HSBC, the financial-services provider, has aimed to strike a balance of global consistency and local flexibility in its branding strategy after launching a refreshed positioning two years ago.

Leanne Cutts, group chief marketing officer at HSBC, discussed this subject in a session on Lions Live, a digital-content platform run by Cannes Lions (a sister company of WARC).

“HSBC is a very diverse place … We’re in over 60 markets, with 40 million customers speaking 144 languages, at the last count,” she said. (A video of Cutts’ session at Lions Live can be viewed in full here. WARC subscribers can read a summary here.)

The challenge: with such a vast footprint, if marketing is properly reflecting culture, it must assume different postures in different markets, while retaining a meaningful degree of global consistency.

Even as HSBC is a global institution with a culture that demands it be everywhere, Potts insisted, “It’s really, really important that those local voices have been able to be heard.”

To fine-tune each step of the relaunch, Cutts’ team – and its agency partners – had to determine “what’s loose and what’s tight” among the brand’s core assets, she said.

“We’ve had to keep recalibrating that. And, we’ve been really clear about what we’re preserving – those distinctive brand assets like our hexagon [logo] – but then allow a lot more local flexibility on other areas,” Cutts said.

The logo, for instance, is a filter common to every market – and enables HSBC to focus on distinct regional features of interest, and so make the international institution seem exceptionally (and credibly) local.

As the brand’s top marketer explained, “In the UK, we took a point of view that stated, ‘You are not an island’, which took a point of view across culture at that moment.”

By contrast, she added, Malaysia is incredibly proud of its national diversity, swimming with that culture and being open and connected to the world.

That adaptability has been critical in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the brand updated its “Together We Thrive” positioning to a “Together We Adapt” proposition.

And the Coronavirus has meant that “the pace of change requires us to keep learning, learning and learning again to be resilient and to be adaptive,” continued Cutts.

Sourced from WARC