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Vita Zaliauskiene: Customer Service Does Not Compensate for a Poor Digital Experience

Vita Zaliauskiene, Corporate Marketing Lead at Swedbank Lithuania, has previously collaborated with globally recognised brands such as NordVPN, Western Union, AVON, and Bioderma, overseeing cross-border marketing initiatives. Fittingly, she is also the first Lithuanian to be featured in our B2B Profile series and a speaker we are excited to announce at our upcoming Parrot in June.

Below, we discuss Swedbank's positioning, goals and strategy in the corporate area, as well as Vita's personal know-how on marketing to business clients.

How is the branding and marketing approach between private and business customers different at Swedbank?

Swedbank is the most loved brand in the Baltics in 2023. We got that award, so it's rather easy for us to maintain a leading position. But if you fall on your achievements and do nothing, you can easily flop.

There are three main segments of corporate customers. We have small companies, we have medium-sized companies, and then we have the large ones. The small ones are very similar to retail business, very much alike to private customers. Maybe their rationality for making purchases is a bit different, but the behaviour is similar. If you want to be competitive, you have to think of them as individuals, as people, and target them in that way.

With mid-sized companies or large corporations, what matters is the relationship and whether the brand is perceived as tailored for corporations. That perception transcends to the way they treat you, the way they accept your proposals, the way the negotiations go further.

Therefore, we have to be appealing to both. Not lose face, but at the same time remain corporate, strict and sophisticated. And we have found that formula. Our brand identity is simple, open, and caring. Our customers appreciate it, regardless of who they are.

Swedbank is the largest media outlet in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia combined. We have access to more than half of the nation for each of the countries. So, with that much reach, we can start building bridges between small companies, big companies, and mid-sized companies. When they come together, we kind of get into networking rather than just pure branding.

There's probably quite a bit of overlap between private and corporate customers. Shouldn't the messages be aligned? How do you communicate specifically with enterprise customers?

Enterprise customers are mostly served by individual account managers. However, we try not to target them specifically because we want them to perceive our bank as a whole, along with the private part.

Despite making high-stakes decisions on a daily basis, at the end of the day, they still have to wash their coffee cup.

A very good example is our business academy for small businesses: a platform where large and mid-sized corporations act as mentors to the smaller ones. Our ads speak the language of the everyday person, because the problems a small business owner and CEO face are similar. Despite making high-stakes decisions on a daily basis, at the end of the day, they still have to wash their coffee cup.

Being a market leader is, in a way, a convenient position, but on the other hand, your shareholders expect consistent growth. How can you grow when you're already the biggest?

In my opinion, it comes down to how you look at your investment.

Usually, small businesses lack the marketing budgets to invest in the brand. They compete in the performance marketing area, secure leads, but don't invest in a lasting relationship with their customer base. In our case, we are really privileged and grateful for the fact that we can build a relationship through a continuous conversation.

Adhering to the needs in the upper funnel of marketing, we also address the performance part with very specific and narrow product-based messages that are actually kind of answers to the problems that businesses have. We are trying to be as close as possible to their daily affairs with performance marketing and as humane as possible in the upper funnel branded area.

How important is personalised customer service, and how much can you actually leave to chatbots and AI?

It's very much related to the digital experience. If you try to compensate for poor digital experience with customer service, you would need to expand your operation. The priority should be making internet banking as smooth as possible, so that there are fewer questions to answer later.

So testing, prototyping, piloting, and knowing your customer to the core in order to provide an online experience where they can serve themselves and you focus on more important issues.

It's more about educating your audience, which in turn translates to fewer questions or more pro-level questions in later stages.

For example, it has been a few years now since we had this full-time concentration on customers' financial health. We try to extend our energy and customer service towards improving their financial health. So it's more about educating your audience, which in turn translates to fewer questions or more pro-level questions in later stages.

What's your view of Swedbank's role in society? What's your strategy there?

Swedbank is built in such a way that we are a bank for everybody. As I said, we have chosen the path of making society more financially healthy by educating businesses on how to manage their finances to enable growth.

Extending this goal or message to content creation. What are your KPIs when it comes to social media and content?

When it comes to social media, you have to think of it as a channel, but the channel is still dedicated to achieving a business goal. And the business goal is improved financial literacy.

With private customers, there are a lot of operational KPIs and ways to measure them. With corporate customers, it's a bit more complicated. You can't really ask a business owner to evaluate the health of the company because they are not a CEO or a CFO -- they are more business-oriented. But you can still look back into their financial statements to see how they are progressing overall, and whether certain things worked or not.

Speaking of partners like marketing agencies and PR agencies, they are very much focused on B2C, and there's not a lot of expertise in B2B. How is the market for a specialised B2B consultant or service?

I don't see agencies struggling to relate to business owners because that's the core of our brand, and it makes it easier for them to work with us.

However, I'm really happy to see that you guys initiated this dedicated B2B conference and awards because we feel quite under-appreciated. For example, I've been submitting branding campaign entries for awards in Lithuania, but they never got noticed in that particular area because I've been competing with retailers. I'm really happy to see that this is changing.

You are partnering with or sponsoring numerous events, conferences and projects. How do you measure the ROI?

We have to make a distinction between communication KPIs and marketing ones. Because marketing is not communication. Whenever I get an offer to sponsor a conference, the first thing I think about is whether my target audience is there and what would be the cost per lead.

Then I go and look into a plethora of all other marketing channels I have, compare the cost and it's quite easy to decide from there: do I take the cheaper or more expensive way to pursue my sales goals.

But then, when we look into communications, you have to spread the news by being present, the KPIs are different.

Do you have somebody reaching out to companies that are not yet your clients? Direct sales based on a certain hit list.

There are different strategies from segment to segment. Let's stick to small businesses.

We aim to grow our share of newly established companies in the market. Despite the fact that we are leaders, we want to be a stronghold. We first try to talk to them through brand campaigns to show that we understand them.

For those who are already making a decision, which means choosing to open a bank account, we're using performance media channels. We try to make it as seamless as possible online, and avoid these pushy strategies with corporate customers.

But what about acquiring really large customers?

That's where Swedbank's account managers come in. People who gather, nurture and convert contacts. And then it comes down to the very specific and fine details of the offer. So it's more about sales, their competence, and our risk appetite. It's not marketing anymore.

How big is the role of brand loyalty? B2B or B2C, there's still often an intangible or emotional bias.

You're right to say that there is some emotional bias to it. Corporate customers work with an account manager, a person representing the company. It's up to them to nurture that relationship.

The brand plays a role at the very beginning when they only start shopping for a bank. According to surveys, customers really appreciate that Swedbank is specialised in the corporate area. That's one. Secondly, we have to make things simple. Regardless of how well educated and financially literate our customers or clients are, we still have to make it very easy. So if these fail, no brand or image can save you. You can't fail on an individual level in order to maintain that image.

So these people are actually like brand ambassadors.

Exactly. It has to be cohesive. They have to understand the brand and that's why every single newcomer gets training on what our brand is. What is our history? What are our core values?

We try not to, even though it's tempting, especially on social media, to move away from our values. It would be nice to be funky and edgy from time to time, but it doesn't work that way.

Every single employee of Swedbank, I believe, is a brand ambassador. Our image goes hand in hand with the customer's perception of our brand.

You can hear and meet Vita at Parrot 24' in Tallinn.

Interviewed by Hando, penned by Rain Uusen, edited by Ann-Kristin.


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