Mason takes the helm at Scotiabank

Marketing in the financial services sector has become more complex in the past year. The lines of demarcation have blurred between banks and trusts, many of which have merged and ventured into new areas such as insurance and brokerage services.Consequently, marketers...

Marketing in the financial services sector has become more complex in the past year. The lines of demarcation have blurred between banks and trusts, many of which have merged and ventured into new areas such as insurance and brokerage services.

Consequently, marketers charged with advertising financial services face a host of unprecedented challenges.

At the Bank of Nova Scotia, a recent changing of the guard has placed Barbara Mason in the hot seat.

Marketing functions have been centralized at the bank and Mason has been tapped as the new vice-president, retail marketing.

Her responsibilities include advertising, direct marketing, research, customer information and marketing information.

She has also been given a mandate to develop and test initiatives and consumer strategies.

A ScotiaBank employee since 1982, Mason was most recently vice-president credit card products and marketing.

Before that, she was responsible for the bank’s self-service technologies such as banking machines, telephone banking, debit banking and debit point-of-sale.

While Mason says she plans to step up the bank’s marketing activities, Scotiabank’s advertising has a long way to go before it makes an impact on the competition.

In recent years, ScotiaBank has focussed its marketing on its existing customers through direct mail, with some radio and newspaper support.

Its last tv campaign, created by Bates Canada, came out in the late 1980s.

Two years ago, ScotiaBank consolidated advertising for its 1,165 branches and offices with Quebec-based ad agency Cossette Communication-Marketing, which had been handling the French-language assignment.

In the face of Bank of Montreal’s big-budget, media-dominating ‘It Is Possible’ campaign, the cibc’s Personal Vision strategy, and Royal Bank’s on-going reputation builder, ‘We got to be Canada’s largest bank one customer at a time,’ ScotiaBank’s efforts have made little impact.

Mason says ScotiaBank will not begin reacting to its competitors’ big budget advertising campaigns, but will stick to its own agenda and continue to keep a much lower profile than other banks.

‘Historically, the bank hasn’t been that aggressive in the marketing arena,’ she says.

‘I think that will begin to change a bit, but we won’t just spend money to get our face out there.

‘I think there’s room to improve public awareness of ScotiaBank and its services, but, in doing so, we want be sending a message we can deliver on.

‘Intelligent marketing today is a very important thing.’

Mason says the bank is now deciding whether it should venture back into tv.

‘It’s a lot of money to spend – it’s our shareholder dollars we’re spending – so it’s important that we ensure we can measure the results of those kinds of investments,’ she says.

Whatever media Bank of Nova Scotia chooses, Mason says she will build and expand on the bank’s core values.

‘We’re not a flashy institution, and we don’t pretend to be,’ she says.

‘I think ScotiaBank is viewed as a very hardworking institution.

‘Our customers are quite loyal. We’re seen to be honest, very friendly, good people. Those are fundamental values we would want to keep.’

While ScotiaBank marches to a different drummer and concentrates on its existing customer base, other major banks have been vying for attention and new customers with bigger and bigger ad campaigns.

Mason supports ScotiaBank’s customer information strategy and is not intimidated by her competition.

‘It’s always an issue when you see your competitors try to gain a higher profile and to be different,’ she says.

‘I still believe the consumer’s response to that is, `What do I get when I go into one of those branches?’ You have to deliver what you’re saying on television.’

On the other hand, Bruce Philp, executive creative director of Vickers & Benson Advertising and the man behind BoM’s ‘It Is Possible’ campaign, feels advertising is essential in the financial services sector.

‘The category has become a whole lot more complicated,’ Philp says.

‘I think in a situation like that, people rely on brands to help them make decisions, and, obviously, that’s something you need advertising to do,’ he says.

‘As to whether it should be product or image, I think in some form you have to do both.

‘I think it’s unfair to the consumer to have them enter into a relationship based solely on how they feel about you, and equally unfair to ask them to enter into a relationship without any sense of what your values are.’

Peter Case, vice-president of advertising for Royal Bank for the past 10 years, says banks remain undifferentiated, especially on the product side.

Case says there are some differences on the reputational side, but to most consumers, a bank is a bank and a trust company is a trust company.

While Case agrees with Mason about the importance of relationships with customers, he feels corporate and product-specific advertising should be an equal part of the marketing mix.

‘It’s very important that financial services organizations protect their brand equity: the organization, its personality, its service attitudes, its commitment and other attributes that are important to the marketplace,’ Case says.

‘One of the observations I have from a reputational standpoint is that there’s not enough,’ he says.

‘Financial services companies have been sporadic in their advertising and promotional activities. In one season with one theme-line, replaced the next season by another.

‘Characteristically, the financial services sector does not stick with its positioning themes long enough to really establish in the marketplace the objectives they’re setting out to do.’

Mason is taking over ScotiaBank’s retail marketing department from Robert Pitfield, senior vice-president card products, who has been handling the post as well as his own duties since the beginning of the year when former head of marketing Scott Bellew left the bank.

Pitfield found during his tenure the real challenge in retail banking and marketing is delivering on the promises communicated to the public.

‘There’s a real effort by banks to truly get to know their customer, to sell on a person-to-person basis rather than a mass basis that we traditionally have in the past,’ he says.

‘To do that, you must co-ordinate your marketing programs, your management information systems, your customer information systems in a way that optimizes both profitability and customer satisfaction.’

Pitfield feels Mason is equal to the task ahead.

He says her people skills and strategic planning abilities qualify her for her retail marketing role.

‘[Mason] has been involved in a number of different areas of the bank, and, therefore, has a very good feel for the retail market and the customer base,’ Pitfield says.

‘From a number of perspectives, I think she’s just going to excel,’ he says.