Over the top, lads: ANZ’s Mike Cunnington on lancing the boil, making the transition and upping the love

As head of marketing for ANZ, which recently sent the National Bank brand out to pasture, Mike Cunnington is donkey deep in one of the biggest ever changes to New Zealand’s financial landscape. And the campaign to fuse the brands is now in its final stages. We had a chat with him for the November/December edition of NZ Marketing. And here’s what he said. 

On the transition: “It’s incredibly early days. These sorts of things are not weeks or months, they’re years. We’ve been on a bit of a journey with ANZ recently but we know this is the start of the big journey. The hard thing from a purist point of view is that the banks have a continuous disclosure regime, so as soon as the board makes a decision you have to tell the stockmarket first and then it’s in the public domain. We’d love to have told our staff and then told the market, but that’s not anoption so you have to do the best you can to make sure the people who need to be informed are.” 

On lancing the boil: “No-one likes change, particularly change they haven’t picked. And we’re really sensitive to that. Immediately your reaction is ‘well, I was happy’. So you go through a process, you think it through and hopefully you come out the other side and say ‘I get this and I can see why it’s the right decision’. But we need to give people the space to have a reaction and think about it … Hopefully they are seeing what we’re saying. This isn’t about shrinking the bank, getting rid of frontline staff or taking things away from customers. So if we continue to deliver high levels of service and we stick to our commitments then people will see that the experience is as good as, if not better than, it was. Reasonably, people’s view is that while the jury’s out, you need to prove it to me. And that’s what you’d expect.”

On upping the love: “A brand is so much more than advertising and a logo, particularly in a service industry. It’s all the things that people hold in their head about you and your organisation. It’s word of mouth, it’s the experiences you had five years ago. So it takes time and effort and consistency to build service brands. It’s about doing the right things day in and day out in all the ways you interact with a customer. The past couple of years we’ve really worked hard trying to build the ANZ brand. We’ve had some success marketing it, but it’s also the things we’ve been doing below the radar. We have changed service discretion so people have more empowerment, we’ve changed processes so it’s faster for people to be able to make a decision right in front of the customer and we’ve seen the brand metrics improve over the past two years.”

On sponsorship: “In our view the Rugby World Cup was bigger than rugby. New Zealanders pride themselves on how they host, so it was an opportunity to tap into something they cared about and hopefully provide a platform to help them articulate it, which was the thought behind Welcome The World. With any brand you try to move away from interrupting towards trying to find points of engagement and connection and making yourself relevant. And banks are no different.”

On improving: “When you look at the [Roy Morgan customer satisfaction] statistics the biggest single thing you notice is convergence. Overall, the banks rate fairly well in comparison to the Australian banks and particularly in comparison to my home territory in the UK. Actually, ANZ isn’t at the bottom currently, but everyone has raised their game. And you need to continue to do so. Customers expect more these days. And so they should.”

On perceptions: “The GFC had an impact on people’s perceptions of banks and understandably so. But there are 9,000 people who work for ANZ and they care about what they do and their customers. I think the attitude to banks is more neutral here. I’ve been in New Zealand for nine years [with three years heading up AIM Proximity], but what happened in the UK had a significant impact on people’s lives. We’re lucky here because we have a stable, secure financial system, which makes a difference to the economy, which makes a difference to people’s lives.”  

On the options: “We had to plan for a number of scenarios and people in the bank have been planning for what might happen for a few months. Literally every option has been explored and it’s not a decision the executive has taken lightly. But you come back to the fact that since 2003, and particularly over the past two years, we’ve been simplifying things and bringing things together. We have one risk process, one approval process and one management structure, and when we move to the National Bank technology system, which is probably the biggest IT project in New Zealand this century and is about to come to its conclusion, we’ll have one product set. What we want to do is take things out of the way of our staff. It’s going to be one brand delivering hopefully a better experience overall. The [Lloyd’s] license conversation is relevant but it was a positive reason for change, as opposed to ‘ah well, we need to make a decision.’ The advantages of scale ought to be that we can invest more in innovation and marketing. And if we scale well we can potentially be more effective in managing price and that’s a strategic advantage.”

On spend: “We haven’t had a bigger overall pot but we have chosen to spend more on ANZ proportionately than National Bank. That was partially because it was weaker and it needed more support. This decision was never a fait accompli, it could’ve gone a number of ways. But it was strategically the right thing to do to bring the ANZ brand up at least to the National Bank brand’s level and hopefully beyond it.”

On advertising:“There’s lots of detail in advertising metrics but there are three basic ones: are they recognising it as ANZ, is it memorable and are they remembering the right things. The [We Live in Your World] campaign achieves on all those scales so it’s definitely doing the job for the ANZ brand. We’re in 32 markets across Asia Pacific so you need to have a degree of consistency if you want to show that, of all the High St banks, we’re the best place to connect to those markets. It’s making the local connection but also realising the country’s future is on the world stage and banks can help New Zealand get there.”

On the inside: “Who sees most of your advertising? It’s the staff, followed by your customers, then your non-customers. So it’s important the staff are with you. They feel that they’re part of the brand promise and they need to believe in it. So we’ve put a lot more effort into communicating with our staff over the past couple of years. And by any corporate standards we’ve got very high levels of staff engagement.” 

On the challenge: “Putting my pure marketing hat on it’s quite fun playing with two brands, but you don’t often get an opportunity in your career to do something this big. Enjoy is probably the wrong word. It’s a big responsibility. I definitely take my hat off to the past 20-25 years of marketers at the National Bank. They’ve built a great brand. It has personality, it has a tone and a manner that sets it apart. And you feel a real responsibility taking that into the new ANZ. You want to do well and you want to make sure that two or three years down the line it has proved to be the right decision.”

  • This story was originally published in the November/December edition of NZ Marketing

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