Metro Bank Marketing Director: ‘Brand is not a perception game – it’s a reality game’

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Creating a brand goes far beyond advertising, says Metro Bank’s first ever Brand and Marketing Director.

Jessica Myers has worked in marketing at a number of major financial services brands, including American Express, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

“My background has been in brand transformation and accelerated growth – mostly working with brands that have been through some reputational damage,” she tells the Financial Services Forum.

She was recruited by Metro for the newly created position, with the goal of building a marketing team from scratch and extend awareness of Metro across the UK.

Despite being established for nine years, Metro had not done any traditional marketing, favouring elaborate branch opening events in local communities which featured the likes of face painting and DJs. There are now 78 stores across the UK, with the vast majority in London and the south-east.

“It might seem quirky and gimmicky but it really worked; it really attracted people in.”

From the start, the customer experience was designed to shake up the status quo in banking by “surprising and delighting” customers. For example, customers get given a birthday card on their birthday or if a bunch of flowers if going on a honeymoon.

These are “wonderful opportunities for word of mouth”, says Jessica, creating “fans” who will actively advocate for and promote the bank. People are amazed they can “walk in the door without an appointment, sign up in 10 minutes, print [their] card on the spot and literally walk out ready to go.”


Making a brand campaign stick

Jessica says the Metro Bank brand is a “gift”, and there is “so much in there to love.”

She notes that one of the things a CMO should question in a brand is whether to rip up or take forward what’s been there before. She adds that everything must be rooted in deep insight, with all sorts of data used to understand who are detractors and advocates.

“It’s sometimes evolution not revolution, which is exactly the story here.

“Every time I do a brand repositioning project, the first thing I do is go back to the start of the story: who are we and what do we stand for?

“When Metro Bank opened its doors to change the status quo, we wanted to be disruptive. We were the first new bank on the high street in 100 years – there’s an awful lot to like about that still.”

When Jessica joined, Metro had got to the point of being “all things to all people, which was fine for the first part of the journey – but now we needed to ensure the brand had distinctiveness in the market.”

The team undertook a brand strategy project using Kantar’s model of meaningfulness, distinctiveness and salience, and building a brand personality and associated traits. As a result, Metro’s first brand campaign, “People-People Banking”, was launched in January 2020.

Jessica argues that more is needed to make a brand campaign stick than just advertising.

“The key part of success in every brand strategy is making sure it’s felt at every single customer touchpoint. The brand is not just advertising. The brand is how you feel when you walk in a store, how someone answers the phone, deals with a complaint.”

In an increasingly digital world, this also goes for the website, which has to feel that a human has created it.

“The job to be done is to make sure the brand strategy is tightly delivered across every customer journey – that’s the journey we are on at the moment.”

When Jessica joined there was no marketing team, although she had five colleagues who were experts in regulatory and mandatory banking communications.

“We didn’t do anything proactive or anything paid. That was my job, to build out that brand and marketing function.”


Building a modern marketing team

Today Metro has a very broad team, she says. This encompasses marketing operations, which looks after the bank website and the production of letters, emails and statements, as well as marketing data, technology and risk management teams.

She has introduced a growth and digital marketing team and a team overseeing all brand strategy. There is also an in-house creative studio, which creates 95% of all work that comes out of the bank, which is “incredibly efficient and something we take great pride in.”

“What’s really exciting is when colleagues join Metro Bank, you’re joining the story at a great time because you get to build something from scratch. You’re not walking into fully established organisations, where you need to use legacy systems stitched together with thread, you can’t follow a lead through it and the data’s not great.”

The novelty of the role has allowed Jessica to design a modern marketing team from the ground up.

“What does a modern-day marketing team look like from a capability perspective, what tools do we need and how do we go through the journey of building that?

“There’s been such an extraordinary experience being able to take the technical learning and experience that I have had from large organisations and apply that in practice to what we’re doing at Metro Bank.

“It’s going into things like what is the brand strategy and positioning, how are we going to segment our customer base, what does our contact strategy look like.”


Brand is a “reality game”

The differences between Metro and the bigger players run deeper than the structure of teams, says Jessica. She has come from large organisations which are hundreds of years old, built over long periods with numerous acquisitions that have brought together different cultures and ways of working.

“If you take a step back, you need to think about how important the role is that banks play in customers’ everyday lives.”

While it is common to talk about mental or physical wellbeing, “financial wellbeing is a close third”.

“It’s horrifying to see the stats on how many marriages end in divorce due to challenges with finances, or how many lives have ended due to [someone’s] relationship with money.”

She argues that “the focus on the customer can be lip service in one place and core to who you are in another – that is the difference from where I’ve come from in the past to where I am now.”

Metro uses the independent Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) survey to gauge its performance with customers.

“Every bank goes through it and you have to publish it. We rank at the top of that list, as the highest rated bank for overall service.

“Those banks I’ve come from are middle to bottom in those surveys. They keep asking ‘how can we get to the top – can we buy or advertise our way up there?’ You can’t buy your way there, because advertising will not reflect the experience people are having with your brand.”

“It’s not a perception game, it’s a reality game. That’s the difference between the likes of an RBS and a Metro Bank.”

The key difference, she argues, is that the culture was built on the purpose of creating fans. This goes back to the hiring process, where the team “really makes sure they are a Metro Bank person.”

This matters much more, she says, than whether they have a background in financial services.


Creating “fans” in financial services

Jessica uses the word “fan” to describe Metro Bank customers regularly – can people really have that kind of relationship with financial services providers?

“It’s really important they do,” she says. “Banks need to be really careful they don’t become a recessive necessity, and we’re seeing that everywhere. A lot of consumers will avoid having a conversation with their bank.”

To this end, the bank deploys “creating fans training”. Metro Bank pores over data such as the CMA survey, as well as using NPS.

“We spend a lot of time poring over complaints we get, with the executive committee, determining how can we fix it or make it right.”

She draws on the analogy with music or sports brands.

“You’ll stick up for that brand, you’ll talk about the amazing experience you had with it. If you see someone badmouthing it, you will respond on social media.”

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