Building a Resilient Brand
Virginie Dafforn-Gorgemans: What really drove me was this vision of seeing myself move again and being there for my kids. I didn't want my kids to grow up with a mother who didn't have the ability to look after them.
It's that resilience, as well, to believe that you can do that. That is with me probably on a daily basis to be honest.
Becky Holland: Hello and welcome to the No Bull Marketing Ideacast. I'm Becky Holland.
So what does it actually mean to be resilient?
So there's a fairly generic definition that - I've quite blatantly stolen from International Banking Magazine - which says “resilience is a dynamic process of maintaining positive adaptation and effective coping strategies in the face of adversity and the ability of businesses, infrastructures, and whole sectors to prevent, adapt, to respond, to recover and learn from disruption.”
So other than the fact that’s a very long sentence, I think it's important to just dig a bit deeper. Because surely brand resilience isn't just about surviving, about bouncing back to the status quo after a crisis. But it's also about learning from challenges and adversity to emerge stronger than ever before. To serve a wider community and create real change and we talk quite a lot about that in this episode.
My guest today is Virginie Dafforn-Gorgemans from Arbuthnot Latham and Virginie heads up the marketing, product, and propositions functions. She has a very long job title. But essentially she is all about the brand performance marketing and the customer experience and I am absolutely delighted to welcome her to the show.
BH: Welcome to the show!
VDG: Thank you Becky! I'm delighted to be there.
BH: Like I said, this episode is all about resilience in us human beings, as leaders, as role models and as marketers, and I guess also, clearly, for us and for listeners, for the brands that we're stewards of. So can we just start? Can you just tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do at Arbuthnot Latham?
VDG: So actually, my official title is Director, Head of Marketing & Proposition. We don't have a CMO in Arbuthnot. But essentially that is what I do. So I run the marketing team, the product team, and digital marketing as well, and I've been doing that for about 4 1/2 years. The team kind of grew from…I think when I joined there was seven people at the time and there's 23 of us today.
BH: That's quite significant. So just roll back a little bit and tell us who are Arbuthnot?
VDG: So we are a private and commercial bank. We also offer wealth management services, and the brand has been around since 1833. But, you know, when you talk about resilience, it's a brand that has evolved an awful lot. We started out as a merchant bank. I think at some point we were a broker and today's iteration is [a] private and commercial bank and the commercial bank actually is only about seven years old and that's just a credit to the way the business is run. The business has always evolved, and it's changed to adapt to its times and that's what we continue to do today.
BH: So is that part of what attracted you to the role?
VDG: Yes. Yeah definitely and it’s sort of a mix because the brand, the way it is today, is around seven years old. I was brought on about 4 1/2 years ago and that was exactly that opportunity to grow something. But there was also something that already existed. So it's sort of this strange animal where we have almost 200 years of history. But at the same time, we're almost acting like a start-up, in a way.
BH: Yeah, it's interesting isn't it 'cause think about the world in 1833 – I think you said it was – very, very different from how it is now, clearly. But at the same time, we have interest rate changes, regulatory changes. If you look at the banking sector at the moment you've got to be very adaptable, haven't you?
VDG: Yeah. Absolutely, and I think we do that really well as a bank you know? We were 56% privately owned so we report to the market. But we don't have that quarter-to-quarter sort of stress of having to prove a better number each time and that's part of what the bank is about, you know, we’re a very conservatively led bank we really care about how the bank is run. We really care about the people in the bank.
It's a good example, during COVID as well, for example, when, you know, everybody was being furloughed. We have a big reception staff, and a kitchen, and events people, and the events team at the time came to me and they said “look, are we going to be furloughed?” and I said “no not at all. We’ll find something else for you to do.”
But everyone kept their jobs during the pandemic and we all kind of pulled together. It meant that we didn't get a bonus that year. But it meant that our colleagues were safe and that's sort of part of the ethos of the bank and of the brand I suppose.
I think it's also, you know, when you hire, we really look at the personalities of people and what they'll bring. Whether they’ll fit into our teams and sometimes we kind of always say, you know, “sometimes you might have two people.”
