Greater Bank's marketing chief battles COVID-19 with resiliency and innovation

Head of marketing and customer experience explains the marketing strategy and initiatives helping the mutual bank cement its community support position now and in the long term

It’s brands that can balance resiliency with innovation that will be better off when we come out of the COVID-19 crisis, Greater Bank’s marketing chief says.

The Newcastle-based mutual bank has recently gone live with two community-oriented media campaigns – one with out-of-home player, oOh!media, and another with regional newspaper, Newcastle Herald – as part of a wide program of pivoted marketing plans aimed at reinforcing its strong and progressive position with customers.

The campaign with the Newcastle Herald, for example, produced by creative media agency, Out Of The Square (OOTS), is dubbed ‘Together, not alone’ and focuses on stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community. It’s led by a two-minute, ‘anthem’ style video showcasing Newcastle and the resiliency and ingenuity of local businesses and consumers as they find new ways of coping in the COVID-19 environment.

Greater Bank head of marketing and customer experience, Matthew Hingston, told CMO the campaign was an opportunity to reinforce its brand ethos and what it stands for: People over profits.

“It’s a branding opportunity, but it’s also about doing the right thing looking after our customers and the communities they live in,” he said. “We’re trying to reinforce we are progressive with purpose.

“Supporting those stories is valuable to positioning our brand in a way of doing the right thing and sharing our story.”  

The second campaign launched in partnership with oOh!media centres on thanking local heroes in NSW for their kindness and generosity during the COVID-19 situation. The campaign urges Greater Bank customers as well as members of the community to nominate people going above and beyond to support others, from ICU nurses to local café owners. The messages are being amplified across 30 large-format billboards across Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, Central Coast, New England and Illawarra regions.

Hingston said the large-format billboards were chosen precisely because local ‘heroes’ were the people still out and about who’d see them as they move to places such as hospitals and schools.

Content and community combination

It’s this emphasis on local content and reframing to both thank and support the community that’s underpinned the many other strategic marketing efforts Hingston and his team have implemented in the face of COVID-19.

For example, Greater Bank is increasingly leveraging existing community partners in a non-financial way. One such partnership is with A-League team, Newcastle Jets, to develop content around building skills at home while on a sporting break. This content encourages consumers to work on building such skills with their favourite league players and takes its cues from work Greater Bank and the Jets previously did in schools getting kids interacting with their heroes.

Another partnership is with OzHarvest, and its ‘Nest’ (Nutrition Education Sustenance Training) program. Greater Bank is amplifying material and stories produced by the charity about how to eat meals on a reduced budget, or using up what’s in the pantry.

With the Queensland Hospital Fund, Greater Bank’s charitable foundation has pivoted its funding support of face-to-face work to digital alternatives. Having already been a partner on the institution’s Child Life Therapy program supporting kids experiencing anxiety as they go into hospital, it’s working to provide content to help explain the COVID-19 environment to them.

It’s a similar story with the University of Newcastle, which Greater Bank has been working with for more than a year around its financial academy. The university develops content the bank helps take into high schools to educate year 9 and 10 students on financial literacy.

“That was a face-to-face program, so over a couple of weeks this was reframed to a digital program which we’ll relaunch next term to more schools,” Hingston said. “We created the pilot program last year, and were looking to rollout to more schools this year. Now we’ve created this digital classroom, we can access more schools. We have a video panel series, and people who were coming in to talk to students, such as expert lecturers and our banking staff, allowing them to pose questions.

“It’s about using content from partners to help amplify their work through our digital assets and social media, and housing some of the content to support customers and communities through non-financial information.”

Hingston said it’s clear more people are at home in front of screens because of the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’ve ramped up email and digital communications, as we know in isolation we are more focused on our screens,” he said. Hingston noted increased frequency of triggered customer EDMs to send more community content and information to customers as cases in point.

“It’s not innovative, but it’s new ways of marketing for us and getting the message of support out,” he said.

End-to-end experience

This emphasis on customer support also extends to other parts of the end-to-end experience offered by Greater Bank. A big one is the contact centre, which has seen a surge in customer inquiries off the back of the COVID-19 situation. In recent weeks, the bank has implemented a raft of changes including reallocating some branch staff to the contact centre frontline to help, lifting capacity by 50 per cent.

One project by the marketing team Hingston highlighted was changing next-best offers and marketing automation program from a focus on a sales-driven program to customer care.

“We’re now using that [contact centre] capability to go outbound and call customers in need, especially those who relied on passbooks or were branch dependent,” Hingston explained. About 25,000 of Greater Bank’s total customer base still relies on passbooks, and visits to the branch to get an account balance are still common with a minority of customers.

“We’re using our marketing automation to load these customers into our newly revamped contact centre to do outbound calling to these customers, checking in and make sure they’re ok, as well as offering them other banking services, such as Internet banking, cards, and signing them up,” he said.

“Last week, we had an 86-year old customer sign up to Internet banking. In this environment, these customers have to look at new ways of banking. If it’s not been offered to them before, they’ve never proactively sought out these technologies and products. Now as such consumer have to, they’re looking for support and these new other means of interaction.

“If we can help by putting content in front of them, check in how they are doing, and as part of our calls help them access their money, then we’re helping.”

Hingston said the ROI is in ensuring people aren’t turned away and Greater Bank is helping them in the current context.

“We are in a strong position as a business. We can afford to not focus too heavily on driving sales,” he said. “It goes back to why we exist: Going beyond any ROI, it’s to treat people fairly and help people. This comes from the CEO down. It’s why we have such a strong customer base, and an NPS of +69.”

And it’s this commitment that will deliver dividends as Australia starts to recover from COVID-19. Hingston agreed the long-term experience impact of short-term action will be substantial.

“I don’t think we have the headspace as a national community to understand and comprehend that just yet. But as a bank we’re putting things in place to ensure we are in a strong financial position to come out and support customers when we’re at the back-end of this through more financial support measures we put in place,” he commented.  

“Our strong focus now is on building a better relationship and maintaining customer retention as opposed to acquisition. We are using the same channels – we are still sending EDMs, doing social media advertising, and above-the-line – but the content has changed. It’s about taking a more retention focused approach and providing reassurance this business is in a strong position and ready to take off when the community is ready.

“We need play our role as marketing to reinforce our strong brand position and as a strong organisation. This is so we’re still on the shopping list in the years to come.”

Hingston described this as the balance of demonstrating resilience and innovation. “If you can manage to cover both, you will be better off,” he added.

“We’re seeing that now with those that have a strong long-term play – they’re the ones who’ll stay in business. We’ve seen it before with the GFC – you have to maintain that base-level resilience but still be progressive.”  

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