Russell Parsons: Follow Nationwide’s lead and don’t wait for a crisis to reassess your brand

No one looks forward to a crisis, but dealing with one is also an opportunity to reconsider what your brand means. If only more marketers would follow Nationwide’s example, and do the thinking while times are good.


Marketing director Andy McQueen to leave. New recruit Stephen Leonard will replace him on an interim basis.

Is it better to work for a brand when all is rosy; when net promoter scores are buoyant and marketing-attributed revenue is on an upward trajectory?

Or is better to be staring down the barrel, faced with a crisis and your brand reputation in complete tatters?

I was prompted to ask this question after reading our interview with Sara Bennison, Nationwide’s first CMO. She previously held several top marketing roles over seven years at Barclays –before, during and after the financial crash and the subsequent crisis of its own making – Libor.

READ MORE: Nationwide hires Barclays’ Sara Bennison as CMO

She tells Marketing Week: “I suppose no one would want the crisis to have happened but as a marketer, it was fantastically interesting and challenging. All bets were off in a way. Being in a crisis teaches you resilience and a way of being able to take stock of difficult situations and navigate a way out of them. You need to focus on what’s special about your brand and what the right thing is for your customers.”

Her task at Nationwide is not the same. The brand enjoys the kind of satisfaction scores that most marketers would give their right arm for, while revenue and profit across the business continue to head northward.

READ MORE: Nationwide brings back building society branding as it looks to become leader in a ‘tarnished market’

Yet Bennison, someone with a clearly voracious desire for a challenge, sees a job to be done. Nationwide had a huge opportunity in the wake of the financial crisis to press home its distinction – it is a mutual building society. It did so to a point but the banks, with their bigger media budgets, were able to shout louder about their community/personal/heritage/service credentials. Now, faced with new entrants such as TSB, which have compelling points of differentiation, and the brewing fintech revolution, it is the right time for Nationwide to take stock.

Whether in good times or bad, all marketers need to constantly evaluate their brand promises: what you do, how you do it and what part you play in people’s lives. You don’t have to wait for a crisis.

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