INTERVIEW: Phoenix Group Brand Director on first consumer-facing brand campaign

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Phoenix Group is hoping to launch a conversation about the opportunities of longer lives in its first consumer-facing brand campaign, says Brand Director Ben Rhodes.

The ‘Let’s Start Talking’ campaign is the latest part of its brand-building strategy. It uses the metaphor of a park bench, a place where people often sit down and chat, to illustrate the conversation that needs to take place around pensions.

It focuses on the Phoenix Group, part of the master brand strategy that launched in March 2022. This makes it clear that sub-brands such as Standard Life and ReAssure are all part of Phoenix Group, an endorsement approach that enhances trust.

Phoenix did research amongst a broad range of its stakeholders, including policymakers, investors, financial intermediaries and customers. This aimed to uncover the key issues the company should have a voice on in order to be a powerful presence in the marketplace.

The research found that talking more about longer lives would help to drive trust and advocacy in every audience.

“Helping people work their way through the fact they are living longer and therefore they’re going to need to live their lives a bit differently, save more, work longer, work differently is probably the biggest challenge of our sector,” says Ben.

This is against the backdrop of the inaccessibility of financial advice to people, with the general public being broadly disengaged from their pensions. People can tend to be “ostrich-like” and have their heads in the sand, Ben says, avoiding thinking about their retirement because it’s too worrying.

The think tank Phoenix Insights, launched in November 2021, provided more valuable insights to shape the campaign.

“One of the things we discovered is that you can’t just tell people to save more, because it falls on deaf ears,” Ben says. “But what may be more powerful is to actually start having a conversation so that people can wrap their heads around [the facts].”

The campaign falls into two phases, with the first couple of weeks framing and setting up the problem: that there are 17 million people in the UK who are under-saving and will not be able to have the retirement they wanted.

“So first we wanted to characterise that this is a conversation that simply isn’t happening. We’ve used the metaphor of a park bench as a place where people have conversations to say nobody is talking.”

The second part of the campaign, which began two weeks in, starts to put people on the bench to speak to each other and tell their respective stories. Over the course of a two-minute video, the participants talk about their career histories, their financial goals and how they’re achieving them.


Finding real stories

The point of the conversations, Ben says, is to show that “actually people [are managing their financial lives] all the time. They’re not celebrated and there aren’t any kind of well-known heroes in this space that people can point to.

“But we think it’s really important that we can surface some fabulous stories about how people are actually doing this. We think this is the right way to engage people in the conversation without it being too daunting a prospect for them.”

Ben highlights the fluidity of job roles and experiences shown in the videos. It’s easy to create imagine artificial celebrations between different groups when creating campaigns, Ben says, such as between people who are working part-time, people who switch careers and carers.

“What you actually find is that most people do all of those things in some way, shape or form and increasingly will probably work for a bit longer than they initially thought they would do.”

As an employer, Phoenix aims to reflect this flexibility in its working practices, designing its policies to support workers.

“So underneath the glitz and glamour of a campaign, there is a huge amount of authentic work happening around that employer to make sure we can demonstrate we’re walking the walk.”

Ben uses a metaphor from the 2016 self-help book the Hundred Year Life, where a playwright who has written a 90-minute play is told the running time will now be two hours.

“You wouldn’t just write a longer last act, you would actually look at every scene and ask ‘how can I make a bit more of that?’

“You’ve got a societal and cultural expectation that is learning for 20 years, earning for 20 years and being retired for 20 years, and that’s just not how it works.”

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