What inspired you to pursue a career that embraces marketing?

I’ve always loved marketing and from university days it’s the subject I always enjoyed the most and felt at home in. I’m a big believer in doing something that makes you happy, I feel lucky in that so much changes in the world of digital marketing so it never gets boring and literally no two days are the same. We get to be creative, work with lots of stakeholders, the best agencies and tech partners so the work is varied and challenging.

What are the biggest challenges currently facing your marketing team?

Planning for the demise of third-party cookies has been a challenge.  Effectively we’ve had to change the way we track and attribute sales to all our digital advertising as we will no longer be able to rely on 3rd party cookies. Thankfully we have rich first party data so have worked hard to ensure we capture consent to market to customers and will not need to rely on legitimate interest in the future. We’ve also built a customer data platform and built strategic relationships with our key tech partners Google, Meta and Amazon to help enable us to market to our customers via their platforms in a more effective way.

In terms of operational model we are considering in-housing more. In 2021, we in-housed all our paid search advertising and moved from a more traditional agency approach to hiring people in-house and running ourselves. The PPC team have done a terrific job, improved the account health scores, doubled search spend, reduced average cost per sales, saved 000’s in fees and just won ‘Best in-house PPC team’. The challenge now is whether we should in-house any more channels and when and how to do it.

Science vs Art: With scientific data-driven marketing at one end of the spectrum and genius creative ideas at the other - which side do you lean towards?

Until recently I would have generally said the scientific data driven end, it’s hard to argue with the data and I genuinely love the fact that these days it matters less about what one person’s view is, more so how campaigns perform in the live and what works for customers. However, I’ve just completed John Hegarty’s ‘The Business of Creativity’ course and really loved it. During the course John gives an insight into how he and his team created award winning campaigns and for that there often isn’t really a formula. I’ve concluded that sometimes you just have to be brave, create something unexpected to achieve standout and based on a truth - that can be very motivating so I’m up for big genius ideas. I like keeping 70% sensible, 20% testing for new and 10% a few bonkers ideas but they may just come off and be brilliant.

The Metaverse: are you ‘in’, ‘out’ or ‘not sure’?

I’m getting in but my children wish I’d stay out. I think there is real merit in testing new channels but specifically for the metaverse that it’s important to find a way to do it in a fun and genuine way. I don’t think advertisers can ignore the metaverse given that is where an increasingly number of people spend so much time, effectively we need to advertise where the consumers are.

How is HSBC 'Riding the Storm' of economic turbulence and increased cost of living?

We need to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to make it easier for customers to manage their finances, whatever they have, well. From a marketing perspective I’ve encouraged the team to build a skeletal plan for next year but fully expect to review it regularly, adapt to any changes and adjust as needed. When Covid hit in 2019 we pivoted the entire marketing team from sales to service to provide more support to existing customers. We launched financial help tools, built support packages and on a daily basis listed to customer calls and then built out plans to address any new questions. If you can build a team with a common purpose and ensure they have space to deliver it, almost anything is possible.

How do you adapt a business and marketing strategy to embrace the latest trends and keep ahead of the competition?

Having a plan with clearly defined targets and goals, then ensuring everyone understands and supports it helps. I’ve found it’s best to communicate this regularly and ensure all our plans ladder up to the strategy, so the team know and understand what role we are playing and why it matters. For digital marketing specifically we have worked with Google and the Boston Consultancy Group to benchmark our digital marketing maturity and over the course of the last 2 years have gone from the bottom level of ‘nascent’ to top ‘multi-moment’. This involved following a very data driven approach, embracing automation, upskilling the team and lots of lots testing which we then encourage the team to share what we learnt. We also tend to enter a few awards and being shortlisted or even winning naturally drives you to want to do even better next time.

What role does your company’s purpose and environmental strategy play within your marketing strategy? 

It’s central to what we do whether designing new products, helping inform new propositions or in selecting third parties to work with, all our plans are built from it. It’s not always easy within a large organisation like HSBC but we try our best to ensure it fully aligns.

How important is storytelling when maximising your customers’ engagement with a campaign?

Depending on the communication channel I’m a huge fan of storytelling but doing this in digital channels with a limited wordcount or in only 4 frames is a challenge. We’ve found the best way to do this is to bring the creative across channels and when it all aligns, both creatively and visually it reinforces the message and makes it infinitely more powerful.

Creative agencies rail against the time and resource spent working on pitches to win accounts: is there a realistic, fair alternative to the pitch process?

I’m not sure what that would look like. It takes a huge amount of time and resource from client side too to plan an RFP, run one and then onboard a new supplier if applicable. The pitch process feels like an efficient and fair way to appoint an agency and ensure you are comparing like for like. I appreciate what must go into a pitch for an agency and someone has to pay for that somewhere along the line so if there is a better way I’d be keen to consider it.

From a marketing perspective, what’s coming up for your brand or business in 2023?

2023 is going to be a challenging year given we are in a cost restrictive environment, all the regulatory changes and just so much change generally to cope with. I’ve encouraged my team to think more creatively and focus on ruthlessly prioritising so we spend our time where it matters the most and we can drive the biggest impact with what we have. We are planning to invest more into existing customer communications, integrating campaigns more and making the most of our owned assets like the website and mobile app to ensure bought, owned and earned channels are well integrated.

Caroline Harrison was interviewed by Tim Healey (Little Grey Cells), on behalf of Worth Your While 

You might die tomorrow so make it worth your while. Worth Your While is an independent creative agency helping brands do spectacular stuff people like to talk about. wyw.agency.

Senior marketers have more time, less stress and clearer marketing strategies by collaborating with best-selling author and outsourced marketing director Tim Healey www.shoot4themoon.co.uk