How TSB built a brand to take on the high street giants

TSB has made significant strides since it was relaunched in 2013. CMO Nigel Gilbert talks to  Marketing Week about the importance of aligning all marketing activity to its core proposition and why it looks outside financial services for inspiration.


TSB CMO Nigel Gilbert is refreshingly old school in his approach to marketing – an unerring devotion to ensuring that every communication is aligned to the bank’s core proposition, without distraction.

Since joining in November 2013, just months after the TSB brand was reborn, Gilbert and his fellow executive committee members have been building the brand top down as a challenger to the high street behemoths, albeit one with a healthy market share from the beginning. From making its employees “partners” – a model Gilbert admits was “shamelessly borrowed” from John Lewis and sees employees rewarded for delivering service – to getting rid of sales incentives, every move has been about bringing its local banking done well positioning to life.

The brand and its purpose, serving the needs of its customers and their communities, always comes before the tool to deliver the message. Every internal and external marketing communication produced by TSB and its agencies starts with this point of differentiation.

“I am extremely disciplined about such things. You align everything to that strategy and you ensure that whether it is advertising, communications or PR, everybody has the same voice. You might be talking about different things but it’s the brand speaking,” he says.

The most recent example of this focus is its sponsorship of Pride of Britain, the 17-year-old celebration of the “nation’s unsung heroes”, that will see it work with long-time backer Trinity Mirror to boost support for the initiative’s annual awards. By associating with an organisation famed for championing those that work tirelessly to improve the lot of those in local communities, TSB is trying to bring its purpose to life.

Pride of Britain
The Pride of Britain awards ceremony

Despite acknowledging that sponsorship can often be “a money pit with the potential to waste a lot of money”, Gilbert says the partnership is a perfect fit.

“If you invest as much in ensuring sponsorship is aligned to strategy as you do money then it can be incredibly powerful.

“When I was thinking about what might be appropriate for a challenger bank trying to disrupt the stranglehold of the top 5 banks, I was thinking about what would have an immediate effect. What would our people and partners think was exciting, appropriate and motivating to the story we’re telling. Pride of Britain is in a way central to the story.”

The Pride of Britain partnership will be used to generate content to be shared through owned and other channels including via Trinity Mirror’s local news brands. Content will showcase the partnership while, it is hoped, underlining its community credentials especially to prospective consumers yet to experience the brand in branches.

Gilbert has some sympathy with the view of Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, who recently warned that marketers are putting the discipline at risk by increasingly putting tactics before strategy. Some marketers are too concerned with creating eye-catching, tech driven work and not best serving their brand’s core proposition, Ritson argued.

“So much content is being produced to fill gaps rather than being aligned to what it is you’re trying to convey”, says Gilbert. “A friend of mine described it as ‘vast ghost ships being that are being created floating around the ether with very expensive content that no one wants to see’”.

“So much content is being produced to fill gaps rather than being aligned to what it is you’re trying to convey.”

Nigel Gilbert, TSB CMO

He adds: “If the customer experience is going to be digital then the experience will be informed by the content around it whether it’s mobile or YouTube. It’s not about creating content for its own sake. It’s about fuelling the conversation you’re having with customers and prospects.”

Gilbert joined TSB soon after the bank was launched in September 2013, a product of statute forced upon then owner Lloyds Banking Group when it was told to sell more than 600 of its branches by the European Union as a condition of accepting state aid. Despite its self-proclaimed challenger status, it began life boasting a 4.2% share of the current account market and more than 4.5 million customers.

Its customer base and ready-made infrastructure made it an enticing prospect to investors. It was floated in June 2014 and then sold to Spanish banking giant Banco Sabadell in March 2015.

Behind this is steep growth. It is nearing its target of 6% of the current account market, adding 1,200 customers a day in the first quarter, almost 7% of those switching. It also began selling mortgages through intermediaries in January 2015, an essential move for any credible challenger. Its £5bn total loaned to date described as “rip-roaring success” by Gilbert.

There has also been notable progress in brand health. According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, its Index score – an average of how customers and prospective customers rate it on quality, value, reputation and satisfaction has increased “significantly” in the past year. It sits 12th in a list of 31 high street banks and building societies behind brands such as First Direct and Nationwide that it wishes to emulate but ahead of the big banks – Natwest, HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds – it wants to disrupt.

Breaking the stranglehold of the high street giants by positioning itself as everything they are not continues to be TSB’s mission.

“We are on a mission to change an industry. It’s been controlled by a small number of people for far too long and that doesn’t breed the best experience for customers and is not the best way to bring about competition. We were constructed to bring competition to UK banking and in so doing make it better for everyone else. It’s in what we do and how we behave.”

“We are on a mission to change an industry. It’s been controlled by a small number of people for far too long and that doesn’t breed the best experience for customers and is not the best way to bring about competition.”

Gilbert adds there is already evidence that the banks are moving towards its way of operating even “borrowing” some of its language. TSB will be successful, however, because of its broader view of what makes a brand great.

“It’s important we observe our competitive set to make sure we’re learning but to also observe other businesses that are having great success. Frankly, we learn more from that than any other banks because that hasn’t been a particular success story because of the 2008 financial crisis and beyond. We’ll take lessons from where we can. It keeps brands fresh and keeps us fresh. That might be a truism but it’s certainly true in this instance.”

Masters of marketing submit entry

TSB won ‘Reinvention of the Year’ at the 2015 Masters of Marketing Awards. Make sure you submit your entry for this year’s awards here.

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