Customer philosophy drives marketing transition at Rabobank

28 jun 2019

Financially healthy living. This is the customer philosophy that Rabobank Nederland has developed together with EY VODW. This philosophy is a concrete translation of Rabobank's mission 'Growing a better world' and gives direction to the transition of Rabobank’s marketing. Based on this customer philosophy, Rabobank creates value at the cutting edge of the market and society. Not only by selling products and services, but by really helping clients to get their financial lives in order for their current situation and especially for their future.

It is not about the customer's need, but the customer's interest 

Dorkas Koenen, CMO Rabobank: "Until now, in marketing, you have actually been used to looking at the customer's needs. But if you want to combine commercial goals with societal impact, you have to delve deeper and take the interests of the customer as a starting point. That's not easy, as it is not something that customers necessarily want. But we know that around 2.5 million private households will soon need more money of their own, for important phases in their lives, than they might think. Such as when buying a house, having children in college or university, or for health care costs and supplements to their pension. The government is withdrawing and is increasingly assuming financial self-sufficiency. Building up capital is therefore very important, but many customers postpone saving and investing. We see it as our task to make our clients aware of this and to encourage them to change their behavior. EY VODW came up with the proposal to develop this into a customer philosophy, which appealed to us, because it is a concept that enables you to really get down to work." 

Customer philosophy as a guiding principle

Beate van Dongen Crombags, partner EY VODW: "The customer philosophy is a guiding principle that everyone within the organization uses for everything they do. It is much more than a principle that only applies to the Marketing department. It is important that the marketing philosophy is used throughout the bank and that everyone within the bank understands: what do we stand for? What is the added value we want to deliver to those private and business customers?"

In practice, the client philosophy of Financially Healthy Living now provides a clear framework for Rabobank's marketers. 

Marketers were really shocked when they saw that they did not really have their own affairs in order.

Heleen Crielaard, senior lead marketing B2C: “Of course we also have a number of high-level KPIs on various topics that provide direction, but the customer philosophy enables me to have conversations with all different parties within the bank when they want to do something. I can then explain and indicate whether or not issues fit in with this and what we should therefore give priority to."

Also Bart Klomp, responsible for the corporate market, also believes that the customer philosophy provides a clear focus. "Before we had the customer philosophy, we had to look for our marketing strategy in the Dutch market from time to time. We had just introduced 'Growing a better world' as a bank. That in itself is a nice mantra, but we were still looking for the ability to relate it to products for businesses and consumers within the Netherlands. I think it's very important that working with a customer philosophy is not or will not remain a theoretical exercise, but that we continuously bring it to the forefront. Because I believe that if you not only know the philosophy, but also really feel it, you automatically do the right things."

The marketeers couldn't believe it themselves at first.

At Rabobank, living through the philosophy was taken quite literally. All one hundred marketers had to go through the ‘car wash' as it were, and experience for themselves what their own client's interests were. 

Beate van Dongen Crombags: "We had all marketers draw up their own financial plan in which they had to indicate their wishes for the future and make it clear how they are handling their money now. We saw that a lot of marketers were really shocked. People thought they were doing very well financially were often left quite disappointed."

Dorkas Koenen was not surprised. "In my previous positions, too, I have often experienced that marketers themselves have too little basic knowledge of their products and services. And it is precisely marketing that must create value within an organization by combining the right customer, market and business insights. Especially with this customer philosophy where you have to see things in a much broader political and social context, it was essential to me that marketers would feel for themselves what this customer philosophy really means. Initially there was an enormous sense of rejection. People simply couldn't believe that they of all people didn't have their own affairs in order yet. But in the end it has led to a broad acceptance that this is the real core customer insight: wealth accumulation for private Dutch households will become increasingly important in the future. And the stronger the core customer insight, the stronger the foundation for marketers to create differentiation over a longer period of time". 