“One person who is absolutely brilliant at their role, but culturally, they’re not quite in the same place.” We will choose the person who culturally fits better with the bank and with our teams. We believe we can grow people and we can help people develop. But you can't…you know, personality is something that you can't really change.
BH: No, completely. Totally agree. I don't think there's many people that would disagree with that. Although I think it's you know people still do hire for skills, but it just doesn't work. Fit is so much more important.
BH: So, for you obviously you've got you've grown your team quite a lot in the last few years since you've been there. But before we talk about that I just want to backtrack a little bit and just talk to you about your own journey and how you’ve got to this.
You mentioned that you joined the bank four and a half years ago. But you needed to kind of draw on your own strengths a little bit around that time, didn't you? Because you needed to be resilient following an accident. Are you OK to tell us a little bit about that and how that's influenced you and how you've come to the role?
VDG: Yes of course.
So, about four years ago, I had a fall that left me tetraplegic which is something that I still today is…it was a freak accident. It was sort of something you just can't believe will ever happen. I'm someone who can stand on the roof and probably run on it. I could have dinner on the roof and have no issues. So, falling down stairs and being completely paralysed was an absolute shock.
I was part of the very, very lucky few that have a broken C5 and didn't have my spinal cord sectioned and that meant that, although my chances of recovery at the time were deemed to be to be very low, I was actually able to make a full recovery.
I was really, incredibly lucky. I had a really good surgeon [and] a great medical team. But despite that, people in the hospital didn't think I'd ever walk again or use my hands and that was a bit of a shock, to be honest, and it's something I just didn't want to accept. I just never believed that I wouldn't be able to use my hands. My legs I wasn't so worried about and I think you can have a more or less a normal life.
BH: I shouldn’t really laugh about that. But that’s awful. But I have to say “my legs I wasn't bothered about.” I mean, what sort of a place do you have to be in at the point where you're choosing between your arms or your legs?
VDG: No hands, is not possible. You can you write with your hands, you know, I love cooking, you look after people, you build things. Everything! You need your hands for everything!
Imagine working without hands? You can't type, you can't use a phone. I mean, I just wouldn't compute that and I wouldn't accept it.
I have two children. I wanted to be there for them and so, although my recovery was really slow, I had my mum with me every day and she actually really helped me because she never looked at me any differently after my accident. She came into my room, you know, what she saw must have been pretty awful as a mother and she just looked at me like I was her daughter and that was it and [she] worked with me every day.
We used to do things like run [an] electric toothbrush over my hands to try to get some feeling back into them. I used to get up as much as I could. I used to do pilates in my hospital bed. I used to do all sorts of things. To try to move to get feeling back.
And it worked so, you know, it was incredibly lucky. I'm part of the really lucky few to be honest.
BH: At what point did you know it was going to work or feel that it was going to work? Because there must have been some really kind of dark moments where you didn't know that was the case at all.
VDG: I think the day I knew I was going to be OK was when I was being driven in a wheelchair to physio and the physiotherapist [said] to me get out of the wheelchair and push the wheelchair. I said “No I can't do that.” [The physio said] “get out of the wheelchair. Push the wheelchair you can do it.”
and I think that's when I knew that I would be OK. I’d be able to do this.
BH: What was it that kept you going through those moments? Was there some kind of inner strength? You talked about having your children and your mother there. Was it that? Was it to do with your work? Can you put your finger on what it was for you?
VDG: It was ultimately being there for my kids. I didn't want my kids to grow up with a mother who didn't have the ability to look after them. But it was also my work. I think my job really kept me sane and being able to do work.
The only thing I had was my brain and my brain was going crazy because I couldn't really do anything. So we used to blu-tack an iPad to my hospital tray and I would dictate and work on things and I knew there was lots of great things we could do with Arbuthnot as well. So that really helped me and the organisation, I mean the bank at the time, believed in me and they kind of knew that what had happened was really bad. But I didn't tell them exactly what had happened until after I came back to the UK and it was those things you know?
