Nationwide Marketing & Communications Director on marketing purpose during the cost-of-living crisis

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Nationwide, the world’s biggest building society, is preparing to deploy a new strategy as it looks to lean-into the cost-of-living crisis, says Marketing & Communications Director Mark Brayton.

Mark started as Marketing Director at the company in January and has since been focusing on modernising and transforming the mutual’s marketing capabilities in order to allow it to more effectively engage with its members and broader audiences. New CEO Debbie Crosbie took over in June, with Nationwide currently developing a new strategy which Mark says will help place marketing right at the heart of the organisation’s transformation.

“Our marketing modernisation programme has seen us review our current and future MarTech requirements for the medium-to-longer-term. Whilst testing & learning new channels, new capabilities and new engagement opportunities, within the immediate-to-short-term.”

Some of these tasks were perhaps in the job description, but few would have predicted when Mark started the role that the year would be dominated by an unprecedented cost-of-living squeeze.

The issue has begun to play a significant role in Nationwide’s communications, which in turn has provided an opportunity for the organisation to explain the benefits of being a mutual to a much wider audience.

Mark says Nationwide, which boasts 16 million members, takes the obligation to support them during the cost-of-living crisis very seriously. It has launched a number of specific initiatives around the cost of living; as well as being one of the first providers to launch a cost-of-living hub on its website, the mutual has also run online and in-branch events to provide help to members with managing their money during these challenging times.

Building on its existing comms channels, Nationwide has also launched a dedicated freephone helpline to allow members who are concerned about the cost of living to have open conversations with specially trained Nationwide colleagues, who can then help them with solutions and support. These experts are now offering financial health checks in branches, over the telephone and via video direct to members.

Mark notes that the cost of living impacts people in different ways, meaning it’s important to keep up a regular dialogue rather than adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.

From a marketing perspective, it has been publicising the help the Society is providing. For example, the latest episode of Nationwide’s flagship ‘Voices’ series focused on the cost of living.

Nationwide was also recently part of a special Channel 4 ad break alongside Boots, Co-op, giffgaff, Go Compare, Lidl and Vodafone. The break featured back-to-back ads focused on the topic, with Nationwide using its spot to promote the cost-of-living helpline.

Mark notes that it can be “difficult to get the tone absolutely right” when communicating about such an emotive subject without being misinterpreted as jumping on the bandwagon.

“I think that’s when the power of the purpose of our organisation comes in,” says Mark, highlighting the “building society, nationwide” slogan as a guideline. It’s important for all activations to be guided by this purpose, Mark says.

He notes that there is also a balance to be struck between “not being overly parental”, while also very actively supporting those members who have asked for help.

“Tonality and empathy are both really important, but I think we’re incredibly well-placed as a brand and organisation to deliver that.”

Mark says over the rest of the year the cost-of-living crisis will remain a major focus.

“I’m feel proud of how Nationwide can put its head above the parapet in supporting people and make sure we are the brand that’s known for actively supporting members through what could be a very tricky time.”

Mark was previously at Yorkshire Building Society, where he oversaw a wide-ranging digital transformation programme, involving content, communications and engagement. This saw the launch of an app and the creation of new digital engagement capabilities and activations.

While both companies are mutuals, the scale of Nationwide is equitable to many of the major high street banks in the UK. Mark is well placed to bridge that gap, having previously been Marketing Director at Barclays UK from 2016 to 2018.

“With scale often comes a level of increased sophistication around all key activities,” he said.

Mark says that Nationwide has invested heavily in its brand over the years and “done an excellent job in making sure that we’re top of the shop in terms of consideration and trust brand metrics.”

He says the mutual now has “an opportunity to make sure that we become really sophisticated in all aspects of the engagement funnel.”

Being member-owned and hence member-focused remains a key differentiator however.

“Whether it’s a product or a communications approach, everything is anchored on the opportunity and benefit for our members.”

While building societies have been around for a long time and will be familiar to older generations, Mark says the message about mutual benefits now needs to be updated and conveyed to a new, younger generation.

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