Nationwide Marketing Director: Mutual values are still the core of our messaging

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Nationwide Building Society plans to continue to differentiate in 2022 by emphasising its mutual values and showing it is good for society, according to Anna Bentham, Director of Marketing.

With Nationwide offering similar banking services to most high street banks, including current accounts, the differences may not always be immediately obvious. But Anna says that explaining that difference remains at the core of Nationwide’s marketing messaging.

“There’s been a lot of evolution at Nationwide but also an awful lot of stability,” says Anna, saying that the building society is “always thinking about what member need it is trying to meet.”

“Those core principles have stayed the same, but obviously during that time we’ve seen huge changes such as launching our mobile app.”

She notes that the values of a mutual, owned and run for the benefit of members rather than shareholders, continue to shape how Nationwide behaves, both in the products it offers and how it markets them.

“We look at things through the lens of members and what they need, and how we can demonstrate the difference between [high street banks] and what a mutual organisation brings.

“A big job in marketing is bringing that to life and making it relevant and meaningful so people do understand the difference and see the value in it.”

One clear differentiating factor that she highlights is purpose.

“Our strapline, ‘building a society nationwide’, is our purpose. It’s not just how you manage money.”

Anna highlights that the authentic purpose built into Nationwide since its beginnings is “vitally important” to marketing efforts.

“We were founded by everyday people coming together to help people to own homes. Fundamentally that’s still what we do.”

While that purpose remains core, the evolution, Anna says, is in ensuring this continues to be relevant to people.

“How do we demonstrate the positive impact on communities? How do we bring to life that those values go beyond everyday banking? It’s very much part of our thinking, particularly from a comms perspective.”

She notes the importance of understanding the needs of the society and community Nationwide is operating in and what they need from it. This manifests not just in ensuring value in products and offering customers support, but also in showing how Nationwide is “genuinely better for society as well”.

The Branch Promise is one part of this: Nationwide’s pledge to maintain a branch in all the towns or cities it currently has one in until at least January 2023. In an era when many high street banks such as TSB and Natwest are closing the doors of many branches, and the future of the high street itself seems in question Anna says:

“It’s a really important role that branches play in communities: being there when people need them. In a time of distress or worry, being able to talk to a person is really important – I think that’s something we really recognise.

“It’s those symbols and hallmarks [such as the Branch Promise] that help us to demonstrate that it’s not just empty words.”

Another part of this is Nationwide’s Community Boards, which involve members in directing investment into their communities through annual meetings.

The products and incentives themselves are also shaped to emphasise the value of membership. For example, in August, the building society launched a current account switching incentive exclusively for existing members.


Getting the message out

2020 saw the launch of Nationwide’s “Voices” campaign, which feature the likes of comedians and poets putting in their own words their experiences with lockdown and Covid. The campaign continued through 2021, with examples including an ad for a member prize draw featuring the UK rapper Melvillous, putting a focus on equality at the centre of the messaging.

“The [ad] demonstrates the values of a building society,” explains Anna. “It’s about fairness; everyone has an equal chance to win, it’s not about how much money you have invested with us, or what you do with us, as part of being a member this is the thank-you you receive.

“The Voices campaign gives us a really strong platform to bring to life those human truths, as we continue to evolve that’s what we try and find in all the propositions as we’re developing them so we’re not advertising a product, we’re communicating its benefits.”

The marketing of products also goes “hand in hand” with product proposition development, meaning that what members need is fed into both.

“It’s very collaborative, thinking through future propositions, alongside what is the insight behind them.

“The additional marketing layer on that is how best to communicate it – whether through comedy, poetry, whatever makes it feel the most genuine.”

Marketing’s position as the voice of the customer comes partially from the strength of its access to data on what members want, through the member insight function.

“That’s where we’re understanding members’ current and future needs and sharing that across the whole society.”

This data collection includes a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, including everything from focus groups through the Connect panel, which goes out and asks regular questions, to long-term, longitudinal studies. Another way of keeping the customer voice central is member talkbacks, which give members the opportunity to talk to some of Nationwide’s directors.

Anna says that fundamentally, Nationwide has always been a very member-focused organisation, but the tools and techniques to collect insight have evolved over time. For example, talkbacks have moved from being in person to digital, which broadens their reach.

“What we do now is quicker and we can be more efficient in the way we do it.”

Anna says 2022 will be about “continuing to demonstrate the benefits of mutuality” and how Nationwide is better for society, using a variety of channels.

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