It was knowing that I had people around me who cared. I was working in an organisation that didn't fire me at the end of my probation time. Because this accident happened like a week before the end of my probation.
So in a tougher environment, people would have said “well we don't know what's happening to this woman, we have an opportunity to cut our losses here.” But all of those things together and I had a friend of mine - this happened in Austria - and I had a friend of mine who drove from another part of Austria for 4 1/2 hours to come and see me. Her friend had lent her a car, all these little things just came together, and the belief, the vision that I wasn't done. I had things that I wanted to do really.
BH: So how has affected you? How did that affect you when you came back to work full time and how has that affected how you do your job?
VDG: What really drove me was this vision of seeing myself move again. Of imagining myself doing basic things and that's kind of what still drives me and it drives me at work as well. It's, I think, what makes me good at what I do and in the organisation I'm in is that I see where we're going to go with the brand and I think I'm able to explain to people where we're going to take them on this journey and I really have that belief of “I can really see the vision and the future and what we need to do” and that keeps driving me and I think it's that resilience as well to believe that you can do that.
That is what is with me probably on a daily basis to be honest.
BH: So, to put you slightly on the spot now then. So, what is that vision? What’s that thing that motivates you?
VDG: So, for me at the moment, it's really building a brand. When we rebranded two years ago, we were five times bigger than the five years before. We've since doubled the balance sheet and we plan to do that again. So it's those sort of ideas. But to do that, you know, a bank that has 6,000 clients is a different bank from a bank that has 12,000 clients for example.
So you need to imagine “How big are your systems going to be?”, “How are you going to communicate with people?”, “How do you make sure you keep the client focus alive?” Because what we sell ourselves on - our USP - is all about relationship banking and we walk the talk. It's about, you know, every client will speak to their banker. There is no call centre.
We have a client support team. But they know the clients. How do you scale that? What do you need to do for that? What does that mean from a brand growth point of view, you know? How do we make sure people know about us?
All of those different things are a part of what I think about on a daily basis and, you know, part of, I guess our digital strategy, as well as a bank, is “what do we need to put in place today so that we can be that bigger bank in the future?”
BH: Yeah, because it's interesting you’re talking about the future 'cause the brand is steeped in history, isn’t it? Has that helped you or hindered you as you as you've done this and also you have mentioned that you went through a recent rebrand. What was that like and how were you affected by - I suppose - the history that the bank’s got?
VDG: What really helped us is the fact that we've been around for 190 years and that really means we're here for the long term. When we tell clients “we’re a stable bank, we're here for the long term”, you know, “we've been around for 190 years”, that really helps to cement that and for people to believe that we're stable and particularly in the current market right? Stability is really important.
From a marketing point of view it's not always ideal. Brands need to live with their time, you know, you have issues that you have if you’re 190 years old. You were founded at a certain time. You have certain issues and, really, I think it's about evolving the brand in a way that's credible and authentic.
So there are things we won't talk about on our website, for example, that we do and it's because we want to make sure we can be authentic about it. When we talk about sustainability, we want to be able to talk about it authentically and to really be able to say, “we are a sustainable brand.” So, if we don't feel like we're 100% there, we won't talk about it yet.
BH: For you it feels like the work that you do is more than just doing marketing. You're touching lots of parts and I know you’ve talked a little bit about being involved in kind of propositions and product as well.
How has that come about? Because, quite often, particularly in financial services I know marketing partners will be like the colouring-in department. So how have you evolved that and how have you elevated that voice internally?
VDG: Yeah I do find that stigma every day and there are still people in the organisation who will say “oh send it to marketing they'll make it look pretty.” We really evolved away from that and when I joined the organisation, we were very much an Events team and the Design team, and my vision was always to say “no we are more than that.” “I want to be able to credibly contribute to the bottom line.” I think that's what I sold in my interview, and I think it's probably why I got hired!
But it really is around figuring out what are the things that matter in the organisation and what matters to our clients and what overlaps and what drives that?
