The conversation economy: BNZ’s Craig Herbison on the thinking behind the ‘Be good with money’ campaign

BNZ’s teaser campaign reached its denouement last night, launching its new brand platform ‘Be Good with money’ and adding some spice to an already pretty spicy financial marketing scene after last week’s formal announcement about the cessation of the National Bank brand. So what’s the rationale behind the campaign? And can the bank walk the marketing talk? 

“It’s important that people knew it was a teaser campaign and some said ‘it’s been three weeks, it’s been going for too long,'” says BNZ’s chief marketing officer Craig Herbison. “But it wasn’t undertaken to tease anything about the bank. It was about starting a conversation.”

Of course one strain of conversation was about who was behind it, and another strain was about people engaging in the question it posed. So he believes it’s achieved its initial goal. 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LWMN7_8DfMHe says it may seem obvious for a bank to say it’s important to be good with money and to promise that it will help its customers do that, but when BNZ asked New Zealanders whether their banks were helping manage their money, he says the consensus was that none of them were. Added to that, he says research also shows just eight percent of New Zealanders had financial goals, while the number of people who believed managing finances was absolutely critical was 86 percent. 

“There’s a big gap between where they are and where their aspirations are,” he says. ”… Being the bank for New Zealanders and helping New Zealand become a high-achieving nation is our mission. That’s our higher purpose as a business. If everybody gets better at managing their money, and let’s face it a lot of New Zealanders are pretty rubbish at it, then it’s good for the country. And we’re in a good place to help with that.”

By focusing on money management, he believes this campaign places it “one step before what the other banks are promising” because before you can promise a better future for customers, he says you need to promise to help them better manage their money. 

Herbison says there is an element of taboo-breaking with this campaign (he wouldn’t divulge the amount of money spent on it), because it’s actually asking people to talk about money, something New Zealanders aren’t usually too comfortable with. And he says it has another point of difference because the term money is “customer language”, something he says not too many banks currently use. 

While generating conversation was a goal, he says it was very important to ensure this “landed inside the category” and he believes a lot of advertising is too generic. 

“This idea of New Zealandness, I’m not entirely sure it resonates with consumers if it doesn’t fit into the category.” 

Starting this conversation is risky, given the current anti-bank sentiment around the world. But he says “we’re proud to be a bank” and while it has made mistakes in the past, like the $654 million bill after losing a tax case against the IRD, he says it has changed and learnt from those mistakes, and it is a well-managed business that, like its competitors, makes a healthy profit because of it. 

This campaign is also part of a long-game, and he says it’s important that trust is built through customers using its products and services over time. And while it’s promising to help manage its customers’ affairs better, he says it also behoves BNZ to manage its own affairs better. 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-YiklY7qF4While he says it aims to be the bank for New Zealanders, the fact it was shot in Los Angeles at the Warner Bros. studios and featured American actor Toby Huss was a surprise to some. But he says there are four main reasons for this decision. 1) Warner Bros studios has access to the kind of production facilities and actors that simply weren’t available locally; 2) the size of the campaign lent itself to a big, dramatic style, and the Hollywood feel was right for it 3) the question being posed is an issue that Herbison says is “bigger than our bank”, so it needed to move away from homespun and feel global in scale; and 4) it’s a small market in New Zealand and it needed to shoot overseas if it hoped to keep it secret. 

Once the excitement wanes, of course, it comes back to offering good service. So what’s the plan on the ground to back up this campaign? 

“We’ve spent a lot of time over the past six weeks preparing our business for the changes, and we’ve got different tools and conversations to use from today,” he says. “The customer experience needed to move from day one.” 

The website has been redesigned and he says the next phase of the campaign will be substantiating its claims and “showing how we can work with people and help them be better with money”. 

Herbison, who had spent most of his time working with telcos, including Vodafone and Telecom, hadn’t worked in the banking category before, but learning about a new category was part of the attraction for him, as was being one of the rare breed of marketers sitting on the executive team. And for the bank, the appeal was that he could bring some fresh thinking to the table and this campaign, along with a sizeable restructure, has taken the best part of a year. 

“Brand is as a brand does. I came from telecommunications and it’s a service industry. And while what we do here is somewhat different, the issues and the marketing challenge remain the same. Customers want the right products and services and they want us to be easy to do business with.” 

While the BNZ’s research shows customers don’t think their banks are doing anything to help manage their money, the other banks would probably disagree and there has been a trend towards utility in marketing. Westpac has done well with its range of calculators, ASB is at the head of the pack when it comes to mobile apps and social media-related innovations and Kiwibank has created a range of new, useful products as well. But he says BNZ has found leadership in terms of web applications and mobile, and every time the bar is raised customers expect more. 

“Those innovations are ongoing, and that’s a good thing,” he says. 

Last week the big news was the axing of the National Bank bank brand by its owners ANZ. And the other banks took the opportunity to grease up to potential customers. BNZ obviously had this bubbling away, and while it didn’t have a chance to release any contextual ads, Herbison says it didn’t hinder its campaign at all. In fact, he thinks it’s created a great opportunity to rise above its competitors, increase share of voice and keep the money conversation flowing. 

“We’re talking about the issue. They’re talking about their businesses. And I guess consumers will decide what the best marketing is,” he says.  

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