An honest banker

Parting the dark clouds that have surrounded the British banking sector since the beginning of this recession is not an easy thing for those trying to market them.

Cutting through the mistrust that surrounds them requires personal relationships with customers, something that many of the bigger banks had lost interest in.

Not an easy job, but one that UK internet and telephone bank First Direct is trying to tackle head-on. The bank, a subsidiary of HSBC, has no branches yet consistently proves a consumer favourite.

First Direct

Harnessing the excellent word of mouth reputation that the brand enjoys, First Direct has decided to let the world know what its customers think of it – be that good or bad. The bank’s new microsite offers a level of transparency that has never been seen before in the industry. Scraping social media feeds, blogs and forums (much like Squidoo’s heavily criticised Brands in Public site) for mentions and allowing customers to comment on the site.

Natalie Cowen, marketing communications manager for First Direct, explained it thus:-

“The new microsite is a very open and transparent way of projecting the voice of our customers.”

“Pssst- this is any company’s best marketing collateral”

Word of mouth is one of the most powerful and well-trusted marketing tools out there, but amplifying its effect outside of your community of customers and their friends, family and colleagues has always been difficult.

That is until now. First Direct has not only recognised that customer testimonials are their strongest marketing resource, but also that they could do something completely different to other banks by letting good comments sit alongside bad comments and compete for share of voice using crude real-time social media graphs and keyword clouds.

The really clever bit is that the bank has then taken a mixed selection of comments and is using them as part of a wider print, digital out of home and online campaign. Not only are these comments amplified online, but also offline in the wider media.

First Direct has tried this approach before through a series of TV ads that featured customers talking about their affection for the brand.

First Direct Banking

They didn’t have the same resonance because they lacked authenticity – only offering the good and not the bad.

Consumers are a lot more savvy than we give them credit for and First Direct has recognised people’s dissatisfaction with being spun a story, particularly in the personal finance sector. Now more than ever we realise that banks aren’t infallible and First Direct’s transparency flips the perception that banks are secretive, monolithic organisations on its head.

In showing its human side First Direct has reconnected with current and prospective customers and reinforced one of its USPs – industry-leading, personalised customer service.

By at 9:10AM on Thursday, 08 Oct 2009


  • Matthew Oxley

    An Interesting development. I haven’t used the microsite yet but I will try and find the time.

    As a first direct customer for 5 years it reinforces everything I already think about them – they are an exceptional bank by any measure and I’d recommend them to anybody.

  • tag44

    Thanks for the post and for sharing the very resourceful here, its worth it..!!

  • Luci

    This strikes me as a little similar in tactics to Dixons new ad that Patrick reported on earlier this week. However, unlike the Dixons ad, I think this one might pay off.
    Consumers are rightfully disenchanted with the world of banking, and nobody is going to believe that all of any banks customer reviews are positive. I think that’s why their earlier add campaign didn’t hit it off.
    By being (hopefully) honest from the start, then First Direct provide current and prospective customers with views from both sides of the fence, and allow them to make their own minds up

  • Vinay

    It’s also interesting to know that they were the first UK Bank to make full banking support accessible on smartphones

  • Joel Turner

    Hi Vinay,

    Yes, they were also the first to offer SMS banking. Quite an innovative bank all in all, but often considered a best kept secret. Perhaps this campaign will change all that…