Inside Virgin Money’s plan to build a consumer, not just a bank, brand

Virgin Money is hoping a focus on music sponsorship and ‘taking the fear out of finance’ can help it take on the old guard of high street banking.

virgin moneyVirgin Money is hoping to build a consumer lifestyle brand that can take on the biggest high street banks with a refocus of its sponsorship activity on music and a brand positioning that aims to “take the fear out of finance”.

The bank is launching a programme, called Emerging Stars, that aims to identify, support and promote exciting new British artists. It will work with eight artists over the next 12 months, with the first three revealed as R&B and soul singer-songwriter Aaron Taylor, indie rock band Mosa Wild and indie pop artist Dylan.

The musicians will be given access to support, mentoring and financial help with the aim of offering them a “helping hand” to kickstart the next stage of their careers. While the plan was to kick off with a live showcase, coronavirus has meant the launch has gone digital, with DJ Laura Whitmore joining as the programme’s ambassador.

The programme is part of Virgin Money’s ‘Brighter Music Moments’ campaign, which aims to offer customers exclusive music experiences. It is in the process of overhauling a number of its Virgin Money branches so they double up as music venues and has struck a deal with The O2 in London and SSE Hydro in Newcastle.

It is also partnering with SSD Concerts to launch the Virgin Money Unity Arena – a socially distanced outdoor music venue in Newcastle. Guests will arrive by car or bike and have their own personal viewing platform, complete with a table, chairs and personal fridge.

Speaking exclusively to Marketing Week, Virgin Money’s group brand and marketing officer, Helen Page, says the scheme and wider focus on music is part of an overhaul of the brand to position it as a “disruptive force” in banking.

It comes after the brand was bought by CYBG, which owns Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank. They are set to be slowly replaced by Virgin Money, as the company looks to build a bank with more than 6 million personal and business customers that can take on the old guard of British banking.

An artist’s impression of the Virgin Money Unity Arena

“When CYBG bought Virgin Money, what I wanted to do was not maintain three brands, but create one of national scale. Virgin Money felt the most powerful brand to do that,” says Page.

“We want to be seen as a UK consumer brand not as a bank. We have pulled together very different organisations in Yorkshire Bank, Clydesdale and Virgin Money. The sentiment around the brand shifting to one of trust, and much higher levels of engagement from consumers, is really important.”

Bringing together the three brands has not been easy. All three had very separate brands that undertook “disparate activity”, from sponsoring the London marathon for Virgin Money to running bike libraries for Yorkshire Bank. Page felt they needed something to thread them all together, knowing the rebrands would take some time to roll out. Music, she says, felt like the obvious choice because of Virgin’s roots in music and the fact it appeals to a wide audience.

“What we said was, let’s get back to what the Virgin Money brand is all about, what’s in our DNA – and that’s where we came back to music. And how we engage consumers in a more lifestyle environment, like a lifestyle brand. Music felt really relevant to us,” she explains.

“We’re trying to create a national, consumer brand, I’m not focused on finance. I want to become a much loved consumer brand in your life, one you turn to for everything because money facilitates everything. To take the fear out of finance and have a relationship that doesn’t feel like a parent and child.”

The impact of Covid-19

The company had plans to launch a major marketing campaign in the middle part of the year to talk about the “new” Virgin Money brand and its ‘Brighter Money’ positioning. That was put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, with Page believing the middle of a crisis was not the right time to relaunch the brand.

However, she does see the pandemic as a chance to show what Virgin Money stands for and how it differentiates from competitors. While it took some decisions similar to other brands like, for example, informing customers about digital banking options or different branch opening hours, it also wanted to engage consumers.

It created what Page calls a ‘red team’ tasked with having conversations with people about money whether they banked with Virgin Money or not. That could have been questions in regards to mortgages or the impact on travel insurance, with the bank creating videos have been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube – quadruple the number it expected.

We’re trying to create a national, consumer brand, I’m not focused on finance.

Helen Page, Virgin Money

But it also wanted to avoid being “all doom and gloom”, hence the focus on music.

“I got thousands of emails from brands and they all pivoted and wanted to make content relevant – some were interesting, some weren’t. What we wanted to do was say, ‘What are people doing at home? How can we enhance that experience? Are there things we can tap into to give them a bit more of a lifestyle-content feel from us? And that’s where we felt music came in,” she says.

“With music at the heart of the Virgin brand, we feel it is relevant, optimistic. Everyone loves music and from all the consumer insight we were getting that was where people were, in effect, turning to make their lives a bit brighter. In some research we did, 30% said music was keeping their spirits high, so we felt there was an opportunity.”

She also believes Covid-19 has enabled Virgin Money to have a more relevant conversation rather than just pushing out communications around interest-free mortgages or loans. And that is already paying off, she claims, with engagement and consideration on the rise.

Open rates on emails, for example, are at between 40% and 50%, while around 50% of those that open click through to more content.

“We have felt much closer to customers,” she says.

Page was at RBS during the last recession, when banks were very much to blame for the economic crash. This time, however, she is optimistic banks can be part of the solution.

“The thing for us as a banking brand is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” she says. “To be blunt, if I can create a brand that is there for you in a time of crisis, gets you through, supports you not just in financial measures, but provides a bit of light in your life – then hopefully you’ll feel quite loyal to me as a brand and you’ll stick with me in future.”