Nationwide Building Society Strives To ‘Do The Right Thing’ For Customers

Stephen Leonard, COO of marketing at Nationwide, is leading the building society’s transformation to ensure it can reach out to and engage with a new generation of customers.

Nationwide Building Society Strives To 'Do The Right Thing' For Customers

Nationwide Building Society wants to lead the customer experience and digital revolution in U.K. financial services.

It is the largest building society in the world, and is currently one of the most trusted brands among high street banks in the U.K. And it is the U.K’s second-largest provider of household savings and mortgages. It was also the first provider on the high street to offer an Apple Watch banking app, while last year it launched a 24 hour Twitter service.

One of the people driving the organisation’s transformation is Stephen Leonard, chief operating officer, marketing, who has re-engineered the company’s marketing, data, and digital sales and marketing model since joining in January 2014. The changes are already reaping results. I began by asking him about the key opportunities and challenges of marketing the 170-year-old Nationwide brand.

Leonard: Our brand reputation and health is in a good place, and among our peers we are now first for trust, customer satisfaction and brand consideration. However, the challenge for Nationwide—and any brand with our heritage—is to ensure it remains just as relevant with every new generation.

We believe that by “doing the right thing” for customers, employees and the community we can remain relevant and deliver a successful and distinctive business into the future. If anything, the reputational issues across our sector have demonstrated that it is more important than ever before to offer a powerful alternative model to challenge the financial sector to “do the right thing.” How are you showing yourself to be relevant to a younger audience?

Leonard: As marketers we are all looking to build brands that can reach out and engage with customers to create stronger, mutually beneficial relationships. This is particularly important with a younger generation that are demonstrating they are more likely to identify and engage with “authentic brands.”

With a younger audience social media, and peer recommendation in particular, continues to drive positive changes across our sector, as the importance of customer experience, trust, and business transparency, rather than historical scale, play a greater key role in consumer brand choice. As a result we all have to redefine our strategy and reassess what success is.

Today we are having to “earn” our place to create advocates that will do the talking for our brands. Within Nationwide we have certainly moved our marketing investment and focus from a broadcast mass “push” model to an organic, human, personalised, engagement model—with metrics around customer experience, social, and earned performance becoming core measures of success. How successful is your increased focus on digital to date?

Leonard: It is essential to “future proof” our business so that Nationwide is at the forefront of digital. If you look across the major retail banks we are now number two for digital sales, provide an outstanding digital customer experience, and some market-leading innovation. We need to attempt to stay ahead of the curve.

As an example in March 2014 we were also the first bank to launch 24/7 Twitter customer service, meaning customers can get a response to their questions at any time of the day. We have seen a strong demand for this since we launched, and we now respond to about 8000 tweets each month. As a brand, our aim is to offer customers the same levels of satisfaction and experience through digital channels as they receive face to face through our traditional channels. Last year Nationwide launched its integrated “We think it’s people” campaign aimed at shouting about what differentiates Nationwide from other banks. It was your first campaign at the organisation. How did you shape it?

Leonard: It was built out of a brand truth that Nationwide as a mutual puts people and customer experience before money. Nationwide is a brand that was built on authenticity, and it was a truly “inside out” campaign which actively engaged our people and customers. Since launch, our brand health and broader business measures have gone from strength to strength. How did you manage to achieve strong internal support for the campaign?

Leonard: We want our people to live the brand. We are an “inside out organisation” and for any campaign to work and resonate it has to represent the way we really do things. There is a research and consultation process with our people and any campaign is communicated widely around the business to get internal buy-in. We want our marketing and brand to have real meaning, rather than some superficial veneer that doesn’t truly represent us. How successful was the campaign?

Leonard: We measure a range of brand health KPIs and it has positively enhanced those metrics. In terms of “hard” metrics and results it’s also working. Nationwide recently released its business results and has delivered low-risk growth across all core markets, combined with a strong financial performance.

At the same time however we have a balanced scorecard. Nationwide continues to take its broader responsibility to society seriously and aims to play a supportive part in the communities in which it operates. The use of vloggers has played a key role in Nationwide’s marketing activity in 2015 in an effort to attract younger customers. How did you make this work?

Leonard: We launched a new current account last year—a product called FlexOne—and wanted to launch it in a different way, providing education and support to young people so they could understand how a current account works. When we researched the way they engaged with financial services, we found they struggled to relate to traditional financial services advertising.

Consequently, we talked to a range of high profile vloggers—including danisnotonfire, tomska, kickthepj and emmablackery—about how we might engage in a different way. We enlisted a number of them and worked with them to make a series of videos and posts that were helpful but also quirky and entertaining. The videos were posted on our MoneyStuff channel on YouTube. How successful was your first foray into the vlogging world?

Leonard: Since launching about a year ago, we have had over 5.4million views with 99% of comment being positive. It’s already won a number of industry awards. The product has also been successful, and we have taken around a quarter of the UK’s youth current account market in the last six months. How have you adapted the marketing department since joining the business in January 2014?

Leonard: The traditional marketing department has long been dead in the water. Some time ago we merged our digital, marketing, and data teams, removing the silos and ways of working to create fluid, virtual teams which accelerated our agility and digital, data-driven transformation. Cross-functional teams are now working together with shared customer agendas, stronger integration, and effective execution. In terms of culture, integration, and agility we are in a great place. How did you achieve this transformation in real terms?

Leonard: We have had to invest in people, in training, and look at the way we work and the way we behave as a team, because we’ve moved to something much more fluid requiring new skills and ways of working.

Culturally it is a very different way of working—you are asking people to work in a constantly evolving way, and to collaborate in a different way. To make this new marketing model work we have to attract and train great people who can work in a different way. We are recruiting and training our people to be “T-shaped marketers”—people with deep marketing, data, and highly-specialised digital expertise, but combined with wider commercial and strategic business understanding, and importantly the ability to influence and collaborate to produce great customer experience right across the business. The role of marketing today must increasingly be to influence strategy throughout the whole purchase funnel.

We have long believed that “customer experience is the new marketing.” To be successful requires an obsession around customer experience throughout the organisation, rather than just a thin brand veneer. Certainly customer experience metrics sit at the very heart of our business; however it is much more about our culture, values and behaviours that enables the organisation to “live the brand” every day.

We firmly believe in the adage that “culture beats strategy,” and at Nationwide our internal PRIDE values [the behaviours Nationwide staff are expected to adopt when dealing with customers] truly represent the way we do business throughout the organisation.

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