Insight to Impact: 3 Lessons Consumers Taught Us about Santander

Introducing the global Santander brand to the US market last year brought us closer to our customers than ever before. Maintaining trusting relationships with them allowed us to test our assumptions, co-create valuable products and relevant messaging, and ultimately begin to deliver on the Santander brand promise.

By Kathy Klingler, EVP & CMO, Santander

After acquiring Sovereign Bank in 2009, it took four years of hard work behind the scenes in a tough economy to reach a point where the time was right to introduce the global Santander brand to the US market. Exciting, yes – it was an opportunity to talk about who we are, what we stand for and who we intend to be in the US market – but, it was a big effort!

It was an opportunity to re-focus on customers, to introduce ourselves to the market, to launch new products and services and to show our commitment to our customers.

Launching an unknown brand is a challenging endeavor, no matter the strength of the organization that stands behind it. We recognized the need for everyone — executive and senior management, frontline and back-of-house employees — to contribute and, most importantly, connect to the markets and consumers that we serve.

We partnered with Communispace, a consumer collaboration agency, to engage and remain connected with consumers and employees throughout the process. We asked them about everything from communications to loyalty and recognition, and, throughout the process, built trusting relationships with them. It’s those relationships that have since permeated our strategic process and made a difference across our organization.

Our relationships with consumers delivered unparalleled impact, from important messages about personal finances that resonated with our CEO to a pre-launch review of our new mobile app. Come time for our official brand launch in October 2013, we were able to move forward on large initiatives faster, smarter, and more confidently because we had ensured we were in line with consumer sentiment.

Here are a few key insights where collaborating with consumers was pivotal in our strategic marketing approach.

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1. Test your assumptions.

When we first embarked on our journey to launch into the US market, we made an early commitment to venture outside our walls and test assumptions we had about how the Santander brand would be received by American consumers.

One of our primary concerns was a potentially-soured American consumer perception of the Santander brand in light of the economic recession at home and the Spanish banking crisis. Consumers told us, however, that as long as they could be assured that their finances would be kept safe during the transition from Sovereign to Santander, then they didn’t view the financial crisis as a major issue. Armed with this direct-from-consumer understanding, we proceeded with confidence to enter the US market.

2. Co-create with consumers.

Co-creating rewards, incentives, and even brand positioning with consumers is more likely to build loyalty and bring in additional customers than programs created in a vacuum. For example, consumers reminded us they have a lot of options when it comes to banking. Therefore, when they commit to a bank that’s right for them, they appreciate being rewarded for their business – not just when they open an account, but on an ongoing basis.

And the reward they value most? Cash.

We heard consumers loud and clear. They said they wanted simplicity, value and commitment. Our extra20 checking account pays customers $20 per month for doing two simple things: making at least $1,500 in direct deposits each month and paying at least two bills online each month. No maintenance fees and no minimum balance required. This goes far beyond a one-time bonus for opening an account. By turning valuable consumer insight into a tangible offering, we created a quality product with ongoing value that demonstrates our appreciation of customers’ voices, ideas, and continued business.

In addition, we crafted brand messaging and advertising, with Arnold Worldwide, that speaks directly to customers’ needs, weaving consumer insights into everything including our television commercials, signage, marketing materials, and the positioning of the Santander global brand promise, “A bank for your ideas.” And when we heard that there was confusion about how to pronounce our name, we created a radio spot that addressed the issue head-on in a fun, lighthearted way. (Hint: it’s “sahn-tahn-DARE.”)

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3. Stay committed to your customer relationships.

There’s one consumer comment that I always remember for its candor: One gentleman said, “I’m 45 years old, but my financial profile makes me look like I’m 20.” Admitting that takes trust. And trust is an inherent, integral part of building committed consumer relationships.

The relationship-building process must be ongoing, not temporary. The beauty of investing in trusting customer relationships is that they enable us to gain fresh business insights that – when compounded over time – yield value, preserve loyalty, and improve upon the Santander brand promise.

As Santander looks toward the future, our commitment to our customers remains steadfast. The vision that sculpted our US launch now pushes us to continue evolving and innovating based on customer needs, not industry status quo. And we are committed to delivering an exceptional brand experience that ensures our customers stay because we earn and value their business every day.


kathy_klinglerKathy Klingler is EVP, Chief Marketing Officer for Santander. Ms. Klingler is responsible for building and managing the Santander brand in the United States, including the development of the bank’s overall brand positioning and execution strategy, impacting 9 states, 720 branches, 9,000 employees and over 1.8 million customers. Prior to joining Sovereign, Ms. Klingler was SVP/Business Strategy, Brand Management and Communications for John Hancock Financial Network, SVP for Fidelity Capital and Senior Manager in KPMG’s financial consulting practice. Ms. Klinger is a resident of Scituate, MA where she lives with her husband and three children.

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