Nationwide's Andy McQueen on life after Little Britain

Andy McQueen, marketing director, Nationwide
Andy McQueen, marketing director, Nationwide

Andy McQueen, marketing director, Nationwide, is leading a policy of focusing on the brand's reputation. Interview by Andrew McCormick.

When Andy McQueen took over as marketing director of Nationwide in June, the UK's biggest building society was under pressure. James Boulton, McQueen's predecessor, had left abruptly - one of several high-profile exits - and chief executive Graham Beale was demanding more from the brand's marketing department.

The past few years should have been a golden age for Nationwide. With rival banks in bailout chaos, Nationwide had a chance to position itself as on the side of the consumer, having received no government assistance throughout the banking crisis.

A high-profile £20m sponsorship of the England football team has ended and its Little Britain-themed ads have been shelved. While they gained awareness for the brand, it is obvious that McQueen favoured the previous tranche of 'nasty banker' ads fronted by actor Mark Benton.

'"Little Britain" did well in terms of awareness,' says McQueen. 'We've been offair for a while and we've been looking at what we want to achieve. It wasn't great for retaining customers, so we're concentrating on that. The Mark Benton ads were successful and realised the difference between us and banks. Those ads were great for awareness, but we did them for a long time, and at some point you have to move on.'

As the man chosen to lead a fresh, bold strategy, McQueen doesn't have a heritage of big-brand marketing. He spends his time between Nationwide's Swindon headquarters, Bournemouth, where he lives, and London, where Marketing meets him, and has had an interesting career so far. McQueen describes his CV as 'relatively unusual'. Starting in media, followed by two dotcom stints, McQueen then managed the mortgage department of Nationwide.

His first dotcom start-up, Thestreet.co.uk, was a financial-services information provider, rivalling the FT stable of brands. Speaking of his dotcom experience, McQueen recalls: 'I was one of those known as a "grey hair", because I was over 30. The Street was one of the first dotcom casualties. I remember there was a lot of competition. You think you're going to change the world, and we did some good stuff.

'The day we launched we went into the Treasury and interviewed Gordon Brown - it was his first interview live on the web. It was fun to be part of that business, but a lot of dotcoms were too early, and they failed.'

After the The Street, McQueen made another interesting career choice. 'Not being that bright, I did another dotcom at Books Online (bol.com) as global marketing director. It was the only non-financial services thing I've done.'

After a stint at Goldman Sachs, McQueen left marketing in 2007 to run Nationwide's mortgage division. Explaining the switch, McQueen simply says: 'They asked me to.' This goes some way toward illustrating McQueen's loyalty to his employer.

'The combination of running a P&L as mortgage director and being marketing director of dotcoms gives you quite a good perspective on the world,' he adds.

Glad to be back in the marketing fold, McQueen has several challenges on his hands. In 2008 profits were down almost 50%, with 2009 even worse. Nationwide has since made steady progress, with profits back on the rise. Now, in partnership with start-up ad agency 18 Feet & Rising, McQueen has worked on a fresh positioning that includes the strapline 'On your side'. This replaced its two-year-old 'Proud to be a building society' tagline, which grew out of its long-running 'Proud to be different' campaign.

The activity debuted during the return of Downton Abbey on ITV earlier this month, backed by a multimillion-pound spend. The lavishly shot ad focuses on an ethereal merry-go-round that gives Nationwide the vehicle to display how it helps people at different life stages. Crucially, what Nationwide is attempting to do with the 'On your side' strapline is show how it differs from retail banks in the way it treats people.

'We often get voted most-trusted financial-services brand in the UK; trust is the most important thing that we have as a brand,' says McQueen. 'Our challenge is how to get across to customers that we have a different corporate structure from the banks; we don't have shares like the banks. We do what's right by the customers, and that's the key marketing message we need to concentrate on in the next few years.'

18 Feet & Rising was hired just ahead of McQueen joining, but the fresh strategy is not solely down to the Fallon-breakaway agency. Nationwide has an internal agency of 15 people, which has been central to its marketing activity since its £20m England sponsorship ended last year. 'Internal agencies are very valuable because they understand the brand in a way that external agencies can't,' explains McQueen. 'They give you the ability to be very flexible and very quick. Over the past few months they've done a lot of good work for marketing. We have a very strong department, with more than 100 in the team across the different spectrums.'

With the public's trust in banks at a low, one might think it's the right time for Nationwide to be going all out to acquire customers, but the focus of the latest work is retention, according to McQueen.

'As we have one in every four people in the UK as a customer, our first focus has to be making sure we service our customers,' he says. 'If we concentrate on giving customers the best experience possible, that will play to our greatest strength. Our strategy is to get our customers to know Nationwide, then tell their friends.'

Nationwide believes it is really playing to its strength with its latest campaign and as the retail bank restructuring looks likely to be put back to 2019, McQueen has an extended window of opportunity to play the trust card with ever-more vigour. 'When you look at the debate of ring-fencing retail banks from investment banks, it's essentially what we do already,' he says. 'We don't have an investment arm; we're a UK-based, mutual organisation. The rest of the financial-services industry could move to our model.'

In under six months, McQueen has brought focus to the brand's marketing, after its dalliances with sports sponsorship and comedy characters. He is also close to concluding a direct marketing review, which he embarked on shortly after taking the job.

He has the added bonus of an extra £20m to reinvest in marketing, giving him the best possible chance to succeed where his predecessors failed, to make true capital out of Nationwide's mutual status.

INSIDE WORK

1990-1999: Various roles at Reader's Digest, the publisher of Moneywise, rising to circulation director

1999-2000: Marketing director, Thestreet.co.uk

2000-2001: Global marketing director, BOL.com

2001-2003: Executive director, equities division, Goldman Sachs

2003-2007: Marketing director, Portman Building Society

2007-2011: Various roles at Nationwide (following its merger with Portman), rising to director of mortgages and general insurance

2011-present: Director of customer strategy and marketing, Nationwide

OUTSIDE WORK

Car: Audi A5

Favourite brand: Apple

Favourite sport: Tennis

Last holiday: Italy.

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