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Marketing strategy: Axis bank looking to inject consumer centricity

Amit Bapna, ET Bureau Aug 10, 2011, 12.27am IST

Tags: India| ICICI bank| Elephant Design| Colgate-Palmolive| Axis Bank Ltd.

There is a lot of youth, fun and backslapping camaraderie on the third floor of the swanky head-office of the Axis Banklocated in a business district in central Mumbai. This is the floor where the marketing function sits many think it's the cool team in the building very much unlike what one would perceive a bank to be. All of which is a far cry from the archaic setup that the bank-brand was known as not too long ago.
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Now, there is a renewed vigour within the marketing team spearheaded by the CMO, Manisha Lath Gupta who joined the bank last year, from Colgate-Palmolive. While many may wonder at the fit between marketing a toothpaste and a bank, Lath-Gupta is unperturbed. "At one level the customer is the same but the role of the brand in the life of the consumer may be different as also the association with the brand," she says. Establishing the Axis Bank brand, with a net worth of over RS 19,000 crore, is a challenge that is in front of the team, being manifested from various quarters. She recounts with a grin, "Recently, one of the business-heads at Axis Bank walked up to us and rattled off his grievance the team is having a tough time in selling the credit/debit cards please help us with a solution." While there were many offers and discounts bundled up with the plastics, the single-minded offering that could hold the consumer-attention in the selling-proposition was seemingly missing.

It took a good mix of some common sense, some keen observation of the world around and some analytics-led number crunching, to crack the code. The marketing team thus managed to identify the space, as yet, largely unoccupied by any of the bank cards in a wholesome manner, and one that binds a large part of this country movies. Instead of piecemeal efforts of promoting their debit card, the bank has launched what it calls the first ever filmi Platinum debit and credit card across 25 cities in India. The objective to offer movie aficionados deals on movie tickets through one exclusive card. The bank therefore hopes to carve out a niche in a space not fully explored by competition. This is one small but pertinent instance of how marketing here is undergoing a sea change. The brand is being built with the aggression and precision akin to an FMCG brand across all the relevant touch-points. According to the Global Banking 500 rankings, a valuation of global bank brands done by Brand Finance, Axis Bank is the bank to watch out for and could emerge as India's next generation bank giving tough competition to established names like ICICI and HDFC in the near future.. "It has made the significant move in the table and saw an increase of 50% in the brand value of US$ 652m and would possibly make into top 200 of global banking 500 by next year," the report states. The process of the brand-change started around 2007 when the UTI bank changed it's name to Axis Bank largely necessitated, owing to the fact that it had permission to use the UTI name only till early 2008. It provided a blessing in disguise and in a way, led to the birth of the fledgling Axis bank. That was the first transition to the new brand and started with the visual manifestation of the change-over initially.
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The second wave started from mid-2009 onwards when the leadership change happened with Shikha Sharma taking charge as the MD & CEO of the bank. Sharma is spearheading a process of total makeover internal and external to put the brand Axis Bank firmly amongst the top bank-brands. Being a late-starter in a fiercely competitive market would have it's own set of challenges, which the bank has to be prepared to take head-on. Admits the soft-spoken Sharma, "While people do recognize Axis bank there is no sharply defined set of brand attributes, that they identify it with. The task is to be up there amongst the banks that are there. For a brand our size, we should have brand-recall commensurate with the size, and that is my mandate for the marketing team," Having worked for many years at ICICI Bank - the brand which had been instrumental in making mass-banking fashionable with it's high decibel advertising campaigns, celebrity endorsements, sponsorships gives her an intuitive understanding of the way banking has to be also a differentiated offering, in the challenging times. The challenge is made even more daunting in the wake of the way banking has been perceived in the world-order post the global meltdown of 2008. The biggest challenge for most financial brands, for now, is to get the trust back in the business. Mere cosmetic changes may get the player only that far and no more, and the long-haul players need to jump in the fray with the plan in place (Read: Banking Changeth).
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