First Direct uses social networking to make banking personal again

LONDON - Telephone and internet banking brand First Direct is launching an online social network to help generate a sense of community among its customers.

First Direct has long been famed for its high advocacy rates among consumers, and claims that up to a third of its customers signed up after a personal recommendation. Now its head of marketing, Mark Mullen, wants to extend the brand into other areas of customers' lives.

The brand is rolling out Little Black Book, its user-generated online hub, as a way for First Direct customers to share recommendations. The site, www.firstdirect.com/littleblackbook, has been trialled by 20,000 of the brand's most digitally-active customers, and will now be offered to all UK consumers currently banking with the HSBC-owned business.

Upon logging, users are told: 'As First Direct customers, you'll know by now that we're not like other banks. We tend to do things a little differently.' They are then are invited to share tips on topics such as day trip ideas, restaurants, and local professionals and services. Customers can find recommendations relevant to them through searching by postcode.

Jenny Southwell, head of e-marketing at First Direct, says the project is getting back to the intimate atmosphere Midland Bank was aiming for with the brand's creation in 1989. 'This is not just a directory of referrals and reviews, it's about feeling like you're in an exclusive club. Little Black Book is a way for us to give something back other than through direct banking,' she says.

The social network was designed by digital agency MadeByPi. The launch will be supported by a press campaign targeting lifestyle magazines and quality national newspapers, plus online banners in First Direct's familiar black and white format. The ads, by marketing agency Story, roll out on 22 November. Media planning and buying is by Mindshare.

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