For us it was really simple. We have a pretty lean budget as far as marketing budgets are concerned. We were relying on events to get the brand out there and sponsorships, but not sponsorships that were ever going to make a huge difference. I had an opportunity during COVID to change that.
We've been talking about evolving the brand. We'd been talking about getting a new website in. We'd been talking about generating leads. But a lot of it was visionary and then COVID hit. We were doing the rebrand, we were going live with the website, and I got a call from our CEO who said to me “look you're not going to be doing events for the next year. What are you going to do how are you going to do? How are you going to bring new clients into the bank?” and at that point I said to him “do you remember that conversation we had a few months ago where, you know, I said “if we have a new website I can bring leads into the bank in that way”” and this is what we did.
We worked with the performance marketing agency, and we still do, we developed our SEO, we developed our search and all of a sudden people were getting digital leads and they were getting leads that were good and that really changed the perception of what we did. The rebrand, or the brand evolution, as we call it, completely changed how people saw the team and then, on top of that, we were giving them new business and that really made the biggest difference I think and, you know, always being able to link things back to ROI. Return on investment. What matters to people speaking the CEO’s language the banker’s language? I think has really helped.
BH: Completely. Completely. We talk a lot about looking at the metrics that matter, you know, whether that's profit or whether it's about impact and whilst you can look at things like, you know, LinkedIn followers and website hits and all the rest of it - and they're useful indications and as marketers we need to be all over those - the reality is those are not the numbers that the business is interested in and I think until you can demonstrate that marketing is an investment in the bottom line rather than a cost, you’re always fighting an uphill battle.
VDG: Definitely, definitely. I mean if you can show, you know, client number growth and return on investment on the cost of what you're doing, I think they’re the two numbers you need and then that gives you permission to do other things.
So I think for me was it was having those early successes. Showing that, you know, we weren't just a call centre and then people, all of a sudden went “oh but who are we as a brand? What do we do? What's our value proposition?” and then those types of projects are now coming to me as a result of that because people have seen that if I say I can do something and we actually end up delivering it.
BH: So, looking forwards, what's next on the horizon? What are the opportunities that you're looking forward to embracing with the brand?
VDG: So I think one of my big beliefs is you always need to keep your ear on the ground about what people are worried about. What's your CEO worried about? What are your bankers worried about in our case. What is the chairman worried about? and I spend a lot of time listening to people still and I guess what I look at now, it's very much around we need to grow organically. We need to continue growing the bank. But how do we do that without losing the client focus? and so I think what's next for us is really sort of building out a CX function that sort of links between the relationship side of the business and the operations side of the business. So that we can make sure we have the right system. We can make sure we develop in the right way. That's the next one on the list I suppose.
BH: Yeah, it’s quite a big job in its own right.
VDG: Yes. We were we going to hire someone for that.
BH: An excellent plan if I do say so.
My first ever episode of this show was back in 2020 and we started off by talking about financial services marketing. Quite a lot has happened in the last three years and I just wondered what your views in terms of how this is evolved - if it has at all in the last few years - and actually is this a good time to be working in marketing in a finance organisation?
VDG: So I think it's always a good time to work in finance. But I'm a little biased 'cause I'm really passionate about finance and I think the thing with finance is, whichever way you look at it, at the end of the day, money makes the world go round, and the banking system is essential for that to happen and it will continue to be that for quite a long time I think.
So it is always an exciting time to work in finance. Because you always need financial institutions to make things happen. I also love the side of - and what I love about working in banking in particular and at Arbuthnot - is that we also help people. A lot of what we do is what we always say to people what we talk about is “helping our clients go further.” People come to us with some money problem and we help them solve it, and I think that's something you just don't have in other industries. That really personal exchange, and maybe you don't have that if you work for a larger bank, you know?
If you work in marketing for a really large holistic bank you’re too far removed from the client. But we still have that you know I still go out and meet clients. I go to events all the time and the thing that you get in financial services marketing, versus say FMCG or sports marketing, I've worked in those before, is you get both the emotional connection and the intellectual connection.
