An interview with Creative Brief.
‘Change your bank, change the world’. As straplines go, the latest campaign from Triodos and The Kite Factory, doesn’t pull any punches. In the midst of a consumer ecosystem in which the climate emergency rising up the agenda and trust is in short supply, the brand is placing ultra-transparency at the top of its communications agenda.
When the average marriage in the UK lasts for 14 years, you are more likely to change your spouse than your bank. Its an ecosystem which means that brands often face a significant challenge in getting consumers to engage with their brand, let alone switch accounts. It is a state of play which means that placing emotion at the epicentre of marketing is paramount. This insight underpins Triodos’ latest campaign which urges consumers to change their bank, because money ‘has the power to change the world, and only you can control where you put your money.’
This approach is endorsed by the face of the campaign, Lily Cole, who explains, “I’ve long believed in voting with your wallet for the change you want to see in the world, for example supporting Fairtrade and organic food and fashion. Yet there are other subtle and powerful ways that our money shapes the world such as the investments made by our banks, pensions and the institutions we work with.”
Notably, while industry headlines have focused on the changes in media consumption habits as being the most disruptive force in the financial industry, Zoe Sear, Head of Marketing and Communications at Triodos Bank UK, believes that can be distracting. Advocating instead for tapping into consumer attitudes with long-term authentic messaging as the key to successful brand building. She explains, “Technology-first brands have been putting a fantastic user experience in the hands of consumers. But I am interested in the impact brands can have when you use money as a force for good.” It is an approach which means the brand is more focused on long-term brand building than many of its competitors.
Bridging the empathy deficit
Focusing on empathy and values as opposed to technology is a human-centric approach to marketing. As Sear explains, “There is a risk that it all becomes too commoditised, people are human beings. If we are to prevent social isolation, we need that human connection.”
It is an approach which is also evident in the brands’ media strategy. “Social media channels can create the myth of connection. The risk for brands is that emotional connection is overlooked; this is why I am wedded to our print publication which comes out twice a year,” she adds. This attitude also extends to customer service and, as Sear explains, “we have a team of humans answering the phone; customers value that.”
According to Sear 75% of consumers have no idea where the money in their bank accounts goes to. She explains, “It is difficult to build trust if you don’t know what it is your money is doing.” According to lobbying organisation BankTrack, top UK banks have poured nearly £150 billion into financing fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2016, including £45bn for the expansion of fossil fuels, £13bn of which went into fracking alone.
Yet many banks offer very little information about their sustainability ambitions on their customer-facing websites, instead presenting generalised statements, claims or commitments. To address this ecosystem of confusion Triodos Bank have taken the approach of radical transparency, publishing the details of every single loan it makes on its website. “Ultimately consumers will demand this in the future,” adds Sear, a shift she believes will make more brands embrace transparency.
Rob Watt, Managing Director of Triodos’ agency The Kite Factory, believes this transparency extends to how consumers view their own finances. He explains, “Consumers have had this fog surrounding seeing their financial situation clearly and that sits in the middle of our brand purpose.”
He believes this shift puts brands, particularly in the financial sphere, at a unique juncture. “We are at a really interesting time, there is a lot of woke washing at the moment, but there is no question that transparency is becoming more important.” It is a shift which Triodos bank sees as a huge opportunity yet also a challenge. In many cases consumers across the globe don’t understand what being an ethical campaign really means.
One thing is for sure: it is about more than just using transparency as a buzzword. As Watt explains, “Authenticity should mean something more in the age of transparency, but it needs to be more than a single campaign. There is a window of opportunity to do things differently.”
Shifting the narrative in marketing finance to women
This opportunity to do things differently is long overdue when it comes to respecting and connecting with female consumers as an empowered financial force. Yet the challenge of changing this narrative was placed into sharp focus by the backlash to Natwest’s partnership with Stylist magazine. The campaign featured a bunch of flowers of the front cover of the magazine with a message saying, “I’m sorry we seem to have been using sexist imagery and language for the last few decades. But we are changing now! Honestly!” The campaign, whilst criticised for being tone-deaf and patronising, nonetheless underlined the need to get it right when it comes to connecting with female consumers about finances.
There is no question that Sear is up for taking this challenge in her stride. Historically, UK consumers have displayed a fairly toxic squeamishness in talking openly about their own financial situation. A lack of financial literacy which is often extremely gendered. “As a 45-year old-woman it wouldn’t be unusual to phone your dad for advice on financial products which is ridiculous,” explains Sear.
The growth of activist brands
In the midst of a fundamental change in culture it is clear that we are on the brink of a significant shift in the relationship between consumers and their banks. “People want to do more; there is certainly a groundswell of energy surrounding the climate crisis,” explains Sear.
For Watt, the significant shift ahead for brands will be the translation of this energy and anger surrounding the climate emergency into behavioural change. He explains, “It is about being relevant to people at the right time.”
It is a change which demands that brands focus just as much on how they operate as what they say about themselves. Yet, according to Sear, the danger is that consumers become jaded as brands present confusing and conflicting versions of being ‘ethical’. “There is a groundswell of energy,” she explains, “and driving profit that isn’t detrimental to people or planet is at the centre of that.” As the energy and anger surrounding the climate emergency translates to behavioural change amongst mass-market consumers, challenging the status quo has never been more vital to success.
The Banking Revolution: Three key takeaways
- Transparency. Where consumers’ money is being spent is rising up the agenda. People passionately engaged in issues such as the climate crisis will hold the brands they bank with to account.
- Technology. In the midst of a surge of Fintech brands in the sector, brands must beware of chasing short term customer acquisition at the expense of long-term brand building.
- Trust. Trust is any banking brands ultimate access point. As awareness translates to behavioural change those brands which don’t invest in building trust and ethical behaviour may face new challenges.