Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Adnan Arnautlija
Photo: Nikolina Zečić and Vanja Vaniček
We rarely have a chance to publish interviews with the advertisers. Everything always has to go through the corporate PR, which is guarded by a thick, towering wall. The bigger the company, the bigger the PR hassle. This time however, this wasn’t a problem. We even got two interviewees – directly. It’s almost unbelievable.
Below is an interview with Nikolina Zečić, Head of Customer Experience and Marketing, and Vanja Vaniček, Marketing Director, at Zagrebačka banka. We spoke about their marketing experiences in the largest Croatian bank, about the transformation of communications, financial industry marketing and the Days of Communications.
Media Marketing: You have just recently taken over the leading marketing roles at Zagrebačka banka. Can you give us a short overview of your career paths?
Nikolina Zečić: I started with Zagrebačka banka as an intern in the corporate banking. I consider my direct work with the customers “on the front line” an invaluable experience that had also helped me in all other experiences that followed, including the Retail Sector. Now I answer directly to Mr. Claudio Cesario, the General Manager of Zagrebačka banka.
In 2014 I got an opportunity and the confidence to establish a completely new department in the Bank – Digital Operations. Its official start date and inception was on April Fool’s Day, but we were not joking around. We were very serious in our approach and desire to develop a digital communication eco bank system.
Today, when I look back, I feel very proud – also of the profiles on social networks where we provide our customers with information, advice and 24/7 support, and of the new zaba.hr webpage, and of the campaigns and our overall holistic approach to communication. All of this has received numerous awards, both locally and regionally.
Through my learning pertaining to the digital field and falling in love with that endless world, I got the idea to establish a new sector entitled Customer Experience Management and Marketing. Vanja had joined us by that time in the Bank and brought with her an outsider’s view of the Bank. So we sat down, made a plan and, with great support of the Management, formed a sector that contained all the elements of a beautiful story of customer understanding – including complaint management, market research, customer experience management and marketing, all “under one roof”.
Our results indicate that we are on the right way. In this Sector, we stimulate creativity, freedom, innovative thinking, accessibility and readiness to tackle “out of the box” challenges. This is why our work atmosphere is positive and productive. I was delighted to find out that people could be creative regardless of the industry they work in.
Vanja Vaniček: Somehow I had always known that marketing was the field where I wanted to build my career. I studied Marketing at the Faculty of Economy and then completed a postgraduate marketing study focused on the topic of Consumer Behaviour. I have remained connected to my university and the department until today in the role of a guest speaker. My professional journey had started at the Imago Advertising Agency where I worked for nearly 7 years, mostly in the position of an Account Director. The team I managed worked on various brands from various industries and areas, from the beer industry, pharmaceuticals, banking, FMCGs to daily newspapers. I spent my last year in the agency in the role of the Client Service Director. Following this, I decided that it was time to move on working on the client side. Then I accepted a position of a Marketing Manager with Laško Grupa, and two years later a position of a Head of Marketing Communication for private users with Hrvatski Telekom.
Today, I can say that I would never change my years with the agency. Agencies teach you structure, discipline, strategic way of thinking when setting up campaigns, they provide you with a great operational experience and knowledge from various areas. I see this combination of the agency and the latter corporate experience as a great advantage that helps me deal with various challenges I face.
I joined Zagrebačka banka at the end of 2014 in the position of the Marketing Director. After getting attuned and acquainted with this new corporate culture in the beginning, we started to introduce a slightly different approach to campaigns with a focus on searching for true insights, recognizing the actual needs of the customers and behavioural approach. This approach had resulted with the first productive campaigns of Zagrebačka banka after 7 years (the gardener lady and the cyclist), and the results were excellent in terms of communication and sales.
When Nikolina showed me how the new Sector was conceptualised, I was convinced that this was the right way that would provide us with further growth and development. Having market research, complaints, customer experience and marketing under one roof makes the daily jobs of all of us who deal with communications so much easier. At the same time, I must mention the great support provided by the Management as they have put their trust in us. Without this support, you cannot accomplish much in a corporation. When I look back now and see everything we have achieved in a relatively short period, when I see how many excellent and motivated people I am surrounded with and the great atmosphere we have in the office, I simply must feel proud.
Media Marketing: In other words, your professional backgrounds are quite different? Was it difficult for you to attune your work methods, how did you settle these differences?
Nikolina Zečić: Yes, our backgrounds differ. At the Faculty of Economics, Vanja chose Marketing and I chose Finance, but this combination was a recipe for success. I must say that we are similar in terms of the speed of thinking and the managerial style of leading so it is easy for us to agree on daily operational tasks and we have a similar strategic viewpoint.
Even in terms of digital operations we had a merging of various competencies, from finance, marketing, IT to journalism and this put a special wind in our sails. In 2014, for the first time, we hired a copywriter and social media managers which was something incomprehensible prior to then. However, this showed the bank’s readiness to turn towards new trends and needs.
Today we can boast about the various skills we have in our Sector; from research, economy, journalism, design, mathematics…it is a true puzzle. I support a lot of conversation and exchange of thoughts, a good synergy and cooperation, sometimes even a bit of competition and I certainly abide by that saying that goes something like this “if you want to become a star, surround yourself with stars“.
