The Marketing Institute: What does a Head of Marketing, Insights and Propositions do?
Caroline Donnellan: KBC Bank Ireland is still a relatively new player in the Irish retail banking market, so a crucial part of my role in marketing is driving brand awareness of the bank. As a challenger bank, I need to ensure that our brand stands out in consumers’ minds and I am always pushing the boundaries and looking at new ways of doing things.
My core responsibility is driving KBC's marketing campaigns and propositions accross our different product lines from current accounts to mortgages. In order to do this successfully, I am constantly keeping ahead of customer insights and ensuring that my team and I are listening to consumers’ needs.
MII: What were your key career moves to get to your current role?
C.D: After studying Marketing Management in college, I started my career in the banking sector. I now have over fifteen years’ experience across the banking industry. Before joining KBC I spent over 10 years in marketing for another retail bank.
I joined KBC five years ago at a critical time as the bank was transforming into a full-service retail bank. My previous background in retail banking was a great asset in helping to drive forward our marketing plans and help build KBC's brand at a difficult time in the banking industry in Ireland.
So far in my marketing career—I have held a number of roles across marketing and communications. Working across different aspects within the KBC marketing department has provided me with valuable experience in building brands, managing the bank’s reputation and growing consideration for the brand and our diverse range of financial products, all of which are key to my current role.
Before joining KBC, in a previous role I was responsible for implementing a new customer engagement programme. This gave me a real appreciation of the importance of customer experience and always having the customer voice in the room—a valuable lesson that is now key in driving our business at KBC.
MII: What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
C.D: KBC is a challenger brand—at KBC we do banking differently. Challengers displace the norm and as a challenger brand you can find that new ideas get copied very quickly. A key challenge is to recognise when it is time to refresh your identity, spirit and character. For me it is critical that we evolve the brand and proposition for consumers on an on-going basis to ensure that we keep the ‘challenger’ in challenger bank. You need to constantly question, challenge and be different if you want to hold that title of challenger.
Another challenge I have faced over the course of my time marketing the KBC brand is building brand awareness. KBC entered the retail banking sector with limited consumer awareness. It’s been a big challenge to build brand presence in Ireland since we launched as a retail bank back in 2013. We constantly need to work hard to cut through and appeal to consumers. Our new national brand campaign which launched in September does just that. We are already seeing the impact it makes in supporting the business strategy and positioning for KBC. This year we welcomed our 250,000th customer, so despite the challenges it took to get to where we are today, seeing the results is a great validation of the work we do.
MII: What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?
C.D: As I mentioned previously, KBC is a challenger brand in the retail banking sector and because of this we need to think about things differently. The key to this is being agile in our approach. You have to be resilient and 'don't accept no' or 'not possible' as an answer. The other key skills that I believe are needed to be effective in my role are problem solving and having a forward-looking attitude.
MII: Describe a typical working day.
C.D: At KBC, no two days are the same. My role is very varied and I love this about the job. I tend to come into the office early and spend some of this time planning for the busy day ahead. I thrive on being busy and planning my day is critical to ensure that I keep ahead of my workload.
A typical day consists of things like meeting my team to go through marketing campaigns and media strategies, shaping and building new customer propositions and working with a wide variety of teams across the bank. I remain very close to different teams across KBC as my role is to support these teams with marketing initiatives. A lot of my role involves working with agencies and thinking differently about how we speak with consumers in order to cut through the industry and continue to drive brand awareness.
At KBC we are constantly listening to what customers want from their bank and I am part of a number of groups internally where we look at customer insights. We just launched our new national brand campaign in September—during that brand launch a lot of my days were spent working with external agencies across advertising, digital, branding and social to ensure that we are getting our message out there to customers and building on KBC's position as a challenger brand.
MII: What do you love most about your role?
C.D: My role is constantly fast moving and busy and I love this. The pace and agility at which we move excites me and keeps my role very exciting. I am never working on just one thing and my role touches on a variety of disciplines.
As a challenger brand, we are constantly challenging how things should be done. We are always looking for new ways to engage with consumers through the propositions we build to the way we communicate with them through the media.
I started working in KBC just as we began our journey to launch a retail bank and I have been part of this journey right from the beginning. Being part of something new so early in a brand’s journey and seeing it through to where KBC is today has been a real adventure and seeing the bank's ambition come to life is very rewarding. There also has been a steep learning curve—I am still learning every day which is another reason why I love what I do.
MII: Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?
C.D: Working for a challenger brand like KBC has been such a steep learning curve so far and I expect this to continue in the coming years. I see my role continuing to change and evolve as KBC continues its push as a challenger brand in the banking industry.
We’re at an exciting time for the KBC brand within Ireland—we have reached a number of milestones so far this year with over 250,000 customers now having joined the bank; we’ve opened an Innovation Hub in Dublin and just launched our 24/7 contact centre and new digital account opening app that allows consumers open a current account and get banking in 5 minutes. We were the first bank in Ireland to launch Apple pay and Android pay and we will also be the first bank in Ireland to offer Fitbit Pay this month. And this is just the start—so there are lots of opportunities ahead for the brand and equally for my career in driving the marketing behind the bank with all the exciting plans we have ahead.
MII: To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?
C.D: Working for a challenger brand like KBC means it’s important to look outside our sector for inspiration. I look at what technology brands or fintechs are doing. Other challenger brands like Airbnb or Uber for example give me inspiration—the way they have turned the norm for their industry on its head and created a new way of doing things is something that drives my thought process. I also have a great team and internal mentors are always something I have sought in my career. I think it’s critical to have a sounding board and mentors that can guide you and help you when you need independent advice. I myself also feel it’s important to give back to my team and colleagues and try to mentor and support others around me and I'd encourage everyone to seek the advice of a mentor—sometimes mentors that are external to your department or business can offer you insights that challenge the way you think.