Being “Always-On” Means Always Learning For UK Bank Santander

Santander’s UK CMO, Keith Moor, discusses the marketing strategies being applied by the organisation, and the challenges it faces in delivering 52 weeks-a-year, across every channel.

Being “Always-On” Means Always Learning For UK Bank Santander

Santander UK is one of the UK’s leading banks, offering a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services, including a relationship banking model for UK SMEs. Through its 1|2|3 products for retail customers, it is now attracting one in four new retail current account customers.

Santander UK was formed in 2010 when Spain’s Santander Group combined the former building societies Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester and the savings and branch business of Bradford & Bingley, which it had bought previously, and rebranded them Santander.

Santander UK CMO Keith Moor was working at Abbey National when it was acquired in 2004. He was involved in the 2010 rebranding and the subsequent marketing activity to build awareness of the new brand. Over time that changed, as he explains, into; “Growing familiarity; growing understanding of who we are. Then it was to make us compelling; make us have a proposition that is so attractive that people want to walk through the door, and make sure that when they do that, the experience is right.” Where are you on that journey, particularly regarding digital?

Moor: We’ve had internet banking since the late ’90s. We’ve understood the need to be in the digital space and we’ve had to respond to consumers’ needs, to try and expand the way we do business. The downside is that pockets of the organisation develop functional specialisms over time, which means you don’t get the breadth of thinking and change embedded in everybody.

Take marketing for example. We don’t have separate digital people anymore, we have fully-rounded people, but that takes time because people have to learn new things and develop new skills. I took myself off to learn about this stuff years ago, because otherwise people of my vintage get left behind. What does your marketing department look like?

Moor: The only area that has separate responsibility for something which would be called digital is our social media team and our head of social media. We have a social command centre that drives all our social media strategy. But the rest of the team are now multi-skilled, so their responsibility is to think about ideas and content first and then work out the channel of execution after. That can sometimes mean a TV ad and a fully-integrated campaign across all the channels, and sometimes it might mean digital-only executions.

One example of that is our mortgage communications strategy. We tend not to push mortgages in more traditional channels anymore, so it’s built very much from a digital basis. We mainly use digital channels because we’re “always-on”, we get more effective reach, and better value for money. We mirror the way people shop for mortgages and ubiquity is the key.

Conversely the opposite approach works very well for our 1|2|3 product—our current account—for which we have a big lead message which has helped change the current account market. It’s fully integrated from TV right through the line.

In effect, we’ve fundamentally changed the way we work and changed the way we work with agencies. We’ve been working hard with our agencies to make sure that we don’t always come up with the TV ad first and then work out what’s next. Rather we come up with the proposition and creative idea, and then we work out how to execute across different channels. What does that imply for recruitment and training?

Moor: Recruitment should be based a lot more around behavioural and attitudinal characteristics rather than skills and knowledge. I’m not bothered about hiring digital experts. By the same token, I’m not bothered about hiring TV or press experts either. You need to hire people with a hunger for learning, who are adaptable, flexible, who want to work collaboratively, who listen and challenge. Then a lot of our agency partners and the media owners are very good at helping organisations get training. If I’m part of your team, what does that look like in terms of my experience?

Moor: People are not put in boxes. Some people have ideas and want to develop and want to push themselves and some people don’t, but they are still extremely valuable in the team. It’s important to recognise there are different types of people and different skills and attitudes required. I don’t find loads of learning opportunities for those people who want to learn; they find them for everybody else.

You might think working in a big bank involves more of a Civil Service mentality. It’s so not like that here. It’s very much like a fast-moving consumer business. We’re a 52 week-a-year advertiser, across all channels. We’re open for business all year round except Bank Holidays and Sundays; and even that’s not true because the call centre is open on Sundays and the website’s 24/7.

When you’re a business that’s “always-on”, the biggest issue in marketing is saying “what do we do next? How do we keep the momentum going?” There’s an inherent momentum within the business. That’s addictive and it makes people feel a part of something.