Media Marketing: What is the present setup of the Marketing Department at Zaba?
Vanja Vaniček: The Marketing is currently organised into two teams and this structure was one of the first things we implemented in the new Sector.
The Marketing Communications Team is responsible for organising, creating and managing campaigns and marketing projects. Here we have people of various profiles, from strategists, copywriters, designers, media people, digital people to operations people who lead specific projects and campaigns.
The Branch Marketing Management Team is responsible for communication and advertising support to branches, all 130 of them. This team consists of people with long term experience working in the Marketing Department of Zagrebačka banka and it is of great importance to the local support of our sales.
Media Marketing: The banking industry in Croatia has become exceptionally active during the past two years. What once was a relatively closed and conservative industry, today produces very creative campaigns and there are many advertisers in this category.
Vanja Vaniček: That is true. Banks have truly sprung into action in terms of advertising during the past two years. Not only have the media budgets been increasing, but the creative solutions have become much more interesting, we have become a talked about category. In comparison to 2015, the investments into the media category have exceeded the market average. Everyone has become active and today there is a type of a clutter in bank communications, especially keeping in mind that we have a common communication focus and very similar key messages. A few years ago it was almost unthinkable that any bank could compete for industry awards with their campaigns. The situation today is completely opposite. Judging by the works competing for the Effie and Idea X awards, it is quite clear that we have become one of the most represented categories among the advertisers in general. We have truly changed the architecture of campaigns at Zaba, and we have put more emphasis on digital channels. According to the results of campaign post tests, they are very effective in the area of message comprehension. We, as marketing experts, are especially happy that banks have changed their communications and that today, our communication is a lot more clear and transparent.
Nikolina Zečić: On the developed western markets, banks are, together with the telco industry, innovation leaders. FinTech start-ups brought a new dynamic to the market and we have a tool we can use to be even better – partnerships with them.
Many FinTech start-ups influenced a change in the way we think, and communications as well. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Croatian banks started to wake up in that sense. We know that consumers today, influenced by some other digital industries that are more digital, change their habits and that we must adjust to this. According to some media agency forecasts, 2017 will be marked by even greater battles in the bank category. In any case, it will be very interesting and we will be ready to tackle them.
Media Marketing: The Zagrebačka banka brand is exceptionally powerful, certainly one of the longest lasting in Croatia. However, it seems that the perception of Zaba as an “old lady” still exists?
Nikolina Zečić: If the term “old lady“ is a symbol of security, then I have no complaints. The nature of our business is conservative, customers give us their trust and we play that card with great caution. The banking sector is closely monitored by the regulators and legal limits, so that we must carefully approach the marketing tasks.
If you are referring to the perception, then I responsibly claim that our public perception is changing. We introduced a new role of a host who greets our customers at the branch entrance. We have noted a growth in the number of compliments we have received from our customers for this approach. Zagrebačka banka has been around for more than 100 years and we are still the leading bank in Croatia. Behind us we have UniCredit, a large group. The future is not questionable, but we know that we must keep up with the trends, offer real products, use all the advantages digital platforms offer and connect with the younger population. And we are doing all of that.
Vanja Vaniček: We are aware that the younger target group perceives Zaba as a traditional, more conservative bank. However, we have started working to change this perception a while back, both from the product and the communication aspect. Zaba keeps up with trends. We offer our customers very advanced innovative solutions. We are turning to digitalisation with a special emphasis on mobile banking. During the past year, we intensively worked on attracting young customers. We achieved a great success in that area last year and we exceeded the goals we had set many times over.
In terms of communications, we made a significant turnaround, in the context of expression and the context of our marketing campaigns, but also in the context of the method of communication via direct client communication. We communicate with a lot of emotions, it is important to us that the messages in all communication materials are very clear and transparent, we place our customers’ needs first.
The perception is changing. Research has shown positive shifts of all image indicators pertaining to the young people target group. By the same token, according to all brand indicators, our campaigns are very effective, above the market average. People like our campaigns, the messages are understandable and they stimulate them to act. Our business results indicate so. After two years, Zaba climbed back to its leading position in the Top of Mind category among banks.
Media Marketing: Can you single out a project you are most proud of?
Vanja Vaniček: Even though there have been many beautiful and successful projects during the past two years, I would like to single out our annual communication strategy for acquiring young customers.
Aging and depopulation are problems that keep getting floated around in Croatia, and since Zagrebačka banka has almost a quarter of the entire Croatian population in its client base, it is logical that we face challenges pertaining to the demographic structure.
Accordingly, one of Zaba’s strategic challenges is to attract a greater number of young customers. Therefore, the Management has initiated a preparation of a brand new Package for young people that contains everything a young person needs to do business with a bank: a current and a gyro account, mobile and Internet banking, a MasterCard Student card and other bonuses free of charge for customers up to the age of 25.
Furthermore, we formed an agile team in parallel to work on long term communication strategies with younger customers. The team worked intensively for a period of three months. We performed a deep market analysis, we established a communication segmentation, a detailed target profiling, carefully planned the selection of channels and defined the key messages and the tone of voice. The campaign monitored the product launch, it was active throughout all of the past year and it was fully adjusted to the target in all segments.
