TSB ‘sharpens’ its challenger position as it shifts focus to brand recovery

TSB’s Pete Markey had a baptism of fire on his promotion to CMO in 2018, dealing with an IT crisis and putting plans for new media activity on ice. Now he’s back on the job of sharpening the brand’s commercial edge and its points of difference.


When TSB’s CMO Pete Markey describes 2018 as a “bit of an interesting year” he is possibly understating the last nine months at the bank.

Markey was only eight months into his previous role as marketing director when TSB was hit by a botched IT upgrade as it transitioned from previous owner Lloyds’ IT system to that of its new owner Sabadell. Remedying that has so far cost the bank £250m and thousands of customers, and led to the resignation of CEO Paul Pester.

It also threw up a marketing challenge. TSB had media, including TV, booked for the middle of the year but knew that communicating about its brand and products wouldn’t be appropriate given the huge issues and tens of thousands of complaints. Plus, Markey was in the midst of taking over the role of CMO ahead of Nigel Gilbert’s retirement last September.

Yet Markey is pragmatic about the impact the IT meltdown has had at TSB. He admits the crisis “wasn’t great for customers” and that the business’s “entire focus has been on putting things right” for them. But he now sees a brand in recovery.

“We’ve cleared a large chunk of the complaints, our IT is in a stable position and a much better place than it was, and our brand scores are recovering. Satisfaction is coming back and when we do research groups customers are in a forward-looking frame of mind, rather than looking back.”

I’m a bit like Tigger on Red Bull. I don’t want to wait six or nine months to find out if [our advertising] has worked or not.

Pete Markey, TSB

Markey is keen to look forward too. However, he clearly faces a different job to the one he thought he was coming in to do. The brand has taken a bashing over the nine months since the meltdown and while Markey might claim signs of recovery there is a long way to go.

According to YouGov BrandIndex, TSB’s Index score (a measure combining a range of metrics including satisfaction, reputation, quality and value) has fallen by a statistically significant 5.9 points since the crisis to -1.7. That sees it languishing at 39 in a list of 40 high street banks, down from its previous position of sixth and above only Royal Bank of Scotland.

Satisfaction is on the up, though, rising from a low of -1.7 at the end of June to 2.3 at the end of November. But that is well below previous scores of closer to 5.

TSB also needs to restate its challenger position given the influx of disruptive new bank brands, from Monzo and Starling to Atom and B. And it needs to convince more consumers to switch; its market share of around 5% of the current account market is below the level expected of a bank with 550 branches.

Road to recovery

But, first up, the brand recovery. Markey believes its sponsorship of both Pride of Britain and Pride of Sport will be key, particularly as the events last year coincided with TSB wanting to get back out into market.

“Hopefully Pride of Britain will be a really good thing to have come back with, from a brand perspective. There’s nothing negative about Pride of Britain, why would you not want to celebrate ordinary people doing extraordinary stuff?”

The sponsorship also points to a new emphasis at TSB on content. It has worked with the Mirror news titles to tell the stories of some of the people involved in Pride of Britain and Pride of Sport and has a partnership with ITV to create content around real people and their stories.

That doesn’t mean the animated creative work that has become synonymous with TSB is disappearing. But Markey is looking for TSB to do “a few different styles”.

“You’ll see more of [the animated] type of work but alongside it you’ll see us do some different things with content, particularly through media partnerships, where we can amplify some different sides of the brand. The human side of it particularly is what I’ve liked with the ITV work. A lot of banks are seen as faceless – I would hate for us to be seen [like that].”

To create that content, TSB has set up an in-house studio, in partnership with agency Oliver, so it can “productionalise our goldmine of brilliant stories”. Leading that team is former Specsavers marketer Keith Gulliver, with his social and content teams sitting with the Oliver team in one unit.

“Studios are great because you get really close to the work, you see it literally come off the production line. It’s great because it’s faster, it’s cheaper, the work is good quality and I like the business being able to see work happening quickly,” explains Markey.

Measuring effectiveness

Another key area of focus for Markey is marketing effectiveness. TSB has a new CEO coming in this year in the shape of Debbie Crosbie, currently COO at CYBG (which owns Clydesdale Bank, Yorkshire Bank and Virgin Money UK), and he wants to introduce more of a “speed dynamic” to link marketing to business metrics.

“I’m a bit like Tigger on Red Bull, I don’t want to wait six or nine months to find out if [our advertising] has worked or not. I want to know faster, smarter, ahead of when it goes on air to give us a better sense of what’s going on,” he says.

READ MORE: How brands are creating a culture of marketing effectiveness

Markey has seen what brands like Direct Line and Telefónica are doing in this area and is “hungry to take TSB’s work to the next level”. That will involve working much more closely with the rest of the business to ensure its metrics are lined up and the impact of its work is really understood.

“I want to be at the bleeding edge of where [marketing effectiveness] is going,” he says. “What I don’t want, and we aren’t doing at TSB, is that we end up with a bunch of metrics disconnected from the entire business so you end up going ‘over here is our brand portfolio of metrics’ and the business goes ‘here’s our dashboard, how does it line up?’,” he says.

Key to that is translating consideration into conversion. TSB’s marketing team has two main KPIs – net promoter score and non-customer consideration – but wants to do more frequent econometrics to show how people recommending the brand leads to sales.


“We’ve been very good at [creating] the brand… but I don’t think we’ve been as good at explaining to the business the connection between the health of the brand and what it means through the rest of the sales funnel,” he admits.

“It’s about being more commercial as a marketing team than we’ve ever been before.”

That doesn’t mean the brand job is done. Markey credits Gilbert and his team for the work they’ve done since the TSB brand was bought back by Lloyds Banking Group in 2013 before being spun off, but he says he now wants to create more clarity on its “points of difference”.

“[When describing us] people say local, community, people – how do we sharpen up what that means?” he says. “We’ve got a massive opportunity with Pride of Britain to put a clear stamp on TSB’s perspective on people helping people as a good thing. The sharpness is also about what sort of challenger we are.

“Great foundations are there; my job is to deliver absolute sharpness for that. What’s great about having Debbie come on board is my sense is she wants that too. When you’ve got a CEO that wants it, a business that wants it, that’s a great starting point.”