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Money is changing

Mutually rewarding: A masterclass in diversity marketing from West Bromwich Building Society
Thousands of miles away, a woman borrows the equivalent of £75 – from a self-help group in her village. It’s enough to set her up in business, providing the funds to buy a sewing machine, a few rolls of cloth, and a course in how to market her new enterprise. Here in the UK, an innovative building society begins to punch way above its weight in terms of brand awareness, gaining significantly higher customers amongst ethnic minority communities than its marketing budgets should warrant. The connection? We asked Richard Purser, previously head of relationship marketing of the West Bromwich Building Society, to explain.

 “I remember a colleague once telling me that one of the first things to happen when a child is born into an Asian family is the opening of a building society account for them, usually with a local society” recalls Richard. “In so far as perceptions of value for money are connected with mutuality, then it could be said that there is a predisposition amongst ethnic minority communities in the UK towards using mutual organisations”.

Typically largely ignored and misunderstood by the large financial institutions, ethnic minority communities in Britain’s inner cities have historically formed extensive community based systems of self-help, further strengthened by support from extended family. In Pakistan and India there are similar non-profit making self-help groups. “There may be a direct comparison with self-help groups within villages. These would collect a small sum on a regular basis, and provide loans, akin to a credit union and provide the finance for small items to help people to afford machinery, materials and training” explains Richard.

 This way of doing business based on a strong sense of community identity and shared values brings us full circle to where mutual societies first began, back in the industrial towns and cities of Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. Perhaps it’s not surprising that it took a financial ‘mutual’, The West Bromwich Building Society, to take the whole idea one step further, successfully merging the old values of mutuality with a highly tailored diversity marketing initiative to the Asian community in that part of the Midlands.

Local focus
“When I joined, a new customer management system recorded all sorts of information about customers, such as their preferred language, so we could build up a comprehensive profile of our customer base. We also included data from the census, helping to build up a picture of ethnic origins and religious backgrounds in each branch’s catchment area.”

The West Brom found that many of its branches had significant numbers of customers from BME (black and minority ethnic) communities. The figures showed just how important it was to meet their diverse needs effectively – for example, to offer Sharia’a compliant products to its many Muslim customers. An awareness of each community – even of simple things such as when they hold their festivals – meant the building society could bring a far more local feel to marketing activities in each branch.

The power of radio
Many of the West Brom’s staff come from ethnic communities themselves, which has created some excellent opportunities to reach out to customers. Richard recalls how one branch manager was asked to do a ten-minute interview for a local Asian radio station, and ended up doing a live phone-in where she took calls from listeners for half an hour. “It was so popular, it was extended to a regular slot on two separate radio stations.”

The West Brom cleverly used these slots as an opportunity to broaden its appeal in the community, interspersing the financial phone-ins with topical features. On one occasion, the building society sponsored an item on how to write a CV, then soon became a local employer of choice.

Careful thought also goes into the way the West Brom advertises on local radio. It’s almost unique in advertising in two different languages: English and a language from the community. This is a giant step on from the token ‘happy Diwali’ type messages other advertisers throw in occasionally.

Staff at the building society recognise the benefits to their branch of these radio appearances, and know they have a vested interest in ensuring tracking is accurate. Where many organisations find it extremely difficult to persuade front-line staff to record campaign codes, the West Brom has had excellent results.

Face-to-face contact is very important in the Asian community, even when multi-lingual freephone numbers and websites are available. So much so, it’s not uncommon for a potential customer to travel many miles to be able to deal directly with the person they heard on the radio.

An approach that works
Diversity marketing has achieved a great deal for the West Brom: an impressive 10% of the building society’s total income is a direct result of this kind of activity. It has also won several awards for its diversity work, including the Business in the Community National Diversity Award, and year on year Gold status and a top-three position in the Race for Opportunity benchmarking study.

Companies in other sectors – such as car manufacturers and utilities – are starting to develop tailored marketing materials. As Richard suggests, “the last census provided a wake-up call for some of these companies – and the next one will bring even more of a jolt.” This could be a very good time to follow the West Brom’s example. And when you do, you may well find that the benefits to your organisation and your customers are mutual…

Finally, if you are thinking of developing your own strategic approach, Richard has some useful pointers…

Richard’s top ten tips for anyone exploring diversity marketing

1 Get advice – it’s worth speaking to the experts to avoid making basic, potentially damaging mistakes.

2 Remember it’s a growing market – by the next census, some cities will have majority ethnic populations.

3 Family focus is important – there’s enormous respect for elders within ethnic communities, and their opinions matter.

4 Be aware of cultural differences, and the wide range of backgrounds and needs.

5 In many ways, the needs of the ethnic community are the same as those of the rest of the population – it’s just the method of generating interest that’s different.

6 Benchmark against others and get their views – Race for Opportunity ( is a useful source.

7 Be aware of differences within and between communities.

8 Spending power can be huge – early adopters are often from Asian communities, and can be very brand and status conscious.

9 Don’t underestimate the importance of face-to-face contact.

10 Those who’ve received good service are quick to recommend – MGM schemes can be very successful.

Richard Purser is the founder of The Diversity Dimension, specialists in corporate diversity marketing.
Published in “Money is changing”