Perspectives: Sparks fly as DBS banks on open culture to fuel ideas

Karen Ngui January 2019 Singapore

Hailed as the world’s best digital bank, the Singapore institution has fully embraced a digital strategy to not only reimagine the way it operates and serves, but also the way it markets its brand.

Live more, bank less. This may seem like an odd ethos for a bank to champion, but DBS believes that customers should have access to seamless — and invisible — banking services so they can spend more time on the things they care about.

To deliver on this, we embarked on a long-term path to integrate digital innovation into everything we do. As media consumption habits evolved, consumers are going online to research a product — and about the brand behind the product. And when they decide to make the purchase, they want to do so on a platform of their choice, be it online, on mobile, or in a physical location.

In a way, the brand now belongs to the consumers, who identify with a brand on a personal level and in the way they choose to. This has underscored the need for businesses to change the way they think, operate, and serve their customers.

And it calls for DBS to think and behave unlike a typical bank.

In 2013, CEO Piyush Gupta urged our senior executives to stop comparing DBS to its peers in the market and instead to start competing against tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook.

Since then, DBS has adopted the mindset of a digital- and data-first company, becoming the first Singapore bank to launch a cloud-based data center and establish technology partnerships to drum up its cloud engineering skillsets.

Functions and operations also have to be reengineered to support our mission to become a truly digital bank. It requires a complete reimagining of how DBS ticks.

Marketing is no exception.

Reimagining marketing to be immersive and purpose-driven

In the past, we would find the best ways to disrupt people in their tracks and ensure they saw our ads, wherever they were. This is no longer effective. Instead, we need to think about immersive marketing and endear ourselves to the heart of the consumer.

We have to communicate something of value and relevance, especially as consumers today have heightened social consciousness and want brands with which they engage to stand for values they themselves espouse and hold dear.

This has underscored the need for purpose-driven marketing, where delivering relevant and meaningful content has never been more important. And to immerse ourselves successfully, we need to look at the entire customer journey. For DBS, this means building ecosystems and partnerships that can bring us closer to where consumers are.

For instance, through our DBS LiveMore Society initiatives, rather than target a mass audience, we work with local interest groups across the region to strengthen brand awareness and deepen our engagement with specific communities. We identify key focus areas such as travel, motherhood, and gaming, and we rope in popular bloggers and local groups to work with us in these areas.

In Indonesia, we partnered with Economom to develop content tailored for young moms and worked with KartuPos to drive the Traveller Challenge.

To date, our LiveMore campaigns have fueled more than 3 million engagements with consumers and have driven more than 2 million game downloads.

We also worked with Line in Taiwan to offer DBS-branded mobile stickers and exclusive product promotions through the messaging app. Consumers were encouraged to register as a DBS fan to access these various features.

The campaign proved successful, clocking more than 1 million downloads within the first 24 hours alone. It garnered more than 5.5 million DBS fans, up 86 times compared to 2013, and accounted for 1 in 3 sales leads, which was a 67-fold increase over 2014.

Through the fan registrations, we were also able to convert awareness to customer acquisition, allowing DBS to collect basic consumer demographic data and email details.

In China, we worked with WeChat to roll out more than 30 online acquisition campaigns over 12 months. Consumers could collect social currency that could be exchanged for gifts, rewards, and privileges.

The common objective driving all our programs, again, is to highlight how DBS can help customers live more, bank less. With this in mind, marketing teams across the region then work to see how they can bring this message to the forefront in their respective local markets.

Regardless of the different channels and market traits, the underlying objective and desired outcome remain the same — to position DBS as a bank that puts customers in its center.

Making new ideas work requires cultural and data support

And as our CEO states, DBS must become more than a bank to remain relevant. To do so, we need to think outside the box and explore new ideas.

Granted, this can be challenging because there’s always a fear of the unknown. However, as long as we clearly lay out the objectives and establish key parameters and indicators of success, we can mitigate the risk of the unknown.

Besides, reimagining the way we do things will inevitably involve entering uncharted waters, but doing so can reap tremendous rewards.

That was the case when we embarked on the most ambitious marketing project DBS had ever undertaken. We put on our creative hats to produce a mini-series, dubbed Sparks, which features a team of DBS bankers as they juggled their work and personal endeavors.

Comprising 10 episodes, the series is inspired by true customer stories we curated from our own staff, who themselves had worked tirelessly to resolve challenges faced by their clients.

Through Sparks, we aim to portray real-life stories and depict how DBS employees — empowered by the bank to make decisions that benefit our clientele — are willing to go the extra mile to help customers achieve their dreams.

Facts by themselves can be very dry, so our ability to tell stories is crucial to draw in the audience and allow them to see for themselves the value DBS can bring through our services and dedication.

Was it difficult to convince the executive team that DBS, a bank, should invest in the production of a mini-series? For any other company, perhaps, but fortunately for us, we have a CEO who already believes in challenging the status quo and encouraging his staff to always experiment, to always try things differently.

It also helps that, having been with the bank for 13 years, I have built up some lineage and credibility. And, of course, we put in place the necessary metrics and parameters to track the performance and progress of the campaign. As each episode aired and everyone saw how great the response was, the convincing became easier.

Since the launch of the mini-series in January 2016, Sparks has generated more than 165 million views and 15 million engagements, including comments and shares. These numbers cut across the various platforms on which the mini-series can be viewed, including YouTube, Facebook, WeChat, and the DBS website.  

We also have been able to implement new martech tools since the launch to better attribute and measure the reach of the Sparks series. For instance, following the release of episode eight, 11% of queries about our SME product and 10% of our wealth products came from people who had watched the Sparks story.

These data points are incredibly valuable as they validate the impact of good storytelling by the brand and in facilitating customer acquisition. We also carry out a lot of data analytics to assess the effectiveness of all the campaigns we run across the region.

I encourage all our technology partners, including Google, to help us better capture, curate, and slice-and-dice the data we have so we can continue to improve the performance of our marketing initiatives. Ultimately, we know our brand and products best, but we may not have access to the latest tools and technologies to enable us to act on this knowledge.

Marketing is now becoming more of a science than art. The more our tech partners can provide us with the scientific aspect, the better we can use this and the bank’s digital adoption to our advantage.

Furthermore, embracing a digital strategy not only enhances customer service, it also brings higher efficiencies for the bank. DBS’ digital customers generate twice as much income, maintain higher loan and deposit balances, and cost up to 57% less to acquire than traditional consumers who visit a physical branch. Digital customers also consume 16 times more self-service transactions and clock a 27% return on equity, in contrast to 19% for traditional customers.

Banking may be one of the oldest industries in the world, but as DBS has clearly demonstrated, it can be innovative in its thinking and modern in its service delivery — if it chooses to fully embrace digital.

Perspectives: Find your audience on digital and storytell with data