Interview with Johan Jervoe, CMO, UBS, the winner of this year’s World Media Award for Content Leadership & Innovation

September 19, 2020

Now lockdown measures have been loosened and consumers are hungry to return to ‘normal’ life, is this the right time to invest more heavily in marketing? And if so, are there any pitfalls brands need to consider before doing so?

I strongly believe, that investing in your brand awareness now is an opportunity you should not miss. Let’s all remember what brands are for: brands are holding devices of prior experiences for the user. Brands that are communicating during a crisis give stability and visibility and a certain comfort to their users – and that’s what consumers have been looking for here.

As a financial services brand – UBS is a wealth manager, the number one retail bank in Switzerland, and we have an investment bank and asset manager – we have seen markets going up and down in parallel with the pandemic and have had movements that have been almost unheard of. We’ve seen clients across the entire world seeking advice in these uncertain times.

In addition, you also owe it to your advertising partners, both the ones that are selling your space as well as the ones that are creating your creatives. We are part of an ecosystem. So, yes, this is the time you keep spending if you can.

 How do you feel the advertising industry will bounce back after the crisis?

I think some of it will bounce back identically. But it’s clear to me that the new normal will be quite different to what we perceived being normal in the past. Nothing will be the same but particularly high-quality brands will stay and adapt.

Change usually comes with opportunities. Just to give you one example: to stay in contact with our clients, virtually, in some markets almost daily, we have used our relationship with The Economist to promote our content library of 50 years of Nobel Prize winners. Now what’s interesting is that we asked Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winner, to come in and give his opinion to a group of asset manager clients, and one-third of our global clients dialled in. This is a tremendous increase in terms of efficiency and effectiveness in how we bring thought leadership to our clients.

The financial services sector is not one known for brand bravery or innovation – how have you ensured that extra spark of creativity to ensure your brand stands out?

 Banking is actually a very innovative business, and very forward looking, picking up on shifting client demands. People may come in with a business case: “You buy a pair of shoes and I’ll donate another pair to someone somewhere else in the world who is in need of a pair of shoes.”

A banker who supports this idea, has an innovative client focus. And if you keep that same positive spirit in marketing teams, it is driving innovation. Seeing a virtual client event with strong client demand working, empowers the team to drive creative ideas even if other ideas might fail.

It’s also making sure you have the best people on all sides of your business –in your marketing team, with your agency partner, and your media organisations and media owners, and making sure that creativity feeds off each other all the time.

 What are the specific challenges in for the Finance Sector?

We are highly regulated. Disclaimers are often bigger than the ad itself. That limits what you can say, what you can do, the way you can say it, and in what way you can offer up a service, which is very different from other industries.

How does that level of regulation affect content marketing campaigns?

Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And that’s how it feels. What you have to do is optimise the content so that it’s relevant and uniquely interesting – that stickiness is first and foremost. A couple of film studios have analysed that over the years, and if the movie is really great, you’re willing to look at it in black and white, or with a somewhat snowy picture, because you really like the content. This is very similar. If you think the content is worth it – take the example of interacting with Stiglitz– I’m willing to click that I’m aware that this is a bank in order to access that content.

Why do you think there’s been a growth in content-led advertising campaigns?

It goes back to relevance.When we relaunched the UBS brand in September 2015. We saw across all our media partners, a huge amount of click through. I remember we thought the click through formula was maybe misleading; that it was capturing a too long and too large engagement –it was many-foldmore than the average click through rate. What we discovered is that when people take a magazine or website like The Economist, Forbes or Fortune in their hands, they want to be in that moment and have some “me time” for a half an hour, an hour. The same was true for our campaign. It’s deep diving knowledge, reading, and exchange. If you see content that fits into that, you’re in the right mindset and therefore more people will click through. If content is king, context is queen.

You need to find the DNA of what is your uniqueness for your user base, what are they looking for, and how to serve that up in such a way that is understandable and digestible – I think that’s the difficult part for many banks and financial services.

