An inventive new marketing campaign from HSBC’s UK
direct banking subsidiary First Direct is displaying customer
comments – both good and bad – on a website designed to showcase
the company’s commitment to customer service. Dan Jones reports on the latest banking
foray into the world of social media

The new ‘Live’ campaign from UK direct bank First Direct has put
a bold spin on its customer service proposition by collating
comments from across the internet to see what its customers are
saying about it. Crucially, the bank is not vetting or censoring
any negative comments, and instead keeps a running tally of the
proportion of negative comments received – all visible on its

The standalone microsite,,
includes a number of on-screen tools analysing customer feedback
and the bank’s own activities, ranging from an assessment of “live
words” – comments made about First Direct collated from eight
million different blogs, forums and social media sites across the
internet – to the amount of money the bank has raised for charity,
to the number of phone calls taken by its customer service team the
previous day.

Lisa Wood

The most innovative aspect of the site,
however, is the inclusion of a tool highlighting First Direct’s
‘Talking Point’ initiative, which enables customers to express
their feelings about the bank to a wider audience. Borne out of
both an internal confidence in the business and a desire to learn
more about consumers’ wants and needs, the ‘talking points’ include
“what do you think about First Direct?” and “what do you really
want from your bank?”.

Direct from the customer

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By GlobalData

The launch of the campaign was an
attempt to “let our customers do the talking for us”, in the words
of Lisa Wood, head of marketing at First Direct.

“We’ve got really good customer advocacy and
we’ve got a really strong brand. But for some time we’ve been
looking at how we can move beyond the brand and get across the
message that we do great customer service. It’s really difficult to
sell service because you typically have to experience it to find
that out,” Wood told RBI.

The Live campaign in many ways represents a
culmination of First Direct’s recent marketing and branding
efforts, combining a commitment to online social interaction as
exemplified by its recent launch of a ‘social media newsroom’ with
a focus on transparency and simplicity characterised by its ongoing
‘black and white’ marketing campaign.

For Wood, a different approach is necessitated
by the fact that many consumers have grown tired of existing

“People are fairly cynical about the
traditional customer testimonial route nowadays, the question is
whether they actually believe that kind of advertising anymore,”
she explained.

A survey commissioned by First Direct to
coincide with the launch of the campaign found the bank to be the
14th most open and honest brand in the UK, though the list, which
was topped by search engine Google and online retailer Amazon, saw
Lloyds, NatWest and First Direct’s parent company HSBC rank higher
than the direct bank.

Wood put that fact down to First Direct’s
targeted customer focus: “We’re quite a niche brand, so when you
compare us with mainstream brands we do come lower down the
hierarchy, particularly if it’s not our target audience, because
the way we target our audience is also very particular”.

That niche is one for whom social media is now
“a standard part of everyday life”, according to Wood,
necessitating an increased presence across relevant websites in an
effort to show that First Direct “understands where our customers
are and what they are doing. We are really pushing to build our
digital credentials”.

Growing importance of social

The study results back up Wood’s
assertion about the prominence of social media, finding that 79
percent of the UK population now use social media every month,
one-third have a profile on a social networking site, 18 percent
contribute to online forums and 14 percent pass on reviews and
articles via the internet.

That some of these comments, reviews and
articles will inevitably focus on the financial services industry –
especially given the current climate – was also a factor in First
Direct’s thinking.

“It’s being said on the internet, it’s being
said to our representatives, it’s the fact that it’s all being
pulled together in a way that’s very visible which I think adds
weight in terms of truly understanding it”, said Wood.

The online and print advertising aspects of
the campaign will run until the end of November, with adverts on
the London Underground transport service scheduled to stop at the
end of October. But the Live microsite itself will become a
permanent part of First Direct’s online offering.

“It’s a great source of understanding how your
business is doing, it’s a great barometer for you,” said Wood.

The collating of customer comments will also
eventually provide a path to new product launches, though these are
unlikely to see the light of day before the start of 2010, which
will also bring with it further social media initiatives and
marketing campaigns.

“It’s too early to talk about products, but we
are gathering all the feedback that’s coming in to us and looking
at trends in that feedback, and when the campaign ends we’re going
to sit down with the teams and discuss what we want to do with
this… it’ll be used as a great source of information, along with
all the other sources that we have, to feed back into our
proposition area,” Wood concluded.