Not only had we reached our very ambitious sales goals, but we exceeded them by as much as 25%, we increased the share of young people in the overall customer structure, the campaign was evaluated as exceptionally good in the post test evaluations, and the direct consequence of the package and the campaign was also the change of the perception of Zagrebačka banka among the younger population.
Nikolina Zečić: It sounds like a cliché, but it is difficult for me to single out just one. The Digital Department has a special place in my professional life, then Complaint Management – a whole new world I took over, Market Research and lots of indicators, analyses and figures, those were all steps I used to learn. I must mention the establishment of the CX Team, that is, the official title for the Customer Experience Management. That is the key – to observe the world from the customer’s perspective. The CX Team is not interested in a piece of paper or an automated report, they go out on the field, talk to the customers, bankers, other departments and analyse behaviours and the needs at the right moment and propose solutions to improve the customer experience. We must mention that, at the beginning, they were perceived as aliens from another planet, but now they keep getting more inquiries and requests for assistance. We went through something similar when we were establishing the Digital Operations and when many said that banking would never migrate from the brick-and-mortar branches to the digital channels. If you are looking for proof that we follow trends, we are currently in the phase of piloting Instant Feedback Tools – customer opinions now and right away, on all channels, but then there is no going back – the bank must react instantaneously. This is another challenge that we have set for ourselves.
Media Marketing: How much of your work do you entrust to agencies and how much of it do you do in-house?
Nikolina Zečić: Zagrebačka banka does a lot of work with agencies and we are very satisfied with this cooperation. We work with media, digital, creative and market research agencies. Even though there are quite a few of us in the Department, some tasks simply have to be outsourced. Regardless of whether it is creative, media or digital, each agency represents a pool of specific expertise. Furthermore, it would not be financially viable for us to do some things in-house. There are many excellent creative people and great agencies in Croatia. Recently we organised a sales pitch and I must say that we were delighted with the amount of great ideas presented to us. I think that we have a great cooperation with agencies and this is something we and the agencies can only prosper from.
Vanja Vaniček: I agree, we need agencies for a lot of reasons. What I, as a former agency person, consider essential in the client-agency relationship is trust and respect. We do not consider agencies as our services and we try not to “kill” them with deadlines and incomplete briefs. In strategic preparation of campaigns from our side, before we even include an agency, we try to dive deep into the product, in the market environment, available research and segmentation of the target groups. At each moment we have a very clear vision what we want to get from the agency as the output, so accordingly, we create briefs and task coordination with agencies. We do not run from our part of work because you can expect good and concrete solutions only if you provide agencies with good and concrete instructions.
Media Marketing: Zaba is exceptionally active in the digital media. The Who Says blog platform, social, digital advertising. How did this digital turnaround come about and how did you make peace between the analogous and the digital?
Nikolina Zečić: I have already mentioned Digital Operations that set the foundation for all that is happening on Zaba’s digital channels today. We must be aware that our banker reality in Croatia is still very “physical“ or as you noted, “analogue“. So, how do we merge those two communication logics and operational methods that are quite different? On one side, you have to successfully reach the online population, not only through channel selection but also communication method. On the other side, you have to remain somewhat traditional for a large group of our customers who wish to conduct business with the bank exclusively through a branch. We have simplified the communication in both directions with the goal of people understanding us and always knowing the next step that awaits them.
We fully utilise digital channels. For example, the mobile banking campaign was 100% digital and the first reaction was: “Is it possible that this is Zagrebačka banka?” People had positive reactions and the average viewership of the YouTube video was 1.20 minutes which was a great result for a bank. The Tkokaze.hr (who says) blog keeps attracting more and more young people and we are really happy with the progress of this project. In terms of digital advertising, we are very active in the SEM, advertising on the social networks, and we are turning more and more to programmatic in terms of digital leases. We are constantly accessible to our users on the networks and we strive to offer them the content they will find interesting and educational.
And this is how, following our efforts and work and investments, we were recognized for innovative solutions pertaining to digital advertising by 24sata at the recently held Digital Takeover Conference. It was the icing on the cake. :)
Media Marketing: Days of Communication are behind us. What are your impressions of the festival? This year you took home the Effie.
Nikolina Zečić: Days of Communication is a must. Our marketing people go there every year. The program is better each year, and the Days are always a good opportunity to share knowledge and learn something new, and to meet with colleagues from our and other industries. So again this year we returned to Zagreb full of positive energy and great impressions.
Vanja Vaniček: Days of Communication is an important festival for every marketer, because of new ideas, monitoring trends and the opportunities to see the entire industry in one place. So much is constantly changing in our business that continuous improvement is simply a necessity.
This year we are particularly proud! We returned to Zagreb with a Bronze Effie award. Our campaign for the youth was the only awarded work in the Financial and Insurance Services category. Given that out of the total of 51 entries to the Effie competition, 11 were in our category, this is a great victory for us and a confirmation from the marketing industry that we have made successful communication step in the acquisition of young clients.