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Marketers Frank Swarts and Julian Bongaards went through the car wash and admit that they were also surprised when they took a critical look at their own situation. "You suddenly face your own irrationality," says Swarts. "And it has also led to a change in my behavior: I started investing for the education of my children instead of putting it in a savings account.” Bongaards, himself an asset specialist, gave his colleagues a presentation on investing. "Based on that alone, a quarter of those colleagues started investing. These sessions yielded two important insights: firstly, that together we knew much better what we wanted to achieve with the customer philosophy. And secondly, that we realized that we have got something valuable here. We also find it inspiring. After all, we ourselves are customers in and residents of this country, so we are faced with the same challenges." 

For the business market this proved to be a bit more difficult, Bart Klomp noticed. "The tricky thing is that our people are consumers, but not entrepreneurs. So we had to take extra steps to make them understand what motivates an entrepreneur. We interviewed many entrepreneurs and tested and validated ideas. Similar to the private market, we want to stand up for a problem with a societal impact. The core understanding we have found is that SMEs need to grow if they are to survive. We want to help SMEs in this regard. This has led to the philosophy: sustainable growth." 

Transformation on three horizon

Before the introduction of the customer philosophy, the marketing department actually focused on the execution of campaigns. The role is increasingly shifting towards a strategic business function that aims to create a single recognizable 'watermark' across all its activities, working towards the right brain position for Rabobank.

The Rabobank Marketing Academy provides T-shaped marketerse

Koenen: 'In this case, I have chosen to transform marketing on the basis of three horizons. Horizon 1 is activation. Ensuring that you create an inspiring framework for the entire organization based on a single customer philosophy. This is where the marketing department comes into play in the organization and where you can contribute more than just optimizing sales funnels and/or organizing traffic. Horizon 2 is that marketers learn to contribute to concrete KPIs and marketing and business drivers from a business perspective. With extra attention for the customer base in this case; numbers of customers, cross-/up-selling, customer value thinking etc. The third horizon is aimed at preparing marketing for the digital transformation. Marketing must be digital-first from its core. That involves a lot of different technologies, such as automation, data platforms and even more one-to-one communication. But always based on a philosophy that works as a 'common thread' throughout all our activities. 

Accountability and new competencies are essential

Accountability is an essential element of the transition. This requires a concrete and visualized framework. Then everyone knows: what are my business drivers? What are my marketing drivers? And what are the KPIs for which I am accountable myself? Koenen: 'We have put this all together as a group. Each team has its own dashboard and each team has, derived from the customer philosophy and the business objectives, a cascade of its own objectives". 

The transformation of the marketing function requires not only a new perspective on the role of marketing and an in-depth understanding of your own market, but also specific expertise in the field of customer centric strategy development. This means that the marketers themselves also have to transform. They need to learn new competencies such as agile, design thinking, data-driven marketing and marketing automation. The Rabobank Marketing Academy has been set up in collaboration with EY VODW to reach this goal. 

Quote foto HeleenHeleen Crielaard: "We used to have many different marketers who were all very good at one thing, such as creating content, being a webmaster or making data-driven block plates. Like many large companies, we had mainly specialist marketers. Now that we are growing into an agile organization, we need T-shaped people
who are good at one or two things, but who also knowledgeable in other marketing disciplines. At our
own Marketing Academy they are now being trained in
a much broader way."

Everyone as a marketer!

But in the end, the marketing philosophy is not limited to the marketing department. That's why the Rabobank Marketing Academy is open to all employees who work with clients, i.e. people with both direct and indirect customer contact. The strategic importance of this cannot be underestimated, says Beate van Dongen Crombags: "Really successful companies are companies in which everyone thinks and acts as a marketer.” 

Dorkas Koenen takes it a step further: "The professional objective is not to manage the marketing department within Rabobank. Ultimately, the strategic goal is to turn everyone within Rabobank into a marketer who wants to make a difference to society, not only by meeting specific customer needs, but also by achieving commercial results. In fact, that's my professional ambition as a marketer: to build up marketing expertise for an entire organization. That's why, two and a half years ago, I started to work on the task to have marketing within Rabobank make a truly noticeable contribution to an even more customer-focused Rabobank, and we've already taken some very important steps in that transition."



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