CBA's Vittoria Shortt: Marketing needs to stay focused on long-term customer truths

Commonwealth Bank's group executive of marketing and strategy shares the key pillars and marketing approach helping the bank build a brand for the future

Vittoria Shortt at this year's ADMA Global Forum
Vittoria Shortt at this year's ADMA Global Forum

The only way to ensure your brand strategy is robust enough for the long term is to focus on customer truths you know will hold true long term, CommBank’s marketing and strategy chief says.

Speaking at today’s ADMA Global Forum in Sydney, group executive of marketing and strategy, Vittoria Shortt, shared how the financial giant continues to retain strong brand and customer satisfaction scores even in the face of its latest market scandals, thanks to a marketing and business strategy that sticks to the core wants and needs of customers.

“The Future Laboratory in the US coined this decade the ‘turbulent teens’ because of the rapid changes we’re experiencing,” Shortt told attendees.

“I have no idea of what the future holds – as an organisation, we spend an awful lot of time and money on trying to understand what that future looks like, but it’s incredibly difficult to predict where we’re headed. The overarching point I’d make is that you must make sure, when you’re building businesses and brands for the future, that you hold on to things you know will hold true in ten years’ time.

“It’s about looking at what’s not going to change. You have to think about the things that are stable over time.”

In CommBank’s case, four pillars hold up marketing and brand strategy: Trust and security, service excellence, simple and easy solutions, and personalised guidance.

“Trust and security 100 years ago meant putting your money in our big safe… Today, people still need security but the way we deliver it is through cyber security investments,” Shortt said. “We spend hundreds of millions to ensure our customers’ privacy and financial data is kept safe.”

Likewise, service excellence used to be about face-to-face interactions in a branch. Today, excellent service is still a must but the way it’s delivered has changed, Shortt said.

“But we still fundamentally believe in the value of our people in our service,” she said. “We are not going to just be a digital bank.”

When it comes to simple and easy solutions, CommBank’s ongoing focus is making things easier for the end customers. The big thing here is giving them control, Shortt said, something that’s increasingly possible through digital and mobile avenues. As an example, she noted the ability for consumers to switch off and on their credit card via the CommBank mobile app should their card be lost or stolen.  

The fourth pillar, personalised guidance, is about ensuring customers have the information they need to improve their financial choices, Shortt said.

“Again, if you go back to the old days, this might have meant sitting in front of the bank manager, or them physically cutting up your card,” she said. “Today, it means taking all information we know about customers and helping them make a few choices to help support their financial well-being.”

Data is vital to achieving this. A data-led digital example is CommBank’s Spend Tracker, a mobile app that helps customers with budgeting by highlighting where they’re spending their money and hinting at how to do things differently based on their data. The bank also offers a digitised ‘savings jar’, as well as ‘Daily IQ’, a reporting dashboard for business customers showcasing their data history and providing insights to help inform financial decisions.

“These things hold true for the future – in 10 years’ time, security will still matter, and service, and people will still want simple and easy solutions and personalised guidance,” Shortt said. “That’s how we build the business and the brand.”

During her presentation, Shortt also acknowledged recent media scrutiny of CommBank and financial services institutions, agreeing the brand has taken a hammering in terms of reputation.

“That makes us double down and do even better on marketing to ensure we deliver the right customer experiences,” she said.  “We’ve looked at brand health and it’s still robust. And it’s the investments we have made for a long time in customer satisfaction, products and services that are holding up our reputation.”

Shortt pointed to a decline in dissatisfied customer rates from 9.8 per cent in June 2007, to 3.8 per cent in June 2017. “But the reality is we’re not good enough,” she said.

Getting teams aligned behind long-term thinking

To keep teams focused on long-term brand vision, it’s vital marketing is aligned with business strategy, Shortt said.

“Marketing and strategy are so intertwined, I’m not sure which is the chicken and which the egg,” she said, noting her own leadership role across the two teams. “All the information on customers has to go into the strategy, as that’s about making choices too. Close linkages between marketing and strategy in the business is fundamental and helps keep the marketing long term.

“We all have tactical work we need to do, and it can deliver phenomenal results, but it’s not building brands for the long term.”

CommBank’s marketers also need to be knowledgeable in the group’s investment profile, and particularly where marketing is headed.

“Our profile has changed dramatically in the last five years,” Shortt continued. “For example, we’ve brought in data, analytics, CRM, other parts of the martech stack, and brought programmatic media buying in-house. And I have to say, that’s the best, simplest and easiest decision we have ever made.”

A third must is investing in the skills marketing needs now and into the future. To do this, CommBank has been building up its own internal marketing academy to understand what baseline skills are required across every professional working in the marketing function.

“It’s not good enough if you are in marketing today to not understand the technology of the business you’re operating in, or foundational data and analytics capability,” Shortt claimed. “But it’s also about the attitude of marketers today. In this constantly changing environment, you need to be open and agile. 

“I’m also focused on ‘connectors and collaborators’ – as marketers, you must work with the whole business to build deeper customer experiences. You need to be someone who leans in to problems and works with whole group to make change happen.

“And we also need people who can appreciate insight – usually from data – as well as creativity. With all the excitement of data and analytics, you can’t forget creativity. A crap ad beautifully placed to the right customer is still a crap ad.”  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

 

 

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