The advertising headline that has worked the best over the last six months or so is: “Is the world always going to be as unpredictable as now?” And you can see why that’s relevant. You can see when it comes to our wealth managers that they might know more than I do, and I want to know about that for my portfolio. So, get the content right; get the level of excitement into a headline, and then people should be interested in what you have to tell them. Whether that’s a video or piece of copy, they won’t click away.

What are the biggest changes that you’ve noticed in content over the last five years and what sort of trends do you expect to see in the coming years?

Shorter formats, I would say is probably the biggest surprise. Because if you really believe in content then 7, 8, 9, 10 minutes gives you a good angle to a story – but that’s not necessarily true anymore. Then you look at podcasts which are about 20 minutes. It really depends on the situation you’re consuming in, and I think it’s safe to say it’s now predominantly a mobile world, so we’re seeing shorter formats and more informative content.

There’s a universal appetite to consume what you want to consume, however you want to consume it. If I’m on a mobile phone watching something and I want to ask questions, I want to be able to type if I’m in a public area, because I don’t want to speak, for example, about finances. If I’m at home, however, I might want to speak to the bot and want the bot to speak back to me. So, I think the world will move to a “type, a touch and a talk” format, regardless of the device in the next five years.

Part of the reason you were nominated for the award was to do with what you’re doing with best practice in terms of measurement – viewability, metrics, accuracy and audience targeting. How does that apply to content-driven advertising?

When you’re targeting wealth managers – perhaps only 1% of the world’s population, there’s a 99% chance that your advertising will go somewhere else. You get really good, along with your media partners and your agency, at optimising. This is not a short conversation; it’s an ongoing opportunity. And actually, it was always there – I remember when I worked for McDonald’s around the world, you would optimise your billboard campaigns for example, if there was a construction site in front of your ad so you couldn’t see it. You would optimise from flight to flight because things would change in the streets. This is similar; it’s constantly being on top of your numbers.

It’s first and foremost about your content. Think about social media: I might share something with you if it’s hilariously stupid, or if it is sensationally insightful. Anything in between, I probably won’t. The context is as important: where you place your advertising, as well as the people you reach. And the timing needs to be right. There are times when people are not looking at banking advertising – there’s a reason why most banks have quarters that are differently sized. When fitness clubs’ campaigns are being signed off, it’s normally January when people have made that New Year’s resolution to get fit again. You need to know when it’s the right time. You see it with some of the newsletters we’re all getting from various publishers – they know that you do something on a Thursday night or Saturday morning. There’s a mechanic that humans like to consume, and you have to take that on as well.

Then there are softer metrics – how much content is shared, how far are people watching into it? And there is the “like” although I still don’t know if we can actually calculate what a “like” or “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on social actually means. Engagement also sounds so nice but what does it mean? We know that some of the social channels are fantastic at serving up your target group, but the people clicking the trigger all the time are the ones that you pay for. So, you want to filter those out; you want to get to the ones that are ready for consideration.

Tell us about you #TOGETHERBAND initiative and why you decided to develop that campaign?

At UBS, sustainable finance has been a critical component of our client offering and a strategic growth opportunity for over 20 years, and that’s why we are a clear market leader today.

#Togetherband was a great opportunity for us to raise the awareness on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The more people that get involved, the more you can do good, and that means you need to get to a popular, mass audience. We’ve had a billion and a half engagements since April last year. You can see the number of celebrities that have joined the initiative.

What we do is led by our partner, BOTTLETOP: they pull ocean plastic out, they give people in very poor communities a job opportunity as craftsmen, creating the bands in a sustainable way and the entire funding of these will be returned into that cycle for the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It was very clear to us that we wanted to be a part of that; it’s part of our DNA but it’s the right thing to do. It also felt like the right thing to do for our employee base – I’ve never seen anything internally kick so much off. We’ve had 40%+ of the employee base of 60,000 people on a global level building #TOGETHERBAND, and that’s not something we normally hear.

It has been very rewarding and it’s difficult because it’s a real start-up mentality – and if there’s one thing a Swiss 150+ year old bank maybe doesn’t always have, it’s a start-up mentality! But it’s been, and continues to be, a great opportunity.