How insight has helped HSBC rediscover its brand purpose

A clear brand purpose can help organisations differentiate themselves and build strong relationships with customers. But how do you find your brand purpose and bring it to life in a way that makes sense for your customer base?

At the Festival of Marketing, I was lucky enough to hear from Sam Fletcher, Head of Insight at HSBC, as she shared the bank’s journey to do just that – drawing on insight at every step of the way. Having recently been on our own journey to articulate our brand as part of the rebrand to Decidedly, this session really resonated with me. Take a look at my 3 takeaways for reinvigorating your brand. And read on to hear more about HSBC’s story in detail.

1. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

When you’re looking to redefine your brand, you don’t have to start from scratch. There is power and brand equity in your history. This is something we found during our rebrand. The core elements of our new brand had always been a part of our business. It was just a case of making them front and centre.

2. Insight is crucial

To ensure your brand will resonate with customers, do your research. Really understanding your customer base can help you build on your brand history in a way that’s meaningful to them.

3. Avoid “shiny, new thing syndrome”

Once you’ve unearthed that great insight, stick with it. Use it to drive your marketing going forwards and don’t be tempted to veer off track. Your priority shouldn’t be commissioning another piece of research, it should working this one for all its worth.


The HSBC story


Rediscovering the organisation’s brand purpose

HSBC had seen declining brand equity as a result of two forces: a decline in trust amongst customers and changing expectations of banks, brought about by the emergence of fintech disruptors. It needed to rebuild relationships and change perceptions. But how?

The organisation set out to rediscover its brand purpose. And it started by going back to its roots. HSBC stands for The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, a name that’s reflective of its beginnings in Hong Kong and shortly after, Shanghai in the 1860s. In Cantonese, HSBC is known as “Wayfoong”, which means “prosperity”. Sam told a brilliant anecdote to bring this to life. If you ask for a taxi to take you to a HSBC branch in Hong Kong, you are literally asking to be taken to prosperity.

HSBC needed to know whether this concept still resonated. What does prosperity mean to people today? So, the bank embarked on research with retail and business customers, as well as its own employees, to learn more. They found that prosperity goes beyond money. It’s about flourishing and thriving, about realising goals and dreams. This powerful insight led HSBC to a refreshed brand purpose – advancing prosperity for all we serve – and ultimately, to a new brand promise: “Together we thrive.”

Bringing this to life in the UK

Brand promise finalised, the next step was to bring it to life in the UK. In this market, brand awareness was low. Research also showed that many customers had serious misconceptions about HSBC, believing it was only concerned with international business. To change these perceptions and create comms that would really connect, HSBC knew it had to dig deeper to truly understand its customers. It focused on one target segment in particular: The Explorer. They found that despite a national climate of uncertainty, The Explorer has sense of hope and possibility. They’re forward-thinking, optimistic and open-minded. They want to thrive.

Recognising a clear overlap between The Explorer’s world view and their overarching brand promise, HSBC embarked on a new campaign to bring it to life. By working in close collaboration with comms and using a “test and learn” approach, the team were able to ensure that customer insight sat at the very heart of the campaign. The result is HSBC’s Global Citizen campaign, (which you can watch below). It’s an expression of HSBC’s brand promise: “Together we thrive.” And it’s an approach that’s delivered. The campaign has doubled comms awareness and created a sustained period of positive buzz. What’s more, it’s helped to remind HSBC employees of the organisation’s purpose.

Onto a good thing

Sam concluded her presentation by reminding us that “you don’t always need a new insight, you just need a new angle.” The nuggets discovered as part of this project are so powerful that they will continue to guide HSBC as it moves forward. Whilst it might be tempting to embark on that next research project, sometimes it’s more important to recognise the value of the insights you’ve uncovered and ensure you’re using these to drive effective marketing and create products and services that really resonate. If you take a look at the bank’s Connected Money TV ad, you’ll be able to see that it too has been built around the powerful insights discovered as part of this research.

This case study shows just what’s possible when you harness insight as a tool to unlock your brand purpose, allowing you to tap into your heritage, make it relevant for today and use it to reconnect with customers.