HSBC CMO's three lessons from brand transformation

At the Cannes Lion Live 2020 ​virtual event this week CMOs share their experiences of dealing with challenges from transformation to Covid.

Being fresh for what audiences and customers need today was a key motivator for HSBC's global brand refresh, says its CMO, Leanne Cutts.

Speaking at the Cannes Lion Live 2020 virtual event, the marketing chief explained how the multinational bank began a global stocktake and overhaul of its brand identity, “because we know successful brands need to be true to their DNA and their original values and heritage, but also to be fresh for what audiences and customers need today”.

With such a distinctive asset featuring the red hexagon, Cutts said the iconic logo was recognisable way beyond financial services. 

“So we created a suite of local and global hexagons. We also launched our brand promise, ‘Together we thrive’, which outlines our commitment to creating prosperity and the communities that we serve,” Cutts explained.

“With our creative media partners, we've now developed asset libraries that work on any screen at any scale, from bite size content to stories about our customers, HSBC’s point of view on the world and being openly connected. We are the global international bank. We've overhauled our famous airport creative, we've launched a sound identity and collaboration with Jean-Michel Jarre."

Three lessons of transformation

Cutts identified three key lessons from the brand transformation. The first revolved around the things which are absolutes and the things which are negotiable. Cutts said it’s been necessary to be very clear about what is being preserved, like those few distinctive brand assets such as the hexagon, colour or tone of voice. But there is more local flexibility in other areas because HSBC is a very diverse business, operating in over 60 markets with 40 million customers and 144 languages.

“To provide that freedom in a framework has been really important. That's the first thing I've learned through leading this transformation and that leads,” she noted.

“The second point, which has been reinforced around this theme of local, is local culture. Great creative takes its lead from culture from those local communities - either taking a point of view which cuts across that culture, or swims with it in a really distinctive and memorable way.”

Cutts' third takeaway is to keep prioritising. “There are so many choices in a transformation and sequencing those is important because there's always limited resources. So reprioritising constantly has been the third lesson in leading through transformation,” she said.

“The best gift I can give my team is to focus on the strengths of the team, bring those to the table and help them to harness theirs. So we are stronger together, because I think diversity is a property of the group, rather than the property of any one individual.”

The COVID-19 effect

Playing to your team strengths is certainly something HSBC has also been applying during the coronavirus pandemic. The HSBC CMO shared three R's which have acted as a mantra through the COVID-19 crisis - react, respond and rebuild.

Cutts said the company quickly pivoted to respond to changing customer circumstances, adapted to the majority of its customer-facing staff working from home, and introduced a range of relief and response measures. These included implementing mortgage repayment holidays and making phone calls to vulnerable customers to check they're ok. 

“Like everyone else, we've done more virtual and digital engagement with customers in the past three months than we've done in the past three years,” Cutts explained. “One of our marketing team built and deployed a chatbot over a weekend in order to respond to a huge spike in inquiries on one platform and be able to help them redirect customers to the right platform, responding quickly, and often overnight, to support government schemes in various countries that help customers with their financial concerns.”

“As an organisation, we now know we can change much faster, and that's something we want to keep.”

As well as providing suitable digital platforms, Cutts' team has also reached out to a lot of colleagues to say, ‘Where are you at in that cycle of three Rs and how did you manage that particular part of the cycle?’

"That's really helped us also create the kind of right tone, the right approach and deliver very quickly and pass that learning on rather than having to redo or duplicate all of that learning,” she said. “And as we come through the crisis, those three R's have been something we've found incredibly helpful, both going through it and as we go through it, but also as we think about coming out the other side.”

Related: HSBC: The vital democratisation of data

The branding transformation experience was useful during the crisis. Cutts explained the process of adapting would not have been as fast and as such high quality if they hadn't had the experience of re-engineering the workflows and the work patterns over the last 12 months and moving more to an Agile way of working.

“Because we had those ways of working in place, we could quickly assemble globally diverse teams with one common goal, and have a move to that kind of positive outcome at a really incredible pace," she said. 

“We had things being built in days, which would normally have taken weeks or months. It's also meant we're much more efficient now in terms of a budget because we've been doing a lot more test and learn. We avoid having to commit to a lot of work upfront and then cross our fingers and hope - we actually do a lot more testing and more iteration.

“We've said this has become so important we actually want to spend more time and energy doing the re-engineering and also working on ourselves as leaders and how to lead in through that change.”

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