Marketing Needs to Get off the Drug of Digital and Think about Customers: Amanda Rendle, HSBC

Amanda Rendle leads a global marketing team covering 55 countries and territories HSBC operates in, with more than 13 million customers in the UK alone.


In an insightful interview, Amanda explains her vision for a customer-centric organisation and the concerns she has that marketing is getting lost in an increasingly technological world.

“I’m really worried about marketing at the moment.” says Amanda.

“Marketing is at a really difficult time as it risks being narrowed to just the ‘colouring in department’ of brand marketing, unless it steps up to the challenges that technology brings.

“I know it can’t be left to function as it is, or it’ll become smaller and diminished. If we’re not careful marketing itself could become disintermediated.”


‘Digital’ is banned

Amanda has gone as far as to ban the word ‘digital’ to encourage her team to think beyond organisational silos.

“We need to go back to what marketing is, and the product is marketing. More people need to remember that, get off the drug of digital being something separate and get back to what we do best.

“Look at an organisation like Apple. They don’t do masses of marketing; it’s a great product and a clean brand. I think that their marketing department is tiny, but then it is a marketing-led organisation.”

As more and more of HSBC’s interactions take place through digital interfaces, Amanda believes that marketing plays an important role in shaping the design of the online value proposition.

“In many organisations where they are behind on digital what happens is they  hire in someone to be a head of digital or ecommerce as separate functions.”

“All of a sudden, that person hires a load of marketer/customer experience champions, so you end up with two marketing departments. For any organisation it’s huge waste of resource to have two teams doing the same thing. That’s the real danger. Brand is not only about what you say, it’s also about what you do”

“In the past we thought about international and local marketing being quite separate and woke up one day to realise it’s the same thing. I think it’s the same thing with digital. Everybody talks about it, setting up innovation teams, but if marketers don’t own that space, marketing becomes very skinny and just about creative, and the digital function expands.”

Marketers need to stand up and own the full customer experience

Amanda believes that marketing should be the ‘soul and conscience’ of the customer.

“If you put the customer at the heart of what you do, then you should be thinking about the full customer journey, and how marketing can improve that – which is different to being the people who just do the ads.”

“Marketers have got to remember what they are there to do – that they are the voice of the customer – but they need to become more technology savvy.”

“The problem I’m observing is that a lot of marketers are reverting to focusing on the creative solution alone– a great advert – and don’t understand that a creative should be technology-driven as well. By not striking the balance between the two, marketers risk ending up with no substance behind the creative.”

Connecting creativity with technology

Amanda gives the example of HSBC’s critically acclaimed TV ad as an example of what could have been achieved with a different approach.

“I believe that marketing teams can be transformative if they learn how to take a great creative idea and take it all the way through into all parts of the customer journey. We are working on this now. We have a great creative idea and our challenge is how you amplify through content/sales experience.

“I am convinced that getting the right balance of talent can turn a fantastic creative idea into the cornerstone of everything we would do for the next six months. This needs technology-savvy as well as a creative team to come up with a different solution.”

Technology changes impact the entire organisation, not soley the marketing department.

“One of our main learnings has been the extent to which we require the business to get involved with the implementation of new marketing technologies. If the data inputted isn’t right then the whole system fails.

Customer technology DNA

The  technology that HSBC currently uses to power its online customer interfaces includes:


Source: Datanyze


The marketing talent gap

Finding talent to shape the future of marketing is proving increasingly hard to find.

“We have to learn new technical skills and hire a different mix of people.

“There are two different areas of expertise developing in marketing. There is the ‘left brain’ of data, insights, marketing operations and automation, and I need to hire really good analysts to interrogate our data and make sense to produce valuable insights.

“Then there is the ‘right brain’ of content and creative.

“But what we are missing are the leaders of the future who are capable to straddling both to see the overall strategy, how we use digital and social channels. We need to train our talent to fuse the two.”

Amanda is open about not having all the answers as her department evolves to new ways of working.

“Like everyone, I am learning to catchup. I’m not a technologist, but I did grow up as direct marketer which helps. A lot of CMOs developed through a more creative route which makes it harder to adapt to a data-driven environment.

“I’m not sure where the talent is going to come from to help me do all these things. Possibly from people sitting in Google and other technology companies.”

Agencies need to change

It is not only marketing departments which need to embrace change – the traditional agency model also has to adapt to the changes that technology brings.

“In my experience, most agencies are unable to fuse technology and creative. They still treat social as a campaign tool rather than customer opportunity. It’s because they don’t understand the full customer journey and I think it’s becoming real problem.”

“If agencies don’t come to us with wider solutions to encompass the whole customer journey, you will see advertising agencies scope become narrower.”

“There are some interesting agencies who are responding to clients’ briefs in a different way – who are putting a brief out to 150 technolgy-savvy individuals around the world to come back with a solution. But for the most part I just don’t think a lot of them have got it YET, and even those who are embracing it have yet to master it, transformation takes time.”

Amanda’s team regularly speak directly to technology companies about how to get the most from their platforms.

“Why wouldn’t I? I pilot products for LinkedIn, they come to me and we try new ideas. “As a media agency’s revenue model is under threat as they aren’t going to get a load of revenue from Google PPC ads. The way we start to pay our agencies will need to evolve.

“Agencies have an important role to play in understanding your brief and coming back with the optimum solution using all channels. But they can’t be just media planners anymore – they need to become media strategists.

“They need to understand the technology, programmatic advertising etc, and become segmentation analysts, different groups respond in different ways.”


Mapping the full customer journey

An organisation like HSBC has many touch-points with a customer, including in branch, online and customer service, email, social media, in person meetings and live events.

“My biggest frustration is how we are measuring effectiveness at all parts of the funnel and working to improve performance.  I am sure it is for many Marketing Heads. Marketing has a huge role to play in the full customer experience, from awareness all the way through to conversion.”

Amanda is working on creating a team whose sole job is to improve brand experience for customers, across all the touch points that they have.

“This team might pick five issues a month and try to hot-house ideas to solve those issues, bringing in various insight sources together, including external data, to build a complete picture of our customers and to continually test and improve it.”

Looking at the complete customer journey involves teams which aren’t part of marketing, of course. Collaboration is key to working across all the functions:

“We work closely with these teams, but ultimately journey mapping needs to be by people who understand the full customer experience. Having a clear customer propositions is key. ”

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Luke Bilton

Luke Bilton

Director, Digital & Content, UBM

Luke Bilton is Director of Digital and Content at UBM EMEA, one of the world’s largest event organisers, where he is responsible for live and online content and digital products.
Luke has worked in publishers such as Future Publishing, IPC and the Chelsea Magazine Company where he has launched magazines, websites and events.
Luke is a member of the IDM Qualifications Advisory Board, advising on business-to-business digital marketing.

Connect with him on Linkedin or Twitter

September 24, 2015

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