HSBC marketing boss: Coronavirus is a real reset moment for marketing

The bank’s global head of marketing, Leanne Cutts, doesn’t believe marketing will go back to how it was before the Covid-19 pandemic and nor does she want it to.

HSBC’s global head of marketing, Leanne Cutts, does not believe marketing will pivot back to how it was before coronavirus, but believes the pandemic offers a real opportunity for change in terms of ways of working, brand building and engagement with customers.

Speaking at Cannes Lions Live yesterday (22 June), Cutts said she believes Covid-19 offers a “real reset moment” for the industry. That is not to say she believes marketing as a discipline will change forever, as some have said, but that this is an opportunity to “amplify” what marketing does well.

“This is a real reset moment for our role as marketers, as guardians of our brands, for our teams, for our organisations. It is going to be fascinating to be at the centre of all that and lead that change in our organisations,” she explained.

“We want to have stronger brands, to be useful and relevant to our customers, to foster creativity, deepen customer relationships, contribute to the communities that we serve. I want to take this as an opportunity for the marketing community to amplify what they do well, to be helpful and useful and relevant for the communities they serve.”

For example, Cutts points to how coronavirus has shown HSBC that it can pivot quickly and work much faster than it previously thought. She points to major changes including the move to staff working from home, implementation of mortgage payment holidays, and phone calls staff have made to vulnerable customers as ways HSBC has reacted quickly to changing customer circumstances.

“We have done more digital and virtual engagement with customers in the past three months than in the past three years. Processes that needed to be done in person – like signing for something – can now be done online,” she said. “We know we can change much faster and that is something we want to keep.”

She added: “We have been able to scale and amplify things in a way we would never have thought possible before.”

We want to make sure we have enough fuel in the tank as we come out through the crisis.

Leanne Cutts, HSBC

Part of the reason Cutts believes HSBC has been able to adapt so quickly is its business transformation programme, which over the past three years has seen the company move to more agile ways of working. The company has put staff through training to “re-engineer” the way it works, so it does a lot more test and learning rather than making big commitments and then “crossing our fingers and hoping”, she said.

“We wanted to avoid so many of the ‘ta-da moments’ where something is totally finished before it is shared with anybody, but if there are issues we have to go back and do rework. This has allowed us to be much more reactive and efficient,” she explained.

“I don’t think we would have been as fast or such high quality if we hadn’t had that experience of re-engineering our workflows and our work patterns over the past 12 months and moving to a more agile way of working. Because we had those in place we could very quickly assemble globally diverse teams with one common goal and move to a positive outcome at a really incredible pace.”

Cutts said HSBC has also benefitted from having a framework in place to deal with the coronavirus. She called this the three Rs – which stand for react, respond and rebuild. That has helped the company understand which phase of the pandemic each market is it and learn from others that might be further ahead in the cycle.

“We’ve been able to then help and support each other with the right kind of digital platforms, but also reach out to colleagues to see where they are in those three Rs and how did you manage that particular part of the cycle. That has helped us to have the right time/right approach and helped us learn really quickly and pass that learning on, rather than having to redo or duplicate it,” Cutts said.

“It was a framework that helped us internally sequence and coordinate our work, get best practice really quickly, work with our partners, and then internally it helped us to direct investment choices. It became a much easier way for us to explain then where we were spending our investment and how we were making sure we have enough money at the right time for respond and for rebuild as we come through. We want to make sure we have enough fuel in the tank as we come out through the crisis.”