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Deep Dive

Coming off oxygen: How ANZ’s top marketer is planning for recovery - and distinctiveness

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

14 June 2020 5min read

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

14 June 2020 5min read

ANZ’s new head of brand strategy and marketing, Kjetil Undhjem, has never worked in banking before (think chocolate and oil). He wanted different and "I sure as hell got it," he says after joining ANZ in January just as the global economy took the biggest hit in living memory. But as Australia takes tentative steps out of lockdown, the FMCG veteran thinks there is an opportunity to bring a harder commercial edge to marketing beyond internal marketing metrics and reshape products and services to reset the banking category for a new normal customer. As an outsider from Scandinavia, he's also noted "easy" is used a lot in Australian ads.

Watch the video here:

“Before Covid-19 we had on average 50 hardship calls coming through a week. With Covid-19, in the first ten weeks we had on average 10,000 calls a week.”

- Kjetil Undhjem, head of brand strategy and marketing, ANZ

Preparing for impact

When Covid-19 hit, the first thing ANZ did was to get its house in order and prepare for impact.  Undhjem uses a flight safety drill as a particularly apt analogy.

“You put on your oxygen mask before you help others, and it is the same thing here. We really had to focus on our employees first and foremost, because we needed our people to be ready for what we knew was going to be an influx of customers going into hardship.”

In tandem ANZ worked on the programmes customers require to survive the Covid crash financially. Clearly, this was no drill.

“I think none of us has been through the scale of change that we went through, especially in terms of the number of customers coming at us,” says Undhjem. “Before Covid-19 we had on average 50 hardship calls coming through a week. Now with Covid-19, in the first ten weeks we had on average 10,000 calls a week.

The bank shifted branch staff onto the phones to handle the influx, and Undhjem thinks one of the post-Covid aftereffects is that branches and staff may now play a more consultative than transactional role - particularly given lockdown’s impact on digital commerce and self-service. Undhjem says some apps have seen huge increases, “hundreds and up to thousand per cent increases in the usage of different applications [across] all of our online platforms, and that is something I expect to continue”.

He thinks another lasting impact will be that people pay more attention to their finances.

 

“People have been through a rainy day, they will want to have more of a [financial] buffer in terms of what else can happen and being ready for another rainy day.”

- Kjetil Undhjem, head of brand strategy and marketing, ANZ

Relief, recovery, rebound

As Australia cautiously emerges from lockdown, the financial impact is still playing out. From a customer perspective, Undhjem says there are three phases: relief, recover, and rebound.

While some customers are only just entering the relief stage, the majority are now in recovery, says Undhjem, “so they have got through the first phase, understand what the hardship package looks like and have clarity in terms of the payment plan”.

Meanwhile, some customers are starting to rebound, “so people are at different stages,” says Undhjem. But he reiterates his belief that all customers will be more careful with their money going forward.

“They have been through a rainy day, they will want to have more of a buffer in terms of what else can happen and being ready for another rainy day,” he suggests.

 

“I want to try to find things that nobody else has done within the category, to kind of reset the category. So that's my ambition and my mantra - and I’m hoping that will drive stronger commercial results and happy customers.”

- Kjetil Undhjem, head of brand strategy and marketing, ANZ

New products and new competitors

Given people are at different stages of recovery, and in general are more financially aware, Undhjem sees a need for greater innovation and segmentation within financial products. He hopes to harness his FMCG skillset to deliver those products for ANZ.

“I think there needs to be a lot of work being done on segmentation to actually be a bit more pointed. I think that the marketing mix and also the portfolio mix needs to be adapted to the different customers segments,” says Undhjem.

Meanwhile, he sees new competitors emerging to drive that innovation, forcing incumbents to continually improve, or risk losing customers. Across the category, Undhjem thinks customer loyalty will come under increasing pressure.

“Being new to banking, one of the things I saw right away was the influx of new banks. The [online only] neobanks, but also the regional banks and the more specialist banks, are upping their games in terms of what they are offering but also in their marketing.

“I love a good fight in terms of market share and am [at my] best when I am comfortable being uncomfortable,” says Undhjem. 

His aim is to harness his FMCG experience and a laser-like customer focus to win that fight.

So really having added value products and services, and having that competitive edge to it, and tying that off with great creative, which is something we just need to do.”

 

Creative in the time of coronavirus

While aiming for great creative, ANZ in recent weeks has tonally tweaked a playful approach to advertising that has set it apart in the traditionally conservative banking sector.

“It was important for us as we got into Covid-19 to have a look at those assets in market and see whether or not we should tone it down a bit – and we did that in most of our ads,” says Undhjem. The aim was to keep ads lighthearted while trying not to be too clever. “Not losing our DNA and who we are,” says Undhjem, “but doing it in a way that was more resonant with what is going on in a marketplace with Covid-19.”

But bravery in its marketing remains a key weapon in staying ahead of competitors in terms of engaging customers – and Undhjem says he plans to “outsmart, not outspend” rivals.

While anyone can throw money at marketing, success comes from applied creative thinking, says Undhjem. “In order to do that, you need a lot of curiosity. Curiosity should feed your creativity – but a lot of people stop there. That is why courage is so important … if you really want to break ground and do something that has not been done before.

“And I want to try to find things that nobody else has done within the category, to kind of reset the category,” says Undhjem. “So that's my ambition and that's my mantra and I’m hoping that will drive stronger commercial results and happy customers.”

 

“One thing I’ve been asked to focus on is to add commerciality into marketing. To not be so focused on only internal marketing metrics, but actually get back into marketshare, into revenue and profitability – to actually tie it back really clearly into the P&L.”

- Kjetil Undhjem, head of brand strategy and marketing, ANZ

Royal Commission versus boundary pushing

Pushing boundaries is not necessarily curbed by the outcome of the Royal Commission and the resultant legal oversight of products, policy and communications, suggests Undhjem.

He says dealings with ANZ’s compliance teams have so far proved refreshing.

“You’d actually be surprised how commercial they are and I’m really impressed in terms of how they can balance legal and risk. So I haven’t had any issues at all,” says Undhjem.

Given he is trying to “push boundaries and do things that nobody has done before, I do find myself quite frequently in meetings with those two functions”.

 

Hard business metrics

Given his FMCG background, Undhjem says he has been tasked with bringing more commercial responsibility into the marketing remit at ANZ.

“One thing I’ve been asked to really focus on - which I think is transferable but needs to be more ingrained – is really and truly add commerciality into marketing. To not be so focused on only internal marketing metrics, but actually get back into marketshare, into revenue and profitability – to actually tie it back really clearly into the P&L,” he says.

“As an FMCG marketer you own the P&L, so it is such an ingrained part of you and it is natural. But coming in to a place like this, it needs a little bit of work. But I am passionate about that side of marketing and showing that it really, really does drive results.”

 

Check out last week's episode with Telstra CMO Jeremy Nicholas:

 

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By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

14 June 2020 5min read