So you need to really understand who your clients are. Not just on sort of you know what they care about, but you need to understand what their problems are. You need to think about how you're going to speak to them. You're going to think about what language you're going to use to describe something that's maybe difficult, and then you're going to have to think about how to connect with them emotionally and, you know, it's a bit more difficult when you're in financial services.
So it's a bit more challenging than if you're, say at the beginning of my career I worked at Prina. I was selling – well I was marketing snacks and treats - and at that point it was about creating an emotional connection to treat your dog or your cat. That's a very different way of marketing than in the finance industry where you talk about products that are pretty dry things. People don't necessarily…nobody gets excited about their pension, right? Nobody gets excited about having the right deposit rate. They just don’t!
But we love it when people get excited about a pension, right? But, you know, it's so much easier to connect to a day-to-day product in a way. So, I think those are the key differences. Whereas the other thing is, you know, in FMCG you'll have a really structured way of doing things, you know, marketing is really at the heart of the organisation.
In finance you have to make your space. If you can be as big or as small as you want in marketing in finance. You can make a difference or you can choose to colour in. But you always have that choice and if you prove to people that you’re not just about colouring in, then you get to do the interesting stuff.
BH: You're completely right and I think finance is really unique in that, people might say they want money, or they need money, you know both commercially and as individuals, as human beings. But the reality is, it's actually not the money. It's about what the money can do and so for that way it's different from every other product or service that you buy and sell.
VDG: Absolutely. It's a real challenge, right? We really help people to manage their money at the end of the day and it’s never about how we're going to do it right?
It's about we're going to be here for you, you know, you will be able to call us. What are your aspirations? What do you wanna do with it? Do you want to have a legacy? Do you want to give money to your grandchildren? Do you want to pay for education? Do you wanna buy a house?
What is it that really matters to you? and that's really - at the end of the day - what we have to get under the skin of.
BH: So, what learnings can you take away from everything that's happened over the last two years that other brands can really learn from? It's also obviously been a time of, as well as all the stuff we've talked about terms of finance, you've also grown your team quite significantly. So, what can we learn from that?
VDG: So, for me that the key thing remains. That you need to be plugged into what the company needs. You need to be plugged into what you CEO needs. To what your bankers need, you know, whoever is your key stakeholders, what are their needs? and then you overlay the customer over that and you think about “what do your clients need?” and we have, in marketing, we have this sort of golden opportunity really to operate in between the two, and to link the two and work on initiatives that actually will grow the customer and will satisfy company need which is usually company growth, right? and this is really the sweet spot for marketing. I think if you’re able to be in that. You get to do one initiative after another that's interesting and fun and helps the company to grow.
So really not keeping busy, you know? In marketing we tend to always keep busy. We tend to have a million things we want to work on. Everyone has great ideas and then we might go down a rabbit hole to do something and then you kind of go “why are we doing this?” “Why did anyone suggest us doing this?” and it's really about keeping that focus of “why are you doing this?”, “does it grow the company?”, “does it grow the client?”, “does it make the client happier?” If not, why are you doing it? and always having that focus, I think, is a big driver to grow.
BH: How do you manage that, cause you've got a slightly larger marketing function certainly then you had previously than, I know that some of my listeners have. What you do to keep everybody on the same page?
VDG: We've actually just done an exercise in developing that and it was really about sitting down and thinking “why are we here?” and I didn't lead on this I let other people in my team lead on it 'cause I I don't want to be my voice 'cause it's not about me, and it was great 'cause we really got to everyone writing down why they think we're here and how we should behave, and then it's all been distilled into two statements that everyone needs to buy into, and we’ll do iteration after iteration until people buy into it.
So that, down the line, when people say “well actually no, I want to do this” and you go “but why?” it doesn't relate back to what we need to do. What you said you wanted to do and we're all about big new ideas right? and I think I really encourage the team to bring new ideas in and then sometimes it'll be like “this is a great idea”, but we've got to do a few things before we can do that and then it will make sense. Or, you know, sometimes I mean I have 20 ideas a day and maybe one is good.
