Standard Life recently revealed a new look and feel for its consumer brand, Standard Life Savings. 

I caught up with Mary Harper, head of customer and digital marketing, to find out how and why Standard Life developed a more customer-facing culture and to discuss the brand’s digital transformation.

Here’s what we discussed…

Why did you feel it was important to focus on a more customer-centric brand? 

We had a history as a B2B organisation, but lots of things changed in the market, including technology and regulations, and this meant a lot more people wanted to manage their own finances. 

It happened quite rapidly, so we had to get something to market quickly. We looked at some of the best businesses around the world and saw how they really put their customers in the driving seat. 

How did you decide what a customer-focused business looked like?

We had a big co-creation session with our customers in London where we spoke to them about the products and services we wanted to offer.

We asked them about their needs and challenges and behaviours around savings and finances, and what they’d want from a brand that could help them with those challenges. 

Over a period of two or three days we ran workshops with those customers and they helped us come up with some of the key themes and words to describe our new brand. 

So genuinely it was the customers who told us what to do. We knew we had to get it right for them and that’s why we had to ask them what it is they really want from us, because you can’t presume to know. 

How did you go about achieving that customer focus and what part did digital transformation play?

There was a cultural shift needed to really understand who our customers were. We’d been a B2B organisation so we needed to bring our customers to life. 

We started with some basic tools around personas and journey maps: These are our customers, these are the demographics, and so on.

That was a real watershed moment in Standard Life for a lot of people, as we hadn’t spent a lot of time really getting into the detail of our customers like that before. 

Now our techniques have matured. We’re using a lot of different digital tools and techniques to better understand our customers, such as the data we gather from interactions they have with us, testing different designs and seeing what people respond well to. 

Our aim is to achieve a segment of one. What we had previously were generic personas, but now we’re going down the personalisation route and digital techniques and data are helping us achieve that. 

What challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

Data was a huge challenge. We had a lot of functional data about our customers, but nothing that was really procedural or transactional, so we spent a lot of time trying to understand our customers through our data.

Also, when we started the scale was very small. We just wanted to see what we could get to market quickly and how our customers responded to it.

We got a massive response from the few things we did at the start so we said, “Let’s take this and scale it up into what’s going to be our true ecommerce business.”

But that meant taking more of the company along on the journey, which can have an impact on your speed to market, so scaling up has been tricky at times. 

We’re also heavily regulated. A piece of regulation came out in April that fundamentally changed how customers can access their pension money, so we created an online journey to explain to people what their new choices were. 

The response and demand for that was so much higher than anticipated that sometimes parts of the business were running to keep up. 

We try to adapt to these things, but sometimes you build something and test it out and the uptake of that is such that you have to move from testing and learning to production scale very quickly, and that can be a challenge.

Keeping up with how much our customers change can also be difficult. Something we do now, but never used to, is constantly monitor customers’ behaviour.

We look at what they do across all of their journeys, not just physical ones, looking at where a particular behaviour takes place and trying to respond to that very quickly.

It takes a different type of operation to one we’ve had in the past. Our operating model has changed at least two or three times in the last two years to respond to the demands and changes in customer behaviour we’re seeing, so that’s been a really important part of our success. 

Of course there are some things that haven’t worked. We had to rebuild all our websites from scratch because they just hadn’t been designed with the customer in mind. 

What advice would you give to other brands thinking about digital transformation? 

Firstly, find a reason to change. Businesses usually don’t change until something’s about to bite them in the butt. You can wait for that to happen to you or you can create a situation where you create that momentum. 

Secondly, for us it was about changing what we meant by digital and seeing it as our business rather than an investment or a cost. 

We radicalised the way we worked and became small cross-functional teams. We had an overarching vision for our digital business but chopped it up and brought different parts of the company together to achieve it. 

In terms of being customer driven, it’s not just this one-off activity where you create personas and pin them on the wall.

You have to stay in touch with your customers, keep on top of your data, but also think differently about every problem you need to solve. 

Also, get approval from the top down. We are blessed with being very well supported by senior management, and that has played a big part in our success. 

What impact has the transformation had on your business?

All of our metrics are up by hundreds of percentage points. Reach, traffic conversion, online revenues: We’ve seen a massive uplift. 

In 12 months: 

  • Online revenues are up 850%.
  • 1bn overall reach.
  • 4.1m online visits (up 36%).
  • 28% of traffic is from mobile (200% increase).
  • 92% repeat visitors.

But we’ve seen a cultural change in the business too. We started off just testing things out on a small scale.

Now we’re asking how the rest of the organisation can learn from what we’re doing and apply it elsewhere in the business.