Interview: We’re careful not to sugar-coat our messaging says Shoma Narayanan, DBS Bank India

Shoma Narayanan

Promoting digital banking and spreading awareness around ‘safety’ has been at the crux of DBS Bank’s marketing strategy during COVID-19. Shoma Narayanan talks at length about the company’s content gameplan.

Putting health and safety as primary concerns in the current times of crisis, DBS Bank rolled out a campaign recently featuring its brand ambassador Sachin Tendulkar. On the sidelines, Social Samosa speaks to Shoma Narayanan, Executive Director – Group Strategic Marketing & Communications at DBS Bank India to delve deeper into the making of the campaign, objectives, DBS Bank’s social media marketing, and communication strategy, and more.

Edited Excerpts:

Please elaborate on the campaign insight, rationale, and the end objective.

Given the overall environment and the recent spate of negative news, customers want to be sure that their finances are in safe hands. The campaign featuring our brand ambassador Sachin Tendulkar addresses this, by talking about overall safety and how a trusted partner can help find safe solutions even in the most difficult of times. Surround content on digital focuses on specific aspects of safety from a banking perspective. 

We hope that the campaign will help us build greater brand preference, especially in cities that we have entered recently.

How did you go about conceptualizing and executing to campaign amidst pandemic induced restrictions?

The campaign idea came up in a brainstorming session with our advertising agency, Leo Burnett. We discussed multiple scripts and chose one that we felt could be shot safely in the current circumstances. The ad tells the story of a small boy bored at home during the lockdown.

A full-fledged shoot in Mumbai was out of the question with the rising number of cases in the city. Sachin Tendulkar’s section was shot on a smartphone at his home. The section with the two kids was shot in Goa, where the situation was a lot better than in other states. Finding the right location took some time as we needed to match the look and feel with the rest of the film. The DBS and Leo Burnett teams in Mumbai ‘attended’ the shoot over video conference. We even made alterations mid-way, for example changing the game the kids finally play from noughts and crosses to a game inspired by one of Sachin’s recent videos that had gone viral.

Also Read: Inside: RBL Bank’s #RahoCyberSafe & awareness first digital strategy

As a financial services brand, how did you approach the COVID-19 crisis?

We ensured that we met emerging customer needs through new initiatives – for example, DBS partnered with Bharti AXA to roll out a health insurance plan covering medical conditions, including COVID-19. Additionally, we rolled out a slew of digital enablers to make banking more convenient for our clients. Our relationship managers are in constant touch with clients to help them navigate through the crisis in the best possible manner.  

How has social media been helpful in engaging with your consumers? Which platform has yielded maximum results for the brand?  

Social helps us start conversations with our customers while giving us data on how users view, share, and engage with our content.

Content marketing works in tandem with social media and helps establish DBS’ expertise as a banking partner, especially in new cities. We’re also using videos effectively through the customer journey from creating brand awareness to helping sales teams connect with prospects and service teams to support customers.

When the pandemic became prominent in India in March, most BFSI brands had to revisit their marketing & communication strategy. What was it like for DBS? 

Since the pandemic hit, we’ve focused our communication on reassuring customers of our support, sharing useful content, and encouraging customers to stay safe and bank digitally. We had to pivot some of our campaigns very quickly to ensure that they were still relevant to our target customers.

We found that our campaigns around digital banking & purpose-driven communication around initiatives to help the community were particularly effective.

Please take us through your content strategy across platforms. Which content hooks work the best for the brand?  

Topical and relevant content has worked the best. Our content strategy rests on the following pillars: 

  • Business content: e.g., Information on digital banking, wealth management, loan moratoriums, insurance, etc.
  • Thought leadership: Our Asian Insights Conference went fully online this year and featured speakers such as Mr. Al Gore and Professor Raghuram Rajan; DBS speakers have also participated in some very prestigious external forums
  • Sustainability and purpose:  During the pandemic, DBS provided 2 million meals to the underprivileged and supported enhanced medical infrastructure and COVID testing. We also partnered with social enterprises to create social impact and build awareness about issues such as food waste. A recent digital campaign “Portraits of Purpose – India”, celebrates everyday heroes who are reaching out to help others, and has gained considerable traction on social media.
  • Our people: We showcase exceptional stories of DBS staff who have gone above and beyond to help clients, the community, and colleagues; we also talk about key HR initiatives that we’re proud of 

In terms of ad spends, what does your marketing plan for this quarter look like? Please take us through your media mix.

We’ve found that TV is the most effective in driving overall brand awareness, while social media allows us to engage with audiences better and deliver more nuanced messaging.

Data analytics allows us to tailor our advertising and customer offers and fine-tune our digital strategies for specific audiences.

There is a thin line between helpful and optimistic. How does DBS Bank make sure they tread the line?

We closely track and analyze the performance of our communication across channels, and we’ve found that content that is encouraging in tone and factual, drives the best engagement rates. We are careful not to sugar-coat messaging or be over-optimistic in our outlook – at the same time, we also ensure that the content we share is relevant and useful for our clients and is timed appropriately. For example, during the lockdown, tips on digital banking performed well; when the lockdown eased and businesses re-started, content around business loans garnered high engagement rates.  

3 things that the COVID-19 taught you in terms of marketing & advertising

COVID-19 brought home the importance of agility and the ability to re-cast marketing plans within a very short timeframe, to stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment. Our key learnings were around being digital-first, staying true to our brand ethos of “Live more, Bank Less”, and ensuring we understood evolving customer sentiments and responded appropriately. We also had the advantage of learning from our colleagues in markets like Singapore, China, and Hong Kong who had been through a similar situation some months/ weeks before us.   


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