Finance brand custodian takes his sporting chance

Investec has extended its UK sponsorships with a deal with Tottenham Hotspur. Here, the banking and asset management group’s global head of marketing explains the South African brand’s strategy.

MW: What does Investec do?
Investec is a specialist bank and an asset manager. One part of the bank is private banking for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business and personal fortune. We also have capital markets, an investment banking component, corporate finance, a wealth and investments arm and a property arm.

MW: How established is your brand?
We operate in 16 countries; the three biggest businesses are in South Africa, the UK and Australia, in that order. We are listed in London and in Johannesburg.

MW: How does your role fit within that?
RVN: I work as a brand custodian, but I also meet businesses and play the role of a consultant and a client activist. I have more of a feel for what the world looks like from the outside in, than from the inside out.

I report to global managing director Bernard Kantor, who is based in London, and global chief executive Stephen Koseff, who is based in Johannesburg. As Investec is not a retail bank, marketing it is a mixture of an umbrella for the brand and detail for specific audiences, which makes up the majority of the activity. The day-to-day marketing is by people to people.

Investec doesn’t have a typical command and control structure, it is decentralised. People run their own shops, but have guidance on things such as risk management and human resources, branding and marketing.

MW: How do you market Investec as a business-to-business brand?
We are a young, up-and-coming brand. Our positioning is: “Out of the ordinary” – we are not part of the status quo. We don’t have the luxury of waiting 100 years to establish a brand, so sponsorship is a very good tool to accelerate brand awareness, and sports sponsorship is great if you want TV coverage. The events team in London do about 600 events a year, and that could be 500 people at a sports event, 100 at the opera or a small group of ten people.

MW: Why choose a zebra as your brand icon?
The positioning of Investec has always been “Out of the ordinary”. Standout was one of
the reasons for it.

It says that we are operating elsewhere, we are competing with the mainstream banks, and are positioned as different. We are going to create products that are suited to that market, but we are not ashamed of where we come from, so here’s our African icon.

Black and white was interesting because of South Africa’s political history. After 1994, with the election of the democratic government, the concept of a “Rainbow Nation” was used a lot. But when everyone is using the Rainbow Nation concept, we chose black and white because for us it is black and white.

MW: Investec is sponsoring the shirts worn by Tottenham Hotspur in their FA Cup, League Cup and European club competition fixtures. How will you leverage this?
We have been looking at how we can incorporate Spurs into some of our advertising materials and into social responsibility in the UK and South Africa. Spurs have been doing things in South Africa for years. We sponsored a soccer league in Soweto that was made up of teenagers who might have tricky personal lives. Football acts as a unifier and I would like to see a link between the guys there and Spurs.

Some football clubs are in trouble, but you don’t hear those reports about Spurs because [chairman] Daniel Levy runs a tight ship.

Spurs are also a fun brand. With Manchester United or Chelsea, you kind of know they are going to win. With Tottenham, you don’t know what is going to happen. This means that if you want a stress-free sponsorship, Spurs are not it.

But they do have a fantastic cup history and the fact they have qualified [for the UEFA Champions’ League] has made us happy.

MW: Why use sports sponsorship?
Our three biggest markets are Australia, South Africa and the UK. Sport, particularly rugby and cricket, work incredibly well because we can cover all three audiences in one. We sponsor the Tri Nations rugby in New Zealand and we have the Investec media centre at Lord’s.

We can be flexible and think on our feet. For example, with the Derby sponsorship, I went to Epsom and met with them, and we put the deal together just four weeks before the event.

Football gives us brand recognition at a far lower cost than individual marketing campaigns.

MW: How efficient is sponsorship?
There’s a limit to what you can measure. You can evaluate the [equivalent] media spend, which gives you a basis for comparison.

There is also the leveraging component for clients and potential clients [through sponsorship-related events]. After we have done an event, we don’t ask people to rate it on a scale of one to ten; rather, we give them fewer choices, and the answers would typically be “fantastic”, “so-so” or “rubbish”. But the best scenario is when we give them two choices – brilliant or rubbish – because I like decisiveness.

MW: How efficient is sponsorship?
There’s a limit to what you can measure. You can evaluate the [equivalent] media spend, which gives you a basis for comparison.

We are going to run it in the UK, Australia, Ireland and probably Hong Kong. We will typically run ads on Sky, CNBC, Bloomberg and a 60-second version in the cinema.

The way it works is that I go to the chief executive with the almost finished ad and then I’ll get some money [to put it on air]. So our budgetary processes evolve.

MW: Investec is on Twitter and has a Facebook page. How do you manage social media?
What you don’t want to do is invade social media, because by its nature it is involuntary, and when you start force-feeding something into a system, you are going to start ruffling feathers.

We are not a consumer brand, we are not a Starbucks or a Red Bull, we are not a funky have-fun brand. We deal with life or death stuff: people’s incomes, investments and futures, stuff that they take pretty seriously, so you can’t play silly buggers around that.

So we use Twitter for specific audiences. For example, Linda McBain, who runs our deposit-taking side in the private bank, has a Twitter feed, communicating things that are relevant to the product set and what she does. It is focused and quite niche.

Where are we with social media on a scale of one to ten? Probably a one.

MW: How are you educating people about digital media?
Over the past few years, we have been bringing in people who are technologically focused, digital marketers.

It is no good asking a technical genius to design an online platform because online is not technology, it is social interaction. We are trying to get the guys with the technical knowledge to have more of a feel for human behaviour.

And we are getting our classic marketing people to understand more of the technical opportunities. I have a policy that 10% of training is outside someone’s area of specialisation.

MW: Where do you see the brand going?
For a certain audience and income threshold, our brand recognition is high, but to a broader mass market, our brand recognition is very low. It will remain that way because we are not going to go into mass-market communications – our business isn’t in that sector and we are not going to spend that kind of money.

The brand goes where the business is going and the brand is trying to land a day ahead of the business. You want your umbrella to reach further than your ambition. When it catches up, at least potential clients will know who you are.

In an ideal world, I would like to see a scenario where if a maths or accounting graduate comes out of university, they should almost feel that if they don’t go to Investec, they are missing out.

I want our staff to be permanent advocates of the brand.

MW: You founded your own agency before moving client-side. Can you give an example of advice you have given previously?
I had a retail client that had the biggest advertising budget in a particular country. I said: “Take your advertising budget and cut it to zero.”

I told them to spend the entire budget on remuneration and motivation structures for sales staff, and on payment systems in-store. While the brand had great merchandise, buyers and great fashion, the sales staff were rude and the payment systems antiquated – and the queues were far too long.

I told them marketing is inherently about people and systems and all the other stuff [such as advertising] comes later. But they didn’t listen.
A year or two later, they hired a new chief executive, who upturned everything, and a marketing person, who changed the mindset around service.
l Marketing Week is running the Sponsorship Summit from 20 to 22 October. For details, go to

curriculum vitae

  • 1990-1995 Marketing communications manager, BP Southern Africa.
  • 1997-1998 Director of consulting at branding agency KSDP Pentagraph.
  • 1999-2000 Founding partner and director, Switch Branding & Design.
  • 2000-present Global head of marketing, Investec.
  • 1996 University of Cape Town, MBA
  • 1986-1989 University of the Free State/ Universiteit van die Vrystaat, BA Communication

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