Barclays aims for a credible relaunch

Feature%201High street bank Barclays is planning its fourth brand overhaul in less than a decade with a new UK campaign scheduled for spring. Industry observers are predicting that the marketing drive will fall little short of a brand relaunch for the bank, which has been struggling to maintain momentum in an industry that is in the midst of its darkest hour.

While the economic climate has made consumers more questioning of not only the products on offer but the integrity and stability of financial institutions, Barclays and its credit card arm Barclaycard intend to “make life easier” for its customers.

Speaking exclusively to Marketing Week, Barclays global retail and commercial banking chief marketing officer Libby Chambers outlines how the bank is intent on shaking up its marketing function and the brand at a time when banks are being vilified for their role in the global economic downturn.

She and her team, including UK retail marketing director Dave Jeppesen, will need to defy critics who warn that yet another about-turn could confuse customers instead of cementing the identity it seeks.

One rival financial marketer says: “It is ironic that a bank more than 300 years old, with one of the UK’s most iconic names, should struggle so much to define itself.”

From the Robbie Coltrane-fronted Big campaign of 2000, through Fluent in Finance to Inventive Spirit of 2005, Barclays has lurched from one positioning extreme to another, its advertising often at odds with the business strategy (see box).

Yet one source close to the bank suggests that this is where Chambers comes in and excels. The executive says that Chambers was promoted from Barclaycard chief marketing officer, where she still holds day-to-day responsibility, to her current role in May last year in order to bring consistency and a strategic focus across the division’s global operations.

Chambers herself says: “ Because I have spent a lot of time at the top of very big banks, I’m used to seeing the big picture and therefore asking what marketing needs to do. As opposed to a marketing-led agenda, I have a business-led agenda.”

Prior to joining Barclaycard in 2006, the American held posts at Bank of America and spent a decade at management consultancy company McKinsey & Company working for brands including Citibank, American Express and AIG.

Her background is in stark contrast to Barclays’ previous chief marketer Jim Hytner who left his role as group brand and UK banking marketing director in 2007. While Hytner brought a wealth of populist marketing experience from his years at broadcasters Five, ITV and BSkyB, he was criticised for being strategy-light with no previous experience of the banking sector. Conversely, prior to Barclaycard, Chambers had no experience of running an advertising team.

She was brought in by fellow American Anthony Jenkins, chief executive of Barclaycard, to galvanise the credit card brand’s marketing operations, which she says had suffered from underinvestment for several years. “He knew he needed a pretty significant change programme across the business and a pretty significant rethink of the management team,” she says. “Marketing had suffered from underinvestment and there was a need to play catch-up – catch-up in product development, branding and online, all of which had been allowed to get dusty and underused.”

One of the biggest changes was a move away from the use of celebrities in campaigns designed to be side-splittingly funny in the vein of the classic Rowan Atkinson ads of the Eighties. In a nod to today’s more austere times, current campaign Glide With Us is more feel-good than funny. Although one advertising executive says the campaign “gives nothing new to the brand” public response has been positive. Another, more explicit execution extolling the virtues of consumer-friendly initiatives such as contactless credit cards is planned for later this year.

“It would jar if you saw zipadeedoodah banking marketing,” she says. “People would ask if those guys [marketers] were reading the newspapers.”

That Barclays remains independent, without (as yet) taking a Government bail-out, albeit to the chagrin of some shareholders, also helps. “We are definitely in self-help mode,” she says. “The retail bank staff are so motivated by the fact that we have remained independent. If you’re running a branch you have got customers coming in the door every single day with the stresses and the strains of the economy. We’re really ready to deliver a proposition to the customers that they feel is credible and responsible to the environment.”

And although Barclays has committed to keep its overall marketing budget at about the same level as 2008, there will be an even greater emphasis on accountability. Barclays Group, which also spans the investment banking arm headed by bank president Bob Diamond, has instigated an internal review of its sponsorship properties, which may lead to its sponsorship of football’s Premier League not being renewed (MW December 18, 2008).

The UK marketing drive is expected to coincide with the launch of Barclays’ contactless debit cards in March, which the bank announced this week. The campaign will mark the bank’s return to TV after over a year off the air and it will feature a new positioning that is “in the final stages of being formed”.

She says that the bumbling staff of the last TV work “are out”. “There will not be staff members as heroes. It is very much customer as hero.” The focus will be on the need for customers to take small steps towards sorting out and streamlining financial choices. The same could be said of Chambers and her approach to Barclays’ marketing.

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