You would have been hiding under a rock not to have come across UK challenger bank Starling and their impactful communications. Little Grey Cells catches up with Starling's Brand and Marketing Director, Rachel Kerrone, who lifts the lid on how her marketing team’s adaptive strategy, alongside their passionate commitment to provide financial support for their customers keeps them blazing a trail.
What inspired you to pursue a career that embraces marketing?
Rachel> Marketing is such a diverse career - it’s ideas-focused, data and insights-driven and the work marketers do can have a huge impact on the company’s growth and how their customers perceive them. What I particularly like about the marketing we do at Starling is that it’s
so customer-centric and purpose-driven. We look at what’s most useful for our customers and we build a campaign around that, not the other way round.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing your marketing team?
Rachel> There has been a huge amount of change in the past three years, and as marketers we have had to adapt very quickly and sensitively to what our customers need. An example of this is the current cost of living crisis, where we’re seeing a lot of banks offering cash incentives to persuade people to switch.
At Starling, we want to offer people meaningful support throughout the crisis, such as tools that help improve their money management skills. Our challenge is to communicate that in the right way and make sure that every single customer knows that we are actively here to help them at this time.
Science vs Art: With scientific data-driven marketing at one end of the spectrum and genius creative ideas at the other - which side do you lean towards?
Rachel> At Starling we have a brand team and in-house studio that create ‘the big ideas’ while our digital team excels at data-driven growth. The teams work really closely and benefit from the halo effect of each other, enabling our brand-building creative to reach the right audiences at the right time to create a steady drumbeat of applications and long-term brand loyalty.
The Metaverse: are you ‘in’, ‘out’ or ‘not sure’? And please tell us why.
Rachel> I’m firmly ‘out’. People were given the opportunity to bank in Second Life - a precursor to the Metaverse - many years ago. Did they take it up? No. Despite all the technical advances made in AR and VR technologies since then, I still don’t think there is a compelling use case for banking in this way. We don’t have physical branches - why would we create them virtually?
If the Metaverse really does take off, I’ll still remain firmly on the sidelines until Meta cracks down on the fraudsters that advertise on its platform.
How do you adapt a business and marketing strategy to embrace the latest trends and keep ahead of the competition?
Rachel> It’s all about culture. Everyone at Starling is united by a shared belief of ‘changing banking for good’. Our agile approach enables this: everyone is connected by Slack and collaborative working tools that allow us to see a trend and jump on it quickly. Sometimes that means rewriting the rulebook and replacing long-term product launches with those that are more relevant for the here and now, but that’s what keeps us current and ensures that we’re delivering the products and features our customers ask us for.
What role does your company’s purpose and environmental strategy play within your marketing strategy?
Rachel> Starling’s brand values aren’t a marketing push - they’re pillars that the entire bank is built upon. Whether we’re campaigning to Make Money Equal for all, progressing our path to Net Zero or offering a banking experience that puts customers first, everything plays into our mission to build a bank that does right for people and planet - not to attract customers to a bank that pretends to.
How important is storytelling when maximising your customers’ engagement with a campaign?
Rachel> There’s a common saying in the banking sector, that more people get divorced than change their bank account. While Starling’s banking experience is challenging this status quo, there is still a lot of inertia in the industry. Storytelling is therefore vital for us when engaging potential customers - we want to show them more than our features and our trophy cabinet, we want to show them how Starling can set them free and we want them to tell their friends and family about us. So far it’s been really successful for us - we were the most switched-to UK bank in 2021.
Creative agencies rail against the time and resource spent working on pitches to win accounts: is there a realistic, fair alternative to the pitch process?
Rachel> We don’t go in for lengthy pitch processes at Starling. Being upfront from the start is key - outline what kind of agency you are looking for, the type of people who will fit culturally, and your future expectations as your brand changes and grows.
For Starling, it’s really important that our agencies understand where we are going as a brand and are passionate about helping us get there. During pitch processes we ask agencies to keep the slide decks to a minimum, and talk to us about why they’re right for us. The chemistry and ideas are much more important than hours of pitch meetings.
From a marketing perspective, what’s coming up for your brand or business in 2022?
Rachel> 2022 has been a big year for us as we were the national banking sponsor for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022. As the only bank in the UK to be founded by a woman, our sponsorship built upon the glass ceilings we have been breaking in banking and sought to do the same for women in sport. All I can say is that while the tournament might be over, our mission to level the playing field is only just getting started.
Helping customers improve their financial lives is also right at the top of the agenda, and we will continue to launch products and features to help our customers navigate this. This includes a big focus on our very youngest customers, and helping parents and children with the family finances.
This interview was brought to you by Tim Healey (Little Grey Cells) in conjunction with Worth Your While (www.wyw.agency).