In this day and age, it seems almost indecent to be surprised by someone’s appearance, but it is tough to ignore that Catherine Kehoe, the recently appointed brands and marketing director for Lloyds Banking Group, does not conform to any stereotypical image of a financial-services marketer.
With her closely-cropped blonde hair, Kehoe is certainly attention-grabbing, but any expectation of a light-hearted inter-view is quashed once we begin. The 42-year-old is anything but flippant. Her tone throughout is serious, verging on solemn. She is clearly mindful of the low esteem in which her employer is held by the public.
The ex-Yell and BT marketer was re-cruited as ‘one to watch’ by Lloyds TSB’s former top marketer, Nigel Gilbert, when times were good, and her job was, in ess-ence, to supervise the progress of the bank’s successful ‘For the journey’ cam-paign. As the recession hit Lloyds, through part-nationalisation and ensuing public fury, the situation became rather more complex.
With senior marketing colleagues departing around her, an opportunity to climb the ladder presented itself, and Kehoe grabbed it with both hands. ‘I love the challenges we have in financial services, how a brand can regain the trust it lost by its actions through rebuilding,’ she says.
Among the brands now under Kehoe’s remit, which include Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Cheltenham & Gloucester (C&G), her old charge, Lloyds TSB, is probably the cause for least concern.
Although its ‘For the journey’ campaign, devised by RKCR/Y&R, will soon enter
its sixth year, Kehoe insists there is no need to change direction, citing what she views as rivals’ copy-cat strategies. Indeed, she hints that the campaign is set to continue beyond the London 2012 Olympics. Lloyds is a top-tier sponsor of the Games and will be stepping up its marketing in the coming months.
‘The [‘For the journey’] proposition is a very powerful one, and very distinct,’ says Kehoe. ‘While other banks were talking about bank-bashing or value on products, we were the first bank to talk about our obsession with customers. Post-banking crisis, all the other banks gravitated toward building relationships with customers, but it has always been a centre of gravity for Lloyds.’
This ‘obsession’ with customers, a recurring theme in our conversation, manifests itself in a focus on insight, with products such as Lloyds TSB’s ‘Money Manager’ online banking service resulting from consumer feedback. ‘The financial-services brands that will win will be the ones who place customer insight at the heart of their strategy,’ adds Kehoe.
Credit crunch mire
The eventual victors in the banking sector will also be those able to scrub away the stains of the 2008 bailout. The problem for Kehoe is that few high-street banking brands sank as deeply into the credit-crunch mire as Halifax.
With one-time brand ambassador Howard Brown long departed, Halifax had attempted to enhance perception with ads set at a fictional radio station manned by employees. Kehoe, contemptuous of a campaign she dismisses as ‘mucking about in a radio station’, agrees that much work needs to be done before Halifax can assume the ‘challenger brand’ position outlined by chief executive António Horta-Osório.
‘There was an opportunity for us to reinvigorate the brand and re-articulate it in the marketplace, taking Halifax back to its roots as a positive force that challenges category norms,’ she says. ‘I think we needed to be more appropriate in the way we talk to customers. The flippancy and humour was less appropriate.’
With agency du jour Adam & Eve replacing long-term creative partner DLKW Lowe, the bank rolled out an ad campaign that again included singing staff, but this time as a 100-strong choir. TV ads feature them performing classic songs such as The Jackson Five’s I’ll Be There alongside clips of everyday benevolence, in an effort to inject a more mature feel-good factor.
Indeed, rumour has it that Kehoe even shed a tear when the Halifax choir performed at a company-wide presentation in the days before the ads aired.
Kehoe herself describes the campaign as ‘warm, human and insightful’, reflecting research carried out into ‘how Halifax should represent itself’. A sceptic might argue that a prompted focus group may recommend a course of action not in keeping with most consumers’ apathy when it comes to banking.
Yet Kehoe is adamant that the brand’s voice became ‘out of balance’ with what customers wanted. ‘The campaign better reflects what we do, which is professional expertise. We understand what our customers want, how difficult times are, and that things are wrong in the category.’
With Halifax’s marketing habits now under control, perhaps the biggest challenge facing Kehoe will be one of brand differentiation. Her promotion came as a result of the creation of a single ‘brands and marketing’ unit, removing brand-specific teams. The danger, she admits, is that the culture of a single marketing team may erode brand clarity between the likes of Lloyds TSB, Halifax and C&G.
‘Managing brands apart is not the same as managing them separately. People in the market want different banks, but banks tend to homogenise. We need to understand where we need to differentiate, and where we need to be complementary,’ explains Kehoe.
‘We have the opportunity to create real distinctiveness. Halifax obsesses about the products it sells, and Lloyds obsesses with the customers it serves. My job is to retain that, so it doesn’t become one brand with green, blue or orange colours. We must militate against homogeny.’
She concedes that the ‘high level of cynicism’ in banking is unlikely to pass
any time soon. The disruption caused by the impending sale of hundreds of branches and brands such as TSB, dictated by the European competition authorities, has the potential to aggravate further.
Nevertheless, Kehoe is bullish about the potential to win favour with the public. ‘Prior to the banking crisis, customers had a passive relationship with their bank.
They now view their banks front and centre. It is incumbent on the financial-services industry to go harder, faster and improve. What customers want is change, not protestations of innocence,’ she says.
Change based on customer insight, insists Kehoe, is the long-term answer to banking’s woes. To lead this transform-ation, her bosses will be hoping that, behind a serious and considered tone, is the type of non-conformist marketer one expects from first impressions.?
- 1991-2000 Head of brand communications, Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance
- 2000-2004 Head of group marketing communications, BT
- 2004-2005 Head of strategy and marketing, SME Division, BT
- 2005-2007 Marketing director, Yell
- 2007-2009 Group and brand communications director, Lloyds TSB
- 2009-2011 Director, brand and customer marketing, Lloyds TSB and Bank of Scotland
- 2011-present Brands and marketing director, Lloyds Banking Group
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