Vive la difference – and it’s up to MPG to enable Nationwide to cash in

When Media Planning Group (MPG) scooped the 20m Nationwide media account last week on the strength of its digital offering, it signalled a new commitment from the UK’s largest building society to develop its media strategy.

Mark%20Benton%2C%20NationwideWhen Media Planning Group (MPG) scooped the 20m Nationwide media account last week on the strength of its digital offering, it signalled a new commitment from the UK’s largest building society to develop its media strategy.

In a three-way pitch following a review overseen by intermediary OysterCatchers, MPG edged out Carat and the incumbent Mediaedge:cia.

Nationwide, which believes that it is well placed to weather or even benefit from the effects of the global credit crunch, knows that it must capitalise on the increasing number of media channels and routes to market.

Experts say that, in the current market turmoil, the main issue for financial services providers is trust, and that as a building society, Nationwide’s corporate set-up gives it a huge, competitive advantage. In addition, as a mutual, it doesn’t have to appease the City or shareholders – unlike its main rivals Barclays, Halifax, RBS and Lloyds TSB, most of which also have global commitments.

Says Peter Gandolfi, Nationwide’s head of brand marketing: “Building society status means that we are far safer in how we raise funds and how we lend money. A large proportion of monies drawn out from Northern Rock found its way to us, so maybe that demonstrated that, in worrying times, people regard a building society as a safer place for their money.”

Yet some feel that Nationwide could emphasise this aspect more boldly in its brand positioning. For example Steve Kershaw, marketing consultant and former Bartle Bogle Hegarty group business development director, says: “Nationwide’s core set-up gives it an advantage which I would say it does not maximise in terms of share, revenue and how it builds its business.”

Nationwide’s brand strategy plays on its “difference” to banks through its TV spots and the “Proud to be different” strapline. The ads, created by Leagas Delaney, are intended to reflect the frustration clients feel when dealing with banks. Tangible Financial, formerly cchm:ping, also works on the business.

Sea of unfairness

Leagas Delaney managing director Elliot Moss declares: “Nationwide’s difference is that it is fair in a sea of unfairness.”

MPG must help develop this through media strategy. Gandolfi says: “We went with MPG because we felt they had a good understanding of what our brand is about, and they were incredibly passionate about picking up the challenge of really understanding the customer path to purchase.”

Gandolfi characterises this challenge as the key issue facing Nationwide in its future communications strategy. He describes how customers find their financial services very differently today. Less than a decade ago, he points out, they routinely went into a branch to make enquiries. Today they didn’t have to do that and very often chose not to.

However, Kershaw warns of the risks of financial services providers shifting spend to online, at the expense of above-the-line advertising. He says: “People feel they must be on and other comparison sites.”

Consequently, he explains, they spend less on above-the-line branding and, as a result, they are less able to differentiate their brand in the first place. “You can’t do one in isolation of the other,” he stresses.

Kershaw points out that the issue now facing Nationwide is finding the “often misunderstood” balance between how it is perceived as a brand before consumers go online versus how likely it is to win over a consumer once they are on the Web.

As he says, “That’s the conundrum.”

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