Taking Citi to #1 Bank Brand

20 Nov,2013

 

By Rahul Sachitanand

 

Sanjeev Kapur followed the conventional marketer’s career path when he joined Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever) and quickly notched up his first career highlight by revitalising the sluggish Lux brand in the 90s.

 

He helped reinvigorate the brand, adding as much as Rs 100 crore to the topline. Then, in 2007, he gave up the stability of consumer goods to move to financial services, specifically to work at Citibank. In 2010 Citibank India cards segment was ranked No 5 and the ‘Citibank’ brand No 3 within the Citibank Asia network across nine countries. Mr Kapur, 38, along with the various product teams at Citibank, has helped change this perception.

 

Today Citibank India, despite having a relatively small footprint in the country, is the strongest brand in Asia and the third-strongest brand globally within the network, according to the monthly internal ‘brand track’ survey conducted by IMRB in India and other such research agencies elsewhere.

 

“As a marketer, he took his brand from a challenging situation to success, based on specific interventions that he drove passionately,” says Anand Kripalu, managing director of United Spirits. “Sanjeev is a person who is intellectually and operationally agile, who challenges the status quo in whatever he does, taking the job and himself to the next level.”

 

Mr Kapur was rewarded for his efforts a couple of months ago. From being just the marketing chief of Citibank in India (with a team of 20), he was made the head of customer franchise management. Not only does he now head a 60-member unit, but his role also goes beyond the confines of traditional marketing, he says. Now, he has been tasked with improving client experiences across all segments and products and expanding the use of analytics and big data to make business decisions.

 

Punching above its weight (the bank has barely 40 branches in India compared with 16,000 for SBI, over 3,000 for HDFC and about 3,000 for ICICI) is becoming a habit for Citibank India.

 

Restricted by banking norms from expanding the branch network, Mr Kapur has used other means to give the bank a disproportionate brand recall. “Sanjeev is a transformational marketer – under his guard brands move forward – and he combines data with intuition and is not afraid to take bold brand decisions,” says Vikram Sakhuja, CEO, Maxus Worldwide, a media planning and buying agency. Citibank has had to take the long route to becoming a well-recognised brand in India. Although it was the first bank to launch phone banking and text message alerts for transactions, its history is a mixed bag in India.

 

Three years ago it was rocked by a 250-crore scam at one of its branches and it also struggled with Citi Financial, its NBFC, and indiscriminate personal loan lending and credit card issuance. Since then, it has rolled things back, focusing on building its own sales force (rather than rely on third parties) and picking its clientele carefully. At the end of the last financial year, Citibank India became the largest foreign bank in India ahead of Standard Chartered.

 

Mr Kapur is looking beyond, hoping to build a very different perception for Citibank India and he’s discarded conventional marketing norms. “Consumers today are assimilating the same content across multiple platforms, making traditional concepts such as offline and online, as well as below-the-line and above-the-line less meaningful,” says Mr Kapur.

 

Mr Kapur, who spent three years in eastern UP as a rookie manager with HUL, is looking beyond consumer goods for marketing insights. Citibank, for example, can better deliver marketing messages to constantly connected customers (via Twitter, Facebook or a mobile ad). “Citibank, has the ability to provide targeted marketing messages to its customers using the social, mobile and ATM platforms, allowing for a richer customer connect experience than most other consumer sectors,” he adds.

 

For example, Citibank wants to help customers not only find Chinese restaurants in Bandra, but get directions also using My Privilege app’s mapmyindia application. Then there are discounts and freebies too to be availed of. Mr Kapur thinks technology can help sharpen marketing – pinpoint ads when you’re in an airport (for a Premier Miles card) or in a shopping mall, with tailored offers.

 

“Location-based connected experiences are the future of marketing,” says Mr Kapur. Citibank has used social media to find the most convenient locations for its ATMs and devised an application to make social media-based dining and shopping recommendations.

 

“The future of marketing lies in creating and delivering customized information to our consumers who are constantly on the move.” This content may be location or time based and displayed on multiple platforms including mobile phones and ATMs.

 

An admirer of brands such as Nike, Starbucks, Apple and Ikea, this mechanical engineer by training is adding some new gears to Citi’s marketing engine. Citibank’s Dil v/s Bill campaign did not just crank out cookie cutter print ads, but ran an aggressive twitter promotion (15 tweets a day) and had it as the trending topic for 53 hours. As a marketer, Mr Kapur is clearly focused on the profile of his customers.

 

“Over 60% of our banking transactions are online… We attract digitally savvy early adopters as customers and we have turned our distribution disadvantage (of a small branch network) into a technology advantage,” says Mr Kapur.

 

Citibank’s ability to use the internet and mobile aggressively, he adds, demonstrates its ability to leverage technology efficiently across platforms, providing easy access, more control and a superior customer connect experience. Citibank India built on the success of its Dil v/s Bill campaign with the Happiest Diwali initiative. While the final results of this campaign will take a couple of more weeks to crystalise, Citibank has reached out to 1,500 merchants and is confident of making a splash in the market. Like its previous campaigns, Mr Kapur is focusing on converting purchases from heavily rationalised ones to those driven by the heart.

 

Mr Kapur, a university level football player, is also changing the rules of the marketing game. So, the Dil v/s Bill campaign had someone else (for example, a consumer electronics firm) create the demand, while Citibank only cashed in on it later. “Consumers tend to splurge beyond their means during the festival season on their family and friends,” he says. “Our brand is about providing financial solutions to fulfil the individual aspirations of our customers responsibly.”

 

Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2013, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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