers. They simply write about their unique expertise and experiences, with integrity, as they would for a traditional publisher.
The platform promotes each story—published solely on AAA’s website—directly through each creator’s social media accounts. This approach increases the audience’s trust in the story, drives up response rates, and reaches audiences who may have ignored ads in the past.
Props’ content-based retargeting system converts these new, low-cost, high-quality audiences into customers.
After a successful pilot in 2019, AAA commissioned Props for an annual membership acquisition agreement, which resulted in acquiring younger members for much less.
In 2020, its first full year in-market, Props acquired over 31,000 new members for AAA at or below AAA’s fully-loaded cost per member. Further, new members acquired through the Props platform are younger by a significant margin.
Props has driven a 50% lift in new members under the age of 45. For members under the age of 25, Props drove a 700% lift. The only age segment where Props acquired a lower percentage of members were over the age of 65.
“We saw the potential for Props to unlock new audiences through their unique, content-first model,” said Lori Seaman, AAA’s Managing Director of Digital, who commissioned the first Props pilot. “Today, we’re realizing lower acquisition costs, especially among younger audiences. Props’ ability to consistently deliver high-quality, authentic content from diverse creators is a key element to its success.”
Driving down costs and the average age of members contributes to AAA’s ability to endure. Further, younger members are more likely to auto-renew and they cost less to service due to their predisposition to use technology.
In 2021, Lugar and his team plan to expand AAA’s application of the Props platform into new AAA units like Auto, Travel, and Insurance.