Reaching the expat community

When HSBC International research found that expats are far more digitally connected than other people, it shared the findings online to build rapport and get the dispersed group to spread the word. By Jo Roberts

HSBC International is probably best known for its marketing claim as the “world’s local bank”. But now it is taking this concept a step further with a drive aimed at promoting its offshore banking services to expatriates.

Communicating with expatriates has always been a tricky task, as these people span territories from Singapore to Dubai, making it difficult to develop meaningful overarching campaigns through traditional methods.

But however hard it is for marketers to reach this audience, expatriates are also very attractive to many businesses, as they are often high earners who want premium services. HSBC hopes that using a marketing strategy based around its own indepth research into expatriates will entice big spenders to its operations.

Paul Say, formerly head of marketing and communications at HSBC International, and newly appointed head of marketing at First Direct, explains/ “The research told us that expatriates are more connected, more wired and more digital than other customer segments in the premium banking market.”

The research, which is drawn from more than 3,000 respondents, is now in its second year. One section, Expat Economics, was released earlier this year and the next stage, which HSBC calls Expat Existence, will be released at the end of this month.

Say explains the aim is to use the insights from the studies to inform HSBC’s external media and marketing strategy, finetune its communications strategy and educate its employees on how to better understand the expat audience.

“It’s incredibly useful as a device to help coach people [internally] to understand their target market and to ensure that when they’re talking to their customers and prospective customers they have an understanding of their needs,” says Say.

Because the expats rely so much on digital technology to keep them connected with friends and family, the research has helped inform HSBC’s media strategy too, says Say. He explains: “We have invested a lot of time and money with our media partners to improve our search engine optimisation (SEO) and our paid-for search.”

Understanding expat lifestyles better has helped HSBC become more “needs focused”, argues Claudia Brendel, head of the financial and professional services practice at FreshMinds, which carried out the research.

For example, one challenge an expat family faces when they move to a new country is children’s education. Brendel says the research has resulted in HSBC International running seminars on such topics.

“It allows HSBC employees to speak to customers because they have understanding of the stresses of an expat lifestyle and the challenges that need to be overcome,” Brendel explains.

Creating consumer conversations off the back of this research has also been a key strategy for the bank to spread the word about HSBC International’s offshore banking offer. A communications strategy has been developed to sell the fact that the bank has made an effort to understand the needs of global movers and shakers.

Even telling people that HSBC International has commissioned this research in the first place “is part of that conversation with consumers to reinforce our credentials”, argues Say.

He adds that spreading the word via social media is also a cost-effective way to promote the bank, while reaching a much bigger audience than would otherwise be possible through traditional marketing spending.

But can HSBC convince expats that it understands their lifestyles well enough to offer them a really compelling proposition? Joel Davis, founder of social media specialist Agency:2, thinks that the strategy fits in well with the brand’s claim of being the “world’s local bank”.

“It makes sense for HSBC to start talking about how it knows about the local culture, and issues expats may face,” he explains. He adds that since expats use online forums to connect to like-minded people, penetrating these is a good strategy. He says: “It makes sense for the brand to be there to help out with issues, whether they are business or personal issues.”

Davis points to publisher Dow Jones as another brand that has been using forums online to convince expat communities to sign up for various publications. Agency:2 helped out on these, which Davis claims were done in a “support capacity, not in a salesy way” and he reports that this has helped treble monthly subscription rates since the initiative began in February.

Getting involved wherever consumer conversations are taking place is vital to HSBC, agrees Say. The talkability factor of last year’s research generated the media coverage equivalent of “just shy of £1m in advertising spend,” he claims. He says the monetary value of PR generated from this year’s research “has already surpassed the £1m mark”.

The idea of making the conversations around the research viral is important to Say’s overall marketing mission. At the point of filling in the research questionnaire, consumers are encouraged to send it on to their peers. This tactic continues as each stage of the study is promoted via Facebook, Twitter and various forums.

An Expat Explorer blog and Twitter page have also been set up to promote the research and provide relevant information to expat readers.
“A lot of research out there is either based on relocation services or banking,” claims Say. He hopes that HSBC taking such a different approach will pay dividends.

“Nobody was really talking to this audience and understanding what the real challenges are for them,” he adds.
While the bank may judge the true results of its expat drive by the financial results it produces, Say thinks that simply adopting an approach so different from competitors will be a boon to the brand in the long term.

Say hopes that the reward for his investment in the research and resulting insights will be an emotional attachment to the HSBC brand from expats – no mean feat when consumers are typically apathetic when it comes to financial services.

Expat Marketing
Brands targeting expatriate consumers

  • HSBC International is embracing new media to spread the word that it is a bank for expats. It also runs an indepth research piece on Expat Lifestyles which it promotes to this community throughout the year on blogs and Twitter.
  • Dow Jones is using social networking sites and getting involved in discussions on forums to encourage financial expats to sign up to monthly subscriptions to its products and services.
  • Labour International and Conservatives Abroad are attempting to get the expat vote. Conservatives Abroad is using its annual conference to promote itself to this community. Labour International is sending out postal reminders and attempting to use foreign media to remind Brits abroad to use their vote.
  • Marks & Spencer is targeting the expat community in Spain by returning to the country to open up a franchised store in Marbella.
  • Aviva has launched an expat medical insurance market to compete against Bupa International. Bupa International, like Dow Jones and HSBC International, has been using online marketing to attract expat customers. It also has a Twitter feed.

Facts and Figures
Expat country report: UK

Overall ranking 19th out of 26
Increased savings 24th out of 26
Luxuries 16th out of 26
Income 10th out of 26
Disposable income 19th out of 26

*Ranking table is determined by four main economic factors: annual income in excess of $200,000, a monthly disposable income in excess of $3,000, having an increase in savings while living and working abroad, and having at least two luxury items in the country where the expat lives. Overall ranking is based on the average score for a country across the criteria.

  • Expats in the UK generally have lower incomes.
  • Expats in the UK also have less disposable income.
  • Expats in the UK were the worst savers.

Facts and Figures
Expat stats

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of expats reported that they are saving and investing more since they moved away from their home country.
  • 63% of expats say that the credit crunch has changed their lives with Russia, US and Japan the most affected.
  • 74% of respondents say they are better off since becoming expats.

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