A new advertising campaign by FNB, #TheChangeables, is a good example of how brands can demonstrate empathy and an understanding of the difficulties their clients are facing. The campaign, launched last week, tells the stories of ordinary South Africans it calls "changeables", who had the courage to change the direction of their lives to achieve a level of financial sustainability.

Faye Mfikwe, the bank’s chief marketing officer, says brands have a responsibility to demonstrate optimism and resilience. In a world where economies and lives have been destroyed by Covid, that responsibility has grown.

That view is endorsed by Jane Ostler, global head of media effectiveness at research agency Kantar, who tells the trade publication Ad Age there is now an entrenched expectation that brands must deliver services in ways that meet consumers’ changing needs. She believes creating the best customer experience is critical to reinforce or rebuild brand loyalty.

Mfikwe tells the FM: "Brands, in any sector, are intrinsically part of society, and brand communication does not occur in a vacuum. In financial services, we must demonstrate appreciation of our mutual responsibility in areas like helping to revive the economy, supporting small business [and] entrepreneurship and enabling customers to reach their dreams, irrespective of the prevailing challenges. Our approach to brand communication is to showcase our interpretation of market activities that are not always under our control, and this means we have to adapt our messages against the appreciation of this change in society and customer expectations."

Faye Mfikwe. Picture: Supplied
Faye Mfikwe. Picture: Supplied

Pepe Marais, chief creative officer of the Joe Public group, says: "There is a lot of talk of ‘purpose’ from many brands, but very few are living [it] or even truly understand what it means. Purpose is the greater value you bring to the world, beyond just your product or your profit, and it should always start with one word. You need to ask: what does the brand truly believe in? What is its real cause in this world?"To get there, you need a "conscious CEO" to be interested in answering these questions and implementing the result in the business. "Because businesses are so deeply conditioned to just be obsessed with shareholder returns," he says.

FNB’s new approach prompts the question: is the age of hard retail banking advertising over? Mfikwe says: "Heightened customer expectations, changing consumer habits and changes in media consumption have necessitated a mind shift in advertising, and by extension retail banking advertising. From our perspective, the focus is to provide contextual financial solutions which are anchored in customer needs, and we want to do this through the viewpoint of the customer, not just the product.

"We see this as a necessary shift in financial services because customer needs always must be the core focus of solutions. The age of product-led constructs is certainly becoming outdated."

Part of the new challenge is for brands to learn how to adapt to uncertainty, and Mfikwe agrees that thinking needs to change. "Uncertainty is one of the biggest risks in society, for businesses and individuals. The secret to success in a dynamic environment is to be agile and resilient, because you can only control how you react to change."

In a series of powerful vignettes, #TheChangeables campaign celebrates South Africans who take challenges in their stride, transform obstacles into opportunities and embrace change as a way of building a better future for themselves and others.

And for a change, when it comes to campaign success measurement, there is a new approach. Says Mfikwe: "Beyond our brand communication measurement metrics, we simply want society and customers to own the campaign, because that is the most effective way to create change agents. Success will be evaluated in several ways, but key to that will be our ability to create a platform for change agents to realise their dreams. That goes for the individual customer and businesses."

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