HSBC, originally known as the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, was established in 1865 to finance the growing trade between China and the United Kingdom. Over the years, the bank has pioneered many modern banking practices in different countries. For example, it was the first bank in Thailand and printed the country’s first banknotes. During the early 20th century, HSBC issued significant loans to several national governments, including China, which helped finance projects such as its railway development. The bank was also a key player in reestablishing Hong Kong’s economy after World War II. By the end of the 20th century, it had acquired numerous companies in hopes of implementing a “three-legged stool” strategy; the three legs represented a foothold in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Asia. HSBC continued to grow around the world for many years, and by the early 21st century, it was the second- largest bank in the world.
HSBC has successfully grown its business under a single global brand and for years kept the tagline “The World’s Local Bank.” The aim was to link its huge international size with the close relationships it nurtures in each of the countries in which it operates. Sir John Bond, HSBC’s former chairman, said, “Our position as the world’s local bank enables us to approach each country uniquely, blending local knowledge with a worldwide operating platform.”
HSBC launched one global campaign titled “Different Values,” which embraced this exact notion of understanding multiple viewpoints and different interpretations. Print ads showed the same picture three times with a different interpretation in each. For example, an old classic car appeared with the words freedom, status symbol, and polluter. Next to the picture the copy read, “The more you look at the world, the more you realize that what one person values may be different from the next.” In another set of print ads, the word accomplishment is first shown on a picture of a woman winning a beauty pageant, then an astronaut walking on the moon, and a young child tying his sneaker. The copy read, “The more you look at the world, the more you realize what really matters to people.” Tracy Britton, head of marketing for HSBC Bank, USA, explained the strategy behind the campaign: “It encapsulates our global outlook that acknowledges and respects that people value things in very different ways. HSBC’s global footprint gives us the insight and the opportunity not only to be comfortable, but confident in helping people with different values achieve what’s really important to them.”
HSBC revised its business strategy in 2011, consolidating in underperforming markets and investing in growth markets and businesses. As a result, it made a strategic shift in its branding efforts, moving away from the familiar “World’s Local Bank” message and introducing “HSBC helps you unlock the world’s potential.” HSBC hoped to communicate how it connects local businesses to the world economy and, ultimately, how it focuses on the business elements that affect the world of the future. Chris Clark, HSBC’s marketing director, explained that the new ads and campaign “are symptomatic of a shift from pure brand-led advertising to a more product-driven approach.”
In one television ad, a young girl and her father set up a lemonade stand advertising lemonade for 50 cents. As customers passing by scramble to find a few quarters, the girl explains (in a different language) that she accepts other global currencies, including Hong Kong dollars and Brazilian reals. The voiceover says, “At HSBC we believe that in the future even the smallest business will be multinational.” The ads were meant to make consumers feel reassured about banking with HSBC. In a corresponding print ad, a lemonade stand sign displayed the cost of a glass as 500, €0.4, and ¥3. The copy read, “Whether you trade in dollars, euros or renminbi, global markets are opening up to everyone. At HSBC we can connect your business to new opportunities on six continents—in more than 90 currencies.”
HSBC has traditionally focused much of its advertising in airports but also sponsors more than 250 cultural and sporting events, with a special concentration on helping youth, growing education, and embracing communities. These sponsorships allow the company to learn from different people and cultures around the world.
The bank has gained insight into how to target consumer niches with unique products and services. For example, it found a little-known product area growing at 125 percent a year: pet insurance. HSBC now distributes nationwide pet insurance to its depositors through its HSBC Insurance agency. In Malaysia, it offered a “smart card” and no-frills credit cards to the underserved student segment and targeted high-value customers with special “Premium Center” bank branches.
Today, HSBC remains one of the largest banks in the world, with four global businesses: retail banking and wealth management, commercial banking, global banking and markets, and global private banking. It serves 60 million customers through 6,600 branches in 80 countries and earned $22.6 billion in profit in 2013, with a brand value of $11.4 billion, according to Interbrand/BusinessWeek global brand rankings.
Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.