It’s almost been a year since Nationwide tapped ex-Tony Blair press secretary and architect of Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, Tanya Joseph, as director of external relations – and it’s safe to say she’s been busy.
Originally tasked with helping the brand address social and national issues, beginning with housing, Joseph told The Drum she has been quietly settling into what she says has evolved into a “campaigning” role.
Joseph works with small group of people on her own remit but also has access to Nationwide’s 300-strong marketing team, including its creative and digital divisions. Her overall goal is to support Nationwide in its core purpose of ‘building society, nationwide’.
“Those teams talk to members across the whole business, but it’s just me and a couple of people going in to talk to government,” she explained.
As well as meeting with government officials, policymakers and maintaining the building society’s relationships with long-serving partners like Shelter, Joseph has also been instrumental in readying a forthcoming brand push which will shine a spotlight on issues related to housing in the UK.
The bank has already been telling its customers' stories through spoken word and poetry within its advertising, using TV slots to portray itself as a supportive voice for what matters in society since 2016.
While she is coy about the next execution, she says we can expect some above-the-line content as well as earned and owned media.
“I've been working on campaigns since I got there,” she explained. “You will start seeing us put our head above the parapet and having a bolder, bigger voice on areas we know are important to our members, particularly around housing.”
In a world where consumers see brands are bearing as much responsibility for driving positive social change as governments, Joseph makes no bones about the fact Nationwide (which is owned by its members) is scoping out the societal issues it can “intervene and take action in” and “put pressure” on Westminster.
“We want people to feel like we’re doing something with our power and weight. So [that means] taking a stand on things that they care about,” Joseph asserts.
From a comms perspective, this has included aligning itself as an ally to DSS tenants facing rental discrimination from Landlords; urging the government to extend the benefits of its Help to Buy ISA scheme; and working with organisations to improve the return of tenancy deposits.
The business is also in the process of building a 200-house community in Swindon, designed to encourage old and young citizens to live alongside one another.
Purpose, but not just for the sake of it
Though purpose-driven marketing is in vogue at the moment, the kind of issues Nationwide is taking a stance on (and investing in) are baked into its DNA.
The brand has a history of wading into matters others would see as potentially contentious: Joseph noted that after WWII it helped armed services personnel rebuild their homes and in the 80s it aligned itself with reconstructing Brixton communities after the 1981 riots.
Since 1997, the Nationwide Foundation, which looks to increase the availability of decent, affordable homes for people whose housing circumstances put them at an increased risk of harm and disadvantage, has made grants of over £32m to causes aligned with Joseph’s new remit.
Like Unilever’s outgoing chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, Joseph acknowledges that there also has to be a business case for purpose, though.
With the bellwether mortgage lender having recently reported a year-on-year drop in profits to the tune of 21% for the first nine months of 2018 (which it blamed on increased investment in digital banking) Nationwide will be hoping that a focus on issues close to people's hearts will help onboard new customers.
“It would be naive to think that [we weren’t doing] something positive around this that people wouldn't think more favorably about us or be familiar with us; of course they will.
“Clearly we want to talk about it and we want to tell people about it in the hope they’ll feel an affinity with us. But it's not a marketing campaign in the sense that we say: ‘we’ll do 12 week outdoor on this and then we’ll have a poet doing something else about another issue’ or: ‘it's about housing for this cycle, but the next cycle is going to be about something completely different’."
She continued: “I'm going to be working on these campaigns for a long time and I'm going to lobby the government on this, but it's not necessarily going to work straight away. It takes a while." Her years in government, she added, means she “knows how long this stuff takes.”
Despite all this, Joseph wouldn’t align Nationwide with the likes of Nike – which has received both praise and backlash for its politically-charged support of NFL player Colin Kaepernick.
Housing, for instance, isn't as divisive as something like Brexit (which, as a brand, Nationwide hasn't associated itself with in any way).
“Nike did a great job supporting Kaepernick. It made sense for that brand to do it. Housing is less contentious, yes there are good guys and bad guys... but [our efforts] is not going to be like ‘a Nike’. Is [our campaigning] political, yes?," Joseph mused.
"But you'd struggle to find any politicians who would say we were wrong [in saying that] that people should have a decent home.”