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Challenger Brands: Busting through the Barriers in Banking

Posted By The Marketing Institute, Wednesday 11 October 2017

challenger brands

We were delighted to have Aidan Power from KBC Bank talking at our October Marketing Breakfast about challenger brands and busting through the barriers in banking.

Aidan has been leading the brand charge in the transformation of the bank into a retail disruptor challenger bank in Ireland. At the heart of this transformation was the creation of a truly customer centric brand positioning ‘the Bank of You’. Fulfilling such a big brand promise has not come without its challenges and it now demands (and in the future) a differentiated customer experience.

This year Ireland became a core market within the KBC Group and Aidan shared his thoughts on how to create and deliver a differentiated challenger brand and extreme customer experience, using a different type of culture, mindset, agility and leadership.


What is a challenger brand?

Aidan started off with defining a challenger brand as

            “a brand that takes the norm and turns it on its head, making its
             proposition the new norm for its category

Aidan joined KBC Bank in 2012, at a time where the banking sector was in a poor condition and many marketers were trying to get out of banking, not into it. KBC Bank’s brand awareness was below 20% at the time and they needed a new proposition to stand out.


The new proposition:

  • A digital first, customer centric full service retail bank that played a challenger role in Irish banking

They made a point of designing a proposition for the future, not for what consumers wanted at the time.

Aidan noted that despite being “digital first”, a bank needs a physical presence if it is to be trusted by consumers. With this in mind KBC Bank created “hubs” in fifteen key locations in Ireland to welcome their customers, with a design that looked nothing like a traditional bank.

Once the strategy has been created, marketers need to look at structure, talent & capability, and review these regularly in order to stay on top.

The next big step was to create the brand story. To create a challenger brand marketers must think outside their category, but also outside Ireland. KBC bank needed to disrupt the banking industry with a striking brand platform. Their mantra became to stop talking, acting and walking like a traditional bank. The Bank of You was born, with the customer at the centre of everything.



What’s next?

In 2017, KBC Bank know they must keep evolving if they want to stay relevant. They are now thinking in terms of customer experience, not products and services, and focusing on delivering experiences built on consumer insights such as the expectation of instant, always-on accessibility.

KBC have also developed a new look and feel. As a global brand they are of course working within constraints, but they were able to change key elements such as the font, which needed to be more digital friendly, and the photography.

One of the challenges that KBC Bank has faced as “the new kid on the block” is being outspent by competitors. However they could always outsmart them! Here Aidan highlighted the importance of amplification: making yourself sound louder than you actually are.

Aidan concluded the session by sharing his key learnings for marketers.


Key learnings

  • be agile & fast
  •  be passionate & ambitious
  • be resilient
  • don’t take no for an answer
  • look at the outside world
  • let the customers in
  • remove your “blinkers”
  • celebrate small successes
  • test, fail and try again!

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