Tilney Smith & Williamson CMO on rebranding and winning exec buy-in to marketing

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Getting the exec team to buy into marketing efforts is crucial to success, says Tilney Smith & Williamson’s first ever CMO, as she takes the company through a major rebrand.

Simonetta Rigo’s career has spanned companies from American Express to Tesco Bank, as well as the full spectrum of roles from strategy consulting to marketing via product.

She joined Tilney Smith and Williamson in late 2020, hot on the heels of the merger between Tilney and Smith & Williamson that had happened a couple of months previously.

“Wealth management is a relatively new sector in my career, although I’ve been financial services through and through, and certainly marketing is something that’s been more and more of a specialism in the last 10 years of my career.

At Tilney Smith & Williamson, she holds a dual function in the central marketing function as well as owning the commercial line for Bestinvest, the online investment platform.

The immediate priority on Simonetta joining the company was to deliver the integration of these businesses, with every department looking at its organisation and budget in order to remove duplication and inefficiencies.

The acquisition and restructure offered the opportunity to think about the organisation, which offers both wealth management and professional services, and the marketing function needed to support it.

Being able to join dots across the business and offer a truly cradle to grave proposition is a key remit for Simonetta’s team.

“That comes to life by making sure that the marketing department is focussed on the audiences that we serve and not just aligned to the business that we support. That was a really fine balancing act of understanding exactly where we draw the line and how we build the team, and then how we actually then bring on board the talent to support that agenda.”

The other big question facing the business was that of its name – post-merger, the juxtaposition of the company names was in danger of becoming “very unwieldy and hard to manage as far as building a brand.”

The firm recently announced its new name, ‘Evelyn Partners’, which Simonetta says came after a wide-ranging process of customer segmentation and brand study in order to truly understand its audience. As well as reflecting the ambition of the merged business, the name had to reflect key attributes such as friendliness and approachability.

The name was eventually taken from Evelyn Gardens in Kensington, where one of the founders moved to in the 19th century when the business decided to expand beyond Glasgow and set up a branch in London. The “Partners” was added as a reference to the value that the company places on partnerships.

Again, she credits the company’s “marketing-savvy” CEO with understanding the importance of resolving the name dilemma, and with initially raising the question of what should be done.

“That was again a sign of that progressive mindset and really believing in marketing and brand as a lever for growth and differentiation.”

She says the reaction from the organisation to the new name has been “fantastic”.

“Not everyone will like a new name immediately, but the fact that we’re one brand and can go to market as one, the fact we’re going to be investing money in building a unique and distinctive identity and support for the brand is the most important part.”

“It’s about building a brand together that really deeply aligns with our strategy, culture, values and purpose.”


Taking an inspirational leap on purpose

Also on the agenda has been defining purpose and values across the whole organisation, working in close conjunction with the CEO. Another key collaborator was the Chief People Officer, who conducted internal research including focus groups to trial different purpose statements and find what mattered to employees in terms of company values.

“I just generally find that Chief People Officer are wonderful people to work with and collaborate because they really do have that vision of the culture of the organisation and so they can be a great supporter in any marketer’s journey.”

The wealth management firm leans naturally more towards individuals, while the professional services firm is aligned with business and individuals. The eventual purpose had to represent both sides of the business equally.

The key insight was helping individuals and businesses secure their future; however, she says this purpose was obvious and was being stated by many companies in the industry.

The real question was how to go beyond this and take an inspirational leap, as well as to really lead the industry. For this, Tilney Smith & Williamson made sure not to  benchmark itself against competitors within wealth management but against the purpose statements of strong purpose-led organisations such as Tesco and Western Union.

The eventually determined purpose is “to place the power of good advice into more hands.”

“What we love about it internally is the way it straddles professional services and wealth management, which is powerful. That’s what we want to be known for as a brand – the brand that delivers good advice.”

Simonetta says the purpose statement confirmed that the company had done the right groundwork and conducted the right conversations amongst executive colleagues.

Alongside the high-level brand and purpose work, there has also been work on generating new business for the company, as well as building a combined, cohesive marketing team.

Although she cannot share many details on the marketing message yet, Simonetta notes the multiple audiences that the campaign has to reach.

“It’s going to be down to a simple message with media that comes across multiple audiences and I think is going to be a combination of both the traditional media and the digital media as well.”

The focus will be on making sure that the most important audiences see Evelyn Partners in a multitude of places and at different points in their journey.


Achieving exec buy-in and specialist vs generalists

Simonetta states the “harsh truth” that achieving acceptance of the importance of marketing comes from the CEO’s recognition.

In some organisations, Simonetta points out, marketing is considered “a support function” or “brochure department” – essentially something that supports and enables the business rather than drives it.

At Tilney Smith & Williamson there is “a real belief at the most senior levels” in marketing, despite being in a traditional industry. A lot of this is to do with exec sponsorship and having a CEO with a similar out-of-sector background to Simonetta: Chris Woodhouse was hired from insurer RAC where he was CEO for five years, after previous roles in retail.

“It’s so much easier when the CEO believes in marketing as a lever. I would say to marketers that are considering opportunities that should be a key due diligence question.”

The sponsorship from the CEO “makes all the difference”, she says, but marketers joining an organisation should also take into account the alignment and enthusiasm of the wider executive committee.

Simonetta references the book “My Iceberg Is Melting” as a potential guide for people trying to convince slow-moving organisations that a change is needed.

“It starts with something small, such as a piece of evidence, and then builds up from there. Sometimes you’re lucky because corporate events throw questions that people can’t easily answer.

“All of a sudden you’ve just been bought or bought something, and that is a great opportunity for strategic marketeers to step up to the plate and really connect with the executive team on things that are important, like purpose, values and culture. You can answer these questions with rigour and analytics and that sort of thing once you have an opening, whether you’ve created it yourself or by showing that there are cracks in the iceberg.”

She notes surrounding oneself with the right expertise as a key lesson from her career. One example she cites is Ruth Saunders from consultancy Galleon Blue, who she says has “a great pedigree in combining the understanding of marketing and creativity with rigorous analytics and consumer research, and is an expert at brand portfolio optimisation.”

A third piece of advice is to persevere, as well as give the necessary time for decisions and projects to pan out.

“What I’ve enjoyed most in the process, although it was at times a bit nerve-wracking and at times a bit frustrating, is that we were hearing about the hopes, but also the challenges and fears.

“The worst thing that marketing can do is become uber-attached to a project or topic, because then you’re focused on the solution rather than what your stakeholders are presenting to you.”

She argues that marketers need to balance “the secret weapon of creativity” with a management consultancy mindset.

As she has learnt from her own career, some marketing roles ask for specialisation, which can disadvantage this type of generalist.

“What that also means is that when you do land in the right role you can bring so much to that role.

“It is really critical for a generalist to surround yourself with specialists. I always look to surround myself with people who are more knowledgeable than me at the things that I need them to do.”

She argues that for new graduates entering marketing it is important to “stretch yourself into the next adjacent thing.”

She adds: “It takes leaders who recognise the intrinsic skills [someone is] bringing rather than really looking at a tick box of ‘have you done this or done that?’

“As a leader you have a responsibility in recognising when you need a specialism and when you need change and transformation, and who is going to be able to bring that?”

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