How this challenger brand CMO is holding his team to bold account

Judo Bank's marketing chief talks through the principles guiding the Australian SME lender's brand approach, latest campaign and marketing strategy

If there’s one principle Judo Bank’s Kevin Ramsdale consistently uses to guide the specialist lending and banking group’s marketing approach, it’s knowing when to act and importantly, when not to.

To achieve this, marketers must hold firm against the temptation to add their brand voice to the fray for the sake of making noise.

“There’s enough noise, it doesn’t need us to contribute to it,” the experience marketing leader says. “That’s what we constantly hold ourselves to account around. For us at Judo, the focus is on being bold and being a challenger, how we do this differently and how we tailor it to an SME audience.

“Staying in the mainstream can be dangerous as you can spend lots of money quickly and not end up with much impact. That test of being challenging and differentiated is high bar for us.”

Judo is an Australian challenger bank purpose-built to serve an unmet need in the SMB banking sector with a primary product proposition around business lending. Established in 2015, the business gained seed funding in 2016, a banking licence in early 2019, and IPO’d last year. Over the past two years, it’s gone from $1 billion in business lending in 2020 to over $5 billion at the end of February 2022. It also has a sizeable term deposit book representing $3.4bn in term deposits.

Ramsdale joined the business 18 months ago as chief marketing officer and devised a marketing strategy based on three primary areas.

“As a young, challenger brand against incumbents, we have a clearly differentiated proposition. But our brand is young. We have an enduring job to build the brand and protect its reputation,” he says. “Importantly, we need to do that in a bold, disruptive way. We will never outspend the competition, but we have a highly differentiated proposition at hand. It’s a great place to be as a marketer. Building brand as we continue to scale and grow is job number one.”

The second priority as Judo scales is to create opportunities for its bankers to acquire and retain customers.

“Thirdly, as we expand bankers and geographic footprint, supporting bankers and third-party brokers with tools, content and opportunities to connect with customers is another priority,” Ramsdale says. “All of our marketing work is focused on these three key parts of the strategy, with a strong orientation to what the role of marketing is, which is to support the growth trajectory of the business.”  

As a high-growth business, this requires a balance between strategic priorities and delivery, Ramsdale continues.

“The business is growing at pace, so we have to have strong delivery mindset as we build marketing capability over time,” he says. “Very quickly, as we organised around our three priorities, we tried to bring that strategy and delivery mindset to the team.”

Putting this into practice as a marketing function also means taking responsibility for outcomes, Ramsdale says.

“We talk a lot about measuring on completion of the task, versus the outcome. The outcome is ultimately what you’ve been entrusted to do and what you hold yourself accountable for, not just completing the task,” he tells CMO. “We are here to play a role to generate an outcome. That’s the ultimate test we have of ourselves.”  

Challenger traits and moves

It’s this combination of priorities, brand and customer insight that most recently led to Judo Bank to launch its new national advertising campaign, ‘Challenger Traits’. Ramsdale explains the campaign approach was born out of the challenges SMEs experienced through Covid as business owners and operators, as well as the bank’s growth trajectory.

Kevin RamsdaleCredit: Judo
Kevin Ramsdale

During the past two years, Judo saw its lending book grow significantly, with APRA statistics since March 2020 showing it to be the fourth biggest business lender in absolute lending terms.

“The insight was there was demand from our customers for the quality and expertise of our bankers to support them through that time, and to continue to grow,” Ramsdale says. “This validated the strength of our customer value proposition. It also gave us incredible insight into what the traits of an SME business owner are.

“Judo is a different brand of bank, and to be a successful SME, it’s a different breed of business. We saw a set of traits shared between customer and Judo. Our campaign was about building brand by showcasing those traits.”  

The resulting creative highlights six core traits – defiant, courageous, tenacious, daring, inquisitive and astute. The campaign was created in partnership with US+US creative agency and is running nationally across large format outdoor, press, radio and digital. Media strategy and buying were led by Hatched Media with supporting digital media by Digital Deluxe.

“Our culture is very strong on collaboration, availability and being bold is part of our DNA. There were lots of conversations within the business to make sure our message was correct, talking to bankers about what they were seeing in the market,” Ramsdale says. “This gave us confidence the insight was born out of what we were seeing with customers and what bankers were telling us.”  

Credit: Judo

While there’s a brand-heavy emphasis to the work, Ramsdale sees the campaign platform playing a critical role supporting the day-to-day relationships fostered between customer and banker.

“When you’re building a brand, it’s not mutually exclusive of the imperative to keep supporting bankers and create opportunities to engage with customers. The role brand plays providing a halo in market is an ongoing, important one,” he says.  “Continuing to support business growth is our ultimate measure of success. That’s how I hold myself and team to account.”

Trust is another guiding principle here. There’s no doubt incumbent banks have suffered with issues of trust, as evidenced by the Royal Banking Commission.

“Our purpose is to be the best most trusted SME business bank,” Ramsdale says. “Our founders had seen over the preceding period that the SME sector had essentially been unloved. Many owners were unable to get the funding they needed and deserved. Our origins are based on that gap in the market. Hence, we are a specialist business lender. That’s rich fodder in terms of brand building – it’s a clear space for us to go into it.

“And we’re seeing the impact in things like our NPS, which is consistently +70, +80 in a sector where any positive scores are heralded. That trust deficit is huge.”

Diversity of experience

Helping Ramsdale find the way the forward are his core ingredients for marketing excellence: Being attuned to macro trends, customers and competitors, knowing how the business competes and what makes it different; and knowing what marketing can therefore do to play its role effectively. This has guided him throughout his career, from the early days at NAB to roles with JB Hi-Fi, Bupa and RACV.

“I’m very focused on being very connected with business, what the goals and aspirations are, what opportunities we are trying to leverage and challenges we are dealing with,” Ramsdale comments.  “It’s about being clear on what the role of marketing is and what is it time for.

“I often ask the question: What is it time for now, for us as marketers to do?”  

Most importantly, marketers must act in a way that’s contextual to their organisation.

“Good marketers bring an energy to a situation and a sense of opportunity. In this role, it’s also operating with what the intent of the organisation is, which is about being a challenger and very purpose led,” Ramsdale says. “That guides and keeps us focused on the role we need to play and what we need to do.”  

As to the challenges of being a challenger brand, Ramsdale sees his task as continuing to tell Judo’s story, advocating for the customer it was built to serve, retaining that challenger approach and tone in market and importantly, keeping it human.

“Our business is a very human one – we are built around relationship bankers engaging with customers,” he says, noting Judo has 95 lenders currently and offices in all major cities. “We deliberately run a low customer-to-banker ratio. Engagement that leads to retention is there in the Judo banker relationship.

“Being very human in our approach is core to what drives acquisition and retention for us.”  

In this vein, thought leadership and providing relevant and timely insights to customers are also instrumental in Judo’s marketing approach. Ramsdale notes the business works with leading economist, Warren Hogan, to provide regular insights to bankers and customers.

“With the times we have gone through, providing that kind of info and support is critical to building trust in a sector that’s had a trust deficit,” he says.

And having launched the ‘Challenger traits’ as a core brand platform, Ramsdale anticipates it will be a long-lasting creative approach for Judo.

“This reflects who we are, how we support customers, and is a great platform to communicate what is different about Judo related to the competition,” he adds.  

“We’re proud of the work as it reflects our purpose and customer we serve as well as our growth story. That’s what the campaign was all about.”  

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