Glance at the Kantar BrandZ ranking of the UK’s most valuable brands and sitting at number two, you’ll find HSBC. Check the list of the most valuable finance brands on earth, and you’ll find it there too. Investigate a little more closely the elements that make up that brand value, and you’ll find the work of Katherine Lamb, global head of marketing strategy for HSBC Commercial Bank. Far from clinging to the coattails of an established consumer brand, it’s increasingly HSBC’s B2B arm that’s pushing its brand forward. It’s doing so through a powerful sense of purpose.
“In the most recent BrandZ report, it’s actually the B2B element that’s the strongest part of the HSBC brand overall, which isn’t something we’ve seen before,” Lamb explains. “When you dig into why the B2B element is so strong, it’s because of the focus on purpose and sustainability that we’ve had for the last four or five years. I think it’s easier for B2B customers to see the relevance of that message to them – and that’s what makes it believable and authentic.”
Turning sustainability into customer success
Sustainability is one of the core pillars of the strategy that Lamb has built for HSBC Commercial Bank, alongside digitisation and the strength of its international network. Like those other assets, it’s a dimension of the brand that links directly to customer success – and that’s why it’s so fundamental to Lamb’s thinking.
“Every business in every sector has to consider its supply chains, its distribution networks and its social impact – and these things aren’t going away just because we’re now in a tighter economic environment,” she says. “If anything, they’re becoming more urgent. We’re helping people to understand that this doesn’t all have to be about risk and cost. It’s a way to transform your business that can mean new product development, new propositions, new ways to access audiences that you never thought of before. Businesses are starting to understand that, which is why we find that conversations are getting more complex. We’re well placed to connect people within the ecosystem so they can share and learn from each other.”
That ability to connect and share knowledge is fundamental to how the HSBC brand shows up in its customers’ lives. Lamb talks about the intellectual property that comes from being a global brand with local market insight as one of its most important brand assets.
“It gets played out in lots of different ways,” she says. “It might be an event that we host, a thought leadership series, or a guide to doing business in a market like Vietnam. It can equally be the digital tools we’ve developed for businesses to track their ESG footprint, or the funding and coaching we provide for female-led businesses, which often struggle to get support because of bias about what a successful entrepreneur looks like.”
Where purpose meets measurable impact
Lamb defines brand purpose as a moral compass that’s part of the DNA of what a business does for its customers. When it works, that sense of a brand elevates a whole range of customer experiences. “We’ve been able to show a strong connection between the brand and our Net Promoter Score (NPS),” she says. “If we can increase positive perceptions of our brand in a market, the number of promoters goes up. Happier customers tend to buy more and become more profitable. It’s fantastic to be able to draw that straight line and demonstrate both near and longer-term ROI.”
NPS is just one of many data points that Lamb uses to measure the impact of her marketing strategy. The digitisation of banking is driving this data proliferation, transforming customer expectations at the same time as equipping marketers to meet them.
“The pace and complexity of what we need to deliver has accelerated, with customers expecting you to know and understand them across every channel,” she says. “Customers have become sophisticated in the way they use digital for convenience, but also demand personalised experiences from teams of people with data at their fingertips. Connecting business data and marketing data has enabled us to show results right through the channel and deliver end-to-end tracking to sales teams and relationship managers. It helps to demonstrate the value of what you’re doing at both a brand and demand level.”
The creative opportunity in B2B
A data-rich picture of marketing’s influence brings another very real benefit to Lamb’s team. She argues that it’s the best possible foundation for a culture of creativity – and that B2B marketers, in particular, should take advantage.
“The increase in data means that we can now prove that better creative and more emotional storytelling delivers better results, and this gives confidence to marketing teams to be bolder and braver in applying creativity,” she says. “B2B marketers sometimes get a bad name for not being creative enough, but we actually have more of this data at our fingertips that we can use. In our team, we’ve made it our manifesto to be a positive nuisance on behalf of our customer – committing to being creative because that delivers what customers want.”
Do the pressures of a large organisation in a well-regulated sector make it difficult to maintain a creative environment? Not in Lamb’s view. Working in enterprise-level organisations is like working in B2B more generally. It’s only as restrictive as you let it become – and if you have the vision and determination, there’s a far higher ceiling for what you can achieve.
“I’ve done a range of things in my career,” she says. “I’ve worked as a freelancer and been a consultant to FinTech companies and start-ups. I’ve enjoyed all of that, but the difference with this role is that, if you’re tenacious in your vision and you know how to navigate your networks, the ability to make things happen on a global scale is just awesome.”
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