BH: You're doing well. One good one a day. I’ll take that.
VDG: Yeah, maybe it’s not one a day, maybe it’s like one a month! But, you know, you have a lot of ideas every day. But, you know, it's kind of like you have to think about “should I actually talk about this or maybe not.”
BH: No exactly. I had a brilliant idea about how to make guacamole without avocados. It was great! It's not relevant to this podcast. I shall save it for another day.
VDG: I love that! That's got a really nice sustainable angle to it as well!
BH: Well, if you want the recipe, I can share it!
VDG: Definitely. I would love the recipe.
BH: So, look this is all about creativity. It's all about creative thinking. But doing it in the context of, you know, having that red thread, if you like, going through, having that thing that joins it up together and makes it so that it actually has creative ideas that have impact.
Is that what motivates you? Is that what makes you happy at work? What is it that makes you tick?
VDG: That's a good question. I think definitely being able to evolve things and move things forward is really what motivates me.
It's being able to grow and obviously to grow you need creativity right? Because if not, you just keep doing the same old things that you were doing yesterday and that’s kind of really dull. So definitely creativity is a big factor. It’s really interesting, we did an exercise in our offsite, actually, last week, we talk about this a lot. We’re really restrained about what we can do.
We can’t do anything above the line. We have small budgets. We have a certain personality as a brand and a lot of times it keeps you in a sort of box and we did an exercise and I said “forget about anything you have. You can do whatever you want. You can do TV ads. Think about any possibility, what would you do?” and we actually got - I think we had four teams of people working on this - four great ideas that we can implement and you know I think it's just continuing to encourage people to come up with ideas and to find ways to make them work.
BH: I also think there's a massive learning opportunity within that. If you don't allow everybody within the team to contribute to the conversation, contribute their creative ideas, how are they going to learn and how are you going to learn and how is things going to get better in the future? If the requirement to do creative stuff sits squarely only on the creative people, it doesn't work.
VDG: No definitely not. I mean, I think everybody has different ideas and itthat's what you get as well. I try I tried to bring people together who are quite different, who come from different backgrounds, have different education levels. All sorts, you know? They're just very different people and it’s what you get when you put people like that together. That is just the magic.
BH: Yeah. I was about to say that says where the magic happens. You beat me to it.
VDG: Sorry! In a Swiss kind of way.
BH: Yeah sorry about that. Well done.
So, we're kind of coming to the end of this episode of the podcast. Have you got any ideas or advice for others are facing similar opportunities and challenges or kind of maybe just thinking back to the resilience theme where we started this conversation?
VDG: I suppose my biggest advice is [to] believe in the vision. If you have a vision, really see it. I find visualisation is really helpful and certainly in all the things we talked about and what happened to me in my accident, was the way that growing the team, with the way I speak about what we do, it's all about being able to visualise where you want to go and if you can visualise it to yourself you can visualise it to others.
BH: Absolutely I think it's I think it's inspirational. I think listening to you talk about your experiences and how your team is run, it sounds like a fantastic place to work.
VDG: I hope you agree.
BH: You’ll have to play this to your team and see what they think!
VDG: I mean I think it's just the people that we have together that make the team right? And you try to set, I guess, as team leader, you try to set a mood. But it's all down to people to kind of play along as well and be motivated to do that. So I think we're lucky with the people we have.
BH: Thank you so, so much for your time. What my listeners don't know is we've had several attempts at making the technology work and I really, really appreciate all of the efforts to make this podcast a reality cause I think your story is super interesting and thank you very much for joining me on the show!
VDG: Thank you. Thank you very much for your patience. I did not shine on the technology front, so I appreciate that very much. Thank you very, very much.
BH: That's why we have teams! Thank you so much and enjoy your day.
VDG: Thank you, you too!
BH: So that's it for today's show. Thank you so much to my guest, Virginie, for coming along to talk to us about resilience in all of its many, many different forms. It's been fantastic. I hope you've enjoyed listening as much as I've enjoyed making the show, and I look forward to chatting with you all again next time. Bye for now!