H&R Block CMO: How we rebranded tax season as refund season

H&R Block's Kathy Collins speaks to Lindsay Stein about engagement strategies and simplifying tax data into relevant content for consumers.

H&R Block's Get Your Billions Back ads star Richard Gartland, a tax professional for the brand.
H&R Block's Get Your Billions Back ads star Richard Gartland, a tax professional for the brand.

Tell me about the campaigns you launched in January.
We’re running two campaigns throughout the tax season. H&R Block serves 100% of the market, including people who do their taxes themselves – DIY-ers – as well as consumers who need assistance.

We address them differently because they are two different audiences. Get Your Billions Back America targets those going into our offices for assistance. The foundation of that strategy is that 85% of taxpayers get a refund and that’s something everybody can relate to – getting the biggest refund back you legally and possibly can.

The campaign features Richard Gartland. People recognize him from last year’s advertisements. He’s actually one of our tax professionals, so he’s more than an actor. He works in one of our Los Angeles offices. The campaign is focused on money to the extent that we have redesignated tax season as refund season.

The other effort is a little quirkier and different. From our research, we learned that DIY-ers care about price point the most, other than having an accurate tax return. We decided to take a different approach this year to pricing. The federal return has been free for many years, but the state return has not. Prices for that service have been different throughout the years, but it has never been as low as it is this year – $9.99.

We wanted to produce a campaign that would be memorable and focus on that price point so people realize that if they are part of the 35% of people who want to do their taxes on their own, they can get their federal and state returns done for under $10. The campaign is made up of different spots that repeat the words 9.99 in different ways.

How are you promoting the campaigns?
We have a huge investment across air cover – TV and radio – and then we get into ground and screen cover. We have a significant interactive presence through online banners, search, our website, and other online creative.

What type of stories do you focus on for social media?
It varies quite a bit. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and some other changes to the tax code, there’s a time and place to be somewhat serious because we know some segments of our consumer base are looking to social media to find information.

It’s also where we can have a little bit of fun and we do that on different holidays when people don’t expect it or with what’s happening in pop culture or the news. There’s always a tax implication and you can have as much fun with it as the consumer wants. We leverage a number of channels, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and around April Fools’ Day, we’re going to have a little bit of fun doing something different on our social channels.

How did the event go in January around the Affordable Care Act?
The ACA is the biggest change to the tax code in more than 20 years, and it’s impacting about 1 in 4 of our clients. Our event was a 12-hour day where people could walk into our offices – free of charge with no appointments – and ask any question they had about the ACA. We provided a tax impact analysis, which showed what you can expect based on your situation.

It was an opportunity for our consumers to talk to our tax experts across our 10,000 offices. We were able to provide guidance to more than 200,000 consumers in just one day. For people who could not visit an office, Gartland participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session.

H&R Block saw an average of 85%-90% up votes [the average is about 74%], which means that participants were engaged and found the discussion – both questions and answers – useful.

How do you communicate all of your offerings in a comprehensive way to consumers?
We have a wonderful asset here called The Tax Institute, which is the biggest group of tax geeks you could imagine – tax attorneys, CPAs, and so on, and they know the tax codes frontward and backward.

We are able to tap into them on a very consistent basis to build our expertise and provide our tax professionals with everything they need. The beauty of our communications and marketing teams is that we can hopefully turn that information into bite-sized chunks and make it relevant and understandable to the general public. The tax code changes every week. Most people are not aware of that, so it’s about keeping the information relevant and simple.

Do you oversee marketing and communications for the company?
Yes. I’ve been here long enough where I have seen it both ways – where the comms team was with us and when it was not. Having one integrated unit really works.

We are very team-oriented and aligned. The fact we can shape our marketing and communication strategies as one and build them out together is critical and makes all the sense in the world.

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