NEW YORK: Santander Bank, the financial services group, has been greatly assisted in building its brand in America by turning to an online community of consumers when making a variety of decisions.

The company, which is headquartered in Spain, officially launched in the US late last year, as it rebranded branches and ATMs formerly run by Sovereign Bank, an organisation it acquired in 2009.

Kathy Klingler, Santander Bank's svp/cmo, discussed this topic with delegates at the Argyle 2014 Chief Marketing Officer Leadership Forum: Spotlight on Financial Services.

"This was really Santander's first introduction into the US market purchasing a retail bank. They had been here in the past, but this was the first time buying retail," she said. (For more, including what the company has learned from its community, read Warc's exclusive report: How an online community helped Santander Bank build its brand.)

One tactic Santander has used to enhance its knowledge about the needs of American consumers is partnering with Communispace, a firm which specialises in recruiting and running research communities for brands.

Santander's community contains hundreds of members drawn from diverse backgrounds. It was established in advance of the brand's formal US launch and remains a vital source of insight for the organisation.

"This is not a focus group or a quantitative research study. These are people who are engaged with us and have been engaged with us for about 18 months," Klingler said.

"This is an online platform where we're going in and getting to know them. They are co-creating our bank and our brand with us."

Such a commitment to understanding the views and opinions of consumers has extended from gauging the possible appeal of its marketing messages to informing the development of new products.

"These folks look at everything. If we're thinking about a product, we go into the community and talk to them about it. When we were testing our brand and our messaging, we went into the community,” said Klingler.

Recent initiatives involving this panel of respondents have included inviting members to attend an in-house innovation summit, and an insights-gathering exercise covering how the path to purchase is evolving.

"For us, this is not a one and done. We didn't put this community together just because of the rebrand; this lives and breathes for us," said Klingler.

"We still have many of the same members from the beginning, and we've recently refreshed it with more people who can give different insights and different perspectives as we move forward on our journey."

Data sourced from Warc