November 02, 2009

HSBC Bank USA ($276 billion in total assets) has embraced new ways of engaging consumers with its recently launched "Values Soapbox" ad campaign, which includes an innovative digital component that leverages online video and encourages consumer feedback. The Mettawa, Ill.-based bank says the Values Soapbox campaign is designed to help the bank understand what values are important to consumers by prompting New Yorkers to share their thoughts on topics such as education, the environment, jobs and technology. A series of television and out-of-home advertisements has been rolled out across the state of New York, where HSBC has its largest market presence, according to a press release.

HSBC has significantly augmented the more traditional aspects of the marketing campaign with an online effort that includes the Virtual Soapbox Web site (valuessoapbox.com) and a partnership with New York Magazine's nymag.com. The bank worked with its advertising agency, New York-based JWT, to develop the Virtual Soapbox site, which is hosted by Woburn, Mass.-based Mad Dash.

The partnership between HSBC and nymag.com and the interactive online aspects of the campaign represent a new approach for the bank from a marketing standpoint. "The online part is new," says Johanna Breman Tzur, HSBC's head of brand and advertising in North America. "As we understand just general consumer penetration of online media increasing, we're working to keep up with that."

The goal of the online component of the campaign is to engage consumers where they already are spending large amounts of time, according to Breman Tzur. "Advertising today is not about getting prospects to come to us, it's about finding people on their journey," she comments. "The online forum is where so many people are spending their time today."

Starting a Dialogue

Under the New York Magazine partnership, Breman Tzur explains, HSBC has worked with a group of the most prolific commenters on nymag.com -- five individuals who frequently post comments under the site's blog entries and articles -- to develop discussion topics and generate conversations within the online forums of the Virtual Soapbox site. The discussion boards on the site are moderated by New York Magazine.

"We were interested in finding people who could start the debate, who could help us to start the dialogue," Breman Tzur says. "For us, that meant people who were commenting and sharing their opinions and had done so before on nymag.com and [thus understood] the online forum. So we went to five individuals who were frequent commenters and who we thought would provide rich and diverse fodder for getting broader participation."

HSBC first held a private chat session with the commenters in July to develop initial discussion streams for the Virtual Soapbox site, Breman Tzur reports. "That was the seeding of the values conversation," she relates. "Then we opened it up to the public. The people you are seeing today commenting are new. It's anybody out there that wants to write about a specific topic. All you need to provide is your e-mail address and your name, and then you can enter into the dialogue."

In addition to the discussion forums, HSBC also has leveraged online video as part of the larger marketing campaign. In mid-July the company filmed actual consumers standing on a soapbox and sharing their values in an event held on the edge of New York's Madison Square Park. The footage, which also appears in TV spots, was pushed out via nymag.com and the Virtual Soapbox Web site.

Breman Tzur notes that the marketing campaign provides both existing and potential customers with a place to share their values. HSBC, she says, is seeking to understand more about its own customers and those it is seeking to convert into customers. "Only by understanding what is important to them can we help provide better products and better understand how they like to be serviced," Breman Tzur relates. "It's really about getting to know prospects and customers better and then taking that information to make a better banking experience for them."

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