People also feel like they’re adding to something because we have a purpose, which is helping people and businesses prosper; because we have our values about being simple, personal, fair; because we aim to be the best bank in the UK for people, shareholders, communities, and customers. That means people understand where they fit, so they’ve got a context in which they can bring their ideas to the table, and they’ve got the ability to bring those ideas to life.

The other thing is that the people in the team are also consumers, and they bring their behaviours into work. We have just started a process of reverse mentoring, which means we can educate people at different levels and of different ages about the way the world’s changing.

We see the value of understanding the world through the eyes of somebody who’s much younger. Rather than saying, “They’re young so they haven’t got experience, they’ll have to learn and serve their time,” we’ve said, “Actually those guys will know a lot more about these things and how our consumers are feeling in this space. They can do some education of the people who understand the way the business works.” Something that gets talked about a lot is the transition to being always-on, going from campaigns to conversations.

Moor: Our business is moving that way; and by the way, we are not a gold star at this. We still have schedules and we still know that certain times of the year are better than others, but we’re seeing less seasonality in the financial services market.

It used to be that tax year end would be a big time of the year, but because we’re in a low-interest rate environment, tax year end’s become less of an event. People are not necessarily needing to shop around as much for ISAs because everybody’s ISAs are stuck at around the same rate.

Then with the government pushing the Current Account Switching Service, there’s no seasonality to current accounts either. As individual consumers have become more empowered, a lot of seasonality has gone out of markets. What are your key marketing challenges?

Moor: In the last two years talking about our purpose and our values, and helping people understand what we believe in, has become as important as talking about our products and our services. And we’ve seen the customer respond to that. We became the number one bank in the current account switcher war, we’re number two provider of mortgages in the UK. We now trade places with Nationwide around who’s the most highly-rated bank for customer satisfaction on the high street. Ten years ago we were bottom of that list.

People internally believe in what we’re doing and so they feel more pride in working here. They’re able to deliver a better experience to the customer.

We haven’t made big, seismic, “this is how we’re doing things now” type changes. We’ve just gone round and fixed lots of small things, and they all add up. You make all these small improvements and customers feel the difference.

We use a crowdsourcing platform internally to get people identifying their small niggles, we prioritise them and we get them fixed. And that’s really important because it gives people a voice. They see things getting fixed, they feel it because the experience gets better when they’re dealing with customers, and so they believe in it. It’s a virtuous circle.

There’s no rocket science involved. We’ve just done the things that we said we were going to do. We’ve focused on the way we think we should do things and started to develop the business to be like the business we described to people.

We have also been quite clear that we’re nowhere near finishing that. A very important part of our proposition is that we talk about being simple, personal, fair, but we finish off by saying “What a bank should be.”

That’s very important because if we just said “Simple, personal, fair, that’s it”, we’d be saying that’s what we are, instead of saying, “We believe in this and that’s what we’re trying to be.” That buys us the room to say, “We got that bit wrong, and we’re going to fix it.” People say “That’s honest. You’re being straight with me about it and that’s fair enough, as long as you fix it. If you’ve fixed it, great.” What about the future?

Moor: One of the great things about working in a dynamic business in this country is that the UK is on a good curve of adoption of new approaches and technology. It’s a very progressive environment and we want to respond to that, so the future holds lots of opportunity for innovation, for enterprise-driven thinking.

That means I don’t quite know what’s going to be the next great thing, and that makes me excited. If I knew everything that was planned out for ten years it’d be great, but there’d be no sense of excitement and opportunity. Banks fundamentally won’t look the same in ten years as they look now and that’s exciting. Another really interesting idea is that customers no longer compare brands within sectors, they compared them with the best in the world. It’s no longer about being the best bank, it’s about being as good as, say, Apple.

Moor: That’s the consumer’s frame of reference because they can access everything everywhere. Brands like Apple will keep pushing us to keep getting better. That’s just generally really good for banking.

Someone asked me recently if I was worried about the new competition coming in to banking from online specialists. Competition in banking is good. It’s good for consumers because everybody else has to get better, and it’s good for us because it means we have to keep pushing to improve things for customers, to find better ways to serve them, to give them more reasons to want to do business with us.

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